Meta-Chronology: History of the Stand-Alone Campaigns
Lowell Francis
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South Bend
Indiana
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A companion list to my other one (Meta-Chronology: Campaigns in my Game World) which detailed all of the games I've run in my on-going fantasy campaign world. I'm trying to inventory all of the campaigns I've run through the years. For this purpose I'm considering anything that had several sessions to it, had a continuity of character, and wasn't just one adventure/module or the like.

I've leaving out all the earliest stuff I ran-- just things from middle school on. I recall having a discussion many years ago with someone about length of playing and running. I'd been doing it longer than he, but- as he rightly pointed out- I had many years of doing that when I was too young to really craft a good game. Mind you age doesn't necessarily mean a good game, but I do think experience counts for something.

I've had a lot of crash-and-burn campaigns, those without a full arc or which got interrupted by outside circumstances. I've certainly gotten better about that over the years. Where I remember a campaign by a particular name, I've mentioned that as a title.
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1. RPG Item: James Bond 007 [Average Rating:7.69 Overall Rank:137]
Lowell Francis
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South Bend
Indiana
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In grade school I ran and played in Villains & Vigilantes (Boxed Set), Gamma World, Top Secret (1st and 2nd Editions), Boot Hill and of course Dungeons & Dragons (Original Edition). My sister received the original boxed D&D set Christmas of 1975 and we started playing pretty much right away...of course I barely understood what was going on.

The first set of games I really remember building any kind of coherent backstory for was an irregular James Bond game. We played through the various modules, but I pretty quickly moved to my own adventures, new ideas for organizations and plots, and adapting other materials. I won't say it felt like a full campaign, but more of a linked series of adventures with the same characters. Still people seemed interested in the new things I was spinning out, so I enjoyed that.
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2. RPG Item: Champions (Second Edition) [Average Rating:7.53 Overall Rank:2273]
Lowell Francis
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South Bend
Indiana
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Even before that I'd picked up the first edition of Champions which pretty quickly knocked V&V out of the way in local gaming circles. I won't say I really understood the rules, but I could fake it pretty well. Honestly, I don't think I got a grip on the system until the 3rd edition when I finally felt I could number crunch and hard goob with the best of them. Through middle school I ran on and off games for friends until they moved away from rpg gaming. I mostly utilized the existing Enemies books or adapted characters from V&V products. I'd say it counts as a campaign in that I have a pretty strong memory of the characters and some of the NPCs I used.
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3. RPG Item: Fringeworthy [Average Rating:7.29 Overall Rank:6624]
Lowell Francis
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South Bend
Indiana
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One of my favorite oddball rpgs, I picked up Fringeworthy because I'd enjoyed the humor of Bureau 13: Stalking the Night Fantastic (1st Edition) so much. The concept was great-- allowing the GM to come up with many different kinds of situations and letting the players explore to try to piece together the clues as to what made the world different. I ran a number of sessions of this, with a fairly continuous cast of characters. But of course it was in a period wehere we picked up and put down rpg campaigns at the drop of a hat.
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4. RPG Item: Players Handbook (AD&D 1e) [Average Rating:7.88 Overall Rank:40]
Lowell Francis
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Indiana
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In high school I ended up playing with some of the older group of gamers, some part of my sister's circle. I ran several campaigns, the first of which I really remember was our AD&D game. They had a long-running quest to battle against the various different dragons of the world and gather together some kind of McGuffin item. I remember we used a lot of the second-party oddball material that was out there as well-- with one person playing a gadgeeter (which I think came out of Arduin or the like). The game had a pattern and an arc- and went on for at least a year before it broke down into inter-party fighting that left a bad taste in my mouth. I never finished up the story, but I'd draw on several characters and elements from that campaign for my later games.
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5. RPG Item: GURPS Basic Set (First Edition) [Average Rating:6.56 Overall Rank:4738]
Lowell Francis
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South Bend
Indiana
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Some of us had played Melee, Wizard, In The Labyrinth, and so on for a few years so when Man to Man came out we were fairly interested. That was just the combat rules from what would eventually become GURPS. One person in the group ran a game using M2M where we began as pit fighters and then bought our freedom and tried to become hunters and trappers (with Hârn as the backdrop).

