This year is the 40th anniversary of Dungeons and Dragons. So, in celebration of that, and in light of the fact that D&D released a new edition this summer, I’ve been posting some stories I have of playing Dungeons and Dragons and other role-playing games.
A while ago, I alluded to the fact that one of my characters basically went on to become the Nick Fury of my friend’s campaign world, and that this wasn’t the last time this happened. This time, I’m going to talk about how one of my other characters became a MUCH bigger deal than I originally intended.
I was in college when I first started playing 4th Edition D&D, which – despite the many valid complaints people have about it – I do think is a fun game. We set up a new campaign, in which I decided to try playing a cleric. I’d only played fighting-type characters thus far, and had never tried my hand as a support-class, so I thought it was an interesting exercise. I rolled up a Dragonborn Cleric named Miros Allos.
In D&D, you often get to choose a background, which can affect your character. The trait I went with was the “Birth – Omen,” which means that, when I was born (or hatched, I suppose), there was some sort of event – born during a bloody battle or a hurricane or something like that, which can be interpreted as a sign. The omen I went with was, when I was born (hatched), all of the flowers in the vicinity bloomed and died in a 24-hour period.
That was a strange campaign, because for the first time, I was playing a character who was trying to uphold the law and honor, and all those things that quickly vanish when a bunch of player characters head out on an adventure and start torturing kobolds for information (or sometimes just because). And I tried to play my character honestly – he didn’t want to do bad things, and he really wrestled with the horrible nature of his actions in the group. He wasn’t a paladin – he wouldn’t stop the group from doing the things that needed to be done in the tough situations heroes find themselves in – but that didn’t mean that he liked it.
I bring this up because, at one point, our DM asked us all to send him an email with our character’s greatest fear, and Miros’ was that he was going to lose his way, and no longer be the good man (dragonborn) that he thought of himself as. So, when we wound up in the ol’ Dagobah Cave scenario, Miros was confronted with that fear, and if I remember right, he almost succumbed to it (probably because I rolled really badly on a Will Save or something).
The main crux of our campaign was searching for the bones of a god – specifically the dragon god – who had been murdered centuries earlier. There were some messed-up bad guys trying to collect all the bones, and we were trying to stay ahead of them and collect them ourselves. Meanwhile there was a war brewing, and I remember the end of the campaign very vividly – we were fighting the big boss in the middle of a battlefield, and it was pretty damn epic. Then we got our hands on the final bone (phrasing), assembled them, and DIVINE INTERVENTION stepped in, and turned my character into a god. With a wave of my hand, I took out the enemy army and my friends won the day, and Miros ascended to the astral plane.
I remember being very satisfied with that ending – Miros had been striving to be more than just a man (dragonborn), and that ending paid off that dream, as well as the omen I’d set up in character creation. We moved on to other games and other campaigns, and I moved on to other characters.
But Miros was still a new god of that campaign world.
See, Daniel, our DM grew up reading comics, so he designed this world to have continuity – he has a rich backstory he wrote up during lots of boring college classes, but by and large the world is fairly straightforward (two major countries, which often find themselves at the brink of war). But anytime one of our campaign ends, he folds the events into the history of that world. Calvin Dugray left the group to join the vague yet menacing shadow organization? He starts showing up in other games as a Nick Fury-esque character. War almost averted? The ramifications of how the war ended shape upcoming adventures.
Old dead god is replaced by a young god who used to be mortal? Then you’d best believe that will come up again.
Daniel was a camp councilor, and told me that he had started running a few D&D groups with the campers, and one of their missions led them to discover that Miros was a new god, and that his presence was causing some unrest between the gods.
So they decided to kill the god Miros.
That’s part of what I love about Dungeons and Dragons – you can build a continuity, which you can use as little or as much as you want. That doesn’t mean you need to do a lot of worldbuilding – I’d actually advise restraining yourself from writing copious pages of backstory, the way Daniel did, because most players won’t really care about them. But what you CAN do is start including references to previous games, because players WILL connect with those details.
At the end of the day, people want to feel like the quests they went on mattered. That doesn’t always mean that your character ends up a constellation, or a king, or a legendary figure who your future characters can talk about for years – not every campaign lends themselves to that sort of ending. But when your campaign goes long enough, and the stakes are high, then adding some sort of 80s-Movie Ending to show that your characters played a role in the legacy of the world can be a really nice treat.