Going through someone else’s closets and trying on their clothes
A recent post by my friend, Ironbombs, put me in mind of a sort of strange idea. He gets to talking about the idea of ‘buy-ins’ and ‘player freedom’ and how they relate to Adventure Paths as a whole, relating to an old Legacy of Fire game that he ran, back in the day. In his post, he talks about how there was a point when the characters logically would not follow the scripted logic of the Adventure Path’s direction, and they should have gone off in a completely different direction with the agendas that they had built over the course of the campaign.
The point that he talks about, the characters are already well-established. They’ve freed a town, set up a trading post and a monastery (two, if you count the ancient temple in the second module), and they’re well on their way to being fairly powerful and influential. By this point, they’re only about a third to half the way through the Adventure Path, and by the end, they’ve grown almost exponentially in power and resources. The fact remains that, if they were to simply abandon the plot railroad at that point, there would be plenty to work with. Of course, by the end of the whole thing, they’re masters of an extra-dimensional hideaway and heritors of a sprawling mansion in the greatest trade city on all the planes, so there’s that. But really, at either point they’ve bought into the setting to the point that they are an intrinsic part of what’s going on.
But what happens then?
Paizo has done a fair job of trying to make sense of a living world, where new generations of adventurers tread the same ground as the legends that have gone before them. There’s a sort of continuity that links the Varisian modules together, although it’s somewhat tenuous until Jade Regent and Shattered Star hit. Events in Runelords affect what happens in Crimson Throne. Characters from Second Darkness share connections with both. And when it comes around to Jade Regent, we’re back in Sandpoint again, visiting the same locales as things come up to speed.
The thing is, they keep much of this open to interpretation, as they’re operating on the hope that established groups will build their own legends as they go along. And depending on how much interest you pay to the goings-on of the company itself, you realize that you’ve already been playing in someone else’s world, with their own characters and legends walking around in the background. (It’s been noted before that Ameiko, the innkeeper that shows up in Burnt Offerings, is apparently James Jacobs’ own character, and his in-house campaign at Paizo was called Shadows Under Sandpoint, likely the beta version of Runelords.) Not that this matters, but it does offer some reference.
Once a group of characters has worked their way through a campaign like one of Paizo’s AP’s, they emerge from the other side as virtual gods, rulers of great nations or generally powerful individuals with the potential to influence the course of nations. Their histories, if they are generally known, are sung in drinking halls and studied at length in the academies of higher learning. But what do you do with the locales that they’ve called home?
To examine Ironbombs’ case, the characters from Legacy of Fire have made an indelible imprint on the nation of Katapesh. The trading center of Kelmarane becomes an important waypoint for the caravans in the deep desert, the Shrine of Vardishal (and the Moldspeaker) is a necessary site of pilgrimage and the House of the Beast is likely to serve as another, given the reputation of the heroes involved. The entire area has become extremely important to the region, given the defeat of Jhavhul and the near apocalypse that was averted. In a lot of ways, it’s a shame to lose such an important campaign resource, now that the adventures are concluded.
Part of the problem lies in the understanding that it’s very difficult to establish a new legend when old legends are still wandering around. Sure, it’s a lot easier when you’re working with the same players as the previous campaign, who can appreciate the callbacks to their previous legendry and are partial to the idea of these characters having a life beyond the old game. But if you’re dealing with a new cast of players and characters, the references aren’t doing much good. Either the notation of the previous characters’ deeds are going to come across as being intrusive on the deeds of the current generation, or they’re simply going to be confusing, as it’s someone else’s story.
In the case of Legacy of Fire, the former characters would be little more than a backdrop, given that they’re likely off on extra-planar jaunts anyway, given the way the module series ended. There are too many dangling plot threads that require them to travel throughout the elemental planes for them to settle down anywhere other than the City of Brass itself, and were they to return to Kelmarane, it would only be for brief moments anyway. Similarly, the end of Rise of the Runelords has the characters scattered to far-flung locales across Varisia, making their settlement in the town of Sandpoint pretty unlikely.
In the end, it comes down to what sort of stories the GM sees trying to create in an established setting. When you’ve spent as much time in a locale as a campaign requires, there’s an investment that begs for further exploration of the place in question. Having lived in a space for long enough, it becomes second nature to revisit it, even if the players have rotated out. A conscientious GM can run the same grooves they’ve grown accustomed to, breathing life into the old familiar streets, even if he leaves out the details that fixed it in his mind the first time characters tread its stones. The trick would be to bring new people into the locale without fixating on the fact that it’s someone else’s house they have found themselves in. It may have been another character’s home turf, but logically, it has to become home for someone new in order for the continuance to make any sense or provide any fun.