So a couple weeks ago I wrote an article about the two main types of games people play and in that I said how I had originally planned on writing about how, when, & why to continue a game. I sadly got distracted yet again last week and thus part 2 ended up falling behind, but fear not. It's here now and I even haven't forgotten part 2 of some of my other two part articles either.
So, last time I discussed how campaign story structure fall into one of two categories, one shot and standard. Some have brought up that I should have brought in "sand box" instead, but I defend my phrasing as these are the two broadest forms of the term and just as "one shot" covers anything from single session con games to multi-session campaigns that don't deviate and have a planned ending so does "standard" cover continuing stories in a linear location as well as sandbox gaming. With that said I would strongly suggest reading Part 1 first to fully understand my versions of these two types of game as they do provide different pro's and cons that effect each of the points I'm going to be making from here on out.
Continuation: This is probably the most common way people see moving a game forward as a story arch comes to a close, so I figured I'd tackle it first.The name more or less says it all, but to clarify, this is when your group isn't done in the world or with the characters of a given game so they continue on. Sure that story might be done, but this is a world of adventure and more stories are just around the corner.
-Standard Game: In a standard game this is most common in the above mentioned "sand box" games as by their nature they have no end in sight and by design are built to be ever growing continuations.
-One Shot Game: Also by their design, one shots do NOT lend themselves to continuation. The fact that a one shot is meant to end when the story does means that continuation is off the table from the start. Now some times during a one shot designed game the group decides that they don't want things to end and it can evolved into an ongoing game.
-Pro: There's a reason this is the standard for keeping a game going. It's easiest to more or less keep things going as they are, make a new challenges for your heroes, and go forward.
-Con: The down side to this is answer is the same issues any series (TV, books, Comics, ect) has and that is if the story is never meant to fully end then resolution stays just out of reach. Sure individual stories have a beginning middle and end, but the over all conflict of the setting can't resolve because then we wouldn't have more adventure. Just as Batman can't ever truly come to terms with his parents murder because if he did he'd stop being Batman or the Winchester brothers can't truly defeat the forces that threaten humanity because if they do there's no more reason to go risk their lives so to can the reason your heroes are out adventuring never fully resolve or else they'd stop adventuring. Sometimes those motives can grow and evolve, but the biggest factor that they don't resolve and jsut change. The other big down side is without an actual end point the only way a game like this will end is either by choosing to eventually stop the continuation and finally give a full and satisfying resolution or the more common occurrence of the game just fading away.
Sequels: This is similar to a continuation, but with a few key differences. While the continuation game keeps trucking on sequels have endings and resolution.
-Standard Game: This is in all honesty my preferred way to handle my gaming as it lets stories play out and characters keep going while not feeling drawn out or forced. The structure takes a little more work as I'll talk about below, but the pay off is much more satisfying.
-One Shot: To me this is the real secret to having one shot style games but not feeling like the characters are disposable. Sequels allow for a group of one shots to feel like a much bigger on going campaign, but with the comfort of only having to design on game at a time.
-Pro: So if you haven't been able to gather this from what I've already said the best aspect of sequels is they basically take the best of both types of games and merge them into one. You get the on going adventures that a long campaign brings, but with each sequel fully resolving and having it's own beginning middle and end.
-Con: The downside to this kind of game is mostly just that it's not an easy act to pull off truly well. I'm sure some of you are reading this and thinking there isn't much difference between a continuation game and sequels and that's the problem. A sloppy sequel it just continuing rather than something else in its own right. The trick and art to a god sequel is it needs to stand on it's own. Yes bringing back old characters is nice and the reason this isn't just a new game all together, but just like how someone can sit and watch Terminator 2 without ever needing to have seen Terminator so should your players not need to been there for the adventures before if you want a sequel to work.\
Spin-Offs: This is a story type I've only started to really dip into, but so far I'm a big fan. This is especially good if you enjoy a world you happen to play in, but want to explore something different or need a change of pace. For example, one of my group's most successful campaigns was a setting called East Texas University where they played college students who end up falling into the world of the supernatural and is all about fighting back things they are unprepared for. Now we are currently playing a setting call Apocalypse Prevention Inc where they are agents of a secret organization that works with demons, ghosts, and monsters to help stop the many apocalypses that pop up all over the world. None of the characters are the same, but I put their first mission in the same town as ETU and make the problem they're currently facing be an outcome of their actions in the earlier game. This puts them in the same world, but it's a completely different point of view and type of game.
-Standard Game: The biggest advantage to this type of game is when your character have reached a point that their story needs to wrap up, but you aren't ready to leave the game world yet. Sometimes heroes get so powerful nothing is much of a challenge or they simple finished what they set out to do. To me this is when a sequel would feel forced (which I've sadly fallen into) and continuation would just be dragging but the inevitable and most likely end in a game just fading away as motivation of the current characters just isn't there anymore.
-One Shot Game: This can be a fun mix as even more than sequels this lets each adventure stand on its own. It also let's you run a much wider range of game types while keeping a common thread linking your stories to something much bigger.
-Pros: This is great for someone who wants a new game, but doesn't want to let the world building they invested in go. This is basically making your own "Marvel Cinematic Universe" of games. You get to make adventures and campaigns that could range from scifi mild horror (Hulk) to scifi super tech (Iron Man) all the way to pure fantasy (Thor) and still link them together and even bring everyone back for a sequel to everything (Avengers).
-Cons: The Marvel comparison is not the norm and while you COULD have a tech based supers game and a pure fantasy game connected you better know what you're doing to connect those threads. More often than not your sequels are going to be at least a little in the same vein like my example where the change is normal people discovering these things to trained agents to battle these things. The order you do spin offs also effects how good they will be. If I were to do the agents first most players would be frustrated to then play unprepared students, especially when they find out it's in the same world. The last down side is the plain and simple fact that these are new games that are in the same world. This isn't keeping your current game alive, but instead using it to enrich your next game. While this isn't exactly a bad thing it also means that your old game is over (at least till it comes back in a sequel).
Well that's it. I know this article isn't for everyone, but I do think more GMs need to think about weather their games should actually go on forever or if there's other options out there. I'm all for a never ending world, but I pains me whenever a great game fades away without getting the ending it deserves and I hope some of these insights will help you find a way to give your games justice when that time comes.