And you know how I perceived one of the most glorious events in the universe? With these ridiculous gelatinous orbs in my skull. With eyes designed to perceive only a tiny fraction of the EM spectrum, with ears designed only to hear vibrations in the air. I don’t want to be human. I want to see gamma rays, I want to hear X-rays, and I want to smell dark matter. Do you see the absurdity of what I am? I can’t even express these things properly, because I have to conceptualize complex ideas in this stupid, limiting spoken language, but I know I want to reach out with something other than these prehensile paws, and feel the solar wind of a supernova flowing over me. I can know much more, I could experience so much more, but I’m trapped in this absurd body. --Cavill
The end of a campaign has come and gone with one of my regular groups, and so I'd like to share some of the lessons learned on how we all came together at the table to craft a satisfying conclusion to an Epic Campaign. One of the things I'm most proud of was how we dealt with the player characters ascending to rule the heavens.
The campaign was titled "Goetterdaemerrung: Twilight of the Gods", a reference to the famous Wagner opera. The primary focus of the campaign was on the death of the old, familiar 4E pantheon of gods and the rise of the next pantheon t take their place; namely, the dungeoneers. The game ran from Level 9 to Level 22, grabbing a hold of disparate elements of exploration through the astral seas to track down the source of a divine plague (known affectionately as "the god-herps") that had been killing deities.Some things you may have seen here already:
- Exploring the campaign's finale dungeon, The Lich-Queen's Beloved
- The Blade of the Feywild Thunderdome, which ended up dealing the killing blow to Abilene
- Adventures in the astral sea with an Astral Ambush and assembling a fleet of astral vessels
- The death of Vorner, god of nature, via razor sharp shattered glass falling onto him at the end of the 4E Tomb of Horrors
- Losing two dungeoneers' lives in a foray into Abilene's lair (aka Revenge of the Iron Lich)
- Fun with gravity and The Orb of (high disputable) Gravity!
But enough reminiscing for me, let me get to the meat of this post. At the end of the campaign, with the utterly wild powers coming in from all the dungeoneer's epic destinies, we set about to draw up a satisfying conclusion. Assuming the Iron Lich to be defeated, which she was, what then would happen to the nearby dungeoneers? The divine energies that the Lich-Queen had been harvesting would be released, and the most powerful of all creatures, the Lich-Queen's slayers, would absorb that power and ascend to godhood.
But What Is Divinity?
A metaphysical question if there ever was one. I'm certainly no philosophy expert, so any "true" answers here from the Dungeon Master would come out as empty and hollow. So, I did some research to open my mind up and discover the root feeling I was trying to evoke. I watched a lot of bizzaro movies. I though a lot about the Tarot, about numbers and numerology, about miracles, about life, about death.
The common thread to tie it all together was mystery. The mystery of the divine is what keeps it divine. It is the unknowable. It is the strange and bizarre.
To replicate that mystery into a tabletop game format, I needed something physical, something beyond the rules, something unpredictable, something unknowable. I didn't want to simply ask the players directly what influences their characters would have in godhood, the answers would be too predictable and obvious. Instead, I compiled a list of areas of influence, divine domains, and organized them into pairs of contradictions and opposites. I then took a list of mystical symbols, shapes and icons that have held sway over the human subconscious for time immemorial.
Every player was assigned a random number of domains with which to give to any dungeoneer, and every domain needed to be given to a dungeoneer. The first few cards given out were still predictable and easy to figure out. The next, not so much, and that started everyone down the road of creativity and surprise. Some dungeoneers ended up with both the black and the white side of a domain, encompassing the full spectrum of a sphere of thought; for example, Quidom the Wizard was given both Reason & Knowledge as well as Madness & Trickery. He become the god of the mind, and was now the patron of psionics, something he never would have blurted out on his own otherwise.
At the same time, each dungeoneer received two random symbols with which they had to form together to create their own new divine symbol, not so unlike Chapter G (is for gods) of Fourthcore Alphabet fame. Our group was blessed with several players having some artistic talent, and they came up with very creative implementations of the symbols. None of the symbols needed to be exactly represented, and could be interpreted in any number of ways, but both of them needed to be placed. For example, Cicero the Elven Avenger drew the eagle picture and the book. His character had never dealt with knowledge or learning or spells or anything obviously associated with a book. However, in taking on his new divine form, Cicero appeared as a winged angel bearing the Holy Texts of Law.
Lastly, now that everyone's thoughts were expanded out and on a creative streak, thinking of their characters in ways previously unimagined, I could start asking straight questions about these new gods.
- What is Sacred? What is Profane?
- What weapons or implement is held in high regard?
- Who are your chosen people?
- What number is a sacred number?
- What other forms, aside from humanoid, does your god take when descending upon mortals? (Lots of swan jokes on that one.)
- What other names is your god known by?
The players all felt immense satisfaction in how we ended the campaign. They're hard work had paid off in an incredibly imaginative retirement for their dungeoneers, full of surprises all the way to the very end of the campaign. Their legends would, in turn, continue to live on as the new default pantheon of our next campaign, already in progress, and they would see the fruits of their labors thrive and impact all of our lives, once a week, for a long time to come.