Madness takes its toll … but before we launch into a chorus of “The Time Warp,” let’s talk about time as it applies to RPG campaign settings, in particular some of those published by Green Ronin.
It begins a long while ago, the 1990s, to be specific. That was when I first began to experience the notion of an “activated” game setting. Shortly before I began freelancing for FASA Corporation, the publishers of BattleTech and Shadowrun made a point of making their respective gaming universes “active” ones, places where time passed. In the case of Shadowrun, the setting was 61 years in the future, and stayed that way as time went on. Time also marched on in BattleTech’s universe, although more prone to jumping ahead a generation or two after a couple of epic wars. Then came the multiversal campaign of Torg, with it’s “live” monthly newsletter updates of the Possibility Wars.
Many other RPGs adopted what came to be known as a “metaplot,” an advancing timeline where things happened in the setting whether you were actively playing in it or not. Sometimes, a setting would start out fairly static, as it was fleshed out and detailed, and would later be “activated” to launch a metaplot and moving timeline (as was the case later on with FASA’s fantasy RPG Earthdawn).
I worked on or with all of these settings in one form or another, so the notion of an activated campaign setting became pretty common for me. Along comes the d20 System, the Open Game License, and my career at Green Ronin Publishing. I was involved with two settings right out of the gate: the world of Aldea for Blue Rose and Freedom City (what would later become Earth-Prime) for Mutants & Masterminds. Both started off as static settings, “snapshots” of a moment in time of their particular worlds. Arguably, we “activated” Freedom City when Time of Crisis, its first full adventure, was published, but at the time the adventure was an “optional” event.
It was when the second edition of Mutants & Masterminds (and Freedom City) came along a couple of years later that things got more active. Given my prior experiences, it seemed like a fun idea to not only update the stats and expand on the world information in Freedom City, Second Edition, but also to have the same amount of time pass on Earth-Prime as had passed in our world. Things changed a bit: younger characters grew up, some graduated or moved on (Bowman joining the Freedom League, for example). It gave the setting a bit of life and animation.
Then, of course, it was a given. The same thing applied to Green Ronin’s Freeport setting, where prior adventures like the original trilogy were assumed to have happened in future source material, moving the timeline of the setting forward steadily. When we published a second (AGE System) edition of Blue Rose, we advanced the timeline there, too. Some things changed in the setting, most notably the fall of the Lich King Jarek and his replacement by the council of “regents” made up of his lieutenants, the Shadowed Seven.
The funny thing about putting a fictional setting into motion is that you don’t always think that much about the long-view of things. Part of the reason why fictional properties like comic books tend to be a bit vague on the specifics of time is precisely because their stories and characters often last for decades. If you had told me back then that Freedom City and its characters would still be a going concern eighteen years later … well, that notion of having things happen in real time might have seemed less “fun.” We certainly wouldn’t have needed to retire or replace some characters from the original setting, or update others.
On the other hand, we would have also been denied some of the various events that changed their lives. The young members of the Atom Family grew to adulthood. Heroes like Johnny Rocket, originally the junior member of the Freedom League, became seasoned veterans. Johnny is now married and raising a daughter who’ll soon be ready for a super-powered career of her own!
So it’s probably no great surprise that when we began updating some of those forgotten characters from the earlier editions of Mutants & Masterminds products that readers would ask “But where are they now?” leading to the creation of companion pieces to our updates for the M&M Patreon that address just that question. Oftentimes, the answers are related to exactly why we didn’t include those characters in later setting updates: Because it was clear they would be retired, out of the costumed life, or just plain dead by now.
Nevertheless, those “Whatever Happened to…?” articles manage to be full of potential and interesting adventure hooks, drawing upon the idea that time has passed and things have changed for these characters. Long-time fans of the classic versions from a fifteen year-old sourcebook can speculate about what happened, while those new to Mutants & Masterminds and Earth-Prime get some story hooks rich in history and the kind of superhero legacy elements the setting was designed to support. That definitely adds some value to the updated game information we’re providing.