That’s a Wrap!

Yeah, it’s over. A campaign that had its first session on April 10, 2018 (with plenty of prep beforehand) and ended on January 13, 2020. In a world I’ve been working on since about 2011. With characters I’ve been fine-tuning and changing and re-writing since 2015. With inspirations from music spanning every decade from the 70’s onward. A total of 98 sessions that circled this main narrative. And around 600 hours of play-time, if we are so inclined as to include prep time for players.

So, the first question, I suppose, would be something like “was it worth it?” The answer, of course, is yes. I would do it again. I would start over right now, and go through all of the same hardships. The same highs. The same lows. It would all be worth it.

The ending was heartbreaking in all of the best and worst ways. The highest highs and the lowest lows. The party had accomplished their goals, dealt with everything that brought them together and, yes, drifted apart. Life takes hold of all, even the fictional. It waits for no man, woman, or fictional beast. The march is constant and unending. But that’s what makes it so very good. As a party, it was the best thing they could’ve done, and they knew that they had lives to lead, so they each went their separate ways and repaired their own worlds, now that they had saved it.

There was death, and loss, and reunion, and heartbreak, but most of all, there was emotion. Everyone knew it was going to be rough as we barreled towards the end, but it was hard, even for me. I’ve never been at a loss for words before, but I came close a couple of times during the end. Not because I didn’t know what to say, but because I didn’t want to say it. The camera was on, the record button was pushed, and everything I said to these people that were my best friends was true. In those moments, I was the very same god of fate that is oft-joked about as a DM caricature. There was no longer any wiggle room for negotiation, the battle was over and everything was being wrapped up. And it was scary to have that amount of pressure on me. Horrifying. I’ve been DMing in some capacity since about 2011, but it’s never really felt like it did just then, because there were consequences. I mean, there are always consequences, but now there was no way to finagle some sort of strange deus ex machina in the next session, or work it into a later plot point– we were playing for keeps, now.

The most obvious thing I learned from just the last session is that you need a voice if you want to DM. I talk a lot. I use big words pretty okay. I use small words sometimes. I use lots of words at all times. But when you know your voice is about to give out, let discretion be the better part of valor. A delayed ending can be eventually good, but rushing it in hopes that you can finish will leave it tainted forever. And that fear nearly came true. By the five-hour mark of the last session, my voice was completely destroyed and the very concept of voicing a character that didn’t sound like a pack-a-day chain-smoker was as far away from me as the moon. But I persevered, because I couldn’t accept some strange piece of my own mortality. I’m too young for my body to fail me. That’s dumb, I’m practically still a kid. But here I was, and with literally no options before me, I eventually gave in and gave my voice the rest it needed so I could tell the story, the way it deserved to be told.

But what did I actually learn from that? Well, I finally learned to like my voice. It’s a massive cliche to say that you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone, but the first time all of your friends are looking to you to drive the resolution of a 600-hour-long story and you can’t do it, it’s heartbreaking. I always hated my voice. I know, everyone says that. But I was made fun of as a kid for it, because other kids are assholes. But it stuck around. I was mistaken for a girl on the phone sometimes (back in the olden days of having to call, one landline to another, to contact your friends), and that didn’t help. But finally, after listening to my own voice more often than just about anyone except professional voice-users (you know, that common phrase for singers, voice actors, and announcers), it was only after I lost it that I realized how good I had it. And that sometimes, I’m an idiot and nearly ruined it all. So, moral of the story? Don’t ruin your voice, just wait a bit and end the story on your terms.

The biggest thing that stuck out to me, though, is that somber feeling of almost hollowed forlorn. It’s a feeling that I’ve always had trouble pinpointing, and even more describing. Maybe the singular most important reason that I love The Lord of the Rings is because the last 15 minutes is, for me, an extended stay in a world of that forever-missing feeling. If I were a better writer, I’d give it a cute name and refer to it as its own person or some such, but instead I’ll just stare longingly within my own emotional psyche at it, watching it bat its eyes and hope I can find out its name. Spoiler: I won’t. But I had this belief – this complete conviction – that the most important thing I could ever do in my life is be able to recreate that feeling. It drove me to be a writer. It drove me to tell stories. It drove me to be a DM. It drove me to sit out on a dock at 4am on a cold, winter morning in Florida, listening to the sounds of fish breaking the glass-like crystal salt water of the inlet. But it was never within my reach. Even now, it doesn’t feel like it is any more.

But then, just as I was writing this, Kim shot me a quick message, “Gosh your campaign was really amazing venn,” and that feeling was back, just for the most fleeting of seconds. I was reminded that at one point, that very same emotional high that I wanted nothing more than to evoke– I did it. For at least one indeterminate moment in time, there were five people in the world that felt that same feeling – cold but warm, hollow but cozy, scary yet reassuring – that has driven so much of the creativity in my life.

So here, at the end of the first story I ever finished, I can say that I achieved a dream I had. Maybe it was stupid, and maybe it was a dumb dream of a kid who grew up on ridiculous stories and romanticized the most overtly-ridiculous fictional works that only spoke to him for the most nebulous of reasons, and maybe it was really, really fucking childish, but I don’t care. Another cliche for you: I never wanted to be an author because of the money. That would be cool, but it’s not what I dreamed of. I kept my dream a lot less realistic: I wanted to share that same feeling that my favorite things gave me, with other people. Even just one would’ve been enough. But I got five.

So thank you, Nick, for ignoring the endless harassment and eventually joining a game, a day late and a dollar short, but with all the more heart to show for it.

Thank you, Ryan, for accepting a leap of faith offered from a friend, and trusting me to be the person to drag you into the wide world of tabletop roleplaying.

And you as well, Alex. From a temporary fill-in character to the most consistently-tempered character I’ve ever had the pleasure of seeing brought to life.

And of course, Logan too. Your genuine wonder made every character, every location, and every action in my world feel that much more real.

Lastly, but certainly not least, thank you Kim. You brought to life a character that evolved more than most people. And then I took that away from you.

Yes, this was a story that I told, but it doesn’t rise to the heights it did without any of you there to help. Without you guys there to do the heavy lifting when I couldn’t, without you there to be the characters that I rooted for, without you all there to be the Frodos and Samwises of this story, it would do naught but ring hollow.

So there it is. Thanks to you guys, I achieved a dream.

Posted by Robert Wall


Aw… you manage to make me cry again venn

Thank you so much Venn for amazing story and letting me be part of this! 🙂