Twenty Years Later

by David Meadows 27. November 2016 00:08

(Number 7 in an occasional series of explanations. See sidebar for the full series.)

As already described, this story started life as a game. The original protagonists were Strikeforce, and their initial adventures were set in 1987. That story is being serialised on the site.

After about 7 years, and 300 "chapters" (playing sessions), I decided the Game was much too unwieldy, too big and complicated to manage any longer, with too much weight of storyline and character history to keep track of. I decided to end it in a big, dramatic fashion. I created a storyline I later called The Event, in which all Earth's heroes sacrificed themselves to save the Earth. End of the Heroes, end of the Game. I was out of the superhero-GMing-business.

For a couple of weeks. Then I realised I couldn't leave the Game behind. It was too much a part of my life. I needed to resurrect it. But how?

After a couple of false starts and bad ideas, I hit on it: a new storyline, called Twenty Years Later. Which would literally be that. The same universe, twenty years later, with the players playing completely new characters. Twenty years after the Event, a new generation of heroes was emerging. Their story is being serialised on the site as Heroes. The players had full knowledge of the pre-Event world, of course, but the idea was that their characters didn't. 

Throughout the new Game, I used as much of the old history as I could as background. There's James, saying that he's the son of an old hero (the player had my permission to put that link in James's background--in fact, it might have been my suggestion to him, because I wanted the storytelling opportunities that link would bring). there's Sara, the daughter of an old villain. Don, a pivotal character who was directly involved with Strikeforce 20 years earlier.

In some cases I deliberately hid crucial bits of information to keep the players guessing--the identity of Sara's mother, for example. And in fact, the exact details of Sara's power. Her catchphrase in the early Heroes issues, "I'm good at finding things", was a catchphrase I had her use in the Game. It clearly pointed towards a particular--wrong--character as her mother, misdirecting the players. When the true nature of the power slowly became obvious, the identity of her mother (who once had the same power) became obvious--to the players, not their characters, of course. (For clarification: Sara wasn't a player's character, she was one of mine.) 

In other cases, I made the nod to the past more obvious. When they met Franklin Marks, the players all knew it was Electron, twenty years older and without powers. But being good players, they played their characters as if they were completely in the dark. Because that's the essence of role-playing: you make your character act within the bounds of the character's knowledge, not your own knowledge.

Incidentally, the player who originally played Electron in Strikeforce played Fred in the Heroes era. When Fred met Franklin Marks (Heroes issue 6), I played Frank, the player played Fred, and the conversations the two had are fairly faithfully reproduced. Read that issue again, bearing in mind that Fred's player once played Frank, and think about how beautifully he played "in character", not letting his player knowledge colour his actions. In fact, read it keeping all of the players in mind: James, Fred, Harry, Chi-Yun, all of their players walked into the Marks's house knowing exactly who they were. Not a single player "broke character" to let any of that knowledge influence them.

The same pattern was repeated over and over throughout the Game. History crept in and became important. Sometimes it crept in merely for background colour, to amuse the players. Sometimes it was a mystery posed for the players' benefit, something that had no bearing "in game" but the players could amuse themselves figuring out who or what a particular call-back referred to. But every time, the characters behaved exactly as they should with the information they, the characters, had.

That's really satisfying to see, as a GM.

But when it comes to translating the Game to the story you read on the web site, this time jump (or at least the way I have chosen to deal with it) has caused a whole set of problems. That's going to need a lot more explanation, so I'll talk about it in the next of this series.

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About this blog

The Heroes Universe is an ongoing work of fiction, conceived and chiefly plotted by David Meadows, with help from a group of friends, over a 30-year period.

I am slowly documenting the Universe on this web site.

This blog is a behind-the-scenes look at the creation of that history.

If you're new here, the series of posts listed below will explain what it's all about. I hope...

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