When GURPS came out we picked it up and pretty quickly I hit upon a concept to use the whole "do anything" idea of the rules. The PCs would all be children of Amber (from Zelazny's stories) battling through a number of worlds in the hopes of claiming some power. I borrowed from a number of places (including After the Bomb from TMNT) to have different worlds. It worked OK, but we had some balance problems as we weren't fully set on the rules yet. For example magery could be bought as much as people wanted (which was either a misreading or how it was in the first book) which created a balance problem. We also had some spill-over inter-party fighting. I think we probably got a dozen+ sessions out of the game before I gave up on it. other people were running more interesting things.
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6. RPG Item: Who Watches the Watchmen? [Average Rating:7.00 Overall Rank:5470]
Lowell Francis
United States
South Bend
Indiana
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Saviors

In college I still put a good deal of attention into gaming...probably more than I should have. I'd begun the first real and solid game in my fantasy campaign world and it was going well. At the same time I wanted to do something new with supers. Watchmen had just come out, as had things like the new take on The Question, Thriller, Miracleman, The Dark Knight, and so on. I could name another dozen comics that had begun to invert the usual tropes in the late 80's, early 90's-- before things blew up into the Iron Age of Comics (as Green Ronin puts it).

Anyway, I decided to run a street or at least low level supers game using Champions (2nd Edition). This was a couple of years before Dark Champions:Heroes of Vengeance (First Edition) came out, so mostly what I had for resources was Danger International and Super Agents as resources. I did a lot of planning for the campaign, building an elaborate backstory. Supers had existed during WW2, but that had been a fluke. The modern era now had non-powered adventurers trying to emulate that.

The campaign was a surprising success- the roster switched around a bit, but we ended up with a solid core group of players. We played that pretty solidly for about three years with a couple of significant breaks I'm not counting into my timeline there. It was the first non-fantasy game I'd had with a full story arc. It was also one of the first games I ran where the good guys didn't win in the end. Eyes wide open, knowing the consequences, but split by their own internal divisions and rivalries, they ended up killing off some of the real heroes and handing things over to the bad guys. It was one of those cases of my handing them enough rope over time for them to hang themselves. Still it had a strong impact, and even if they'd lost, the players knew they'd come to that point by their own devices.
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7. RPG Item: Gangbusters (3rd Edition) [Average Rating:6.72 Overall Rank:4012]
Lowell Francis
United States
South Bend
Indiana
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I briefly ran a gangster game using GURPS around this time as well. Set in 1930's San Francisco, the major plot of the game was that there existed a group of masked adventurers causing havok for the criminal underworld. The group were made men trying to come up with some kind of plan to deal with them. It was a pretty good premise, but it did mean having the players run the bad guys. That can be fine in limited doses, but I'm not so partial to that these days- I think in the long term that kind of campaign always lends itself to the characters falling out with one another and eventually bad feelings between players. Even in just this short run game we had that, with the group offing one of the PCs on flimsy evidence that he might have revealed something to the vigilante team.
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8. RPG Item: Ninja Hero (4th Edition) [Average Rating:6.92 Overall Rank:6788]
Lowell Francis
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South Bend
Indiana
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Late in college before I left for Grad school I tried to run an Asian-themed fantasy campaign. Ninja Hero had come out and provided a nice source-kit for building martial arts systems in Champions. This was long before L5R had seen the light of day and I mostly drew from Bushido (2nd Edition) and Oriental Adventures. I tried to build several different regions players could come from, each based in a particular Asian culture. It worked ok, but the nature of the Hero system meant that a combat could eat up an entire evening. We had a number of interesting sessions, but it never went anywhere significant. I mention it because several players still have fond memories of their characters from that game.
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9. RPG Item: Wild Cards [Average Rating:7.83 Overall Rank:3078]
Lowell Francis
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South Bend
Indiana
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I took a break from running after grad school-- a little while before I got back into the various fantasy campaigns that would actually really begin to shape what I was running. In the meantime I did try a couple of short-lived Supers campaigns. I used Champions to try to do a Wild Cards campaign. We had GURPS Supers Wild Cards out as a resource at that time, but we'd tried the GURPS Supers rules and hated them.

