Saturday, September 6, 2014

Return to Form: It's Not Over Yet

Hello all again.

It's been a while since I had much to post. Nearly a year. In that time I've had a couple of games take a brief hiatus (both of which are restarting soon) and an intermediary campaign ended and I took over as GM. With that eating up a bit of my mindspace, I haven't had much time for tertiary philosophy. With that concluded, I think I want to get back into the habit, but maybe not on as regular a basis. Mostly just as things come to me.

A funny thing happened during all of this. For the first time, and not likely the last, I had a character whose story felt incomplete when the campaign wrapped up. A character I enjoyed playing. A character I wanted to keep playing. Alas, the GM burned himself out and had to call it quits. Now this character will likely languish forever, story untold. Honestly, I've had several characters that had ended up getting dropped for one reason or another, but this one I really wanted to finish and still want to finish. Sadly, that may never come to pass.

In a similar vein, a friend of mine has also been lamenting a character he desperately wants to see to completion as well. This isn't unusual for my gaming group, as we have a fairly high narrative focus. It's probably a safe bet that everyone in the group has one or two like that. It does raise some other thoughts and a perspective I hadn't considered before: Story-death versus Character-death.

Stories Never Die

Actually they do. Stories die when they cease being told. It's like when a long running novel series doesn't reach it's inevitable conclusion because the author passes away. Sure, the last book ended, but on such a note that you knew there was more to be told, but the next one will never happen. Without someone to pick it up and end it, that story as a whole died a premature death. Dangling plot threads are severed, and aborted character arcs crumble to dust like the abandoned ruins they now are.Think about all of the oral-history that has disappeared throughout the ages because those who were telling the stories never wrote them down.

This isn't always a bad thing. Sometimes things just spiral the drain way longer than they have any right to, and should probably be put down at the earliest convenience. In gaming terms, this is usually when the players are no longer having fun and the GM is clearly out of ideas. It is tragic, on the other hand when one half of the table (players or GM) is incredibly invested when the whole thing comes crashing to a halt. The campaign, and the character's story, is dead.

It's Worse Than That. He's Dead, Jim.

Let's contrast this with death of the character. Sure, you might make the argument that this also severs plot threads and certainly puts an end to the characters development. there is one major difference, though. A character dying is also character development. I know that sounds strange, but that character just reached their final plot point and the rest of the cast reached another of their own: dealing with the aftermath. There is a sense of closure and finality with death that doesn't happen when the campaign dies. A dead campaign leaves you with a bitter sense of unrequited hope that you'll be able to come back to it.

And I know there are people out there, you know who you are, who don't believe character death should be anything less than meaningful. I get that. I love that notion. In many cases it comes from the idea that too many meaningless deaths and the campaign turns into a meatgrinder. This can kill the fun for a lot of people. At that point, there's little reason to invest in a character because they might die at the drop of a hat. All that work and time and effort down the tubes, right? And here's where we see the comparison.

Something About Putting Eggs in a Basket Before They Hatch

Investment. Getting attached to the character. Something we don't always plan for, but can usually plan against. I'll bet that any number of people out there will prep a character for a one-shot and instead make a caricature to keep some distance and avoid this phenomenon. This is where I have to take pause. I like to put effort into characters. I like to see them grow and develop over time. I dislike throwing good ideas at a wall to have them dribble down into the wastebin once the one-shot is over with. While some people don't want to see their character die, I don't want to see a good idea flounder. I don't mind putting death on the line because, as I stated earlier, that's just a character moment for me. If I'm invested in the character, I'm going to fight harder and smarter so that the chance of them dying is minimal, or at least glorious if I can help it. I can abide a one-shot, because I can prepare for that. Campaigns on the other hand, I don't see the point in asking for backstory and developed characters if the GM isn't going to invest in them in equal measure.

For me, story death can be worse than character death. It's the loss of potential, more than anything. It's been stated many times in my group that you get out of a campaign what you put into it. I put this forth to all the GMs out there: If you want PCs to invest in your campaign and to see it through to the end, then let the campaign invest in the PCs and see them through to their ends. After all, we're in this together.

So what about your experiences? Ever had a campaign burn out too soon? Got that one character you'd really like to come back to? What about having a character retire because you'd gotten all you think you can out of them? Feel free to leave comments!

And as always, Stay Classy!

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