Part of the evolution of my GMing style that eventually brought me to HTHD was a decision to begin writing campaigns with a specific end point in mind. This decision was founded by heartbreak -- I had been involved with running one too many campaigns that I was forced to abandon, with no firm resolution or sense of closure in the players' minds.
It's a young man's idea that roleplaying games are meant to sprawl on forever, with no particular end point, an ever-increasing spiral of story and character that expands out to the corners of the universe. Adult gamers come to realize that gaming time is precious, and it's preferable to play in short, focused bursts that squeeze all the juice out of a game rather than take a leisurely pace which wanders its way toward an overall direction by serendipity.
The world of the adult gamer is uncertain; we never know where the fickle demands of work or family or fate will take us next, and how far we might be separated from the fictional lives that nurture us. And there are so many games to be played, so many worlds to visit and explore, so many lives to be lived outside the borders of the merely real.
This is one of the reasons that I generally prefer a game with a specific ending (even if I haven't charted the details of that ending in great detail) and why I have generally avoided running games that are sequels.
Although over the years I have had many requests for sequels to games that ran to completion, I have rarely returned to material once explored to a successful conclusion. To do so would be a huge risk, I've said, because firstly you're hoping that there are still deep waters out there to explore -- if you did your job right the first time, you've said everything that needed to be said. If there isn't anything new to say about a group of characters, if their story isn't more urgent and the stakes higher than ever in your sequel, then why do it? Secondly, you risk damaging the happy memories that people have of a campaign that's run to completion.
Players might not be willing to see serious changes and challenges to characters that have achieved a place among the pantheon of favourites. And maybe that is not a wrong instinct. Neil Gaiman once wrote that any story that goes on long enough ends in death; so it is for player characters, and so it is for their worlds.
Nostalgia is a poor substitute for substance, in my mind, leading people to the kind of dissatisfaction that I see hanging like a black cloud over the Star Wars prequels. Perhaps there were ways to approach that material again that would have seemed relevant and exciting, but it seems to me that people were setting themselves up for disappointment. Of course no prequel thirty years on could re-bottle the magic of youth. How could it? And you run the same risk in gaming. Returning to a once-beloved game world to revisit old characters and storylines is an excellent recipe for dissatisfaction, with players left wondering why the beloved old stomping grounds no longer feel like home.
Better to tell new stories than wander around a series of dusty old rooms looking for something that's no longer there.
Which is why I find myself in the most uncomfortable position of contemplating not one but several sequels to games that have been very important to me...
To be continued...