In the Beginning, there was the Dungeons & Dragons boxed set and almost no one to play with. You would find a gamer or two and play was what you would expect from teenagers — loaded with overly-serious characters roaming through underground mazes killing creatures and nicking their stuff. The DM was the players’ adversary, in many way, in these early days, and the goal was to outthink the DM to “win.”

My group at the time enjoyed this, but I wanted to concentrate on character and story over money grabs. We shifted to espionage and science fiction games, and at that time we were emulating the James Bond movies, so an adventure was a few sessions that culminated in a finale. The next story was the next movie. There might be some carry-over from the last story, but it was also episodic. Other games I ran had a similar feel.

After college, I went on a superhero bender in my role playing games, and during the campaign that underpinned my time living in Philadelphia, we moved away from episodic but connected stories to emulate the comic books of the late ’80s. Angsty characters, long arcs that weren’t planned, nor had any particular direction other than  to have overly dramatic emotional stakes. (So, Marvel…)

Through the ’90s, we had a nice stable group of players and the main games were Space:1889 and James Bond. I returned to episodic adventures, but they were much more interconnected for character growth. We started focusing on personal drama and issues in this period — most of the players were female, so I shifted to fit the “romance novel” interests of one, and the more theatrical interests of another. There was a lot more role playing in this period. Story took more of a back seat to the character development and relationships.

A big change for how we played came with my The Babylon Project game which survived several deployments in the military and changes of characters. I had a “side story” of the main Babylon 5 story arc about a small colony world on the edge of known space that was involved in the Shadow War. It was the first time I played with a central story arc that I had some idea of what I wanted to happen. For the most part, over the course of two years, it did. This would be replicated on a much larger and more ambitious scale with the Battlestar Galactica campaign, which lasted about five years and while we lost and gained players, and I had to tap dance a few times to get things to work, came to a very satisfying conclusion. It’s the only game campaign I miss.

The current crop of players we have are a little less serious and less immersive than the group I had in the past, but they all have an understanding of genre themes and story eats, as well as plot devices. We tend to click pretty well on creating a story that still has character development, but which has stepped away from the drama-heavy theatrical approach that we had in the ’90s.

 

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