Saturday, February 9, 2013

Game Idea: Generations

by Tobie Abad

There was a video game that I played many, many, many years back when I was still enjoying video games on the Sega Genesis.  The game astounded me with a concept which totally caught me off-guard.  The game was called Phantasy Star III, and the game allowed me to go through the lives of three generations of my characters.    Why not add something like that to your own games?

In a Generational Game, you get a lot of cool new options or ideas to explore and play with.

Inheritance Is A Player Choice
While it has not been uncommon to have games where the player characters inherited something interesting (or powerful) as a story plot point, why not go the other way and have characters reaching a ripe old age and passing over something important to the NEW characters that the players will get to portray.  

Imagine playing a Game of Thrones inspired game, and after experiencing your character's rise to power, the game shifts to twenty years in the future, as your character's son is now of age to become the heir, and your original character is murdered/poisoned/cursed.  Now you rise up to do what you must and honor your father's name.

Maybe the choice of inheritance is something that carries its own weight as well.  Like maybe of the many treasures and artifacts the character had gathered through his years, only one will be passed on to the child due to certain circumstances to be revealed in the new story arc.  The question does arise:  Which one do you give?  That very choice can be a spawning ground for new stories and interesting plot threads.

The World Becomes More Alive
Many gamers try to make their settings feel more alive by toying with Dynamic Worlds.  The non-playing characters all have their own motivation and goals, and achieve (or fail them) regardless of the players unless the players choose to directly interfere (or support.)  Why not take this a notch further by showing how the players actions, achievements and failures have helped shape or directly influenced things even years after they have long died.    Fans of Frank Herbert novels would readily cite how Dune accomplishes this (although whether that evolution is a good or bad development plot-wise remains something people are free to debate over.)

Showing how influences and reinterpretations of the past can shift around would be incredible narrative elements to explore.  Imagine in a game staring in the early ages where the players establish an area of safety against wild monsters and beasts.  Their very names might be revered through the ages as the tribe grows into a town and the town eventually becomes a city.  And maybe many, many generations down the line, the players with the new later generations of characters learn that their original characters are remembered and revered as Gods!

Dark Reflections
Not every child follows in their father's footsteps.    So consider having a later chronicle be based off a long finished but still fondly remembered game.  For example, perhaps you played a fantastic run with Weapons of the Gods, with the players successfully defeating the Demon Emperor and freeing the land from oppression.  Perhaps as the group starts a new game, you can reveal later on that the first game was fifty or sixty years in the past, and the repercussions and developments achieved from the first game now trickle down to the current one.

And who knows, maybe the heroes back then, in the urge to maintain the order and peace they fought so hard to achieve, has turned them now into tyrants who wipe out any growing opposition or source of chaos for the "betterment of their kingdom."

Good intentions pave the best roads that are filled with evil actions, after all.

The Parent Syndrome
It can also be fun to explore what I call The Parent Syndrome in the game.  As the players retire their first or second batch of characters into NPC status, they start new characters who interact with these NPCs.  A good GM can represent them the way they were played, giving players an idea of how annoying or frustrating or impressive they were.    And before you know it, you have them feeling might proud of being able to achieve goals they've failed to do so before, or feeling shocked at seeing how cantankerous or obnoxious they actually can get.

Then as the older characters, you can throw in the all too familiar parent lines, "When I was your age..." or "Back in my day..."

And trust me, your players will feel torn.  Part of them wants to relish in hearing about their old exploits.  And part of them will want to tune you out and focus on what needs to be done.

Oh kids.

So yeah, try throwing in the concept of Generations into your game.  Whether it be an epic Pathfinder romp, a battle against the ancients and Great Old Ones, or a small recently founded corporation dealing with spooky and other frightfuls, consider what new stories and directions you can explore if you let the player play a new generation of characters in the same time line.


  1. That is a cool idea, but sounds like it'd be a bitch to implement. If I come up with any workable ideas, I'll let you know.


    1. Usually this works for long term games. One of the longest I had was three interlocked Changeling the Dreaming Chronicles (yes chronicles, not stories), each one spanning a few real time months (If I recall correctly, it was three real years total).

      Alternately, you can have each story set a certain era in time.


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