For this I had everyone make up a normal and then gave them powers (of a sort) based on the personality they'd established. I think we maybe got four or five sessions out of this before various players went in different directions. At that time I was pretty lazy about starting and stopping games-- there were a few other games I tried that I never got more than a session or two worth of play out of.
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10. RPG Item: Champions 3rd Edition [Average Rating:7.13 Overall Rank:2725]
Lowell Francis
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Indiana
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Parallel to the Wild Cards game I also tried to run an over-the-top supers game, with really powerful heroes and all of the classic tropes I could think of. A couple of GMs in the group had run DC Heroes and I kind of wanted to simulate that feel in a Champions game. I had a timeline with alien invasions, Monster Island, Moonbases-- all kinds of crazy stuff all mashed together. A little like Ellis' Planetary and Authority but not nearly as literate or interesting. We had a number of sessions of this, but again it never really took and I wasn't happy with what I was doing with superheroes.
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11. RPG Item: Dark Champions:Heroes of Vengeance (First Edition) [Average Rating:7.88 Overall Rank:3118]
Lowell Francis
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South Bend
Indiana
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Saviors: Next Gen

Around this time Cyberpunk 2020 had really started to enter its heyday as an rpg. I liked the ideas of that setting, but a couple of things bothered me. Primarily it was that Cyberpunk seemed to be the game set after the game I actually wanted to play. What I wanted to see was a game set during the time when all of this new tech first arrived and had its impact on people's lives- what would that look like? how would that change people's approaches to ordinary things.

I decided to revisit the Saviors campaign setting and bump things up twenty+ years. I'd already established a heavy corporate presence in that world as well as a higher level of tech. In this new game the players would be vigilantes in a world just beginning to deal with the full implications of brain chips, neural implants, a fully dangerous and active Cyberworld and so on. I added in other sci-fi themes (an intelligent virus, genetic manipulation, low-level psychics on the run and so on). It wasn't exactly the Watchmen-esque campaign I'd run before but it was pretty good. That ran for a little under two years and, while we didn't have a full "ending" for the campaign, we had a pretty good breaking point where the PCs had made some pretty major impacts on the society at large.
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12. RPG Item: GURPS Old West [Average Rating:6.73 Overall Rank:3961]
Lowell Francis
United States
South Bend
Indiana
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Before Deadlands came out I ran a short-lived Weird West game, mostly drawing on Joe Lansdale and his work on Jonah Hex. While I'd intended it to be more straight horror, it ended up becoming more horror comedy set in a strange Old West heavily tainted by malign and supernatural influences. We only had a half dozen sessions, but it was quite fun. The only campaign where I've had a player black out at the table from laughing too hard.
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13. RPG Item: Champions 4th Edition [Average Rating:7.06 Overall Rank:936]
Lowell Francis
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South Bend
Indiana
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Frontline

I had a pretty big gap between those last supers campaigns and the next one I decided to run. In this case it was because I'd started to run three fantasy GURPS campaigns simultaneously. However I still had some nights to fill and I decided I wanted a good solid Supers game that actually had an arc to it and some depth. My friend Rob had run a fairly successful Champions game and I asked to borrow some of his background elements. However I ended up taking things in a fairly different direction.

The PCs were actually an FBI Superhero team which changed up some of the approach the players had from the kinds of standard super games they'd played in. At first they were pleased by the amount of power and freedom that gave them, but eventually they had to deal with the bureaucracy and redtape of that role. I added in some alien invasion/conspiracy stuff and then someone pointed out it seemed like the X-Files-- which I hadn't seen since it was just in the middle of its first season and only on late night in our area. To that mix I borrowed some of the ideas of the Technocracy from Mage to provide a largish conspiracy dedicated to maintaining a certain status quo in the world.
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Lowell Francis
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South Bend
Indiana
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I kept adding campaigns around this time. At one point I had seven regular campaigns running as well as pick-up games. I tried to work across a number of genres and systems to keep things fresh. To that end I ran a World of Darkness mash-up game, allowing players to choose character types from across the various systems. I kept things pretty loose which meant that play balance between the types wasn't really a problem.

