I originally planned to start Horde of the Dragon Queen back in September or October. Due to various reasons that I will mention briefly (mostly to make you jealous), the campaign won’t begin until the middle of January. This is absolutely okay.
Originally, we were going to run the Phandelver adventure, overseen by one DM, and then move on to Horde of the Dragon Queen, which I would manage. When a different member of the gaming group expressed an interest in running a Trail of Cthulhu game at various points in the history of Buffalo, New York, how could I not delay my game in order to play it? It would be a fun change of pace and the setting was instantly appealing. We started Trail in October to coincide with Halloween. Snow storms, scheduling, and epic story lines that merited more than a single session continued to push back Horde’s start date.
Believe it or not, I would not have had it any other way. It was weeks of awesome: we went mad and killed each other, stole a tank, sold drugs to a Bulgarian crime boss, blew flying bug things out of the air with a machine gun in a helicopter. All sorts of amazing stuff. After the holiday, we’re finishing up the run with Nights Black Agents, playing as agent versions of ourselves in modern times. It will be fantastic. After that, it will be my turn.
During the last few months, creating my own characters and reading the characters the group created for Trail of Cthulhu and Nights Black Agents in three different periods of history, something occurred to me: all of us are really good at crafting character origin stories prior to any actual adventuring. I once had a sorcerer who went nova when her powers emerged and she nuked her family. One player’s character lost his wife and his hand in a battle against a demon at wizard school. Another player once had a character who was the only person in his village to survive a horrible and deadly disease when a god chose him to serve a greater purpose. These are just a few examples, and paraphrasing does no justice to the well crafted paragraphs written by my friends and me.
Pondering this caused me to juxtapose these characters against characters we created for a sandbox-based Pathfinder campaign. We created these characters using the Iron Man method and they, for all intents and purposes, were level 0 villagers who, foolishly, banded together in a group to set out and found their own community. Any history they had was really meaningless beyond the skills it granted them, which were pretty minimal. None of these characters had an origin story. Instead, their origin was when several of them fought and one died to defeat a dire bear in a berry patch. There, we created our village. We named the massive mountains nearby and, eventually, the village itself after the bear we killed. It was our first victory and our origin. It was awesome. Each of our characters had that common, fixed point when we established ourselves as something better than the rabble.
The idea of creating history at the table, during actual game play, really appeals to me. Finding your direction and place as a mover and shaker in the world at the onset of the adventure and along with the characters who travel with you creates more intense bonds. I want these characters to grow together as part of the story, not simply arrive fully formed and waiting to collect hit points, levels, and gear. 5th edition Dungeons & Dragons really allows for this method. There aren’t piles of skill point to meticulously place each level. You’re not grabbing feats and bonus feats out of the gate to determine your progress forward for the next nineteen levels. Most classes don’t even have meaningful choices to regret until second level. At 1st level in 5th edition, you are a scholar who picked up some magic. You’re a hermit who practiced with a sword. You’re an orphan who had an imaginary friend who whispers promises of power in the darkness.
This is why I told some of my players, when we’re going to start creating our characters together, think the following: “This adventure is the most interesting thing you’ve ever done.” I don’t want to hear long histories of why you became a soldier and why it wasn’t for you. It is enough that it wasn’t. You used to be a sailor? Great! You’re not now. The reason why isn’t terribly important at this moment. It is my job, as GM, to provide a chance for the characters to not be those things anymore. The chance I’ve come up with is… prison.
To be continued.
Enjoy and buy prints of the lede image, “Takhisis,” and other amazing fantasy and science fiction art by Matt Stawicki from the artist’s site. Not a sponsored message, just a shout out and attribution.