Multiple Campaigns in the Same World
Lately I’ve been catching up on TV shows like Alphas and Warehouse 13. The first is a show about a group of people tracking down people with extraordinary abilities (somewhat like the show Heroes). The second is about finding “artifacts” that are possessions of historical characters that have been imbued with mysterious powers. What I find is interesting is that although they have different premises and tones, those two shows, along with a third show called Eureka are all in the same fictional universe.
The three aforementioned TV shows take place in the present day United States and occasionally there are characters from one show who will guest star in another show and be involved with that episode’s plot. For instance, one episode of Warehouse 13 had Douglas Fargo, a computer expert from Eureka, show up to perform a computer systems upgrade on the Warehouse (and help fight against a sentient security measure nobody knew about that accidentally got invoked). The same thing happened in Alphas where Dr. Calder, the doctor for the Warehouse, came to investigate a series of mysterious illnesses in a town (she was no doubt looking for an artifact, but it was actually an individual who had an “Alpha ability” that was causing it).
It made me wonder a bit if maybe campaigns could cross over. This could happen in one of two ways: two campaigns in the same setting cross over or two campaigns in similar settings cross over. For instance, you might have a Deadlands session where a member of the posse from the campaign you all played in last year shows up to help the current posse out (or clean up their mess). Maybe your Epic-level, plane-hopping D&D campaign might take a quick trip to the Dark Sun plane and run into the group you all played in the last campaign. Even little allusions might go a long way to making things interesting:
Obviously, the crossovers should be done only if the players are going to get a kick out of it (i.e. it may be fun for the GM to bring in a character from a previous campaign, but if the players aren’t going to care, then what’s the point?). Also, the crossover needs to imply that the two campaigns can somehow coexist in the same setting.
Also, the crossover shouldn’t disrupt the tone and flow of the current campaign. For instance, if you were playing a spy campaign and there’s a character from the mafia campaign you played last year, the focus should still be on the spy part. In other words, the problem should be solved by tactical planning and stealth, not by going in guns blazing like in the mafia game.
Finally, I firmly believe that the current characters should be the star of the story, not the guest characters. No matter how awesome they were in the other campaign or how equipped they are to solve the current problem, they shouldn’t be the ones to save the day. Otherwise, you run the risk of having a powerful NPC that overshadows the players, like Jackie Wells in Deadlands.
So to sum all that up, campaign crossovers can be fun, whether in the same setting or just similar ones. But the focus should still be on the current group. They should still solve problems their own way and they should definitely be the heroes.