Last night, I sat down with the remaining players from my almost three-year-old Dungeons and Dragons campaign to talk through the end of the campaign. Though we struggled to have more than 1.5 sessions a month for most of that time, we got pretty deep into the paint. This was a world I created back in 2019 and have been running a weekly/weekly-adjacent game in ever since. It has a customized magic system (not THAT customized, but still tweaked a bit), an entire set of pantheons, complex geopolitical and economic systems, and was my attempt to create a “young world” for roleplaying games. I planned to carry the world through many campaigns, playing out its entire history with my friends as we progressed from one campaign to another. Now, as we move toward other systems and science-fiction themes instead of fantasy themes, I am revealing everything I’ve spent so long creating and saying my own farewells to this world as my players and I say farewell to the story we’ve spent time over the past three years telling.
I have so many things I planned to write about here as my players figured them out. Little bits of my personal philosophy and beliefs given life and a degree of power in this world. Things I’ve thought about for years and developed through a mix of long-term consideration and spur-of-the-moment development. I mean, the whole world began as a reaction to watching Into The Spiderverse as I thought about what would happen to a world where the heroes fated by the gods to prevent a calamity disappeared. Everything grew from there, out of that idea. What kind of world has gods that are powerful enough to set fate in motion but not powerful enough to ensure it happens? What kind of power is required to subvert fate and can escape manipulation by the beings that brought order and life to the universe? What does the cosmology look like in a world where all of this has reached some kind of tentative, slipping balance? What kind of people live there and have survived the conflict that was involved in all of the questions before this one?
This is what I thought about in my free moments for over three years. Only in 2022, towards the end, did I run out of ground to work with. My campaigns weren’t progressing. One had ended the year before and one was stumbling since even my attempts to set up a side campaign ran into scheduling trouble. This problem was briefly fixed by one of the players rewriting recent history with one well-asked question and one portentious deal with the metaphorical devil. I got quite a bit of mileage out of that, as I figured out the ramifications of that decision, but we never had the time to play out the game of Wagon Wheel we planned to use to represent the effects of this character on history. Then the game ended. Then one of the core players got removed from the gaming group. Now those of us who remain are talking through what was to come as we try to find some closure before starting a new game entirely.
It is difficult to say good bye to this world after spending four years thinking about it. It has a lot of upsetting stuff associated with it, as well, since this is the campaign where I was forced to belatedly institute safety tools because a player crossed my lines in the middle of a session (which is what taught me that no amount of familiarity or supposed comfort removes the need for safety tools since even people who know your lines might decide to cross them in an ill-conceived act of roleplaying). Still, I’ve gotten a lot more positivity out of it than this rather isolated negativity and the growth I went through as I dealt with it. It is something I’ve going to miss.
I don’t know if it was particularly clever or anything. I think it was thorough and lived-in and had stuff my players cared about, which is all that really matters when you get down to it. I think the magic system was neat and it was really fun to explore and build it with my players as they pushed into the blank spaces I’d left in the world. I just came up with the idea that what made magic possible, what allowed the mortals of the world (and all beings, actually) use it, was the being’s sense of purpose. Their agency. Their desires. The act of wanting. Everything beyond that was built in collaboration with my players. This core idea, though, made it really easy to sort out who could use magic and who was just made of magic in a way that made it look like they used it. It added a whole layer to the world, giving the players a way to push their limits at the really cool, major story moments or character development beats. Sometimes it boiled down to sacrificing hit points permanently to make really cool magic items, but most of the time it was just something I tracked in the background.
I know I’ll find a well of cool ideas and game tweaks in everything I do. That’s the kind of person I am. I can always come up with a new idea to try. I will always find gaps I can fill in cool and interesting ways. There will be new worlds, new tweaks, and new fun ideas I have to forcibly restrain myself from telling my players about. I’m just going to miss these ones. I’ll get to visit each one as we finish talking through the story of The Forgotten, a game about the people, places, and things that fall between the cracks not because someone hid them but because sometimes things just get forgotten when people are busy with Important Things. I’ll get to say goodbye as we talk through how the people who made up The Forgotten remind the world that they’re there and as the world finally remembers them. We’ve only finished Arc 2 of the campaign at this point and I wrapped up by setting the stage for Arc 3 and the Finale, so I’m going to stop myself here (I’ve got no idea if we’ll actually meet again before this post goes up since we’ve made plans to meet, but those have never gauranteed that we’ll actually meet when the time arrives), but I can feel myself already mourning the end of this thing I’ve spent so many years working on.
As I’ve noted so frequently this year, there is a time for mourning things as they end. This isn’t a negative thing, to be sad that this is ending. Clinging to it past the point of uselessness, making myself miserable by trying to to preserve it, or fighting against the healthy choice to say goodbye… All of them are tempting. I’m good at letting go of things, thanks to my childhood, but I’m not very good at letting go of ideas. I can’t really blame myself for wanting to hold on to a story and mental exericse that provided years of comfort any more than I can blame myself for wanting to look past the painful changes in a relationship that should have heralded its end. But all things must end in their time and it is time for this one to end. Someday, I will return to it, take the pieces that are useful, and pull them forward into something new. For now, though, it will join all my other dusty ideas on shelf at the back of my mind. It will be in good company, if nothing else.