That’s it! you’ve finished that epic (or not so) campaign. Months or years in the running, the players have enjoyed themselves so much that when it comes time for the next game to be played…they want more. Perhaps you felt like the game universe was moving in a direction that lent itself to something new and fresh and you all want more. Time for Game II: The Revenge of Game!
Like movies and spin-off TV show, there’s a lot to recommend about the sequel. There’s a built in interest for people who liked the last one. It’s a familiar universe or premise, and maybe a familiar character or two to help ease the audience into the next cast. They also have several problems that come along with them. So first:
WHY DO A SEQUEL?
Maybe there were things in the game universe that were left unanswered, or tantalizing bits on the side that people wanted to explore but there was no time? “What about that alien race we discovered? What were they up to?” “Remember that legend about the fall of Zarus? We should have adventured our way to that side of the map!” “What the hell was that cult up to — the one we were investigating before we all went made and were institutionalized?”
Maybe the players just aren’t ready to let that character go. “You know, Jack escaped the Wing Kong exchange, but was that it..? What if he ran into some other occult group in, say, New Orleans?” “The rebellion might be over, but i don’t think Wedge would just hang up his wings just yet.” “After fighting terrorists, I think my guy would go into business doing international security.”
WHY NOT DO A SEQUEL?
“How can the same thing happen to the same guy twice?” was one of the best lines from Die Hard 2 because it directly addressed the unlikely nature of someone called to be a hero then returning to regular life finding themselves playing the hero again. Bilbo Baggins had an adventure. Then he went home. Had he been fighting another dragon the next week, folks might have been a bit less intrigued by The Hobbit 2: Another F’ing Dragon. The main danger of the sequel is doing the same thing over again. It’s like the first one, but with bigger CGI ‘splosions!
HOW TO DO A SEQUEL
There are a few routes you can take in a sequel or spin-off game. Doing a new campaign requires a new focus. Maybe your sci-fi campaign was doing head-of-the-week exploration like a certain franchise we know; the next should be focused on something else — maybe long-term politics between the good guy organization and the prosthetic-headed alien we really liked the last time; or a static location where people come to you like Babylon 5, or some colony world that provides the opportunity for adventuring, while being connected to the rest of the parent universe.
Jump the action a couple of decades and include one or two of the old players as more mature, playing the mentor to the new characters. You could conceivably come back in a generation or two and see what the children of the players are doing. Did Bolbar the Barbarian’s kingdom really stand for 100 years as was prophesied, or did he spend himself into the poorhouse and wind up with his kingdom gobbled up by the larger Empire of Whatever?” Did your daughter wind up being a Jedi in the New Order? Did your grandkid follow the ol’ WWII hero (you) into the military or CIA to fight terrorists?
Another way to change the flavor of the game is to try a new set of mechanics in the same universe. Say you were playing 1930s pulp using Hollow Earth Expedition or Savage Worlds. The players love their characters, but they’ve been sold on your early Cold War game. You could rewrite the characters in their post-war form in James Bond: 007 or Spycraft and have them working for the new CIA with a Bondesque spy-fi vibe (itself just really a post war pulp style.) Hell, Atomic Robo has specific rules for playing a game with flashbacks, allowing you to tie new adventures to historical ones.
Aside — If you wanted to do flashbacks to adventures in the old campaign, you could do something old like use one system for the modern stuff, then return to the old game system for the flashbacks.
An example of a sequel campaign would be the Star Trek campaign I started in 2000. It was set just post-Dominion War and I carved up the Trek canon to make a more believable, consistent universe. the first game was mostly interested in post-war politics. We dealt with the Federation more — how a post-scarcity society with access to androids and sentient spacecraft (the big metaplot of the first campaign) might look. It got increasing transhuman as we battled Borg incursions and an ancient race of self-relicating machines. The sequel campaign was about a decade after that — sentient starships and androids were commonplace, as was storage of transporter patterns — essentially ridding the biological races of death. This campaign was deep space exploration focused, but the real adventure was dealing with how the new technology introduced in the first game was changing the lives of the characters. there were carry-over characters in secondary roles, minor characters that were now leads.
The campaign was good but hit one of the issues of a sequel campaign…it was just different enough that it no longer felt like Star Trek. There were the trappings, but as the characters got more used to the transhuman future-meets-Trek setting, it lost some of its luster.
YOU THINK SEQUELS ARE HARD? TRY A PREQUEL (PLEASE, DON’T!)
“Wow! I wonder what a show about the Federation before there was a Federation might be like!” “I wonder what the Galaxy was like before the Emperor took over.” “Hey, maybe Indiana Jones should do something with mystic stones before he “doesn’t believe in hocus-pocus”…”
Do I need to continue?