Let’s Get Together… (Running Crossover Events in Games)

I have to kind of blame this one on Inferno, one of Marvel comic’s earliest, biggest and best executed crossover events.  In the event characters from several different X-Men related titles came together to face a unified threat.  The parallels to gaming were instantly obvious to me.  Comics were episodic.  Games were episodic.  Superhero teams had people with various special powers coming together to fight evil.  So did adventuring parties.  And if comic books could crossover…

Games could crossover.

But why you might ask?  What’s the gain in running that style of campaign interaction?

Benefits of Crossover Game Events

Gangs all here – Yesterday I mentioned some tactics on how to run for a large playgroup.  Some of them result in players who while good friends, don’t actually get to game together often.  The crossover event is a great reason to get people who don’t usually get to play together some time fighting side by side.

Special Team-Ups – When that stupid real life thing interacts with our game time, we might lose players for extended periods of time, and when this happens key roles or story elements might be absent for the duration. Crossover events can allow players who are still available to interact with a new group and continue to play while leaving their old story relatively in the same state they left it. 

Mechanical Showcase – People get to see how their characters interact with new mechanical elements from other PCs.  Maybe all that stood between your summoner and true power was the song of a great bard driving your celestial badgers onward.  Maybe having an actual healer will matter.  Seeing new spells, feats and classes is a huge learning aide for newer players or those who don’t understand things as easily without watching their actual application.

Compatibility Tests – I would be lying if I said I wasn’t ever nervous when my gaming friends meet for the first time.  I have aggressive alpha-forging power-gamers and detail obsessed role-players.  I have various political perspectives and half a dozen religions in my gamers.  Crossovers are a great way to see how players interact and it is vital information for forming a new play-group in the future.

Big Bads and Story Points – Sometimes a GM or pair of GMs decide that the two play-groups might actually NEED each other for some reason.  Maybe the big bosses are that powerful.  Maybe they have vital information they need to share.  Maybe the parties have long lost friends or families in them.  Maybe a character (or player) needs to switch campaigns and the crossover can facilitate it.

Visiting Royalty – Sometimes distant friends visit and would like to game, a crossover game can be a great way to introduce them to local folks and share as many as three or four groups of awesome with everyone involved.  Don’t screw around with GMing this because a bad game with this one might affect the visitor’s entire trip.  Be awesome.

Pitfalls to Avoid in Crossovers

Steve meet Steve – Sometimes in crossing over playgroups, you might realize that Steve, John and Tami play in BOTH of your games.  This can mean that for the crossover that these players have two characters each.  It may be no problem but consider the ramifications carefully. Having a story based reason for them only to have to run one of the characters isn’t a bad “just in case”.

Shiny Toys – Contrary to what you may think, strict equality in terms of mechanics (level, gear, stat generation, etc) is not really required as long as you are prepared for it.  Inequalities in loot, PC strength or even “build quality” can lead to people in another group feeling less happy with their characters or deciding that another group is a bunch of “overbearing power-gamers”.  If you are worried about these things, make sure that the players are using roughly the same level characters.  If that isn’t enough, use the standard wealth rules to re-equip the parties and make a story based reason for the gear changes (and reversal when the crossover ends).

Wedding Planner – GMs who fail to plan adequately for a crossover game are sure to have a lot of headaches.  It doesn’t hurt to know a crossover is coming for months, if not from the launch of a campaign.  Take the time to build relevance to both groups and generate exciting plot momentum.  Crossover events can be run spontaneously but doing so requires a special kind of skill with improvisation and I don’t recommend it for beginners.  If you are doing a crossover with another GM make sure you have reviewed all the relevant information and feel good about the significance of the event to your games.

Big Group Dynamics – A lot of the issues with group crossovers requiring large group tactics we looked at in a previous post but it never hurts to really evaluate your play-space logistically. Make sure you can support the size and physical needs of your expanded group.

The PVP Toggle – This can be a devastating issue in crossovers. Some players will always use the situation to “take on” the other group. While player versus player can be the point of a crossover, make sure EVERYONE knows it.  Players often are the most emotional and heated when PCs clash and a fun casual night gone wrong can result in friendship melting badness if you execute poorly.  Make sure the PVP “setting” of the game is a clear thing and punish digressions from it with prejudice lest Steve be trying to prove his barbarian is better than Tami’s paladin even if it kills both games in the process.

Crossover events can be amazing if executed right.  Players will and do talk about them for years.  Be sensitive to player hesitations and allow them to opt out if they don’t think it sounds fun.  If you have enough of these players in a game, DON’T DO IT.  Even if it would have been awesome.

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