UA:When Worlds Collide

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Afterword: When Worlds Collide

You've read all the variants in this book, and you have a problem: You want to use them all- plus some you've thought up yourself. What's an overly creative DM to do?

Roleplaying opens infinite possibilities. The DM's most rewarding task is creating a world, the setting for a campaign, the place where adventures happen. The nature of this world is limited only by the DM's imagination- and most DMs are a pretty imaginative bunch.

Sometimes too imaginative. What do you do when you have more variants bubbling around in your head than there will ever be time for? Especially when other factors intrude- such as school, work, or family- there's rarely time to even run one campaign well, much less the three others bouncing around in your brain at any given moment.

There seem to be only two possible options in this situation. One is to switch among campaigns as rapidly as your players want, so that- over the course of several months- you might get to run perhaps a single adventure in each of these different campaigns. The problem with this option is that there's no continuity- because each campaign is seperate from the others, player characters seldom advance in level, and none of the campaigns experiences any real development.

The other option combines variant ideas into a single campaign- one that includes a number of different worlds, each with its own flavor and rules. Whether it takes the form of a single group of adventurers going on a wild ride through the multiverse or somehow creates a link between different heroes on different worlds, a world-spanning campaign seems to be the solution to the problem. Of course, it has a few problems of its own.

Three different campaign models allow this kind of world-hopping: the World-Spanning Organization model, the Shifting Worlds model, and the eternal Champion model (with thanks to Michael Moorcock).

The World-Spanning Organization

In this campaign model, the PCs are members of an organization that sends them on missions to different worlds or dimensions. They go from world to world by means of interplanar travel, using powerful teleportation devices or gates (magical or pseudoscientific in nature) or some sort of magical flying ship. The heroes are equipped with spells or devices that allow them to speak and understand the languages of the worlds they visit. The organization briefs the heroes on their mission, the culture and customs of the world they are about to visit, and dangers they might face. Probably, the heroes make every attempt to fit in with the natives in terms of their clothing, appearance, and behavior, assisted by other agents in the organization.

The PC's missions might be completely unrelated to each other, but a more fulfilling campaign emerges from a unifying theme. Perhaps this world-spanning organization specifically combats the menace of another such organization. Plane-shifting evil creatures prove excellent enemy agents for such a campaign. This doesn't mean that the PCs must fight those creatures at every turn- much of the time th enemy functions behind the scenes, and the heroes have to find their way through the complex webs of deception and trickery, as well as overcome potential legions of minions and allies, before uncovering their true opposition.

The clearest advantage of this campaign model is that the player characters are a constant in every adventure. Each player has a character who gains experience and advances in level over the course of the campaign, which is an important part of what makes a campaign rewarding for players. Since members of a world-spanning organization conceivably come from any known world, the PCs can be a crazy amalgam of races and classes, anything allowed in any published or unpublished campaign setting. With your approval, characters can explore more unusual races and classes, and in this way even help to develop more worlds for your campaign to reach.

The world-spanning organization should have a base, or at least a lone agent, on each world that the PCs visit. This agent can provide the PCs with background information on their mission and the world itself, exchange currency for them, help them get equipment and clothing so they can fit in, and act as a go-between for communication with their higher-ups in the organization. If transportation between worlds relies on teleporting gates, this agent can be the guardian and operator of a gate on his world.

Of course, once in a while you might force the PCs to visit unexplored territory, which can be an adventure in itself. While pursuing their primary goal, they would also have the task of collecting notes on the culture and politics of the world, to help brief the next agents who visit it. Without an agent to brief them, they have to acquire currency and clothing on their own. They might end up becoming the organization's resident experts on such a world and find themselves frequently reassigned there.

Generally, a campaign based around a world-spanning organization allows PCs to experience (and you to create) a large variety of worlds without necessarily exploring any one in great depth. The heroes might return again and again to some worlds- hotbeds of enemy activity, or simply worlds they're very familiar with. But for the majority of adventures, you only need to create the most basic outlines of a situation, the circumstances surrounding it, and a bit about the world and its population.

