One thing that often annoys me about fantasy novels and books is when all the really cool stuff has been done ten thousand years ago or whatever. Dammit, if things back then were so great, how come I'm reading about these yahoos ten thousand years later doing god only knows what nobody cares blah blah blah
Roleplaying games have often had this problem as well. The grand age of magic and sorcery is never the age that the player characters are in - it was something a long time ago whose insane ruins and bizarre monsters litter the countryside.
During its AD&D days, TSR had some inkling that this was a problem for its Forgotten Realms series and came up with the Arcane Age series, in which characters would adventure during the height of elven magical prowess and super-magical cities and explosions and hot dudes and girls were everywhere. The characters could even take part in the battles and excitement related to the Fall of Myth Drannor, the famed mega-dungeon that had attracted adventurers for years.
It was a grand scheme, but never really incorporated into the designs of the various other settings, and today we're still puttering around in ruins of things that would have been SO AMAZING to be in if they were, well, done live.
It's not just fantasy. In superhero games, the origins of the villains and heroes are often in the past, not played out. I've found that players take much more of a personal interest in villains that they were directly connected to. Buffy St. James, a sorority girl human supremacist, was the roommate of a young woman who was secretly one of the X-Men. The conflicts between the two of them were epic - enhanced because of their connection outside of their conflicts.
Here's some ideas for Doing It Live:
|Scenes of the Embrace, pretty sweet|
- In Vampire games, don't skip everyone's Embrace, even if the game is not really about personal horror and is more about politics or action. Make what is coming personal for at least one or two people. Don't feel like you have to play out every explanation of every little Vampire thing, but break down the group's Embraces into several parts. Say you have four players. Player 1 plays the scene where they first encounter their vampiric sire. Player 2 plays the scene where they are manipulated, seduced or stalked by the sire. Player 3 plays the scene where they become a Vampire. Player 4 plays their first hunt. This way, everyone gets to experience at least a nibble of what it was like without slogging through it for everyone. And characters and situations you introduce during these four scenes will be heightened, of extreme importance throughout the rest of the campaign. Scenes of the Embrace has 14 standalone Embrace-related scenes with various themes and tones that you can mix and match for each character, I highly recommend it for brainstorm material.
- In superhero games, don't make every villain already established (a mastermind who has extensive resources) or already villainous (born bad). Have at least one up-and-comer, preferably one who is starting out at about the same time/in the same way as the least experienced member of your player characters. Let the characters see how this character turned to evil and have them grow in power and influence as the characters do. I've mentioned the Green Ronin Threat Reports before, and there are many other excellent villain supplements out there to help you. Just take their origin and have the player characters play through it - the raid that splashes the mutagenic chemicals on the bad guy is a raid led by the player characters - the evil criminal that injects the helpless test subject is someone the player characters are pursuing - etc. The WatchGuard series has a lot of simple-origin villains that are easy to use "in the moment".
And in fantasy games, consider - what is different about a party of characters who steal from living empires instead of dead tombs? They may be freedom fighters, or privateers, or slavers and pirates. Robbing and adventuring in living, breathing worlds makes for an extremely vivid and immediate experience - and it fits my own personal methods of organizing campaigns by NPCs.
More on that another time.