2020 disrupted our lives and ruined everyone’s plans, some permanently. How did Chasing the Sunset fare in this terrible year?
At the beginning of the year, Chasing The Sunset had 13 total players, but only 8 were playing regularly. I always ran games in person, so the three players in another time zone had no opportunity to continue their adventures. Other had fallen away because of IRL concerns, like a long commute or a newborn baby, but the campaign accounted for that. No one player was necessary. People can leave if they like.
I was also running Fairmeadow Fair, a Dungeon World campaign, for another pair of players. I started that game back in February 2018, so it was pushing two years already! These players were geographically and socially distant from the Chasing The Sunset players.
Diagetically, what was happening? Most players were still near Port Fennrick, where they arrived from the old country to make a new start. Players saw the consequences of actions taken by players in sessions they did not attend. A group were attacked by mobsters in the night and planned to take revenge, but before they could, a different group stumbled on those same gangsters and sent them packing. Players could look backwards and see that they had effects on the world, but looking forward was more difficult. They were newcomers in this strange land and had little motivation beyond seeing what’s over the next hill. They didn’t understand the bigger picture of the new continent and didn’t have any long-term goals.
Calm before the storm
From January to March 2020, I ran 3 sessions of Chasing The Sunset and 3 sessions of Fairmeadow Fair. I introduced the first hint of world-spanning conspiracy, based on backstory hints from several players. Platypolooza was scheduled for a full moon, and that’s when the first werewolves appeared! I don’t think my players realized that werewolves were a problem they could track down and solve, instead of just one more fantastical element native to this new land. Not even the fate of the bitten victims was enough of an incentive to investigate the werewolf problem. The party just skipped town. So as a long-term plot thread, it was ineffective.
I was having so much fun with Chasing The Sunset and the idea of multiple parties sharing the same world, that I asked the Fairmeadow Fair group to join Chasing The Sunset. They agreed, and at the end of February I brought over blank Fellowship character sheets for them to choose from. Lucia translated pretty easily from a Dungeon World Paladin to a Fellowship Heir. Both are noble knights. There’s no Fellowship equivalent for the Dungeon World Druid’s shapeshifting powers, and Gleador’s player loved shapeshifting shenanigans, so I worried that they would be reluctant to leave Gleador behind. They jumped right into the Fellowship Collector, and we planned to send Gleador off and bring in Dryden the next time we met. That was the last time I saw them in person.
In March 2020, this coronavirus turned out to be a big deal, then turned into the biggest deal: the defining event of the year. I hoped for a while that things would go back to normal soon, but here we are in December and the pandemic is worse than it has ever been. Once I realized that I had to deal with it instead of waiting for it to go away, I made preparation to run Chasing The Sunset online. I made a Discord server for voice-chat, and made a Roll20 account for dice-rolling and maps.
Chasing The Sunset was on hold for almost three months. That’s not the first interruption my campaigns have endured. I started Chasing The Sunset right before disappearing to work on Atlanta Fashion Police for several months. Fairmeadow Fair has suffered that same interruption twice. In addition to adapting to the new technology, I had to connect the world of Fairmeadow Fair to Chasing The Sunset.
Fairmeadow Fair is a vaguely Tolkien or D&D fantasy world with Dwarves, Elves, Halflings, and Humans. The origin of a “living statue” (no one knows the word “robot”) is worthy of a long quest, and the existence of a single shape-shifter throws a large city into turmoil. The party looks for non-violent solutions and has never taken a life.
Chasing The Sunset contains only (mostly) the races claimed by players, so there are no Dwarves, Elves, or Humans! There is an entire race of gooey shapeshifters, a town full of clockwork robots, a ghost, and a member of an extinct race. Players in this campaign are willing to kill people who threaten or annoy them, and don’t mind skipping town to avoid cleaning up messes they make.
Connecting the worlds geographically was easy. Fairmeadow Fair was mostly a pointcrawl: roads or paths between towns or interesting sites. I converted those points into Fellowship’s Locations and connected that set of Locations to the southern edge of the Chasing The Sunset map.
So in the final session of Fairmeadow Fair, I had to transition from one ruleset to another, prepare my players for the more gonzo tone of the world they were joining, and also say farewell to a player character! As a GM, I’ve had players drop out and their characters just disappeared in between sessions. As a player, I’ve had a character leave the party for unresolvable philosophical differences, and it was a traumatic experience, inside and outside the game. A planned, amicable separation was a new experience, and my players did great! One player played both Dryden and Gleador, rolling dice for different rulesets in the same fictional scene. Lucia’s player just swapped Lucia’s Dungeon World playbook for Lucia’s Fellowship playbook.
