Here’s A Health To The Company – Saying Goodbye To Campaigns And Characters

Peren walked off into the shadows, the Mark of Death on his back and Erandis d’Vol ahead of him. Alek Dacar d’Cannith walked into the Silver Flame and began to shape it into something that creates as  often as it smites. Verdeloth took his place in what had once been Oalian’s grove, becoming the next Grand Druid of the Wardens of the Wood and literally putting down roots. Capax declined to return to Xen’drik and instead hit the open road, ready for whatever adventure was next . . . with his sweetheart at his side. It took eight years of real time, but the adventurers of the Stormhold Guild finally accomplished their goals, achieved their Prophecy-marked destinies, and went their separate ways.

Darn it all, I miss them.

The Stormhold adventurers (and the quartet above aren’t even the only group of them) are notable for the sheer amount of time I spent with them, but they’re not the only ones I reminisce about, of course. The crew of the Borrowed Time danced along the Edge of the Empire and lived through an Age of Rebellion. The Iron City Samurai managed to leave Cyberpunk 2020!Pittsburgh a better place than when they found it, and the members unlucky enough to get caught up in ‘consulting’ gigs faked their deaths and fled to space. Caita and the other Knights Radiant reduced the canon of the Stormlight Archive to tatters. The Durgenheim Delvers Guild rescued a princess, won a tournament of adventurers, and rewrote their own legacies. Monty Python’s Flying Circus found the Seven Pieces of the Rod of Wonder scattered across at least three realities – an odd case, now that I think of it again, as among the characters I miss is a version of myself. All of these and more I look back on fondly, whether I was playing them or running for them.

Now, I’m not going to spend a lot of time giving advice on how to reach the ending of a campaign, how to end a campaign in a satisfactory way, or even how to bridge the gap between ending one game and starting another – Aaron and I already covered all of that and more in Episode 11 of Cannibal Halfling Radio, Give it a listen, I really think we’re onto something there. No, instead I’m going to engage in a little bit of melancholy and muse on how we come to care about our characters and the stories we tell with them, and maybe some ways to keep the odd pang of missing them at bay.

Kind Friends and Companions, Come Join Me In Rhyme

There’s something about roleplaying games that makes the associated memories more special. It’s not, of course, that other types of game don’t let you create memories, it would be silly to try and claim as much. Halo LAN parties have a special place in the memories of one particular group of friends (I will plant my flag of Justice in your SPLEEN!), plans from Australia to Madagascar and that one crazy soldier in the Ukraine are legends in an old crowd of Risk players, and you only have to look at the success of the recent Legendary Edition to see how even single player games like Mass Effect can earn their way into someone’s recollections nigh permanently.

Still, there’s nothing quite like being around the table with friends and making things up, which I think is a big part of it. It’s not just that you’re making memories together, you’re making memories together. The GM is pulling things out of thin air, the players are conjuring up characters and breathing life into them, and everyone at the table is contributing to a shared story. There’s not exactly much of a script to follow, and the group is likely to create something that is entirely unique to them – even if you’re running through a module or a published setting, a group is going to make it their own. There’s something to be said for game design as an art form, but I’d personally argue that the actual story you create is art itself.

That’s the other thing – like any artistic/creative endeavor, you’re putting yourself into what you’re making. There’s the time commitment, of course, and the effort of building encounters and worlds and so on. More importantly, though, is the emotional contribution, and the emotional payout. You get invested in characters and what’s going to happen to them because they’re yours, and like any other actor with a role you put yourself into their headspace for hours at a time. This is why emotional bleed in games is a thing, and let’s be honest, the key code to our memories is often how we felt about them. The excitement, the surprise, the amusement, and yes sometimes even the anger and sorrow that the events of a game evoke in characters and their GMs and players stamp those memories in deep, which makes the pang of missing their contents stronger.

Let Us Drink And Be Merry, All Grief To Refrain

Miss a fictional story or character in most media, you can simply re-read, re-watch, or re-play the media in question. Tabletop roleplaying games don’t really let you do that, though. Unless your game is being outright turned into an actual play production of some kind or is recorded in some way (whether it’s a play-by-post game that you just don’t delete or an actual audio recording) you can’t fully revisit the events of the game, and by virtue of dice mechanics and the like alone you can’t fully re-create said events either. Playing the same module multiple times comes close, but unless you’re playing with the same group of people and characters which seems… kind of boring, the variables will be wildly different (which, granted, is part of the appeal, but doesn’t help our case here).

