Back at the Gates of Mournwater

There’s something about a long rpg campaign, something difficult to name. It transcends even those special things a new or short-lived campaign lacks by necessity, the significance of which is easy to understand: how immersed in a character one can get after years of practice, how rich the dynamics between the characters and the world have grown, and how the game has overlapped with our, the players’, development as individuals and as friends, and everything that’s happened in our lives. I’ve tried to put it into words, but I haven’t yet been able to. This post is a nostalgic ramble on the subject; don’t expect any useful content.

On sunday, I ran The Gates of Mournwater, a fantasy campaign that I started in 2001 and that has endured more than one long hiatus, this time for over a year. Only two of the players could make it, both from the original group of three in a campaign that has seen a total of 7 players, and a couple of guest stars. Since 2001! All in all, the campaign’s hung in there while the people involved have gone to universities, either graduated or not, found and changed careers, gotten married and divorced, had kids, moved I don’t know how many times, and everything else that comprises life.

One of the things that evoke that special sensation is the sheer physical age of the game materials. That character sheet dates from 2005, a photocopy of a sheet I hand-drew for this campaign. Those coffee stains might be more than a decade old. Same with that map, and the homebrew magic system that can be seen underneath it.

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This was the second stage of the campaign, when we switched to Gurps 4th Edition right after it was published. Before that, we used a heavily house ruled 3rd Edition, with the Spirits book for magic. Making the switch, there wasn’t a Low Tech yet, or a magic system other than the truncated Basic Set spell system, so I produced all this material: that magic booklet is 33 pages, a mix of 3rd Edition Spirits, Magic, and a great deal of house rules; there are also huge lists of weapons and armor, an alternative hit location table, a never-quite-finished mass combat system for small-unit skirmishes, and I don’t even know what else. I still have the original character sheet and map, and might get around to scanning them some day, but as for the written material, the original files are all gone. Maybe some old computer or unmarked CD in my parents’ basement still has them, or, more likely, these heavily annotated printouts are all that remain. It’s OK. I’m still happy with what I wrote (and wistful about having all that spare time), but I wouldn’t necessarily use them for any new campaign. For one thing, my tolerance for rules complexity has slowly declined, although I’m no more fond of freeform roleplaying than I was when I experimented with it ages ago, and the magic system in particular is baroque to the point of ridicule. (Well, maybe I might still use the weapon and armor tables. They might be better than what we finally got in Low-Tech, for my tastes anyway.)

And the artwork! I, and many of my players, used to draw so much, and there are stacks of old drawings ranging from absent-minded doodles to publication-worthy illustrations produced after, and between, and even during game sessions. Here are just a few I dug out from a folder a couple of weeks ago:

And here are a couple from the player whose character sheet you can see in the photo: a portrait of the very same character, and a view of him (in his beautiful armor) and another player character. (I’d love to share some more, from the other players as well, but I couldn’t reach them for permission right now.)

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I’ve been away from this campaign many times before, and come back to it, and it’s dear to me in the way that only something that’s been with you a long time can be. I have no doubt no other game will ever have the same significance for me. That’s all right. I don’t think many game masters are blessed with even one campaign that they can feel this way about, and I’m grateful to have this one.

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3 thoughts on “Back at the Gates of Mournwater

  1. Thanks for this – a long campaign is an experience that’s hard to put in words. The trials faced together as players, building war stories together; and the slow satisfaction as a GM of seeing the players evolve their PCs and their understanding of the world you’re describing, are deep and splendid pleasures. Long live tabletop roleplaying!

    Liked by 1 person

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