Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Multi-Generational Gaming

And in this particular post, I'm not talking about teaching our kids to be gamers (although that's certainly an interesting topic and worthy endeavor), but rather the notion of playing a long-term game in which the characters marry, have children, grow old, and then the players take on the roles of the children, beginning the cycle over again.

As far as I'm aware (and I may well be wrong), the only game that this has actually been incorporated as an integral aspect of the design of a game is Pendragon by Greg Stafford, first published by Chaosium in 1991 and most recently by White Wolf in 2006. I've never actually played it myself (a fact which I regret, especially so as a friend of mine in the area has been running a campaign for the better part of a year now, and I just don't have the time to participate), but the idea that one would not only play a character, but the descendants of that character, has always fascinated me, so much so that I wonder if it could be applied to D&D.

The key seems to be the establishment of a rich social component of the setting, in which the rules of marriage (in terms of who can, or would want to, marry who) are spelled out in some fashion, which would in turn lead to some sort of table determining whether or not a particular marriage would be considered viable and the proposal accepted. The sort of dynastic interplay that such a system implies is absolutely rife with potential in terms of role-playing opportunities and "deep background" for a setting; we see the barest glimpses of it in the dynastic struggles described by Gary Gygax in the Great Kingdom, and in the thwarted marriage of Prince Thrommel which forms a significant part of the background for the original Temple of Elemental Evil module.

But D&D, one might legitimately argue, is somewhat more contracted in its time scale than a game like Pendragon. In D&D, the player characters are always on the go, and the opportunities for dynastic considerations are somewhat limited.

However, I could easily see this idea as an extension of the"lost" D&D endgame. In their early days, the characters are looking for loot and adventure. Eventually, around levels 10-14 or so, they settle down, found their own freeholds, and then... what? I contend that, if a campaign were geared for such a thing, they marry, have children, and then their children start off in search of loot and adventure. And thus begins the whole cycle anew. It could also give some more use for the social class and circumstances of birth tables from Unearthed Arcana.

Consider the case of the four classic classes; cleric, fighter, magic-user, and thief. The cleric founds a temple, rises in the Church hierarchy, etc. His daughter, brought up as a novice in the temple, is then sent out as a wandering priestess in her own right, complete with a letter of introduction from her loving father. (Assuming his faith doesn't require celibacy, of course; in such cases, a young novice at the "Gen1" character's temple would  more than fill the bill). The fighter clears land, founds a freehold, and in the process expands the boundaries of the realm (or, civilizes some of the wild borderlands, or re-civilizes a small portion of the lost empire that preceded him, etc.). His son, trained to the family calling, similarly sets out. The magic-user who has also cleared land and set up his tower has trained his own boy... The thief, now head of his own guild/family/whathaveyou, sends out his son to learn the family business the same way he did; from the bottom. You get the idea.

But an endless parade of sons and daughters to fill the ranks of the party might well be boring. The players may, if they wish, start off brand new characters. It really wouldn't matter; the Gen1 characters are now (mostly) NPCs, and everyone needs a family.

The question of time is a legitimate one, but one which can be overcome with a slight change in play style. In short, it requires that the DM actually keep track of time. In my own campaign, I keep track of time, and when winter starts to roll around, the player characters are pretty much grounded until spring, unless something extraordinary comes up during the colder months. That serves to advance time. Mine is also a pretty far-ranging campaign, so there's a lot of travel between cities and kingdoms that also eats up time.

And, honestly, in a game that recognizes the passage of time as a necessary thing, I might ask if its really that much different for the game master to say, "okay, it's been five years, and all of a sudden a messenger from the Duke shows up...", as opposed to, "okay, you spend five days in the inn healing your wounds, and then a messenger from the Duke shows up...".

Note that I am not saying that this style of play should necessarily take the place of the "classic" end-game of politicking and large-scale battles (although it certainly could, if the DM wanted it to). Rather, I see it as turning into something of an equilibrium. You play characters "conventionally" for a few years, then, once they advance to higher levels and the play becomes worn, the "end game" clicks in and they are running their own freeholds and founding dynasties. Once that end of the game has run its course, and the players are back to hankering for the classic dungeon crawl, wilderness adventure, and urban intrigues, the next generation can take over.

It's not something I've done myself, but the more I think about it, the more I just might nudge things in that direction.