I had a Mage Prince in power in Chicago with the group as members of his new society, trying to bring a certain stability to the area after a major conflict had wiped out most of the major factions. It was a goofy premise, but the nature of having the various old WoD "races" cross-over is inherently goofy...generally they don't play well together. Since a good number of these games quickly devolve into thinly veiled dark superhero campaigns, I decided to grab a hold and run with that. I used quite a bit of the Kult backstory as well to pull a change up on players a little too familiar with the existing cosmology. Finally the game concluded with a kind of Gehenna event which wiped out 99% of the supernaturals. That ended up being somewhat poignant, with the players deciding they couldn't really fight against the world itself changing and simply waiting for the end to come.

That lasted about a year and a half, including a couple of PC switch arounds early on.
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15. RPG Item: Ars Magica (3rd edition) [Average Rating:7.62 Overall Rank:166]
Lowell Francis
United States
South Bend
Indiana
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I count the time we spent playing/running an Ars Magica campaign troupe style as one of my campaigns. The four of us dipped pretty deeply into the game, working up strong backstories, developing NPCs, and building new mechanics and ideas. One player spent weeks researching medieval herbalism for their character.

The campaign itself was set in Eastern Europe, with the threat of the Turk hanging over us like the Sword of Damocles. The person who'd suggested the campaign had built some of those structures into the material. He'd come out of a Cyberpunk rpg background and really wasn't happy unless the feeling of threat permeated every corner of things. In that way we had a really strong split in styles and approaches between the several GMs. One would try to build things up for the Covenant, while another would work to strip things down. I ended up taking a kind of middle path, though my preference is for building games. I ran the Black Death module and a few other adventures trying to explore the dynamics of the setting.

We played for a little under a year before the primary GM decided he wanted to reboot and run the whole thing himself. When we sat down to play it became clear his intent was to go full cyberpunk/dark/nihilistic in his approach to the new game. That wasn't what I wanted to play in and I told him so (very badly). In retrospect I could have handled that much, much better. But in any case we went no further with that campaign.
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16. RPG Item: Delta Green [Average Rating:8.59 Overall Rank:2]
Lowell Francis
United States
South Bend
Indiana
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The last of the memorable campaigns I ran when I was running far too many at once was a noble experiment. The Unspeakable Oath had been running some articles on Delta Green and our group liked the concept. I tried to run two parallel tracks of games- one set in the 1920's and one set in the 1990's with the idea that loose threads and events from the former would eventually impact the latter. It was a generally good idea but I never got a strong grip on the structure. Part of the problem was in having two different groups of players with some cross-over. The other part was that splitting like that meant my focus diffused. Neither part really came together and as a result I ended up stopping both after about a total of a dozen sessions.
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17. RPG Item: AMBER Diceless Role-Playing [Average Rating:7.64 Overall Rank:145]
Lowell Francis
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South Bend
Indiana
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The next three campaigns in my list all started out strong but never got up to speed. The first was another attempt (a dozen years later) to do a game using Zelazny's Amber as a background. I'd picked up Amber Diceles but wasn't yet ready to move all the way to a completely narrative-based diceless approach. I tried a homebrew system (the roots of what would eventually be Action Cards). The premise was persons in a modern setting discovering they were orphans of Amber and getting embroiled in the weird dimensional shifts happening in their world. It went well for a long time, but a couple of the players didn't like the setting and the complexity of it. I went through a series of contortions trying to bring their interest back into the game, at the cost of the rest of the group's interest and my own desire to run the thing. After less than a year I shut it down. We had some great stuff come out of the campaign, and it is the one my wife most requests coming back to again, but there's still a little sour taste in my mouth about it.
 