I lost most of my players in the transition to playing online. After struggling to get people to respond to scheduling requests on Discord, I contacted each player and asked if they wanted to continue playing. Playing remotely is new and weird, and the multiple concurrent disasters sweeping the nation in June were enough to consume anyone’s attention. One person formally resigned from the campaign, citing a lack of long-term goals to hold their interest. We did a little free-form roleplay epilogue over Discord to turn their player character into the boss of the location it was in. Another said they valued the in-person social aspects of role-playing, and playing online was not for them. Several players said they were still in, but after they didn’t respond to several attempts to schedule games, I stopped asking.
Right after losing a player for lack of long-term goals, I really started putting in hooks for big, old, important plots. A mad scientist wants to blow up the Moon. The Moon is only 100 years old. A character teleported to the Moon! (I checked the exact wording of the skill, and it does say “regardless of how far away it is”) Turns out the Moon is artificial and staffed by Kobolds for an unknown purpose. Also Vampires exist and hate dragons! Dragons should be extinct, but one has taken over a city & is challenging all comers in single combat! The Vampires probably have a complete manual for the operation of the Moon, which seems super-dangerous. Too bad the player responsible for that stopped showing up. No one else knows what that character saw on the Moon, but they have seen giant mirrors fall from the sky, and know those mirrors can be turned into weapons by reflecting sunlight. Earth-shaking implications, but no one has all the information.
Legends of the Past
Last year I ran three one-shots set in Chasing The Sunset’s past. People who couldn’t join the campaign proper could have a fun afternoon and contribute to the ongoing story. Win, lose, die, or flee, their actions would have lasting consequences. I just have to show those consequences to the players.
- Two heroes fought an army attacking a library hidden inside a volcano, while magicians inside prepared a barrier spell. Almost everyone has searched for this library, but most people were distracted by the city hidden under the next volcano over. Lucia found it, and her people had a hidden library in their backstory, so of course this was that library! The ghostly librarian’s information was out of date because she’d been locked away from a long time, but that untimeliness was eye-opening by itself.
- Platypeople were slowly abandoning a town threatened by a strange underwater building and its guardians. A couple of adventurers kicked those guardians out, and saved the town. That fight was supposed to be the first act of a mystery, but we ran out of time, and I have to respect the players’ victory, so the town is thriving now. Some players found a Platyperson from that town and almost escorted her home, but they were held up with other business and she was impatient, so they didn’t follow her to her unusual home.
- A Vampire & a Dragon fought in an ancient forest, aided and confronted by various characters. Players later entered that forest and met the victor, but I missed my chance for them to see the grisly trophies taken from the loser.
I like spending time with friends and I love playing TTRPGs. Normal social activities were destroyed by the pandemic, so I leaned into online TTRPGs for social time. In August & September I scheduled games as often as I could, including playing in a D&D 5th Edition game, and running a couple of Blades In The Dark sessions. I discovered that playing online is not the same as playing in person. Even though I enjoy running games, it’s a lot of work. I am performing the whole time. As a player I can wait my turn and let other people take the spotlight, but when I run games i have to react to everything, move pieces that the players can’t even see, account for things that happened to other players they don’t know, and take notes at the same time. I discovered that in-person games had other activities that recharged me, making the overall experience less tiring. People feed me supper, or at least we all bring and share snacks. Before and after the game we have some unstructured social time to just be around each other, whereas online we disconnect when we aren’t playing. I only noticed these benefits by their absence, and by the end of September I was burned out! I intentionally cut back to monthly sessions with each party.
The summary page for Chasing The Sunset promises a large rotating cast and player-driven scheduling, but neither of those are true anymore. I have two parties, each a married couple IRL, and each meets once a month. Circumstances were very different when I wrote that page, and my players and I have adapted. Going forward, I think I have some more bandwidth for running games, so I’d like to add one or two more parties to Chasing The Sunset. I won’t push mixing parties, but I do want more information sharing, just so someone can eventually figure out the Moon’s deal. I have a mechanic for leaving notes in a location for other adventurers, but I don’t remind players about it, so they don’t leave notes. I love the shared world and the consequences of one party’s actions affecting another party. I want more of that.