For my previous entries in this series, I've gone into great detail discussing my first D&D campaign, since I clearly still remember it very vividly. However, our very next campaign was "Red Hand of Doom," and I remember almost nothing about that one… because I missed just about every session.
I was playing a dwarf fighter named Rurik Balderk, a.k.a. "Roach" (a nickname from his time in the goblin slave camps). I remember fighting goblins in the first session… and then I was in a play for the University theater department, and starting missing game sessions due to rehearsals. I would sometimes get back to the dorms in time for the last 15-30 minutes, and would never have any idea what was going on. I gave the other players permission to use my character while I was out, so Roach was still contributing; he was just under the control of the players.
One day, I remember coming in towards the tail end of the session, and the other players turned to me and said, "We fought a dragon!"
"Oh," I said, somewhat disappointed. "Cool." At that point, I hadn't actually fought a dragon before, despite playing a game called Dungeons and Dragons for several months.
My absence from the game also made one thing very clear - I was not great at playing my characters efficiently.
When I discussed retiring my first character, I mentioned that part of the reason I left him behind was that I wasn't great at playing him, and I was trying to figure out if the issue was how I had created the character – accidentally creating a character that didn't play very well – or just in how I was using him. But as others played Roach in my absence, it became clear that he wasn't a badly designed character… I just wasn't a very effective player yet.
I've gotten better over the years, but the truth is I'm still someone who puts much more emphasis on story and characterization, rather than putting together the most efficient build.
It also didn’t help that I never had a firm grasp of the rules, at least not for several years. Red Hand of Doom was our last campaign played in Dungeons and Dragons 3.5, and from there we shifted to 4th Edition. And honestly, that’s the edition where I really cut my teeth, got a better sense of the rules and how to play. But when I played 3.5, and even early on for 4th Edition, I was still asking stuff like, “So, what can I do?”
Honestly, that seems so weird to think about now. For several years, I ran multiple campaigns at once. I created dozens of premade characters for guests to use on a D&D actual-play show. And I've become finally become fairly comfortable with the rules. But of course, I still get things wrong when I play; everybody does. And ultimately, that's okay.
At some point, I’d like to play Roach again in 5E – I think he had a lot of fun potential as a character, plus I just loved his name. Fun fact: I was originally going to have his nickname be “Dog,” but then I found out “Dog the Bounty Hunter” was a thing, so quickly changed my mind.
As for “Red Hand of Doom,” I remember correctly, I was there for the campaign finale, and I had a lot of fun despite not having any idea what was going on. And if there's one thing to take away from this column, it's exactly that: at the end of the day, none of the rest of it matters… as long as you're playing with friends.
Discussion Question: In honor of the untapped potential of Roach, today’s question is about those old unused characters. I have a few like him I’ve never had a chance to use – I once found the character sheet for a level 1 goblin sorcerer that I have no memory of rolling up, but clearly I designed him for a game at some point. Even Calvin Dugray, to a point, had a lot of untapped potential when I retired him. What characters have you designed that you haven’t been able to fully play? Maybe you only played with them for a few sessions, like Roach, or maybe you never got to use him, like Snig the Goblin? Leave your answers in the comments below!