D&D Campaign: End of the Age

  By Shamus   Feb 20, 2008   53 comments

A few longtime readers may remember the Mar Tesaro D&D campaign, which was the original purpose of this site. Before the programming, the videogames, the rollercoaster, the introspective teenage retrospectives, the rants, and the webcomic, this site was a record of our gaming sessions.

Since we began gaming together in 2004(?) or so, we’ve played through four campaigns in our homebrew setting. The setting is fairly low-magic, low-power, and low-level. Most of our characters are now level 8 or 9, which puts us only a few levels behind some of the huge, epic leaders we’d run into. As my brother Patrick began the fifth campaign, it was clear that our characters were getting too big for the setting. We’d met all the major powers and been at the center of four major world events. Were were whales in a swimming pool. Patrick suggested that the fifth campaign should be our last with these characters and this setting. The campaign was a sort of final battle of good and evil. The idea was that all of the threats popping up (the four previous campaigns we’d played) were the result of the powers of evil gaining influence in the world, the precursor to the final cataclysmic showdown between good and evil. Evil was going to pour into our world and use it as a battlegrounds against good. Regardless of which side won, it would most likely wipe out the mortal realm, which would not only kill all the shopkeepers in the game but also greatly devalue all the property we’d acquired. Clearly this just wouldn’t do.

There was a prophesy (of course there was – there is always a prophesy) that predicted this would happen, and that mentioned that when the time of evil came there would be some heroes that would rise up to face the challenge. Having been at the center of the four previous major threats, the player characters were obviously the intended heroes.

Last Saturday we had the final session of that final campaign, and brought the story, the setting, and our characters to a complete and final close. I know some gaming groups have characters that live on for years and years, reaching level 20 and beyond. Our group agreed that we didn’t want to go that route. Aside from the fact that we would no longer fit in the setting as epic characters, we wanted to explore other games and settings, as opposed to playing these guys for the next decade.

The final battle was pretty interesting. On our side we had our characters – all of our “alts” and abandoned characters and several prominent NPCs, each leading their own group of 100 soldiers. On the other side was the forces of mucho evil, of similar size but different makeup. (We had a lot more ranged units.) The opposing forces were led by a very large and evil looking dude, who turned out to be a Mind Flayer with a bunch of levels in Awesome Evil Mojo Powers.

It was the largest fight we’d ever been through. Patrick devised his own system for mass combat, and it worked really well. It was a battle of about 4,000 individual units, represented on the hex grid in groups of 100. There were three types of groups: Magic, Archers, and Melee. They formed a nice paper-scissors-rock relationship that brought some rewarding strategy to the game. It also allowed for rolling lots of handfuls of different dice, which always makes me happy. It was fun, varied, and tense. Note that I hate long combat the same way a reasonable man might hate lengthy dental procedures, so I want you to realize just how amazing it is that I managed to get through a four-hour battle and enjoy myself in the process.

Once the army of evil was crushed (and it was very close, as the kill ratio was not too far from 1:1) the mass combat ended and it was down to a fight between the PC’s and Captain Squidface. (Note to other GM’s, always name your antagonists, because if you don’t, your players will. And you will not like the results.) None of the player characters died, but it was very, very close. Several of them went down and were in negative HP when it was all over. The dice could easily have killed us there.

I’ve mentioned before that I like stories that end. It’s one of the reasons I like anime and generally loathe American television. It was great to see our story come to a close, nice to end it on a high note, and even better that none of us snuffed it there in the Last Battle.

The group is still set on exploring other games and settings. Originally the plan was for me to run a Star Wars campaign, but it looks like I’m going to be working on an indie game, and so I don’t think I should make that kind of commitment right now. I had a bunch of notes for the Star Wars game already written, along with a map and some other details. I might post them here so they don’t go completely to waste.

20201353 comments. It's getting crowded in here.


  1. corwin says:

    I love that oh-so-rare sense of closure you get from a campaign that runs its natural course to the final battle and end.

  2. Corsair says:

    Still no chance you’re going to post this campaign on here? Too bad, I enjoyed reading the Mar Tesaro Campaign.

  3. Papa says:

    I’m sad to see your world come to a close, but if you’re not… then I’ll get over it.

    I gotta say thanks for posting about Mar Tesaro. I finally played D&D for the first time on Saturday, and freely admit that reading about your games was a catalyst in purchasing the Basic Game for me. That was what we played, with me trying my hand at DM. We all loved it.

    Oooh, any chance of seeing Patrick’s rule-set for massive battle put on here?

  4. Hal says:

    Heh, did Beck make it to the apocalyptic confrontation?

  5. Snook says:

    I wish my group played seriously. We tend to run around blithely, creating a wake of bad decisions. I blame the Paladin.

  6. Sarah says:

    …yes, you always blame the paladin.

    but, seriously…I /do/ wish you’d post as much as you like about your D&D sessions here. I really enjoy them. Having never been able to play a decent game of that sort with my friends (ADHD, anyone?) I like to live vicariously through your escapades.

    Though….that might be a little crazy-sounding.

