Shared World Problems

I’ve run into a problem with going through Borderlands. I’m running it as part of a shared world, and I already know some of the outcome.

I play in a world that’s got shared history and rules, because I wanted to run my own game, so I started, and then one of the players said they were really looking forward to meeting my character.

Cue screaming of brakes, desperate flicking through the calendar, and a sudden realisation that I could do this, but we’d have to be careful about it…

Then one of the two games turned out to move much faster than the other, so I suggested that we play a quick game set a generation earlier, and now we’ve got people about to hit 1602 in Sartar, and meanwhile the game that I started in 1613 has now reached 1616 and it’s also in the same world because I never like to make things easy, and…

Daine is alive in 1626. That means it’s hard to throw him under the thunderbeast in 1616, even if the plot says so. And…

My PCs saved Prince Terasarin, and it was epic, and they deserve that victory, but Terasarin dies in 1600, so that Salinarg and Harsaltar can have their day. What to do?

This is similar to a question that comes up a lot. How far can characters swing events? A campaign with a high power level can have adventurers derail major planned events completely. If they do, you’re in uncharted territory, and if you stop them, then they don’t really have agency within the world. Still, there are a couple of solutions that I’ve found.

One is to throw it all out of the window. You’re the one in charge of plot. If you steer off the path, that’s cool. The way I’d handle this in a shared world is to say I was wrong and that it wasn’t the same world after all, if it was a big difference. Other than that, by the time the tales have been told, who’s to say what really happened anyhow. I’m the one who writes the logs – I record everything I need to know.

The other is to get things back on track in an awesome way that rewards the PCs. When it came to Terasarin, I had a real problem, because the PCs had pulled off multiple miracles to save him, including DI in the spirit world when a red warrior tried to interfere with the Resurrection spell. Not bringing him back after that would have meant that them being there was pointless, that they were just witnesses to historical events. At that point I might as well just read them a novel – it’s not interactive, and they don’t have a chance to stop it.

However, Terasarin still had to die, preferably that year, and while the PCs had been rewarded for saving him, it would have been a let-down to just have him killed by assassins later. So, he decided that he would choose his own method of death, because the omens for the year had said terrible things would happen, and he knew there would be other attempts. He created a Heroquest that would allow him to add his power to the Flame of Sartar, and that’s probably why it’s still so strong when it’s relit years later. Its story now involves being snuffed out and brought back, despite what the Lunars try. The group took part in the quest in which Terasarin departed from the world, in a way that made sure he was free of Lunar attempts to kill him. I leaned into the death and made the PCs part of it in a way that gave them agency.

That’s my favoured choice for things where you might be about to depart from a plot; let the adventurers help make it awesome to bring it back on track. My second favourite choice is to attach a rocket to what they are about to do, and leave orbit with them, because if you’re going that way you might as well enjoy the ride.

I recently worked out how to keep Daine alive and my players made that fantastic – I’ll let you know how that went in an upcoming post. Reader, I cheered along with them.


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