Lankhmar is a natural for a role-playing game, but Leiber has another series that would make a great campaign, The Change War!
The Change War is about time travel and changing history. The two sides in the war, the Spiders, and the Snakes are constantly sending agents to various points in time to alter history to their advantage. Confrontations with the enemy often occur as each side tries to ‘win’ a point in time.
Time travel is a simple matter in the Change War. There is time and then there is the Big Time. The Big Time lies outside of time. Pathways can be created between the two and then it is a simple matter of traveling from the Big Time to a point that you have selected in real-time.
Changing history is a different matter altogether. There is something that the scientists call The Conservation of Reality. Essentially time resists change. To use a popular analogy, instead of thinking about a butterfly that causes a hurricane across the world with the flapping of its wings, the Conservation of Reality basically says that the currents caused by the butterfly wings would be dampened out by the surrounding environment before they could travel very far. It takes more than a mere butterfly to get anything done!
Recruitment happens at death. When a potential time-soldier is about to die, an agent will intervene and pull the recruit out of time to witness his or her own death. The recruit is then given a choice to either fight in the Change War and live out of time or to stay in time and die. Becoming a soldier is a popular choice. It doesn’t matter which side picks you as Spiders and Snakes are just names for the unknown powers with unknown motives that are behind the war.
As recruits are selected from throughout history and from all over the world–and off-world to boot!–a company of time-soldiers can be quite a motley group. Roman legionaries, foot grenadiers, Chicago mobsters, and Martians can all be together.
I would imagine that players would love the chance to create a character from any era and place and then role-play off of the other players’ choices. So what would it take to get a game running?
One of the nifty things about running this sort of campaign would be the ability to set individual adventures at any time and place. Every session can be set in a completely different setting. On the other hand, this could be challenging to run. GMs that love and know their history should have a great time with this.
Planning individual adventures could still be tricky. The PCs are essentially in the military so you could just give them their marching orders and hand them their assignment for each session. However, if you wish to give the players more freedom, you could have the players choose at the end of each session a time and place for the next adventure. Then you could spend the week setting up for the next game.
One question that I think needs to be answered is how does each side goes about changing history? This is not addressed in the stories as all the time-missions take place off-stage. For the purpose of a game, the action would naturally occur on the missions. As such the GM would need to come up with details for individual mission objectives.
What events need altering to change history? Are there any key events that each side keeps fighting over? What roles do the PCs fill for these missions?
History is not one of my strong suits so I’m a little reluctant to start up a Change War campaign myself. Although you never know. I find the idea very intriguing and I think someone out there needs to run this. If you do, let me know. Also, I’d be curious if anyone has any answers to the questions I proposed or any other ideas for making this work.