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18. RPG Item: Watchmen: Taking Out the Trash [Average Rating:7.50 Unranked]
Lowell Francis
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Indiana
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I also tried again to do a full reboot of the Saviors setting, this time with a new group of people. I spent a good deal of time setting up the backstory, producing graphic news-sheets, and doing general prep. However it never worked very well. Part of the problem was that I went back to use Champions again. Most of the new group I had weren't familiar with the system. They didn't like the mechanics heaviness of it-- feeling it got in the way of investigation and role-play. We also had a group with a lot of other scheduling conflicts which meant we rarely had the full table at any session. But I think probably the biggest factor is that Moore's work, which had been original at the time, had gotten played out and reworked so heavily that it felt a little old and tired. Not that I was drawing too heavily on that, but some of the things which had made the earlier campaigns jump didn't have the same resonance several years on. I'd like to do another low-level supers game someday, but I think I'd need to come up with a completely new approach.
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19. RPG Item: GURPS Cops [Average Rating:7.00 Overall Rank:3185]
Lowell Francis
United States
South Bend
Indiana
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Finally the last campaign I started that fell apart was an attempt to do an early 1960's police procedural ala James Ellroy (LA Confidential and American Tabloid). I set it in San Francisco, having done a chunk of work on that for the earlier gangsters campaign. I had a solid setting, good players and a pretty good plot that I got several sessions out of, but this time scheduling really put the kibosh on the play of it. It is the kind of thing that works in short segments and while I wouldn't use that setting again, I'd still like to run a procedural series.
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20. RPG Item: Unknown Armies [Average Rating:7.74 Overall Rank:251]
Lowell Francis
United States
South Bend
Indiana
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City of Ocean

I had a small group of three players who wanted to play in something unusual. I don't think I can do justice to this campaign which ran about three years using Action Cards with a small table of three and then two players. I used some of the elements of Unknown Armies as a backdrop, but then pulled out every other strange idea I could and pitched them at the players week after week.

The secret premise of the game was about the ratio of noise to information, and the player by the very action of following something down or investigating it, actually made things real. That was a difficult trick to pull off for three years, but it paid off. The reveal at the end really surprised the players and made absolute sense in the context of everything they'd seen.
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21. RPG Item: Vampire: The Masquerade (Revised Edition) [Average Rating:7.31 Overall Rank:296]
Lowell Francis
United States
South Bend
Indiana
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I have a fairly extensive campaign post-mortem in two parts- Part One http://rpg.geekdo.com/thread/430289 and Part Two http://rpg.geekdo.com/thread/431715.

In brief this was a game where I wanted to really play true to the Vampire setting, and avoid the "Supers with Fangs" problems common to many campaigns. It went pretty well, with a full campaign arc for about a year and a quarter. While I was generally happy with it, there were a few problem I noted in my wrap up.
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22. RPG Item: VirtualFront [Average Rating:7.20 Overall Rank:7440]
Lowell Francis
United States
South Bend
Indiana
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HCI

This was kind of a trick I pulled on the players that worked (in part). I started a Legend of the Five Rings campaign and ran it for some time before I revealed that in fact the players weren't in that setting-- they were actually in a simulation...an entertainment providing shared VR worlds. However, they soon discovered that even this wasn't entirely true-- the company didn't actually have a VR Samurai world-- and the were supposed to have been in another portal game entirely. Long story short, they would eventually discover that the various portals and worlds of the VR had become connected to magic, in fact had become a battleground for Mages (ala Mage: The Ascension). The world they'd been to had been real, but it was as if they'd become like demons-- dropping in to possess these "characters" in the portal, while still retaining memories, motivations and skills of the bodies.

The HCI game was set in the same modern world in which I had run two previous World of Darkness games, both Vampire, one before and one after Gehenna. However the HCI game took place in 2036. They went to other "portals" some of which were real and some of which were strictly VR simulations. They returned to Rokugan several times, ending with the big climax of the campaign. The walked into the middle of the Scorpion Clan Coup-- a game changing event in the L5R Continuity. However things began to fall out in the different way from the original events-- in part to take into account the world differences, in part a response to the PC's actions, and in part to throw off Wone player who knew the history well. In the big climax, massive magical forces from the various worlds collided-- changing things radically. The PCs were, in a sense, split-- their souls returning to the "real world" of 2036, their Rokugani selves continuing on, but also a portion of themselves going back to the original founding of Rokugan and becoming the Kami who had originally fallen from the Heavens and founded the various Great Clans. However, these would be very different Kami-- the same names for the lines, but very different temperaments for the Seven Great lines.