  7. Deoxy says:

    Request for effective homebrew mass-battles rules heartily seconded.

    Request for anything about the campaign seconded.

    Comment about American TV never ending (and that being a huge negative) TREMENDOUSLY seconded. BLECH. (B5. Nuff said.)

    Might you give your notes, etc, to someone else in the group to run for you?

  8. Macguffin says:

    That’s really excellent. So many of the games I’ve been in have never turned into real campaigns, or else they never finished… the few that did make that whole journey are some of the most fantastic RPing experiences I’ve had.

  9. Eric says:

    Reading through those sessions got me back in the role-playing mood, and I started DMing a campaign soon after (posted here).

    “The other two campaigns are not on-line, although if there is some demand I may post them.”

    If you’d be persuaded by a lot of people asking for it, I’ll join in and say I’d really like to see those other campaigns put online.

  10. pffh says:

    Could you post the mass combat rules here? Pretty please. I’ve been looking for a decent set of those for some time (most are to complicated, to simple or just plain boring). :)

  11. Adalore says:

    Quite awesome there.
    I have yet to have any Games to that degree of EPIC.

    But time will hopefully grant me the experience. :)

  12. MPR says:

    Regarding proper naming of Illithids …
    In Dungeons & Dragons Online there is an NPC named “Fred” who is a sort-of-friendly Mindflayer who hangs out in the shadows under some gardens and barters for feats. This amuses me greatly.
    Screencap

  13. DocTwisted says:

    Congrats on a victorious close to your campaign! Last time one of my campaigns ended, it was a Paranoia game, and by debriefing time we had 2 PCs with zero clones left, 2 PCs on their last clone, and the final 3 PCs with 2 clones left. The mission was to place a data cartridge (described as “A nintendo cartridge but three times as wide and long”) in a slot in the center of MRX sector, an area that had been taken over by commies. The surviving PCs thought the mission was accomplished, except for the one that secretly switched the cartridge with one that included a backdoor program so her secret society could start accessing The Computer directly.

  14. Phlux says:

    I like Captain Squidface…it reminds me of “Mister Splashypants” which makes me giggle uncontrollably whenever I think about it.

  15. Suzene says:

    Sweet way to wrap a story; glad to hear the campaign got a proper ending.

  16. Althanis says:

    Makes me wish I played in your group Shamus! Congrats on defeating the evil baddies.

    Yay anime! BOOOOOO US TV!!!!! =P

    I hope my players are as happy at the end of my current epic (story not level) campaign as you guys seem to be abour yours. If you are looking for a really good space opera setting I can’t recommend Fading Suns highly enough.
    The setting is really well thought out and the background material leaves lots of room for creative GMs to create a roleplaying (and/or roll-playing) bonanza. Yes I actually used the word bonanza. =)

    happy gaming!

  17. I agree with ending your campaigns once the PCs get too powerful, although less of a problem with systems that aren’t D&D (reveals bias).

    Moreover, the story of the campaign is almost always better if the GM knows, more or less, what is going to happen at the end of it (the final battle, or final scene).

    That said, I never really run campaigns that last more than a year, or slightly over. So my play style may just be very different.

  18. Blurr says:

    Pleeeeease write up the campaign! I loved your first one!

  19. Darkheart says:

    oh oh oh
    Star wars campaing notes….yes please :)

  20. Telas says:

    Add my voice to the chorus for details on the mass-combat system.

    I’m glad you got to see an Ending in your game. Closure is important.

    And I’ve got my own issues with US TV (CBS didn’t renew The Unit? whiskey-tango-foxtrot, over), but I just can’t watch anime.

  21. Patrick the Malcontent says:

    The evil bad guy was named Achaahz, not squidface. He was a 16th level cleric with 8 levels of fighter. He had a CR of 26, which was bad because being the dumb GM I sometimes am i didn’t even realize the chart for XP doesn’t even go up that far. Anyways….
    And they were VERY close to being wiped out. As I recall the PC’s as a group each had to make a DC 22 fortitude check or lose 16 HP, while also giving Achaahz 16 HP back ( I forget the spell name, 8th level cleric spell) As it turns out 6 out of 7 PC’s MADE a DC 22, and survived. By my guess if 3 or more had failed he would have made it another turn and pretty much had his way with them. Anyways…
    Shamus has the rules for mass combat I emailed to him. Nag him enough and he might post them.
    meh….

  22. Mari says:

    I hate to be a nag but…

    *nag, nag, nag* We wants those mass combat rules! Wants them, my precious, yes we does!

    I think it’s super-cool that you guys actually ended on a happy and voluntary note. I’m trying to decide where that happy and voluntary note should be in the game I’m running right now. When you play with n00bs you want them to feel the pride of reaching significant goals with their first PCs but at the same time you don’t want them to feel “locked in” with those first PCs and never get to experiment, to know the joy of playing…a paladin!

  23. Nilus says:

    Wow am I the only one who was suprised to find out they had been playing for 4 years and were only around 9th level. Thats about two levels a year. I guess its a matter of how often you play but you said 5 campaigns, thats a lot of play time. I guess different groups have different dynamics. I think my group plays so rarely(and have so many different games being run) now that we tend to give out to much XP per adventure.

