Tabletop: The Blessing and Curse of Poor Record-Keeping

My spouse and I have been running an off-and-on one-on-one campaign for about nine years now. It’s one of those campaigns that trickles into every corner of our lives, whose characters are like friends and whose events form reference points and in-jokes which could never possibly be explained to outsiders. In a way, the campaign is sort of a chronicle of our marriage; we started it a year in, close to our anniversary, and there’s no sign that we’ll ever permanently wind it down (though we do play other campaigns / systems / settings in between).

The campaign is broken up into “seasons”. We’ll finish one sub-campaign, take a long break, and then roll up a new PC and start a new season. Each new season moves the calendar forward by at least a century, and the setting is strongly impacted by the events of previous games. One of my favorite results is that in some ways the campaign reads like a good book: if you go back and look at earlier chapters in light of later chapters, sometimes you get an “aha!” moment about a character’s motivation or the events of the world. It’s not something we plan; it’s naturally arising, and I bet you, dear reader, have experienced something like it if you’ve had the good fortune of being in a long-running game with invested players.

We started Season 5 a few months ago and recently reached what was certainly the end of Part 1, but not the end of the season. This season was in many ways about nostalgia for the earlier seasons, so it was natural that we would want to take some time to go over the material from those earlier seasons. Unfortunately, we found that Seasons 1, 2, and 4 were almost totally lost somewhere in our multiple moves and the everyday lunacy of raising small children. Season 3, our shortest campaign (aside from a couple of very brief spinoffs which got canceled by the network) was intact – I had managed to keep the entire campaign on index cards in a single container, including session writeups.

Lesson learned: if your games and characters are more than simply beer-and-pretzels fun, do the homework and keep your materials. If nothing else, memory lane reading is an enjoyable pastime.

We were crushed that some of the important moments of our lives were lost. It was kind of like losing your photo albums in a house fire. But in a moment of inspiration, my spouse posited a crazy idea – we could replay the season we missed most, Season 2. Not a direct attempt at reconstruction, but a new campaign where things could wind up differently, the understanding of the setting which came from later seasons could manifest with familiar characters, and a different classic party member would be the PC, with the changes driven by an in-game alteration to a single point in that season’s history. And even better, she volunteered to GM. Now, I love GMing, and I’ve always been the GM for these games. But I have no qualms about it. It’s a shared setting, so it feels less like “handing over the reins” and more like I’m being given the opportunity to see aspects of the world I’ve never had the chance to explore before. She’s an exceptional DM whose work I rarely get to experience. I rushed to say yes before she could change her mind.

And she’s delivered in spades. We’re on session 3 of this reimagined classic campaign, and already she’s presented a steampunk fantasy Rust Belt cognate with panoramic, visceral descriptions which make me feel like I’ve been there and I want to go back. There are dark forests slowly encroaching on “civilization”. There’s a city set in the middle of a wide river system riddled with waterfalls, capped with Niagara writ large, at the terminus of a bullet train which shoots through a brass tube at blinding speed. We’ve been trapped in an underwater temple made of glass during a terrorist attack; we’ve stolen priceless artifacts and thrown popsicles at guards and still gotten out of jail by the skin of our teeth. We’re chasing a wolf or a man (neither party nor player is sure which he is) through a portal guarded by a surly bureaucrat to get back something we don’t even want.

And this time, we’re doing it all on index cards, complete with session writeups, kept in a case. Lesson learned.

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