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The Journey is All You Have

Updated: Mar 9, 2021

Environs of the Silver Castle

My players are three sessions into the Dream House of the Nether Prince. They started with 10 characters. They are down to eight. One has been Raised and then Healed, meaning there have been at least three deaths in the fortress thus far...this after exploring roughly 6 rooms?

I've been asking how they feel and they tell me it feels right as the final adventure in the campaign.

We are near the end of seven years of gaming that centers on a single plot revolving around Dreaming Tower and the five black anchors which the Esoteric Order of the Twilight Princess sought to thwart.

I suspect there are at least three more sessions in the fortress before the final veil is parted and an ending of sorts finally revealed and fully digested.

This means the overarching thread of continuity, that stitched together every session with its color, will finally be tied off and snipped.

I anticipate taking some time off when it does. How long? I think perhaps until July 27th?

I need a break. I deserve a break. Later, in the summer, I will pick up dice again with intent to referee. But until then, I might be content to hurl those shapes only as a player in my friend's game. Funny how the dice seem to perform so differently in that context. Almost as if the black magic turns on me, exacting payment for things done on behalf of demons and horrors I conjured to the grid.

No, Anthony, your character will never hit in combat. This is the cost of your sins.

That's fine.

Because cost is what makes the story worth telling anyway. And as I look back on the past seven years, with the context of this final adventure still being in play (albeit with very few sessions left) I am reminded exquisitely of the words I wrote at the beginning of this foray:

"Welcome to the Esoteric Order of the Twilight Princess Campaign...


To any new faces:

Welcome to 1st edition AD&D gaming where, as the dread pirate Roberts wisely surmised: Life is pain...pain is inconvenient. But inconveniences are only adventures wrongly considered (G. K. Chesterton).

At the end of these adventures, it will not be the gold but the stories you will treasure—even though some will not have happy endings..."

It is my hope that this has in fact now come true, that the gold and even the magic items will, at least in part, fade in memory----but that the bigger story of what happened along the way, the time that Mortimer murdered that cat, because his quasit told him to, and made a little girl cry (true story!) will be remembered by the players forever.

Memories of what happened (and how) molt a special kind of jewel that only those who witnessed the events can ever fully appreciate. The memory can be conjured between the participants, invoked like a spell to summon laughter and reverie. And stories of this sort are precious because they prove that friendship can survive arguments over dice and that we are the same in ways that matter. They also prove that the journey is the only thing you take with you, because it is the only thing that matters.

Our love of maps, I think, is based on our love of journeys.

Yes, you sat on the Throne of the Gods. But that was not your destination after all. It was, strangely, just a place to rest your legs.

The dungeon master's responsibility is enormous and serious, because he or she is at the helm of forging memories that players will ever after remember for good or ill. Sometimes that is easy to forget during discrete, often intense moments of play.

But the journey is the only memory that will last and that is true for the dungeon master as well. And this is why I always say that if you are having fun, you are doing it right.

I am somewhat nostalgic at the moment (you couldn't tell, right?) because my plan for this hiatus from DM-ing is both exciting and, of course, a tiny bit sad. Time away from doing a thing I love doing, however, is necessary to recharge and reflect. I've not done any work on the Castle of the Silver Prince for over a month now. When I say I need a break, I really mean it. I think I'm just plain exhausted from running online games. The break will allow me to compartmentalize a chapter and determine how well I did the job that I claim to know so much about.

Of course I have not always been a perfect referee. It's an impossible task.

To quote some guy that knew it all too well and whom you might recognize by these words: "The Dungeon Master [must be a] universe maker." When you put on the mantle of DM, you have to "order the universe and direct the activities in each game...what lies ahead will require the use of all of your skill, put a strain on your imagination, bring your creativity to the fore, test your patience, and exhaust your free time. Being a DM is no matter to be taken lightly!"

It is possibly my favorite paragraph in the DMG.

I take comfort in that b/c if true, which it is, it also pleads a persuasive case for leniency toward the referee. I give my own DM (and good friend) a lot of leeway because he's taken me on so many journeys.

I think all DMs who are conscientious and dedicated not only to their game but to their players probably feel inadequate to the task from time to time. And they probably have games they feel bad about because they wish they could have done something better.

But momentary failings are simply part of the journey. As a player in a campaign I also hold that perspective: of a player. And when I am a player, what I think about most is the big picture of the experience. How do I feel about game night? Do I look forward to it? Will player X forget to mute himself again and fart like a growling grizzly bear in the middle of the DM's description? (Internet D& god!) But seriously, these are the things I think about. Who's running the show at the evil tower in the valley? Will we make it out alive?

The memories of games are so valuable to me because they represent REAL adventures with REAL people. In fact, the memories of these adventures are almost indistinguishable from other adventures I've taken with the same people. A camping trip in northern MN: I have stories. Killing a green dragon in a cave with the same group? Yeah, I have stories.

In both cases, the personalities of the people are central to what happened. Which is why D&D is sacred to me. Losing my property in Monopoly is a vanilla occurrence compared to the unique events that emerge from tackling the uncertain dangers of a fantasy setting together, as friends.

In a great campaign, it's almost like getting to live a second life inside your real life and like getting to know your friends in ways you wouldn't otherwise know them.

This is why I say the journey of the game is the only thing you keep and the only thing that matters. All my other posts about rules and rulings and about the how's and whys of doing things are only meant to support and facilitate the very long and rewarding journey of a many-year campaign.

Between now and July, I have significant work to do on the Silver Castle Campaign.

But I also need to just rest...for a variety of reasons.

Resting means no blog post last month. I think the next post I do will be after the party finishes the Dream House.

I plan to give a recap of how the adventure ends and who, if anyone, survives. After that, I will, at some point, release the PDF version of the adventure...but I make no promises on when that will be.

But aside from this, I have no plans for blog posts.

So, between now and then and whenever... take care of your players. Be kind. And remember the journey is what matters most.


And happy gaming.

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