The Alexandrian

IN THE SHADOW OF THE SPIRE

Interlude: Visions on the Edge of the Void

In which lost memories return as the party lingers on the edge of oblivion…

Snape's Flashback

As I mentioned in the last installment of Running the Campaign, the near-TPK in Session 7 led to the lengthy break which resulted in the campaign’s Retcon.

When the campaign started back up, I decided to kick things off with the visions described in this installment of the campaign journal. If I recall correctly, I e-mailed these visions to the players a few days before the session to gin up anticipation. I also printed out individual copies so that the players could review them at the beginning of the session, with the joint-but-separate cliffhanger at the end of each vision leading directly to the first moment of Session 8.

In addition to simply getting people excited about playing again, I also wanted to make an experience which had ended up being unexpectedly traumatic and significant to the group in the real world an equally significant milestone for the characters, and I hoped that these visions would help drive home how close to real and meaningful death the PCs had come.

The actual visions themselves, however, were not created for this particular moment. They had been designed before the campaign ever began.

PURPOSE OF THE FLASHBACKS

The campaign began with the PCs experiencing a period of “lost time”. I took extra efforts to make sure that the players really felt this missing gap in their lives, because the things which had happened to them during that time were really significant.

The next step was to make sure that this missing time continued to be significant to them throughout the campaign, so that it wouldn’t just fade into “something that happened awhile back and isn’t really significant any more”. One way of doing this, as I’ve described previously, was to create a meta-scenario featuring a mix of investigating the past and also consequences from the past coming back into the oblivious lives of the PCs.

The other way I decided to keep the “lost time” as a pervasive factor throughout the campaign was through the use of flashback visions: Glimpses that the PCs would have into their lost memories. These visions were carefully excerpted from the “secret history” I had prepared regarding the period of lost time, and would hopefully also tie-in with the various meta-scenarios revolving around that lost time. (The idea was to create synergy between multiple tracks running persistently throughout and behind the other adventures of the PCs.)

FLASHBACKS IN PRACTICE

The triggers for these flashbacks were intentionally designed flexibly. (And most flashbacks had multiple triggers.) They generally weren’t things like, “During Adventure #5 when X happens, the PCs receive this vision.” Instead it was, “If something kind of like this happens, it’ll probably cause the PC to flashback to this moment.”

I also never hesitated to use a flashback — or create a new flashback! — if something that felt dramatically appropriate happened which I hadn’t anticipated. By and large, that’s what happened here: There were some flashbacks that had “near death” as a trigger; others that felt thematically appropriate. (I was also trying to strengthen the relationship Elestra and Dominic had before the lost time, since I had identified that this had not really been as deeply invested in by the players as the Agnarr-Tee relationship had been because the Elestra-Dominic prelude didn’t actually happen at the game table. It still didn’t really take. Things that happen at the game table are just more “real” than things that are only written down in character backgrounds.)

You’ll also note that the flashback visions are static. I’ve talked in the past about using playable flashbacks, but in this case I didn’t want the players to feel authorship of them or the ownership which would come with it. I wanted them to be alienated from these experiences; for these experiences to feel as if they had “happened to somebody else” even while they knew that it was, in fact, something that had happened to them.

This would not remain invariably true as the campaign progressed, although there were some unique twists which accompanied their first opportunities to “live” these memories. That, however, is a tale for another time.

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