The Multi-Game Campaign

Posted by on Feb 11, 2012 in Creativity, Musing, Play, Question, RPGs | 8 Comments

I’ve wanted to do this but never have. Have you done it?

The idea is simple, the execution complex. For each major chapter in your RPG campaign, you use a different game to resolve the action. You hack and modify the games you want to use like crazy, some more than others. What starts as an investigation lead by various governments in a weary, war-torn metropolis leads to the highest tier of society (Cold City). There, in glorious and lavish penthouse ballrooms untouched by the war below, the glitterati dance and drink and dare each other  (via The Dance and the Dawn) to determine who gets whom. That leads to a Fiasco involving miserable spouses, true love, stolen diamonds, and broken hearts that return us to the lowest levels of the city.

Or what about a military campaign that plays out over a century, beginning with complex machinations and paranoia (via Burning Empires) before progressing to the madness of an all-consuming galaxy-wide war (via 3:16 Carnage Amongst The Stars) and finally culminating in the least likely soldiers fighting in the bombed-out remains of the last human city (via Grey Ranks).

A great many of these games don’t let many characters out intact, so the traditional notion of following a core cast of PCs on a long literal or figurative journey might not work out. Rather, it might be necessary to tie individual games together with a few standout characters—who are playable only in certain chapters, maybe—or narrative connective tissue like monologues, flashbacks, or just a recurring theme or motif that brings together what would otherwise be a loose anthology.

My gut says this idea would require a lot of cooperation, maybe to the point of demanding certain metagaming choices be made during play, but I think the unique satisfaction from pulling it off would be worth it for the group that finds this compelling. Remember, the game that covers the next chapter wouldn’t have to be preordained. It might be that whoever gets the happiest result of the Fiasco story gets to decide what the next chapter is about, for example, so this wouldn’t have to be a strictly planned experience.

What games might you connect into a campaign if you could?


  1. Michael Wenman
    February 11, 2012

    I’ve proposed this notion to several of my campaign groups over the years, and on two occasions I’ve actually managed to pull it off. Once running a simultaneous campaign with two separate games handling different types of action within the game world…and a second time running thins more in the manner that you’ve described (Werewolf the Apocalypse for the events leading up to the end of the world and a stripped-down hack of Cyberpunk2020 to handle the post apocalypse stuff). In retrospect (and with more atmospheric games available now) I’d probably choose different games to do it with, but it’s definitely a concept I’d be interested in revisiting.

  2. Jeremy Forbing
    February 11, 2012

    I proposed this exact thing to my gaming group a few months ago, set in a world where mysterious cities (from alternate worlds and timelines) appeared in a remote part of the world, and explorers and scientists formed impromptu communities around them in the course of their investigations. I envisioned it as At the Mountains of Madness meets Planetary. The PCs were basically going to start as local law-enforcement, going from city to city keeping the peace, so I wanted to start with Dogs in the Vineyard. Then it would get into Trail of Cthulhu as they got into archaeological stuff in the cities. Then, since each city would be from a setting of its own, there would lots of more options (a fantasy city, a futuristic city, etc.) for systems, and we could round-robin the DM duties. I think it was a bit too open-ended for my group of players, but I would be excited to hear someone else had made a multi-system game work. To me, part of the fun was going to be taking the abilities the players acquired in one system and figuring out how to translate them into another (a player gains a Charm from Exalted and then we try to model that same power in Gamma World, etc.). Also, I thought a player would get to know his character really well– and what elements of that character were defining– by having to remake it every month.

  3. Colin
    February 12, 2012

    Our group did this between major campaigns as a way of playing a bunch of the games we’d bought over the years but never had a chance to play. We took our cues from the Gaming Guardians comic; we were base-statted into Marvel RPG (the one before the Saga system) and then we not only switch games but also switched GMs as we tracked a baseline event through the systems. We had one core GM that ran Marvel RPG that gave plot points to the other GMs to slot into their games.

    Worked really well. Played through BESM, a few White Wolfs, Marvel, D&D 3.5, and a number of others. Since then we’ve grabbed so many new games we may have to do this again.

    We found having a core Character that got translated between systems worked great; it meant the GMs could create the characters into the new system just before their game was run, so the games got running very quickly. Your base Character could advance via XP, and that was always fresh-translated into a new system. Plus, the Gaming Guardians ‘conversion matrix’ meant if things were tricky, you could remove or alter powers to better fit systems if you couldn’t map powers/ abilities exactly.

