A while ago, I referred to a character of mine becoming “the Nick Fury” of my friend's campaign world, and mentioned that this wasn't the last time this happened to one of my characters. For today’s article, I'm going to talk about how one of my other characters became a much bigger part of the world than I expected.
I was in college when our gaming group switched over to 4th Edition D&D (which, despite a number of valid complaints people have about it, I do still think is a fun game). We set up a new campaign, and since I’d mostly played fighters and other similar classes, I decided to try something different. I ended up playing a dragonborn cleric named Miros Allos.
One of the aspects 4th Edition added were backgrounds, which were similar yet different from the versions that appear in 5th Edition. My character had the background trait "Birth - Omen," which meant that when you were born (or hatched, in my case), there was some sort of event - your character could be born during a bloody battle or a hurricane or something like that, which can be interpreted as a sign… for good, or for ill. For my omen, I decided that when I was born (well, hatched), all of the flowers in the vicinity bloomed and died in a 24-hour period.
(This was inspired by that time Hellboy's blood made flowers grow and some old guys said it proved a prophecy. I’m so original.)
That was a strange campaign, because for the first time, I was playing a character who was trying to uphold the law and honor, and all those other things that quickly vanish when a bunch of player characters head out on an adventure and start torturing kobolds for information (or sometimes start torturing kobolds just because). And I tried to play my character honestly - he didn't want to do bad things, and he really wrestled with the horrible nature of his actions in the group. He wasn't a paladin - he wouldn't stop the group from doing the things that needed to be done in the tough situations heroes often find themselves in (this was the reputation paladins had in our games) - but that didn't mean that he liked it.
I bring this up because, at one point during the campaign, our DM asked us all to send him an email with our character's greatest fear. And Miros' was that he was going to lose his way, and no longer be the good man (well, dragonborn) that he thought of himself as. So, when we wound up in the ol' Dagobah Cave-scenario - facing a manifestation of your fears, like that time Luke fought Fever Dream Vader - Miros was confronted with that fear… and if I remember right, he almost lost his way... probably because I rolled really badly on a Will Save or something.
The main crux of our campaign was searching for the bones of a god - specifically a dragon god - who had been murdered centuries earlier. There were some messed-up bad guys trying to collect all the bones, and we were trying to stay ahead of them and collect them ourselves. Meanwhile there was a war brewing, and I remember the end of the campaign very vividly - we were fighting the big boss in the middle of a battlefield, and it was pretty damn epic. Then we got our hands on the final bone (phrasing), assembled them, and DIVINE INTERVENTION stepped in, and turned my character into a literal god. With a wave of my hand, I took out the enemy army and my friends won the day, and Miros ascended to the astral plane.
I remember being very satisfied with that ending - Miros had been striving to be more than just a man (well, dragonborn), and that ending paid off that dream, as well as the omen I'd set up in character creation. We moved on to other games and other campaigns, and I moved on to other characters.
But Miros was still a new god of that campaign world…
You see, our DM, Daniel, grew up reading comics. So when he made up a world for our D&D games, he designed the world to have continuity - he had a rich backstory he wrote up during lots of boring college classes, but by and large the world was fairly straightforward (two major countries, which often find themselves at the brink of war).
But at the end of each of our campaigns, he folded the results of our actions into the history of that world. Calvin Dugray left the group to join a vague yet menacing shadow organization? Pretty soon, he starts showing up in other games as a Nick Fury-esque character. A continent-wide war is averted? The ramifications of how the war ended start to shape upcoming adventures.
An old dead god is replaced by a young god, who actually used to be mortal? Then you'd best believe that’s going to come up again.
Daniel was also a camp councilor, and during the following summers, he told me that he had started running a few D&D groups with the campers… and one of their missions led them to discover that Miros was a new god, and that his presence was causing some unrest between the gods.
So they decided to kill the god Miros. Because, clearly, that god has to be evil, right? If he used to be mortal and decided to become a god, then he must have been power-mad and dangerous, and who knows what could happen…
That's part of what I love about Dungeons and Dragons - you can build a continuity, which you can use as little or as much as you want. That doesn't mean you need to do a lot of world-building - I'd actually advise restraining yourself from writing copious pages of backstory, the way Daniel did, because most players won't really care about them. But what you can do is start including references to previous games, because players will connect with those details.
At the end of the day, people want to feel like the quests they went on mattered. That doesn't always mean that your character ends up a constellation, or a king, or a legendary figure who your future characters can talk about for years - not every campaign lends themselves to that sort of ending.
But when your campaign goes long enough, and the stakes are high enough, then consider adding some sort of 80s Movie Ending - it will help show that your characters played a role in the legacy of the world, which can be a really nice treat.
Discussion Question: This week, in honor of Miros Allos, what impacts have your characters left on the game world? Perhaps they were knighted by the king, or became wanted criminals? I don’t think everyone will necessarily have a story that applies, but if you do, you know who you are, and we want to hear about it. Sound off in the comments below!