Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The Generational Game - Ending A Generation

While this isn't going to be coming up soon in my L5R game, it is on the horizon. For those that don't know, one of the games I'm currently running is a Legend of the Five Rings game where the idea is to 1) have a long running campaign and 2) have the game span a very long period of time, covering multiple generations in a set area of the Emerald Empire. The idea for this kind of game isn't particularly unique, but I've been having a lot of thoughts about it as I'm not sure how much further the game can go with the current generation of characters. Today, I want to talk about that.

Not Necessarily Good-Bye
One of the things I've told my players is that the end of a generation in the game isn't necessarily good bye for their characters. It is however a shift in perspective for them. Just like in the real world, advancing 30 years doesn't mean that everyone dies. They just aren't as young as they used to be. When you factor in that the game has already covered about 10 years IC, then you have the chance for some very old characters. People who started the game at 14-16 are now going to be 54-56. Not necessarily out of the game, but in a low-medicine fantasy setting like Rokugan, they're also not the young uns with all the ambition and ability to change the world anymore now are they?

This shift menas that the players are going to have a choice, and one that I like. They can continue with their current characters - narrating with me what happened over those 30 years to get their character where the 'end game' will take place - or they can retire the character and move on to someone new. The choice here comes in with the fact that this is a game with regular time skips of several months to several years and I've set a formula for a mandatory retirement limit (65+2 for every rank of Earth beyond 2 you have, iirc.) This means that if a player does stick with their old character, they will likely have to bring in someone new in the middle of the next generational story. Not a bad thing per se, really, but it does mean going from being ahead of everyone else to being behind. Mechanically it also means I need to settle on some mechanics for old age.

Unfinished Character Arcs
The troubling thing with the generational shift is that I'm not sure if anyone's story on a personal level is really going to be finished. Stories can always continue, and this group I have is very adept at keeping those stories interesting. One player's story is set in such a way that it is effectively done aside from the actions his characters take in other on going events. He can still be challenged, but I don't foresee much in the way of growth or change in his life unless the issue is forced. Another player though is dangerously close to skirting the edge where their personal arc may not get revealed in game. Others may end up starting new stories - because, hey, that's what PCs do - and then the game cuts away. Now, there are ways to fix this. For one, I could postpone the generational gap more, but then these issues are always going to keep cropping up. Time continues to march on, and things I want to do may get lost in the noise.

The question I have on that though is this: is that so bad? If people are making up their stories and continuing on with stuff and having fun, then what am I really risking? The answer to the question is scope and scale. The day 1 PCs in the game are getting to the stage of ridiculous power levels, and while that doesn't bother me, it does mean that it becomes harder to challenge them without ground-shaking catastrophic events. Such events are  not really supposed to be happening yet, and while that is easy to change it also means having to ramp and scale everywhere else.

On the other hand though, there is also danger to not having the gap. For one, there is the case of a story going on too long. As the game progresses, and as a character continues to go, the player may become bored or unchallenged with the character. Even worse, the game might ruin some aspect of the character with what happened, or make something the player wanted to do unreachable because of it. The point being, there are dangers with both ways, and finding the path through may be difficult.

Experimental Game
On the plus side, no matter what, I have a huge edge going into this. My players and I are on the same page with this. We all signed up knowing I was going to be experimenting with this game, and that generational shifts would be occurring. These problems, coming chiefly from the fact that I really enjoy all the current PCs in the game, are things that were not necessarily expected, but also weren't unexpected either. This is a test as much as it is anything else, and we are finding out as a group what we like/dislike as the game goes on. Will this game be one that goes on for years and years and years? I don't know. On the one hand I'd like it too, but on the other my system ADD may bee too strong.

Other Musings
My apologies to people who came here looking for answers. This post is mostly my own random musings on a game I am running. I find writing it down helps sometimes, and often we get great discussion off of these. The trick here I think is finding the balancing factor. How much more time do I go before ending this generation? Do I do more skips and shifts first? Do I let players know that things left unresolved may very well be unresolved for lengthy periods of time in the IC world? There are ways around everything and ways through everything. Just have to find them.


  1. I run this style of game often, and I find that there is always someone who just needs a little bit more time with that character. It's like a story tax...

    Things I like to do to counter it are to run limited flashbacks during thematically appropriate sections of the subsequent sections of the generation game. These may not always allow a player to complete an in-character goal, but it can keep the connection strong between all the characters a player fields, and strengthen the ongoing ties between the past cast, and the current story.

    Another thing I like to do is to shift between the different periods more often, sometimes, without warning, so that the characters in each generation can develop more in harmony with each other. This is harder from a timeline point of view, but can have benefits that counterbalance that.

    In what direction are you leaning now?

  2. In what direction between what?

    As far as the gap goes, I've got a long time to come up with stuff. This current part of the arc just started, and even if it is the last arc for this generation it's got some legs to go yet. I want to give the players the chance to define some key thngs before everything goes up in smoke. :)