  4. Will
    February 12, 2012

    Sounds like a fun idea. It reminds me a bit of a time travel adventure from white dwarf in the 80s
    I.e when it was still a proper RPG mag.

    The party had two sets of PCs one trad fantasy and the other 1920s Cthulhu.
    The 20s group disturb a summoning sending it awry and the groups get swapped in time.
    The players then have to work out how to get themselves back to own time.

  5. Jason Morningstar
    February 12, 2012

    We did this unintentionally once – we started a campaign with one system that grew increasingly cumbersome for dealing with the direction the game was heading (started out hella fighty, grew less so) and switched to another that handled social and political stuff better. More of a mid-course correction, but it was definitely both entertaining and useful to re-imagine our characters within the new parameters.

  6. Shoe
    February 12, 2012

    I think it’s a fabulous idea! In fact, it’s such a great idea that I started doing it about two weeks ago, with no idea what I was about, but knowing it was going to be a grand adventure!

  7. Arnold
    February 13, 2012

    Yes, we’ve done it a few times. My friend Paul and I like to pair up our games at conventions, and we’ve run several of these “sagas.”

    The game will begin in one session, in one game system, and the players will mash against the story and alter it, and that alteration gets fed forwards through the other game sessions and the other game systems.

    The game systems flavor our expectation, and they gave us plenty of variety to the stories. They keep the audience and the GMs on a theme.

    For instance, in Steam City Saga
    -> Started with Dogs in the Vineyard, except that it was re-skinned to be Mafiosos in a steam powered city, investigating another Mob boss’s internal affairs. Worked powerful well, and it let the players shake things up and establish facts that we used in other games.

    -> Continued to thread in other games, from MAID to Cold City to Ingenuous, to grab different styles of play (meaning different players) and let them all feed information in and be affected by previous information.

    Lessons we learned:
    This totally rocks.

    -> It lets players focus on emulating the tone that the _game system_ is trying to push, because they know there will be a place for levity when they get to play the MAID game, but for right now, we’re gritty and unforgiving.

    -> It is TOTALLY awesome to work some NPC or some timed event from one game into the next. Players in Little Fears loved it when they heard the tower above them collapse, because a few of those players had been at the table that caused it, and they were giddy with that effect being permanent.

    -> Running simultaneous games (in different game systems) is totally fun too. We did this with Unending River and with My Life with Master, because the game systems didn’t mechanically interfere with one another, and it was pretty awesome to have players look at the same situation through different lenses. And then talk about it afterwards? Hawt.

    -> Playing the same characters throughout multiple game systems needs to be paced properly. I’ve wanted to start characters off in Little Fears, work them through their loss of Innocence, then go on to Misspent Youth, and let them rage against the way things are as they go through growing pains and angst, and then have them play Dogs in the Vineyard, where they take up the evangelical mantle and enforce their will upon others. But the feelers and indications are that we can’t do all that in a single convention. It would work pretty well paced at home.

    -> You can take a break from one system and work in another at home. Jon up in Columbia, SC does this all the time with his Shadowrun game. He’s done single (or sometimes double) sessions where they re-made their characters into Deadlands, or Puppetland, or Marvel RPG, just to flex a different set of muscles and see what drives them. His players have responded universally well to it, but it is at least partially due to the fact that Jon is a gaming genius and does all the character conversions for them. In my group, we’ve done one off episodes of Zombie Cinema or Fiasco, and it’s helped in the same ways.

    It’s good stuff. Sorry for the long post. Hope it was helpful.

  8. Will Hindmarch
    February 13, 2012

    Thanks for the comments, everyone!

    Arnold, that all sounds great. I’ve done the thing where different campaigns or sessions interact (we had a room full of Star Trek tables that we revealed were all playing in the same “instance,” if you will, which went great), sometimes over time to create that sense of permanence you mention. It’s wonderful—great fun.

    I’ve remade characters across multiple systems before—this is essentially what we did when I rewrote home-game systems, for example, or when we played Always/Never/Now ten years after the previous session in the campaign. I just didn’t think of it as the same thing.

    I want to think more on this and then play more on this.


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