We recently ended a long-running campaign of Heroes of Karia Vitalus. The HoKV game started out using the BESM system with a lot of changes, but has since basically grown into its own system that we’re going to be working on in the future as a stand-alone.
But I wanted to talk about the game, how it ended, and the things that made it amazing overall.
First: it actually ended
So many games never come to a satisfactory end, and they need to. You need to have at least a chance to resolve the issues that your character has built up during the game and to bring some kind of closure to the story. If nothing else, you need to show that you have follow-through so that next time the players will stick with you to the end, knowing that the game won’t just drag along and then die of neglect.
Player-created and player-managed NPCs
I’ve decided that this almost has to happen. I loved creating NPCs for Heroes of Karia Vitalus and having them woven into the story, even when it was only a small overlap. But the more I did this, the more I felt deeply invested in the setting, which made me a better player and made the game a better game for everyone.
If there is a way for players to create NPCs, then the GM also has a great idea of what interests the players and what they want to see – and a lot of the busy-work is already done, enthusiastically.
The game blog
This is the third or fourth experiment I’ve been part of with maintaining a blog for a game I’m in or running, and it worked out great. It provided story before as well as story after, a place to foreshadow or tie up loose ends if that is what was needed, to introduce new storylines and characters, and so on. Also, in-character write-ups of all of the 40 sessions helped us all develop our character’s voice, personality, psychology and so on.
The scale was immense, but was built steadily over time
The scale was always large, but we as PCs were buoyed up into it gradually, like a surfacing diver avoiding the bends. By the end, we matched the scale – in a lot of ways, we were as big as the world – but not quite big enough to save the day without a great cost.
Downtime was overt, and otherwise the tension and pressure was almost constant
When we had downtime, it was clear – “Ok, you’ve got six weeks of downtime, after which, you won’t have time to rest or prepare. So how are you using it?” I’ve experimented with various ways of handling downtime, and the best seems to be to just put it out on the table. It also lets you keep up constant pressure during the up-time, ratcheting the tension constantly.
Once you’ve bought into your character and the setting deeply, losing something of value is going to hurt, and that is going to connect you to the game in a deeper way. It shouldn’t be done sadistically, and there should be some warning that a particular storyline will take a tragic turn as the game progresses – if nothing else, then so the player can give warning if that will be too much of a downer. One of our players was clear that she didn’t want horrible things to happen to her, and played a character who was sort of disconnected and self-contained as a way to reinforce this. Others of us reveled in it when Horrible Things happened to our characters and those they cared about.
Self-sacrifice was central, and there was always a cost
Heroes are heroes because they sacrifice themselves for the good of others. That’s about it. Some games and some systems will support this better than others, but there should be something in there, some cost for victory. The higher the cost, the more dear the victory.
Players were allowed time, but not too much
Even as the tension was kept high, there was time for little moments between characters, as the outside action slows and the focus zooms in while something poignant happens. We had a few of these moments during the Big Ending, and they were excellent. Its good to stretch rules about timing, about turns and rounds of combat, so that these things can happen organically, because they are often worth it.
Eucatastrophe is the heart of good stories
Eucatastrophe is the unexpected turn of something horrible and hopeless into something beautiful and triumphant. It is help from an unexpected quarter, mercy in the midst of suffering; it is a cry of “The eagles are coming!” in The Hobbit or The Lord of the Rings. It is what tells us, reassures us, that tragedy is not the end and that loss and defeat are not the final word. It is why we tell stories to each other and why those stories are so powerful. At least, its why I do it.
The story led to more stories the whole time
There needs to be some outlet for the stories inspired by the storyline of the game in question. Great stories give life to further stories. They grow beyond their bounds and last long after the official telling is complete. There needs to be room for this.
Preparation and production values
We should probably post images of some of the things that went into this game. Full-color hand-drawn maps, custom color symbols for all of the races, individual folders with attached dice-bags and individual covers, color stickers for player awards at the end of each Season…you really can’t substitute anything else for production values in a game. They tell the players that this game is worth investing in. They build the trust that the game will be worked on, that it will be kept up, that it is building to a climax that will pay off. Things like this make me way to become artsy-craftsy – maybe someday I will.
Next up, Specifics of the system that made it great
Gems, Gems, Gems
Multiple distinct levels of power and threat
The Kata Kariana
The Story Kata or Final Kata