Friday, January 25, 2013
Running Crossover Games
by Tobie Abad
Sometimes, you just can't help it. You love certain geek franchises too much that you just want to have your cake and eat it too. Thankfully, in table-top games, it isn't a bad thing to indulge in cross-overs. In fact, it can make your gaming life have a richer and fuller experience.
The real tricky part in Cross-Over Games is having a system that supports the said franchises the right way, and having players who would be receptive to the idea. The first part can be a challenge given some crossovers might be a tad too out there to have a smooth transition. But any creative storyteller can make the elements work out well if he really sets his mind to it. Since the existence of this blog (which is pretty young given the very first post was October of 2011) I've already run a Doctor Who/Serenity cross-over twice, a D.C./Authority cross-over game, and a major Changeling the Lost and Promethean the Created Game that crossed over with fantasy stories and Disney in what felt like a serious take on the Kingdom Hearts saga. And that's not counting the games which have multiple lines that I've mixed together.
First, make sure your Audience will ENJOY it.
Don't do cross-overs just cause you want to. Make sure it is also because your players would want to experience it. A game is always first and foremost a social activity meant to be fun for all those involved. So don't run a Star Wars game, then surprise your players with Star Trek showing up in it, unless they're fans of both franchises.
The System May Matter. So Study That Too.
Given how some gamers are very nitpicky about system crunch in their games, be sure to look into how you'll reflect the cross-over characters system-wise before you have it happen. It won't be cool with such a group if you are running an X-Men game and have Darkseid show up if you don't have any stats to represent Darkseid once they opt to fight him (or at least try to use their powers on him in one way or another.) Be sure to check online cause you never know if someone out there has already attempted something you have in mind. For example, the DC Heroes (MEGS) system had a very strong cross-over support system with websites like Writeups.org. Classic World of Darkness once benefited from a very strong fanbase with websites such as B.J. Zanzibar and Ex Libris Nocturnis that provided lots of home-brewed systems for Zombies, Dragons and the like to be added to one's White Wolf Games.
Find Nice Parallels to Use.
The best Cross-Overs are when the second franchise is gradually hinted at before finally being revealed for an "Aha!" moment. In my Serenity games, for example, I toyed with the fact both Serenity and Dr. Who had a River (Song/Tam), a Doctor (Doctor Who/Simon Tam) and used both to full effect. I can imagine people coming up with other cross-over games utilizing Jack Sparrow, for example, and Captain Jack of Torchwood. Or have an Arrow/Revenge cross-over given the similarities the lead have in their lot in life.
The initial misdirection can be a good source of tension in the narrative. The final reveal has to be played well or might come-off as goofish rather than cool. A large part in accomplishing that is by not skipping a beat in the reveal and giving any hint of humorous pause. Just keep the plot moving and show how the characters are really part of the story.
Slip It Into The Canonical History If You Can.
When I ran my games, I tried to make references to other canonical events as well from either franchise. In the Serenity game, River Song gives Kaylee a hint that perhaps a certain Doctor does have feelings for her too. And to not give up when all hope seems lost. In the D.C. Heroes/Authority game, I had the big bad guy be the xenomorphs from Aliens, just cause it nicely resonated with how Stormwatch died in the comics.
Drawing upon established historical canon makes the cross-over feel more authentic. And in instances where there are multiple variants of a franchise's history (for instance, X-men in the comics does not match with the X-men in the movie) the mention of events can help ease the player quickly to which variant is being used in the game.
If Crossing-Over Two Different Game Lines, Establish a System.
Mixing franchises is easier than mixing game lines which may have totally different systems that you have to contend with. Running a Legend of the Five Rings game, then mixing in Samurai Jack is easier than mixing Legend of the Five Rings with Exalted, since in one you just convert the franchise character using the system and in the other, you have two systems to consider. L5R has no concept of Essence Pools to say the least. What more the multitude of charms in Exalted. And the Raises might be harded to pull off in Exalted given the dice systems are approached differently.
Clearly, establishing a common system becomes necessary. But realize, this is needed ONLY when characters from the two game settings are made to directly clash. Given a scene where a Samurai from the Lion Clan fights alongside a Dawn Caste Solar, you don't need to worry about the two players making separate rolls as long as their actions are independently resolved. For the "final boss" you can just note down key attacks or signature moves and choose which systems reflect them. Maybe all you need is to give your villains the appropriate number of "hits" for each system, and once players knock those out, consider the bad guy beaten. The Demon Warrior might have ten health levels for the Exalted system and a different Health track for the other. If the Exalt is to defeat the Demon alone without the Samurai's help, he only need deal damage equal to 1.5 times the health you marked (thus emphasizing how things might work better with teamwork).
I've always been more into role-playing than roll-playing, so reducing crunch to dramatic moments has always been the most effective method for me to resolve things. I tend to favor the players' choices in dramatic moments, to give them the satisfaction of accomplishing things story-wise rather than feel like they're just being railroaded into the plot. So it is not uncommon for me to have any major enemy require both players to deliver a final blow before it finally falls down defeated.
Lastly, Don't Forget the Catchphrases.
Be sure to thrown in at least once or twice a catchphrase or two in the game. Even better if your players find a way to throw them in with a twist appropriate to the game.