Monday, 11 February 2013

Folie a Deux (Part Three)

A sequel to the game that got us started on the HTHD road, American Nightmare, is something that I've given a lot of thought over the years but only recently seriously considered. In that case, time has brought me around to a theme that interests me as much as the theme that rumbled under the surface of the original ("skeletons in the closet of the American Dream"). A contemporary American Nightmare game would have to ask the question "What is the state of the American Dream?"

Of course, a theme only gets you half-way there. Without characters that are as driven, as desperate, as urgent as the characters that made the original the game it was... it won't work. Or it won't amount to much.

So much of what a sequel is rests on the shoulders of the players, and the question of whether or not they really want what they're asking for when they say "How about we do another season of (x)". Do they really want to push those characters further? Or just wrap themselves in nostalgia?

At a certain point, have characters earned their happy ending or selfless sacrifice or ignominious fate?

And that is the problem at the heart of Year of the Dragon, a sequel to my well-received series Shadowrun: Disavowed. I haven't written about this game at length yet (but I will), but the short version is that it's a vision of the Shadowrun universe that would make most Shadowrun players weepy and irritable. We played a game that was heavy on character drama, angst, and straight-up soap opera, and short on mercenaries shooting up office buildings for cold hard cash.

After that game wrapped, I wrote a "trailer" for a second season that hinted at a series where the characters went on a rollicking Bourne-esque chase through Europe battling some familiar enemies from the first season and some old enemies from their days as company men. Not to mention a shadowy magickal conspiracy in the mix. It would be a lot of big stupid fun.

But is it necessary? In the end, is there a good enough reason for those characters who survived the first season to come out of retirement -- putting what happiness they've managed to scrape together on the line? At the end of season one, I said I wouldn't do another one unless the players could give me good reasons why their characters would do that.

At our table, we often tend to think of our games through the lens of TV series -- and that figures, when you see what a big shadow Primetime Adventures has cast over our collective gaming life. (Thanks, Rob.) There is a seductive logic to the idea that a sequel game makes perfect sense in the context of serialized television -- you're just doing another season, after all, and where's the harm in that?

Television shows have a "best before" date too, though, and most of us would agree that a lot of shows tend to linger around long after they should have called it quits.

I'd rather have people remember a game like most fans remember Firefly: a brief, bright convergence of great writing, pitch-perfect casting, and high concept that was sweet and fleeting and left us wanting more.

Something that lives in your imagination and inspires you to do something new, something bold and fresh and dangerous.

That sounded convincing, didn't it?

...Didn't it?

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