The world of our D&D campaign

On Sunday we played the last session of our D&D 5th edition campaign where I was Dungeon Master for the last four years. We concluded in a 7-hour all-day game to tie up as many plot threads as possible. It was a fun ending, and left me (and, I think, the players) with a feeling of satisfaction and some accomplishment. And relief. It’s good to have our Wednesday nights free again. (And also to have more time to playtest my homebrew RPG Dreamland.)

We met up about 2x a month for 4 years, sometimes more, sometimes less, so we probably played 100-120 games. We normally met on weeknights and my spouse and I hosted and served dinner. (Being a good host is a big part of being a DM… which is a good time for me to say, to those DMs reading this, please bear with me as I ramble on a bit about DMing. I’ve posted occasionally about our game on Twitter and Facebook, but for some reason, almost never on this blog before.)

In 4 years, the player characters went from 1st to 13th-14th level. It wasn’t a very deadly campaign compared to some I’ve been in, which had more of a “you die every couple of months and bounce back with a new character” feeling; there were only 4 onscreen permanent player-character deaths. But those deaths were dramatic, and by the end, after deaths and retirements, not a single PC remained from the beginning. (Sethep, the Egyptian wizard, had been along for all but the first few months.)

Omarosa, Babylonian wizard

This is definitely the longest campaign I ever DMed and was the longest campaign I ever played — at least chronologically, if not in terms of number of games, since I played in a weekly (!!) D&D campaign for about three years in my 20s, under my friend Elliott’s excellent DMing. Before that, my longest time as a DM was a 2-year-ish weekly D&D campaign that fizzled out, just as the adventurers were given their next mission to escort a holy baby to a shrine in the African jungle. (Nyambe: African Adventures, naturally.) Of course we didn’t start out intending to spend 4 years of our lives doing this. Shortly after we moved back to San Francisco in 2014, some of my old friends cornered me and asked, when are you going to run a D&D campaign again? So we picked a time and we started in early 2015.

Vasculus the lizardman monk

As I’ve posted on this blog before, I’ve always been into historical and pseudo-historical settings more than Tolkien-y fantasy worlds like Forgotten Realms etc. And as the DM, I gotta enjoy the game too, so I offered the players a choice of two settings/themes I’ve wanted to try for a long time: Fantasy Ancient Babylon, or pirates? No one demanded Forgotten Realms, and the answers came back basically 50/50, so I decided to combine the two: PIRATES OF BABYLON IN THE ANCIENT ARABIAN/PERSIAN GULF!!

Arganda the pirate, briefly the Big Man of Tarut Town (until the PCs killed him)

And so the adventure began in a seedy tavern on Tarut Town, in Tarut Island, in the (in this world) green and jungle-y coasts of the Great Gulf. Though this was a ‘traditional’ D&D game, in which as DM I kept the secrets and guided the story and there wasn’t much outright collaboration, of course the players’ choices shaped the game as well. My original idea was to play things ‘fantasy-historical’ and keep a human-centric world where nonhumans were rare outsiders. Also, since half the party had voted for pirates, I figured it’d be a piratical game with lots of gore and looting and the authorities being absent and/or corrupt. But then in the very first character-generation session, one of the players chose to be a Dragonborn Paladin Noble! So I quickly shifted the world-parameters and decided that the city of Uruk was the home of the honorable Dragonborn, who claimed descent from the hero Gilgamesh, who (in this world) had not merely met a snake on his quest for immortality, but had met an immortal DRAGON and married that dragon and given birth to a race of dragon/human-ish creatures. And of course, the Dragonborn were socially accepted enough to be rich nobles, not merely weird outsiders. And so, immediately, the world got more interesting, thanks to the players’ choices.

That’s enough for today. I’ll talk more about the adventure in future posts in a few days!

Kali the dragonborn paladin of Uruk