Sample World-Spanning Organization: The Peregrines

Here's and example of a PC party made up of members of a world-spanning organization. The characters are members of the PEregrines, a religious order of knights who travel from world to world while engaged in a holy war against an evil species. They include:

  • Sergei, a human cleric from a dark, gothic world overtaken by vampires.
  • Kellra, a human psychic warrior who fought as a gladiatior on a desert world.
  • Gerson, a minotaur ranger from a world where he once was a human king.
  • Tax, a half-elf wizard/rogue from a world of constant night.

When players are this imaginative in how they define their characters, the DM can use the inputto develop a collection of original worlds to use in the campaign, in addition to any published campaign worlds available. As the players add more detail to their characters' backgrounds, the DM can glean key information about these new worlds, and plenty of adventure ideas as well. Perhaps one or more characters will have "homecoming" adventures.

Shifting Worlds

A shifting worlds campaign adds a strong element of mystery to the basic world-spanning idea. Rather than being voluntary agents of a world-spanning organization, the PCs seem to shift between worlds against their will and with no clear purpose. At unpredictable times, one reality dissolves around them, to be replaced by a different one. What's more, the heroes themselves change to adapt to their new reality.

A campaign like this begins with an ordinary party of PCs-all dwarn from one campaign world and following its rules for character creation and equipment. At some point that you determine- it might be after a single adventure, or in the middle of one- or after a year or so real time when you're getting tired of the campaign- the character's get shifted to a new world. The characters should remain similar in most respects but change enough to be noticeable to the players. For example, a wizard who found himself shifted to a world where psionics are powerful might undergo some minor phsical changes, find his ability scores boosted somewhat, discver a new psionic talent, and -most important- figure out how his spells interact with the mental magic of the new world. But he remains essentially the same character, despite these profound changes. You should alter skills and languages so they are relevant in the new campaign world. Characters shifted to a new reality should usually find that they understand the language being spoken around them and know the basics one needs to get by in this new society.

It's possible to declare that the PCs, after they have shifted, forget their previous reality completely, believing that they have always lived in the world they now occupy. Possible- but very difficult to roleplay. It's certainly easier to let the PCs be as confused and mystified as their players are. In fact, the reason why shifting between worlds occurs can and should be one of the great mysteries of the campaign- the heroes may be determined to figure out what's been causing them to move from world to world.

A shifting worlds campaign grows most interesting as the PCs gradually realize that their diverse adventures on different worlds have actually all been part of a larger cosmic drama. The heroes' ultimate opponent could be an incredibly powerful lich with minions scattered across the multiverse. The heroes might never encounter this creature, and they might only theorize about its existence after years of battling its minions in numerous adventures on a multitude of different worlds. Then, finally, when they are reasy to confront their long-time enemy, or even after they have destroyed it, they might learn that a powerful force of good- a solar, perhaps, or maybe even a demigod- has been shifting them from world to world as unwitting agents in a cosmic struggle against the lich.

Like the world-spanning organization model, a shifting world campaign allowd players to feel a sense of continuity in their characters. Though the characters change somewhat, key factors (including experience points) remain constant, and the heroes make definite progress through an ongoing campaign. Unlike the earlier model, however, a shifting worlds campaign also allows to to shift between game systems. Your adventurers might find themselves in modern-day London. Without too much work, you can convert the characters over to the d20 Modern rules and proceed with the action.

A campaign based on this model works best if the shifts from world to world are a little less frequent than in the world-spanning organization model. Thus you need to put more effort into detailing each world, since the heroes will spend some significant amount of time there. The greatest benefit is that you move from campaign world to campaign world without the baggage of a complex planar cosmology or the vast network of a world-spanning organization.

The Eternal Champion

Michael Moorcock, as a fantasy and sience fiction writer, was not content to spend his time in a single "campaign world." The key aspect of Moorcock's multiverse is that multiple universes connect.

One city, Tanelorn, exists in all universes at all times. And the Eternal Champion- one hero with multiple identities- appears in one universe as Elric, in another as Corum. This idea of the Eternal Champion forms the basis of a third model for a campaign that spans worlds.

