by Tobie Abad
Originally published August 27, 2000
I believe that Storyteller games are best when they have a great story. We all love hearing a great story.
Even more so, to be part of a great story.
But GREAT STORIES can be detrimental to a storyteller game too, if one is not careful. Sounds impossible? Stupid? Ironic? Perhaps, but in my experience, it has been discovered to be true.
A few years back, my gaming group and I played a Changeling: the Dreaming game that had so much life, fervor and adventure that even when the chronicle ended, we knew we wanted more.
Even when the cast of characters in the high-modern fantasy game reached the peak of their potentials (one was High Queen, replacing her late Uncle David's throne, another had become the greatest Knight in the land whose battle-prowess became a living legend, so on and so forth) we found ourselves struggling to think of reasons or ways to continue the game without resorting to godlike foes and world-sized opponents. We dug into our brains for possibilities and situations to toss to these characters who have finally found their heart's love and accomplished their destinies.
We started a second chronicle. Changeling: the Dreaming as well. Set in a different manner. And yet, in the same game world. The former PCs were now NPCs. The new PCs were basic new characters.
The game was wonderful. It had history. Life. And even a sense of epicness. Being able to role-play a scribe narrating heroic battles of lore (which were scenes in the former chronicle) was so emotionally true, I was moved to real tears.
But soon, even that game ended.
And we persisted.
A third chronicle rose, much more grand than the first two, with a world spanning story that threatened to end the existence of life and dreams. The NPCs in the third chronicle touched base with the first two games. And in the end, when PC faced former PC and various scenes called for real tears, painful memories, regrets and denied love... we found ourselves in a world so beautiful and tragic that the game ended with us all sharing a long moment of silence. And sighs.
It was the most heart-touching emotional moment we ever shared from a role-playing game.
We stopped playing Changeling for a while, and began to trade stories of Vampire: the Masquerade, Mage: the Asencion and the like.
But we yearned for its return.
Now, a few months later since the third one ended, we began the FOURTH Changeling chronicle. Again, the NPCs were the former PCs. The new cast had barely any connections to the old ones and yet knew them to be historically heroes.
And yes, the game is tremendously fun.
But there's a problem which my players have yet to notice. One I worry about now without telling them.
Can this game ever be just as good?
Or will this game spoil the beautiful and cherished memories of the previous ones.
Many movies in history got progressively worse with each passing sequel. From SPEED, to NIGHTMARE ON ELM's STREET, to ALIEN (after the second), to HIGHLANDER and BATMAN, attempts to recapture the fun and beauty of a previous work tend to degenerate. Granted we have had our infrequent successes (BACK TO THE FUTURE, TERMINATOR and INDIANA JONES) the possibility of the new game being comparable to the old one is questionable.
And, for a storyteller like myself who does feel heavily (but not wholly) responsible to making the game successful, that worries me.
What if my new chronicle twists the events set in "history" too much that it ruins the "magic" of the Changeling multi-chronicle story? What if I damage the wonderful memories of a modern fantasy game that made us cry and feel?
What if this new story is nothing compared to the old one?
For now, I have no answers to give. None other than a cop out saying, "One should not compare one game to another. Each should be judged wholly by itself." But such an adage doesn't really apply when the two games were approached to be seen as one, right?
As of this republishing of the article, I am now playing with a new group of players who are experiencing Changeling: the Dreaming for the first time. As it turns out, it doesn't need to be the same group. The fear of running a game to be as awesome, as inspiring, and as moving as the previous ones is a fear that will persist whenever a storyteller treads new ground. But perhaps the fear becomes less powerful if one embraces the concept of the Monomyth and celebrates instead each game chronicle as a new opportunity to re-explore the familiar grounds that were codified by Joseph Campbell. And with that, things feel less a frightening attempt at recapturing the wonder achieved before and instead become an exciting new venture into familiar ground.
And ultimately, if the players and the storyteller are having fun... whose to have any right of saying it is being done wrong?