Friday, April 29, 2011

Y is for "Youth In Asia"

[over the course of the month of April, I shall be posting a topic for each letter of the alphabet, sequentially, for every day of the week except Sunday. Our topic this month? Things necessary to take your D&D campaign from “eh, fantasy” to “kick ass.” And who doesn’t want that?]

Y is for "Youth In Asia;" AKA Your Time Is Up.

At some point, all player characters careers must draw to a close. It may not seem like it right now, players may be saying “But I LOVE, Mung the Magnificent!” but, trust me, it’s true.

If you play the game long enough, everyone gets sick of what’s going on.

I’m not saying people eventually get sick of D&D or of role-playing in general (God forbid!) though I am aware that this happens, too…and sometimes people just need a 12-13 year break/hiatus (*ahem*). Nope, sometimes the game still holds value for you, still excites you, may even be inspiring you to try new things with it…but your current campaign is cramping your style.

Ragnarok, baby. Armageddon.

That’s the usual response: “Let’s just blow the whole thing up and start over! Everyone make 1st level characters, but this time we’ll be playing B/X instead of 2nd edition!”

[yeah, I wish]

These days, of course, it happens less frequently, mainly because fewer people are playing long-running campaigns. I’m sure some folks think it’s pretty funny that I’d bother to write a book like the B/X Companion when only the most diehard, dedicated, or Monty Haul campaigns would ever see characters over level 14…and those guys are all playing AD&D (1st edition). In the old days it wasn’t just possible, it was highly likely that you’d be playing in a “high level” game…campaigns would last and last and new players that joined would be given mid-level (or higher!) characters to keep up with the “old hands”…or the treasure being collected would be enough to level ‘em up right quick.

These days…nah. People want to play other games. People have lives and families and extracurricular activities that consume their time. Even kids…they have to log hours of Xbox in addition to piano lessons and softball. And there sure seems to be a lot more television on TV than when I was a kid. Too bad…television rots the brain worse than D&D ever did.

And anyway, I hear all the time from folks that they prefer “low-level” or “mid-level” games. Huh…weird. I can only imagine this is due to having exhausted the possibilities of game play (as they see them), rather than really being enamored of low level play. I would hope it’s not simply a justification for campaigns “falling apart early” (see last paragraph).

[if low level play is so cool, why has every edition since 1985 sought to “jazz up” the lower levels of play?]

Well, whatever…for those folks who get “bored” after level 12 and for those players who go into the 20s and 30s before feeling the tug of disenchantment, this post is for YOU.

It doesn’t have to end in Ragnarok.

You don’t have to “blow up” the campaign world and all still-surviving PCs.

You don’t have to UN-make creation in order to start over.

I mean, you CAN, but I just want you to know there’s another way. It’s called RETIREMENT.

Why, why must PCs be kept forever as high-level 20-somethings (or 30-somethings), eternally youthful and wandering and care free with their magic swords and bags of holding. I mean, carefree until the world explodes because the players and DM are sick of these eternal n’er-do-wells. Why can’t they just settle down and go into retirement?

Why can’t they get old and fat…like the rest of us?

Really, is it so much to ask for a graceful Fall from Grace? Are we so afraid of our own (real world) mortality that we refuse to let these people finally, FINALLY “get a life” after years of adventure?

Here’s the thing: RETIRE them. Keep the campaign WORLD and start new characters. Even if you want to play a new edition where the rules have changed, there’s no need to “adapt” the old dudes…they were an anomaly for their time…legendary heroes, as is their right.

“Oh, yeah…Landon the Half-Elf. Can you believe they say his father was an elf and his mother a human? He had the skills of a fighter, thief, and magical minstrel…all rolled into one! They sure don’t make ‘em like THAT anymore.”

And why not? Because now you’re playing B/X or OD&D or AD&D2 (though I hope not!).

Leave your guys in the fantasy world but put ‘em on a shelf. Let them act as retired NPCs to interact with the new PCs. Allow them to be the parents or older relatives of the new batch of PCs. No, that doesn’t mean your 1st level character gets his mother’s vorpal sword of giant slaying. “I donated that to a Halfling museum years ago…I think I heard someone robbed the display…”

Allow them to get old and fat (or stay fit and fair) and buy castles and titles and temples and enjoy their wealth…or allow them to squander it all and end up face-down in a gutter in the “Free City” of Greyhawk. Whatever strikes your fancy…ask the PLAYER what he thinks was the “final destiny/doom” of his or her character…and let it unfold.

If they’re still around, these are the guys who should be handing out adventures and tips…not sages and wandering wizards at the local tavern. You need to talk to the King? Make the king an ex-PC…going gray and entering his dotage perhaps, but still the same old character. Some DMs may even ask the old player to “control” the NPC for interactions.

What does it do to keep these figures around? Sure, sure…there’s some neatness to the idea but you were sick of the game world and wanted a completely clean slate, right?


That’s what you get. Consistency: the feeling that the world is living and breathing and in some ways eternal. It has no end…just younger, less experienced PCs showing up to take the place of the old veterans. It may have no perceived beginning…who’s to say the old PCs predecessors aren’t sequestered somewhere in hiding or suspended animation?

Ever hear of a trap the soul spell?

D&D is a fantasy game, but that doesn’t mean it can’t have DEPTH to it. Doesn’t mean it can’t have LAYERING. It doesn’t matter if one campaign used Pathfinder and Feats and the next one uses B/X with some firearms rules thrown in. Changes to the game can be “conveniently forgotten” just as the fun earlier adventures can be remembered and talked/bragged about.

Continuity helps make the game feel “alive.” It gives players a sense that, “oh, I’m NOT just wasting my time at this table…someday my current PC may be an NPC in someone else’s game.” That’s not a bad little accomplishment.

Look at Mordenkainen and Robilar.
: )


  1. This is what I've done for pretty much all the campaigns that ended; our characters retired. In the World of Greyhawk my original magic-user retired and took up teaching at the university; my dwarf trains soldiers; my dad's characters took up high-level positions in the thieves' guild; and my brother became a High Priest of a church and looked after his flock. Occasionally (thought not so much now) they'd come out of retirement for an adventure or two. New characters played in the same world, sometimes coming into contact with the old.

    Haven't had much a chance to play high-level games these days (for reasons you mention) but if a campaign dies, I still try and end it with the characters retiring, even if only temporarily.

  2. @ Simon: That's EXACTLY what I'm talking about...very cool indeed.

    I sincerely hope you can get back to long-term campaign play one of these days.
    : )