A heroic fantasy campaign presupposes heroic player characters- people whoe deeds make a difference for the forces of good in the world. As heroes, then, suppose that they too have counterparts in every universe- heroes whose fates are linked with theirs, though their names, faces, races, and classes might all be different. The way to accomplish this in a campaign is with a character tree.

With the character tree idea, each player generates three different characters who all advance in level together, though only one character is active at a time. In an Eternal Champion campaign, each of these heroes exists in a different multiverse, a different campaign world. So, rather than having a single character move from world to world, as in the two earlier models, the scene of the adventures moves, but the characters are different in each one. Each time one of a player's heroes advances in level, the others do as well.

This campaign model can threathen the player's sense of continuity. All the heroes are still advancing in level, which is an improvement over unlinked adventures that jump from campaign to campaign, but they are still distinct characters. To minimize the discontinuity, each of a single player's characters should be similar in essential personality and characteristics. They are, after all, manefestations of the same cosmic heroic archetpe. For example, one player might play a wizard in one setting, a librarian in a gothic setting, and a computer hacker in a modern-day setting, all with similar traits- nearsightedness, perhaps, and a kindly, wise disposition. Each character's ability scores should be close t those of the others, naturally, but there should be key points of convergence- being an orphan, perhaps, or some other formative experience that they have in common.

The other way to maintain the player's sense of continuity is to introduce common themes and threads into the different heroes' adventures. Just as each heroe is a manifestation of a universal heroic archetype, their adventures follow archetypal themes as well. They might not face a single common nemy whose influence extends across the multiverse (such as the lich suggested in the shifting worlds model), but the heroes should recognize their enemies as different expressions of the same evil. Naturally, you need to balance this distant echo among adventures, reinforcing the continuity of the campaign with the need to avoid repetition, providing the heroes with fresh challenges.

Naturally, in a campaign modeled after the Eternal Champion idea, the heroes on one world are mostly unaware of their counterparts on other worlds. They might have dreams that suggest the other's exploits in distant dimensions- especially if some bit of knowledge possessed by one hero is essential to another- but certainly not conscious memories of their alter egos. If you decide to create a place like Moorcock's Tanelorn, which somehow exists in every dimension, then the heroes might (after a long and dangerous quest to reach this mysterious place) at least hear tales of their counterparts' adventures, if not meet them face to face. The quest to find this nexus of the multiverse could be a climactic finale to a campaign, with different segments of the quest being played out by different groups of heroes until all the groups finally reach their goal simultaneously.

An Eternal Champion campaign probably requires the greatest amount of work for each campaign world. It's probably best not to use more than three of four worlds, with the same number of heroes on each player's character tree.

Sample Eternal Champion: Kellra's Character Tree

Beginning with the character named Kellra from the Peregrines (see above), let's turn the gladiator into an Eternal Champion with three additional manifestations. The other worlds in the campaign are a Viking setting, a gothic setting, and a near-future cyberpunk setting that uses the d20 Modern rules. Here's what Krella's counterparts in these other universes might be like.

  • Krynthling, a Viking warrior with troll blood. Shunned by her people and raised among trolls, Krynthling has always been a warrior, though she has never fought for anyone's amusement (unlike her gladiator counterpart Krella).
  • Kellira, a monster hunter in the gothic setting. Kellira's family was slaughtered by a werewolf while Kellira was having a secret tryst with a young man in her village. She is driven by a single-minded obsession for revenge that alienates anyone who would get close to her.
  • Kelly, a cyber-enhanced ex-soldier. Like Krella, she is a gladiator of sorts, earning her living by supplying bloody entertainment in the filthy streets of her metropolis home.

Next Steps

Once you've chosen a model for a world-spanning campaign, the next step is to create at least some of the worlds for your heroes to visit and deciding which rules apply there. Of course, you can use published campaign settings for any or all of the worlds involved in a world-spanning campaign. You can also adapt settings from novels or movies you have enjoyed; the world-spanning aspect of the campaign might also give you a little more freedom in choosing your material. If you want to try out the metamagic components variant, just send the character to a world where it works. When they return, their metamagic components lose their power- or, like Prometheus, the characters bring the new knowledge back with them.

-David Noonan, from a concept by James Wyatt

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