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I just read about a strange behavior in RPGs that didn't make much sense to me. To give an example:

Susie joins up with a new game in Milwaukee. She makes a character for that game and plays in that storyline for a while.

Later, she moves to Billings and joins a new gaming group. The DM explains the details of the story/setting they're gaming in. She sets out her character sheet from the game in Milwaukee and plays that same character in the new game, with all that character's stuff, points, etc.

The DM in Billings says this is fine, but only if her character acquired those things "legitimately".

They're treating one game world as "real" in the context of the other.

(Can my Sith lord cast lighting bolts from his hands to fight Harry Dresden? Can my blacksmith make swords in this Stone Age setting?)

Where does this come from? Is this common in some RPG I've never played, or in some playstyle I'm not familiar with? I'm not even sure what to call it -- something like "shared reality of all fictional settings".

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In the early days of roleplaying, when it took years to get a character to an appreciable level, porting of characters into other campaigns was not uncommon. This was mostly in D&D, since most people played D&D in the 1970s/early 1980s, but not unheard of in the other games of the day (Rifts, etc.). It had its downsides ("What do you mean, you have Blackrazor?") but was just an organic outgrowth of early gaming. This wasn't crossgenre porting (sci-fi to fantasy!), but most people's D&D campaigns were similar enough regardless of specific setting that a quick handwave could let an existing PC slot into a new world.

The RPGA turned this into an official kind of tournament play with their Living campaigns starting with Living City in the mid-1980s. These were designed for convention play, and while previous tourney play was mostly using pregens, this let you create a character and evolve them from table to table, con to con, by adding a layer of standardization (stat point buy, treasure tracking). It wasn't just D&D, I remember playing "Living Verge" (Alternity) and "Living Spycraft" (Spycraft 1.0) at Gen Cons back in the 1990s-2000s. This has evolved into modern Organized Play for Dungeons & Dragons and into the Pathfinder Society, which even allow for home and online play using the same metaphor.

With organized campaign play using this structure, it's something many gamers are familiar with. It's less common outside OP nowadays (I go into why in more detail in Is it common for D&D characters be moved to or reused in different DMs' campaigns?) but is not some weird surprising mode of play if you've ever gone to a local Game Day or gaming club or gaming convention of any sort.

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It comes from very early D&D

The earliest written source I know of which testifies to this practice is from the 1977 "Dungeons & Dragons" rulebook, edited by Eric Holmes ('Holmes Basic D&D'):

The game is limited only by the inventiveness and imagination of the players, and, if a group is playing together, the characters can move from dungeon to dungeon within the same magical universe if game referees are approximately the same in their handling of play. (D&D, Ed. Holmes, 5)

This text at least shows the possibility of moving your character to another referee's (ie DM's) game. What is meant by 'the same magical universe' is left unexplained, though it is possibly relevant to your particular question in terms of Sith Lords fighting Harry Dresden.

And was going strong in the late 1980s.

From my own experience of playing AD&D 2e in the late 1980s and early 1990s, I can say that it was common practice to allow players to bring their PCs from other campaigns, even from BECMI games. However, the DM would often cast an eagle eye over the character sheet for particularly powerful magic items, which might be disallowed. In terms of 'setting hopping' this was normal between AD&D settings (so a Dragonlance character could turn up in the Forgotten Realms), but not between game systems, probably just for practical reasons (converting MERP to AD&D - aargh!)

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Bigger Structures

An addition to the good answers we have already: If you have a large gaming group, with a reasonable degree of consistency in play style, moving back and forth between different DM's worlds can become a routine activity for characters.

I met this at college in fall 1979, where there were people in the group who'd been playing since 1974. The game mechanic was an institution called "The Halls of Teleportation" which existed in various towns in the different game worlds. Transport was free for adventurers, since, on the whole, they brought economic and social benefits to the worlds. Merchants could ship stuff between worlds, but had to pay a percentage. The towns continued to operate their own legal systems, and would sometimes extradite criminals, but this depended on the crime, and the worlds involved.

This came with some implicit lampshading, and an unspoken agreement not to spoil something that was of benefit to everyone by exploiting it too hard.

The Metacampaign

The result was a very large, multi-DM campaign, that was far more varied and interesting than any one DM could produce. This emerged naturally from the initial conditions, and still exists, although it isn't played as much now as it was in the late seventies and early eighties. Then, most members of the group spent the whole of each weekend playing or DMing. You can build a lot of gaming experience in a few years that way, and we did.

Of course, people had more than one character. Most of us had tens of characters, and would start new ones regularly at first level so that we always had a variety of characters at a variety of levels, and could join any expedition that sounded interesting and had space. An average party might be 4 players with a total of 8-9 characters, but this varied widely: some people didn't like playing more than one character at a time, while others were happy with it.

There would be ongoing plotlines, and reoccurring villains. There would usually be a core group of characters interested in a particular plot, who would work on information-gathering with the relevant DM, and recruit more characters for an expedition or attack when they had a decent plan. This meant that many scenarios were organised by the players, which definitely eases the DM's workload.

... it's viral!

The metacampaign I know spread itself over several British universities in the late seventies. I helped spread it to another in the mid-eighties, simply because there was another one running there which was pretty compatible. That one doesn't have Halls of Teleportation, but requires the characters to have ways to travel between worlds, after which it's then easy to move between the various game worlds.

I'll be running a scenario that's definitely part of the metacampaign at a convention in January 2018, 38 years after I met it. I look forward to playing it more when I retire.

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