The campaign as a whole ran for well over three years. We played through a number of portals including The Dying Earth Roleplaying Game, Fading Suns and Grimm. I was pretty happy with it when all was said and done.
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23. RPG Item: Mutants & Masterminds [Average Rating:7.10 Overall Rank:673]
Lowell Francis
United States
South Bend
Indiana
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Bloodlines

I posted some discussion of this campaign (along with a sourcebook I wrote up for it) on the Mutants and Masterminds rpg page (http://rpg.geekdo.com/thread/431215).

The Bloodlines setting focused on family lines of superheroes and how they existed in the world. As the Cold War of the 1950’s intensified, the US tested its most powerful thermonuclear weapon. Contrary to models and expectations, this blast’s effects continued on in what came to be known as the Promethean Wave, a series of aurora borealis which lasted an entire year, spanning the globe. Somehow, it activated genetic potential hidden deep within humanity. Within the year the first natural occurring superhumans made their mark. However it became clear quickly that the Promethean gene was held only in a few bloodlines. As humanity takes its first tentative steps into the 21st Century, the superhumans are with them as well. Now with the third and fourth generation of these beings there are still many more questions yet to be resolved.

The background theme for the game would the implications of superpowers being within the genetic lines- rather than the classic democratic everyman image often in comic books. It echoes a little of the issue of Mutants from X-Men, but takes a different approach. Here there's a more science-fiction acceptance and consideration of the consequences.

We did seven sessions of this, which is one more than I'd planned. The players liked the set up and I suspect I'll go back to this well in the future.
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24. RPG Item: Book of Magic [Average Rating:6.71 Overall Rank:6825]
Lowell Francis
United States
South Bend
Indiana
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Arkham Harbor

A pick-up supers campaign which has been happening on and off for the last four years+. We've gotten about fifteen sessions done in that time. The group are hired supers to replace the now missing superteam in the strange ocean-side city of Arkham Harbor. We have lots of mystical threats, oddball characters and general stupidity. Perhaps the most interesting thing about the game is that all four players are women. That makes for a completely different dynamic at the table than when running for an all-male or mixed group of players. That's a topic which deserves its own post, but generally the group spins off in directions I don't expect.
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25. RPG Item: The Dragon-Blooded [Average Rating:7.23 Overall Rank:1391]
Lowell Francis
United States
South Bend
Indiana
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Crux

I'd used some of the Exalted mechanics for a short run fantasy game I did and one of the players became intrigued by the system. He ended up deciding to run a Solar campaign (and let one player run a Lunar). I generally liked the setting, but not the game itself. While the general idea of the Solars as renegades chased across the Empire had some potential to it, I ended up becoming more interested in the existing powers of the Dragon-Blooded-- less powerful but more numerous.

I decided to run a Dragon-Blooded campaign. I tried to take a new tactic with the campaign creation- I would set the game in one city and every day during the lead up to the campaign I would post a new person, place or thing about the city. A little like a wiki rpg, I would reference things I hadn't yet talked about and do a kind of freewriting exercise to generate material. That ended up being pretty successful and by the end I had fifty or sixty pages of background material and the players had an evolving sense of the place. Since they'd seen a little bit of new material everyday it wasn't overwhelming. That material would also serve as the backbone of the wiki we eventually set up for the campaign.

It went well- much better than I expected. We played for about a year and a half before we hit a real roadblock. One of the players (coincidentally the one who'd run the lousy Exalted game) started getting really vocal and obnoxious at the table. While the est of the group enjoyed playing with each other, planning and enjoying the setting, he wasn't. I talked to him for several times about it-- asking him what he wanted from the game. He'd give me feedback, I'd use that in the game and then he'd ask "WTF? why are we doing that?" despite having asked for those plots or threads. The break came when he actually screamed at the other players for trying to plan out how they wanted to take on a Solar adversary.

I stopped the game there-- and it sat that way for about a year and a half before I picked it up again and continued on (with that player replaced) for about nine months. We had to take another break because of a one player's schedule, and we've still got it on hiatus. Everyone loves the game and wants to get back to it, but that particular missing player served as kind of the emotional core of the group and no one wants to play without her. I hope we can continue the campaign eventually.
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