For the last four and a half years or so, I’ve been running a campaign that is — in essence — a reboot of a reboot: we’ve been running a Battlestar Galactica game that has all the trappings of the reimagined show, but with a twist to make it work better for a roleplaying game. This is kind of built into the Moore version of the show. After all, “All of this has happened before, and all of it will happen again…” Our game is on the periphery of the show canon, in that it is happening in Earth’s future, this time, about 6000 or so years from now.
It is also a reboot of a BSG campaign that had started about 2008 and had run on-and-off (we rotated games much more back then) with an old game group that imploded in late 2010. It killed that campaign, but I stole chunks of it and repurposed it to build a new campaign that was much better, went its own way but held to some of the core concepts of the new BSG better.
It’s certainly not the first campaign I’ve resurrected. I’ve run an espionage campaign since my high school days. As groups changed, the campaign got rebooted. New flavor, new characters, but usually designed not emulate something like a TV series (like, say, the BSG game) but as a movie serial like the Bond movies. New actor, new series of movies, new style (or not.) Each time, I would try to keep certain elements. No matter what the overall flavor was on a continuum from LeCarre to Moore-style Bond (usually falling somewhere around the Craig/Dalton style of Bond) I tried to keep certain elements: the bureaucracy of the intelligence community, the fluidity of alliances, and usually certain NPCs.
This brings up a good question…how about that campaign that ended because the group collapsed, or you moved to a new town, or it just didn’t quite gel? There might be a lot of bits and bobs from that game that you really want to address. Should you “reboot” that campaign?
There’s a few things to consider right up front. Did the campaign die because of extenuating circumstances, like a move, or the group collapsing? Did it die because the players didn’t really buy in? Did it end a natural death — you hit that point where the characters had reached their natural story end: they destroyed the great evil threatening the land; they survived the apocalypse and set up civilization anew; they finally found the cynosure of the big conspiracy and exposed/destroyed it; or they died spectacularly in a total party kill?
Some of these ends lend themselves to a reboot. Some do not. If the players didn’t buy in, maybe it’s not to be, cherie. Restarting an old game with a new crew isn’t a bad idea. you’ve got new players; the outcome, unless you’re one of those “read this 80-page primer to my world” railroad GMs, is going to naturally be different, as their characters will have new points of concentration and interest. (This would be the case even with, say, an old character taken over by a new player…)
You are unlikely to want to run a campaign exactly the same way, either; interests, opinions, even rule sets change over time, and these all have an effect on the direction and outcome of a game.
So how to proceed, once you’ve decided a reboot is in order:
- Treat it like an all-new game. Yes, you are borrowing a bunch of background material from another game…you still don’t have to use it all, nor use it the same way. I kept a bunch of the background setting for the newer run of Battlestar Galactica, but we ditched the characters, the idea of the “second fleet”, and broke away from how the Cylons worked, and even the pre-show history. I kept the core stuff that worked — a “season” before the attacks to give the characters and players something to lose, in particular. Different characters and players, however, led this game in an entirely different direction. We dropped the surviving on the Colonies angle entirely, and concentrated on life in the fleet and expanded on the science fictiony aspects of the show.
- Drop the expectations. The game is going to go in the direction its going to go. It might have certain scenes, missions, beats, but it is going to be a different animal. That means it might be better in some way, not so much in others. So long as it’s fun, don’t sweat it.
- The stuff you (the GM) liked might not be what the players like. Don’t expect that the players are going to like the same NPCs that were popular the last time around, or the ones you liked from last time around. Example: one of the popular characters in the last BSG campaign was the chief engineer — the hyper-competent engineer. For some reason, she didn’t really click as the “big NPC” (that NPC that’s really almost a GM PC; we all know what I mean…) but the almost robotic CAG did. They would both later be an important plot elements, but the CAG character became a major plot point, while the engineer became the Gaeta-style mutineer. For that reason…
- You can never go home again… You build a living, breathing village/town/ship/space station/ whatever, with NPCs and history, and other things to make it as much a character in the game as the players. But it’s not clicking, the adventures keep leading them away from the base (have a look at Deep Space 9‘s later seasons, for an example), or they aren’t clicking with the support NPCs or are interested in chasing your big bad. Don’t worry. Watch what they do respond to and run with that. You can always take the villain they respond to and have them be the one with the earth-shaking plot. Run with the NPCs the characters and players like and strengthen them. Most TV series, for instance, see the popular bit players gain screen time as the production team figures out who draws viewers. (Case in point Chris Pratt and Nick Offerman in Parks & Recreation gain a lot more screen time from the first to the second season, and the show is much better for it.) Other “NPCs” drop off, new ones come it. Kinda like life — friends and adversaries come and go.
- Steal from other campaigns that have nothing to do with the new one. You really liked that character from the old pulp game, but this is a modern espionage game. Reskin the character. New name, same guy. Or have them be a relative of that old character in that universe. “Hey, look, Rock Shrapnel exists in this game universe, too! This guy is his kid!” Take elements of your fantasy town, reskin it for your Space: 1889 Martian town. Take that espionage character and rewrite him for your 1920s horror investigator.