The Long Run: Reboots, Retcons, and Resets

This is a follow-up to an earlier post, found here, which is spoiler-free. Be advised, the post below does contain some MoN spoilers. The

Even with the best intentions and committed gaming crews, big campaigns falter. If you find yourself in such a situation and wish to continue playing, do not despair! There are potential solutions to reignite the adventure. It may not be a perfect, uninterrupted playthrough, but it’s still an amazing journey. 

TPK Retcons: The history of MoN is littered with dead investigators, and TPKs account for many an arrested campaign. The introduction of Pulp Rules and modifications to the latest edition have toned down the death and destruction, but these things still happen. A fun way to subvert the devastating effect of a TPK is to offer vignette flashback roleplaying sessions where the (now dead) investigators interact individually or as a group with people close to them or instrumental to their adventuring. It allows them to actively pass on key threads, provide clues, and disclose their latest whereabouts. These backups may be created immediately after the TPK or held in reserve. This is a matter of taste, but I have no qualms about offering particularly invested players do-overs or hard pausing a high-risk moment to discuss stakes. 

Reboot: Did your campaign freeze up or fizzle after a few chapters? Don’t want to give it up yet? Save your progress and reboot the same adventure. If you have any continuing players give them the option to spin up a new character or create an entirely new one. Kick things off in a different chapter while feeding the new group some useful threads. Consider running a short one-shot featuring Jackson Elias before the official reboot to establish the relationship. Recruit a prior/returning player to craft a letter revealing Jackson’s terrible fate, the state of the investigation, and some key leads. Or just drop them in somewhere with a new lead and let them pick up a trail. For my rebooted campaign, my investigators residing in Sydney received a letter from Jackson shortly before his untimely demise. He encouraged them to seek out the colleagues of Professor Anthony Cowles. In no time, they were invested in the Australian Chapter and uncovering traces of the Great Plot. More on Australia soon, but I believe it’s an ideal spot for a reboot given its checkered history and prior standalone publication in the original Terror Australis. 

Reset: Sometimes you just need to start over. New group. New campaign. Perhaps things sputtered early in the first chapter or two. You’ve learned a lot and probably built a solid trove of prepped materials that will make the second attempt easier. Maybe you’ve identified some spots that you’d like to try differently. If you’re disinterested in rehashing the same terrain, mix it up. Skip Peru and run some alternative introductory adventures with Jackson while weaving the events of Peru into the narrative. Most importantly, do not consider what you’ve done to be a waste of time or effort. You have grown as a Keeper. You have joined the ranks of many who have tested their resolve against this great campaign, and, should you desire, you will find more of that determination within. You’re coming at it again with more knowledge, more experience, and less fear of disappointment. 

Abridged Campaign: Cut stuff. Happily let them bypass locations, encounters, and clue threads. Eliminate sidetracks. And don’t think twice. Look, if I’m running any adventure and the players skip scenes, clues, and so on to reach the conclusion, I don’t regard the effort as incomplete. It’s easier to make this mistake when you are handling larger swaths of material. Once you’ve prepped all this stuff, you’re prone to fall victim to the sunk cost fallacy. Again, Australia is an obvious cut. Chaosium did it themselves. Similarly, don’t press for a late-game route back to London if they head directly for Shanghai. If it feels awkward, don’t force it. Save it for next time, run it as a reworked post-script adventure, or redress it for another purpose. Running an encapsulated London-Egypt adventure centered on the Penhew Foundation seems amazing to me. For more ideas on how to trim your campaign, we highly recommend XPLovecat’s Masks of Nyarlathotep videos.

Speed Run: Sacrilege, I know, but Mike Mason suggested it himself. But I also refer you to the tight Dark Adventure Radio Theatre production of the campaign. If you start slow and see trouble brewing on the longevity horizon, consider deploying this to reach a satisfying finish. Or attempt this at the outset, as this could be great preparation for a full-length future effort. It’s important to establish agreement on this approach with your players. You will rely on very hard framing, collaborative montages, and vignette exposition. It will require some careful consideration of key scenes, but again, I think the HPLHS radio drama is a great guide for this exercise. Select a pace and push for it. Can you run a chapter in a session? When you finish, do not apply an asterisk to the accomplishment, but a star. You did something different and challenging. 

The Horrors: Of course, you can just allow them to fail and die. Refer to the end of the book for running a campaign conclusion. Again, XPLovecat has some fantastic discussion about this here. If things do fall apart, allow it to be a psychic vision, a terrifying nightmare, or a bout of madness, instead of a definitive conclusion. It is a glimpse of what is to come. If your group disbands at such a conclusion, consider passing the torch to another collection of players. Just because they’re done, doesn’t mean you need to be. 

The Long Rest: Sometimes you just need a bit of time away from it. Play some other games. Allow yourself a Keeper vacation. Don’t exert yourself if you’re not mentally or emotionally committed. It’s ok to do this. And it’s most effective when not ruminating on the consequences of a pause. If you lose momentum or a campaign collapse takes place, it’s also ok. Refer to some of the suggestions above as you consider ways to get back at it. Importantly, reflect on what you HAVE accomplished and what fun it was. 

Sidetrack Sharing: If you’re considering the Long Rest, here’s another alternative. The sustained pressure to show up and run this epic session upon session can wear on some Keepers. Similarly, certain players may begin to yearn for a shot at the driver’s seat. Over the past year, my group has been deeply involved in a sprawling, episodic homebrew Traveller campaign. It’s been fresh and fun every session without a whiff of fatigue thus far, as we alternate referees after each adventure. Everyone is invested. Everyone gets to see what’s happening from a GM and player level. While I haven’t tried it, this could be incredibly valuable in a Masks campaign. Some sidetracks stand alone beautifully, and the ever-insightful XPLovecat provided Prospero House with a great breakdown here. Even if you’re versed in the content, join as a familiar NPC and stir the pot! Tag on one-shots, like “The Auction” or “The Vanishing Conjurer.” Let your players choose what they want to run and let them figure out how it fits. Most importantly, sit back, take the session off, and enjoy being a player. 

Art by Mariana Scherer.

Final Thoughts: I struggle looking back at all the games, adventures, and campaigns I never finished. There are lots of them. Interestingly, there were more when I was younger as we bounced excitedly from one system and setting to the next. There are a lot of nostalgic “what-ifs?”. As I’ve grown older and arguably wiser, I’ve found ways to return to hanging threads and loose ends. In all that time critically examining my “Did Not Finishes,” I found that fun was being had and wonderful memories were being formed. What I lacked was my requisite sense of “achievement” because I forgot, as Diesel says, “the play is the thing.”

Now, even though I’m no longer playing with my starting MoN group, it was an incredible time. I reconnected with a dear gaming buddy and friend from high school, and we play together every week now. Perhaps the original gang will reunite for a stunning conclusion, perhaps not. As long as I’m playing with someone, anyone, and creating shared memories, I’m doing the thing I love.