RPG Talk: Apocalypse Scenarios

In tribute to the end of my Millennium reviews (give or take that final bit left over in The X-Files), let's talk about blowing up your campaign world.
Not that I'd recommend it just any old session, but say it's all winding down anyway, you're at the end of a big arc, the players are moving on, whatever. Maybe dynamiting the whole thing is an option. This approach would have some definite advantages:
-It's memorable as hell.
-In bleak game settings like Call of Cthulhu, Cyberpunk or Stormbringer, it may actually be a satisfying way to end things.
-No take-backs, no attempts at returning to the game, full closure.

Of course, there are opposite drawbacks:
-Might leave a sour taste in players' mouths if they weren't on board with the idea.
-Might not fit the tone of the campaign.
-Kills off everyone and everything, leaving nothing for a sequel.

Of course, simply being open to this could lead to it without it being planned. Some scenarios invite the end of the world; it's just that the PCs are meant to prevent it. But what if they fail? In long-running campaigns, the GM will come up with some cop-out. The forces of evil fail all by themselves, or the heroes get a second chance somehow. But what if you go with it? You failed, world ends. A spectacular failure that will become part of the gaming group's campfire tales. Surely!

And it doesn't even have to be the GameMaster's fault. Though settings are usually large and expansive, the Player Characters' reality is probably much smaller. That puts the match in the players' hands. They couldn't blow up the United Federation of Planets, but they can set their ship's self-destruct. That's their whole world. You summon Cthulhu to eat cultists that have infiltrated your university (there it goes with you in it). To stop an evil Corporate plan, you wipe the Internet out... from the inside. It doesn't even have to explosive. If you eliminate a key element of the campaign world, you've essentially blown it up. Somehow killed the Force? Neutralized all magic? Wiped out the robot overlords for good? It's well and truly done.

But is it the end? Not necessarily. The end of an era is the start of another. From the ashes of your own game world can rise the Phoenix of the next. New PCs walking in the footsteps of the old, perhaps centuries apart, perhaps the next day. How quickly that military campaign turned into Mad Max!

But do you have the guts to push that button?


Craig Oxbrow said...

The closest I've come was when I set my Buffy game about trainee Watchers to run alongside the series, and joked I'd have to deal with the Watchers' Council being wiped out in the middle of season seven... and then the game ran for seven seasons. So the PCs survived and the world wasn't destroyed, but it took out a lot of established NPCs including a former PC. There were about a dozen episodes left to deal show the fallout, and a victory at the end softened the blow.

Siskoid said...

I love the whole idea of running a game parallel to established continuity. I've done it with DC Heroes, forcing Our Own Heroes(TM) into big 80s crossovers like Legends and Millennium, and have wanted to do something like that for our Doctor Who series. Just a question of whether I really want to spend a whole season shadowing the Doctor.


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