Recently, a two-year long campaign ended. With 53 evenings spent playing, it is the longest game I’ve been involved in. We played Heimot, a Finnish science fiction game (it would be ‘Tribes’ in English, but that name is already taken).
With a strong game master influence and a narrative focus it is a traditional game in many senses. Even the rules used in Heimot tend towards the old-school. They are also contradictory and unsatisfying in many cases, so we made some adjustments and hand-waving as we played.
I was the game master, so I spent significantly more than the once-a-week session thinking about the game. With two years of narrative baggage it started feeling like work towards the end. It wasn’t easy trying to make everything fit together so that the ending would be satisfactory. The ending (or the game in general) wasn’t perfect, but I’m mostly satisfied with it. The themes in the game came from both my interests and player input. I’m too biased to evaluate in what ratio this happened, but I tried to take into account my players’ wishes.
I think the main themes in the game were religion, transhumanism (cloning, nanotechnology) and the threat of the unknown. Religion was part of the game through one of the characters, who was deeply religious. There was also stuff about prophecies, a messiah and one of the alien races in the game played the role of guardian angels (and Deus ex Machina, in a couple of cases).
Nanoviruses were a recurring threat in the game. There was also a clone army, and one the characters was an original prototype of those clones. He was also resurrected with advanced technology. Another character was created from millenia old DNA by the guardian aliens and later become a messiah-type character, binding the two themes of technology and religion together.
Apart from the nanoviruses, the threat of the Swarm was a constant source of conflict. The Swarm is a Starship Troopers type of a insect-race that had almost wiped away humanity in the games mythical history. In our campaign they returned, and from small personal combat against the PC’s to the wiping away of most of humanity, they were the main antagonist. They were also mostly unknown: nobody knew what they wanted, where they were and what were they going to do. Their motives were never made clear - they were more like a force of nature or a monster of a horror story, simply killing.
One of the ways I tried to create continuity in the game was reintroducing the same NPC’s again in different roles and situations. They developed as the PC’s grew. Some that ended being the friends of the PC’s were very important people at the end of the game. They were also far from perfect, having weaknesses and personal, selfish objectives. There were some NPC’s that were simply against the PC’s but these were rare. Some were both enemies and allies at times. Most just wanted to achieve their own goals and were willing to work with the PC’s when it was convenient.
At times this attempt at narrative continuity strained the limits of credibility: there are only so many times you can meet the same person while traveling the endless space. But I decided that this was an acceptable prize to pay, since this is how stories are built: with fortunate and unfortunate coincidences.
There was no story when we started playing. I simply took what the players did and asked me to include in the game and combined it with what I wanted to see in the game. Slowly the pieces came together in a mostly consistent way and we had a story that was built piece by piece, usually a game-session or two beforehand.
There were three seasons of the game, with small pauses in between, usually both in- and offgame. As the game progressed, the PC’s became more important, their allies (and enemies) rose in the ranks of their respective organizations and the conflicts became more far-reaching. In the beginning the PC’s tried to figure out how to make enough business to pay for the gas for their space ship; in the end they decided how humanity faced an impending genocide.
This also affected the way conflicts were framed. In the beginning they were personal and close: bargaining for profits, shooting at space robbers and such, but in the end of the campaign they become political and far-reaching. This also meant that most conflict in the end of the campaign was social, handled through dialogue. Some times we rolled dice for this, often we did not, depending which seemed better.
A transcript of the game will soon be available, after some editing from me and my players. Unfortunately it is available only in Finnish, because that’s how I wrote things down and there is too much of it for me to translate.