It took us three sessions, a total of about ten hours, to wrap up my last remaining Dungeons and Dragons campaign, but we did it. I got to deliver final lines, talk about the world the heroes built, and finally close the loop on themes I’ve been building for years. It was a hefty, emotional moment for the four of us, as we said our goodbyes to the characters and the world they had saved, that left me choked up. Even if we struggled to meet regularly and it took us two years to get to where we were before we started to wrap things up, we’d still invested a lot of time and thought in our characters. It would have been nice if everyone could have been there, at the end, but sometimes people fall by the wayside and there’s no bringing them back. I just find it interesting that it was the players who learned this lesson instead of the characters (who managed to bring back a friendly NPC using a True Resurrection spell after they’d failed to bring them back during our first year with a pair of raise dead rituals gone wrong).
It wasn’t that I didn’t try to kill off the player characters. They’d just spent most of their time and energy figuring out how to keep themselves from dying or from staying dead for long. It was pretty easy to see how they would have made it through alive and I’d built a few custom mechanics that allowed them to go beyond the typical limits of their abilities once they did the work to figure it out. Which they, of course, did. Sure, it was abbreviated work that happened merely because they said their character would have spent the time to figure it out, but they’d already done all the groundwork required to start putting things together in the latter half of the campaign. Plus, I’m not one to deny myself the opportunity to share a cool thing I made up. I mean, all these systems and things are made to be used after all. Why wouldn’t I share them?
All that said, I wasn’t really trying to reach a specific end of any kind. I narrated scenarios, asked them for how they’d solve the problems, dove a bit deeper on important scenes, and then narrated the results. There was very little dice rolling. I rolled for a few things, mostly just to determine table outcomes for things I’d set up long ago and random effects for big moments (attempts at divine intervention, non-spell replication uses of the Wish spell, etc). No one rolled to see how things went. We just talked through it and figured out what the most interesting story would be. It involved a lot of the big, cool moments I’d hoped, so I’m pretty happy with how it all turned out. I didn’t even have to give my players any of the possible answers to problems that I’d come up with. I think that, for all things but one, they figured out all my major puzzles and they also managed to guide the entire campaign to the good-ending style results with a only few small exceptions.
I wish I’d been able to play it all out. I’d planned to run this world through several millenia, as the world grew and changed, as empires rose and fell, as freedom came and went, always building off the way things had been left by the last campaign as my players and I slowly moved through the entire history of the world. I might still be able to do that, someday. After all, Dungeons and Dragons the hobby is different than Dungeons and Dragons the company. I’ll be able to buy plenty of third-party material to continue expanding my world and never give Wizards of the Cost another penny. It’ll be difficult to do online, since I’m never buying all the core mechanic digital material again, but I think I can manage an entire campaign using a mixture of digital tools and pen-and-paper character sheets. That’s where I started, after all, so I think I can work my way back there just fine. It’ll be nice to no longer need to wrangle the D&D Beyond homebrew mechanics anymore. I will not miss that, or spending hours reverse engineering stuff that works in incredibly obscur and dumb ways.
Now I’m on to new things. Games I’ve been wanting to try and just never had the group to try them with. Different types of stories. New worlds. New styles of play and storytelling. Something fresh, exciting, and a little bit intimidating. After all, my comfort level resides mostly in knowing the system well enough to bullshit my way through just about any situation that might arise. Now I’m learning new systems and my knowledge, though more broad than most of my players, is not quite to that level yet. It’ll take some time, mistakes, and experience to get to that level in anything else, all of which will be slow to arrive since we’re going to be jumping from one game to another until we land on something that seems like it’ll be fun to play for more than a few sessions. I suspect that description will apply to all of the games we’ve picked, so maybe it’s better to say we’ll keep trying things until we find the perfect system for the kind of story we all want to tell.
That’s something to be excited about, even if I am still mourning the end of my biggest and most ambitious campaign yet, The Forgotten. Good thing I’ve kept very detailed notes so that it will never go the way of some of the themes indicated it might. I’m really just glad they figured out that the good ending for the entire campaign involved making sure the world never forgot them or the people they helped ever again. I couldn’t really ask for more.