It might seem that the simplest way to revisit a character or a game is to… keep playing them, whether the game just keeps going with a new arc, you have an outright sequel campaign, or you bring a multiverse clone of a character into a different campaign entirely. Eventually, though, you’re going to run out of steam – a character can only be interesting to play for so long, a story can only hold so much conflict, before trying to force things to keep going means that things peter out. That’s a good way to become bored playing a character or get a bad ending, and that can sour the whole suite of memories. I’m not saying don’t ever bring back characters or never have a sequel, both can be awesome. I’m just saying that when a story ends, a story ends. Necromancy is a school of magic, not a good creative method.

Mementos can go a long way towards treasuring fond memories from the gaming table, and the best part is that many are probably created as part and parcel of the gaming experience in the first place. Keep a folder or binder of old character sheets, a box of miniatures, or a compilation of campaign notes or maps or monster profiles, creating a personal library and artifact collection of sorts that tells the story of your adventures, even if only to you. Read the scribbles in the margins that track how you solved a mystery, or look over your abilities and remember how you put them to good use (or had a comical mishap). Put that minotaur warrior mini who stood in for Asteron the Shield on your desk at work, so every time the spreadsheets get too much you can look over and remember that time you doused Imix and toppled Ogremoch.

Creative pursuits can create additional mementoes or keep the characters and world alive in other ways. If you’re an artist of the drawing or painting persuasion I feel like I probably don’t have to encourage you to be making art of your characters or of events in your game, that seems to take care of itself. If you’re not but you think art of your game might be cool, well, why not help an artist out and commission something for yourself, your players, or your GM? Slane stopped running in the shadows and bought a small island a long time ago,  but very time I look at the art of him I remember the booby-trapped lawn gnomes, the ‘Jedi’ with monoblades, the cross-country trip with the cybernetic zombie, and getting involved in a three way stand-off that got broken by a shapeshifting kangaroo and an air strike.

Slane by Adam Botsford

The Troubleshooters retired from active combat against the Empire, but whenever I glance at their unit patch I recall confronting an Inquisitor in an ancient temple, raiding the Chimera to rescue prisoners, collecting rank badges for Imperial officers we’d captured ourselves, and riding the escape pods to our final mission after blowing up the Friends Like These in a ramming attack on a Star Destroyer.

Troubleshooters patch by Khairul Hisham.

Aside from notes, the written word has some great potential as well. You could write an Adventure Log sort of thing or simply the annals of your exploits during or, if you’ve got good notes/memory retention, after the campaign. For another during-campaign option that’s a little more creative writing than recording, why not try to write an in-character journal? It could be a useful way to get inside your character’s head a bit more while you’re actually playing them, and a less neutral way to enjoy a walk down memory lane after the journal winds up in the library (both the one in the game world and the one in your house). To get really creative, try your hand at some fiction starring your characters and/or set in the game world. I know, I know, ‘you’re playing a game, not writing a novel’. But writing RPG fiction can still have a place in the actual ‘canon’ of the game if it’s a backstory, a sequel, a character study, or a missing scene. Even if it’s a ‘non-canon’ sort of scenario, it still keeps your character from gathering dust, and may be inspiring in other interesting ways.

Looking for some creative touchstones to old games that are a little less time or resource intensive? Why not create a mix tape for your character or the game at large to listen to long after the adventures end? Even Critical Role cast members do that one. For another option, why not make a miniature way more precise than anything you can get store bought, like with Eldritch Foundry or Hero Forge? You don’t have to actually buy them if you don’t want to, that’s the neat thing, just make them up and take a screenshot and you’ve got something to remember them by. Dresden Files: Dirty Water didn’t feature minis of any kind during the campaign, but long after the game ended I still went and made one for the Rogue Warden of the White Council, Rowan Mulligan.

For We May Or Might Never All Meet Here Again

The best way, though, is to keep playing games with people who shared that character or campaign with you. It’s that shared experience of creating that, if you’re fortunate (and as Aaron pointed out earlier this week), can build long-lasting friendships and arguably even families. Long-gone adventures don’t fade quite so much if they become part of your shared history, revisited with ‘remember when’s, references, and callbacks. Play with the same group long enough and favored memories end up becoming the foundation for a shared language, almost – there’s a select group of Stormhold adventurers that know what ‘taking someone to brunch’ or ‘going to Little Greywall’ mean, and another group of players who know that if you’re asking “What Would Barry Do?” then you’ve really lost the plot.

I miss the Desian Mercenary Corp, the crew of the U.S.S. Verrazzano, the Magnificent Seven, the Stormhold Adventuring Guild, and all the rest. I’ve got a lot to remember them by, though, and I’ve still got the people who were behind them. That takes out the bitter, and makes the memories sweet.

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