Thursday, 7 February 2013

Folie a Deux (Part Two)

I have written here about my adventures running an online game for some friends using the Roll20 platform. As I've said before, these players were once upon a time my most fanatically loyal players in a long-running Villains & Vigilantes game. So important were those formative adventures, almost 20 years ago, that the players made action figures of their own characters -- the better to keep the game alive during the long months that I was away at university.

During the time I was writing my first novel as my masters' thesis, I also wrote a novella featuring the characters from that game. I used it as writing practice, a fun thing that I did to get the gears turning while I spent those long hours alone in my parents' basement. The heroes of that game world sustained me during that long, lonely journey. They endure in our collective memory.

And now we're discussing reviving that game, nearly twenty years later.

When I first started seriously considering getting a Roll20 game into motion, a new game featuring The Allegiance was right at the top of my list. A lot of those guys are spread out across the country now, and most of them haven't gamed together in years. Now we're all nice middle-aged men with wives and children (all except me, I think -- the children part, not the nice part) and without the miracles of modern nerdery the chances of an Allegiance reunion would be very slim. The most we could hope for is to somehow all manage to be in the same city -- with time to kill -- during the all-too-short holiday season.

I was amazed that all the guys have expressed interest in getting something going, although the practical realities of life and technology may have something to say about it. They were all eager to return to their superpowered alter-egos and see what new stories we could tell. I thought we might find that one or two players were simply unavailable or not interested in the project.

Our early conversations so far discussed what I saw as the three options we had for returning to the Allegiance:
  • Restart the campaign. We simply pick up from where we left off, twenty years ago. The characters remain who they were then, superheroic versions of my friends -- as teenagers.
  • Reboot the campaign. We start over, treating the characters like comic book heroes who had been picked up by a new publisher or forced to endure one of the many tiresome retcons that plague comic books. This has the advantage of letting us change the characters in ways that make them more relevant to us today. 
  • Reunion. We continue the campaign with the characters having aged during the interval at the same rate as the players have. Like us, they would now be older, changed by their lives, and possibly with more problems and domestic ties than those characters had as young men.
The players expressed the most interest in the latter option.  This is interesting, because in a way it's the most problematic option of the three. There is a thread of thought in the comic book world that comic book heroes are the most relevant to the largest number of people when they are young and unattached - witness the recentish reboot of Spider-Man which erased his marriage to Mary Jane Watson, and the fact that Superman's marriage to Lois Lane did not survive the DC revamp.

How will those characters' lives differ from or reflect the lives of the players? What kind of dissonance could that create?

The Allegiance would follow in the footsteps of many fine comic books that examine the lives of older heroes returning to their duties when the world has all but forgotten them. Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns, Alan Moore's Watchmen, and Mark Waid & Alex Ross's Kingdom Come are just a few. And they are all exciting precisely because they are willing to cast the characters as older, fallible, changed and made uncertain by the stress of heroic lives.

What kind of heroes will the Allegiance be today?

And then there are the other sequels that lurk inside my hard drive, little time bombs of story waiting to go off...

To be continued...

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