Rebooting Roleplaying Games

Over the last year I watched several rebooted franchises: Ghostbusters, the latest Spiderman, Evil Dead. They made me think about how I might approach rebooting roleplaying games. I’ve friends who have done it to varying degrees of success.

For instance, Mike (a.k.a. salientmind), one of our main organizers at No Ordinary Obsession, had a very successful reboot of his first Mage: the Awakening chronicle. The same players played mostly the same characters in the roughly the same setting. There were differences. The player characters differed slightly. The tone was closer to what he originally shot for. He altered the line up of NPCs. Eventually he revealed the story was set in an alternate timeline of the original game, where a powerful Master of the Time Arcanum had altered past events.

My interest in the concept (beyond the theoretical) is that I ran several games that ended unsatisfactorily. Continuing or rebooting those games with the same cast of players is unfortunately out of the question but revisiting the setting may still be possible.

Here are a few options.

Mage: the Awakening

The “Norfolk game” (as I called this otherwise nameless Chronicle) is the prime example I’d like to return to. That story featured some of my favorite scenarios and the promise of some major time travel shenanigans. I’d like to resolve the political story of Left Handed mages infiltrating the Guardians of the Veil and the strange variant Orders running the next town over. I would also be fun to revisit the stories of the empty room (from Mysterious Places), the power (a contagious magic ability from Second Sight), and the insanity of an abandoned sanctum the PCs claimed.

The time travel aspect (much like Mike’s game) invites a reboot. The timeline has already been altered once and a further change could see the core cast return altered. I also still have many of the electronic notes from the game. Finally I do have one of the original players in my online group.

On the other hand, rebooting this will require her buy-in more than the others. Also while she played one of the core three, that still leaves filling in the gaps left by the other two characters: the vampire socialite Vivian and the slacker hacker Notemus. Forcing someone to play those characters doesn’t seem fair to me outside of a one-shot.

Demons and Gods

Partly inspired by this.

The first game I ran in grad school (and my first D&D 3.5 edition game) focused on a war torn dark age setting. The world featured a thin boundary between the living and dead. Ghosts easily manifested and mortals occasionally ventured into the gray lands. In the world’s cosmology, the elves and the race that became known as demons predated the birth of the gods. The elves recognized the god’s status even if they didn’t worship them. The demons chose to defy them and were cast down. Now this ancient race is finding its way back to this world and using the current blood filled conflict to fuel their rituals.

The PCs in this setting were soldiers in a desperate war. In addition to exploring the world, fending off demons and other great deeds, they have an army to defeat.

In this reboot, I don’t see a need to replicate the original PCs. Neither does using the original system matter. The important aspects of the game are the setting, NPCs and the core conflict. I’d let the players create what they want and use either Dungeon World or D&D 5th edition as the ruleset. A downside to this reboot is that I lack much of the original material I used since I ran it just as I was going digital with my game notes and well before my use of Google documents.

Dark Sun

Rather than reboot one of my own games, my last concept involves rebooting an entire setting, specifically Dark Sun.

The original Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2nd edition game setting revolved around survival in the desert world of Athas. Ravaged by magic, the land is ruled by immortal sorcerer-kings, filled with psychic monsters and adversaries, and populated by races both strange and somewhat familiar. This post-apocalyptic take on D&D owes more to John Carter than Mad Max.

Unfortunately the original line suffered due to a fast moving metaplot. In the first adventure, included in the original box set, one of the sorcerer-kings is assassinated starting a chain of events that leads to the death of the world’s only dragon as well as other sorcerer-kings and a change in the very climate. The published adventures allow the PCs to follow along in the epic as bystanders.

In a reboot, I could cast the PCs as the core figures in these changes and see how they alter the destiny of Athas. Do they bring democracy and freedom to the world? Or do they profit off the limited life force remaining in the land to raise themselves up as new god-kings?

Final Thoughts

Part of the appeal of reboots to me is seeing the familiarity and differences in the setting and characters. How does the action look through a different director’s lens? How does a different actor change the character? Is the mood affected with a different take on the genre? In a way it is like the entire product is full of easter eggs for the original property.

I think that concept translates to roleplaying games but perhaps it works best f the players and the game master are familiar with the original.

What do you think? Have you ever rebooted a game? How did it go?