    I do agree endings are important. I have been in a few games that ended and the closure was always nice. Of course I have also found that if you end a game to well players will invertible want to revisit the setting. Of course that is not so bad because then you can do fun things like playing the child of two of the original PCs from the first epic campaign and get to see if the world you parents saved was worth the effort.

  24. guy says:

    only two characters i’ve played have leveled up. i pretty much play one-offs

  25. NRD80Y says:

    Have you ever heard of the board game Descent: Journey into the Darkness? http://www.fantasyflightgames.com/descent.html

    Our group started playing this after our last D&D campaign finished. It’s actually really good. There’s a new campaign expansion coming out soon which were going to get and have a go at

  26. James Blair says:

    Some campaigns work better at higher levels of power than others. For instance, I run a lot of games with level 21+ PC’s, sometimes on a one-shot basis and sometimes because the characters actually rose that high. I clearly recall a 2nd edition dual-classed 24th/25th Paladin/Magic-user that, while I had no problem with that special armor that still allowed him to cast spells, he STILL had to either sheathe his sword or drop his shield to cast a spell. His sword was powerful enough that it was a tough choice…

    Yes, I once ran a group of level 25 2nd edition characters against 20 undead war beetles (which other than having a monstrous amount of HP were no big deal), each containing 20 juju zombies and a lich. It was over in less than 2 hours, and great fun was had by all. Later on, I actually managed to get that group to run away from something (there are ways of making a pair of Drow scarier than 400 juju zombies and 20 liches, I guess)!

  27. J says:

    I was one of those “longtime readers”. I found the conclusion to the Mar Tesaro campaign immensely satisfying, especially in your postmortem where you mentioned the possiblity (nay, probability) of the party solving the Mordan and Fiore problems separately. The way it turned out was just so right–the two plots fit together and everything resolved in one large story arc.

    You could probably write a novel on each campaign, each as a book in a series. Hell, I stopped reading fantasy books years ago but I’d buy it!

  28. Deoxy says:

    He was a 16th level cleric with 8 levels of fighter. He had a CR of 26

    Um, 16 levels of cleric and 8 levels of fighter make a CR 24 right there, and Mindflayers have a much higher natural CR than 2…

    against a level 9 party? That should have been a pathetically easy TPK.

    Actually, an intelligently played mind-flayer of that level should have been able to wipe your WHOLE ARMY solo.

  29. Nils says:

    I have to add my voice to those clamoring for a campaign write up. The first one was a great read.

  30. freddyboomboom says:

    Green Ronin has some mass combat rules in their D20 supplement based on the Black Company novels of Glenn Cook, named appropriately enough The Black Company

  31. Andre says:

    Tell you what Shamus: I discovered your site for your campaign transcripts before I even knew about DM of the Rings, and I really enjoyed those transcripts. I wish you had finished them in the way you originally had intended, rather than coming back months later and summing it up. And I’ve been hoping you’d find the time to do something similar again. I know I would love to do something like that, if I was in a campaign that warranted that level of narrative detail. The campaign I’m currently running is being pulled from a book (and we’re about ready to scrap it anyway, because it’s kind of bland). I’d love to do the kind of world building and campaign planning that such an endeavor requires, and indeed I’ve started to do just that on occasion, but unfortunately I don’t have the time to devote to such a thing.

  32. neminem says:

    Nice. Captain Squidface. Not quite as good as Captain Tightpants, but close. Sounds like a fun epic finale, though I’m also among those surprised that you’re only lvl 8-9 after 4 years. Then again, if you were in roughly that range for much of it, it might not be a bad thing – I think the 7-9 range is really the most interesting, combat-wise. Or, at least as a caster it is, dunno about combat classes.

  33. Davesnot says:

    Patrick.. Well done.. to pull off a battle like that and have people still having fun.. that be good GMin’

  34. Slippery Jim says:

    Shamus working on an indie game? Sweet!

    Any details available?

  35. Nathan says:

    May I recommend a GURPS setting? SJ games typically has very well-fleshed out background in their worldbooks. I’m partial to Technomancer, Reign of Steel and Black Ops, myself. :)

    I enjoy stories too–it frustrates me greatly that I can never seem to manage an *ending* … circumstances always conspire against me. Stupid circumstances.

    (Also, since this is my first post here, I also wanted to add what a great site I think this is!)

  36. Lain says:

    I had the luck to play two or three campaigns each about 5 years long.

    1x AD&D
    1x Cyberpunk 2020
    1x Rolemaster.

    The Master of our group tended to play with a sense of megalomanie.

    So in all campains we began normal and become real powerful and leaders in our own manner (King = country; Cleric = Church; etc.)

    Most intriguing was the cyberpunk game, because we were able to surprise the DM in regular bases in a manner, which allowed us to get more powerful, than he wanted us to be. But in CP it is even more easy to bring up more powerful villains. So the game changed in an wonderful way:

    At first we had a streetdoc, an bodyguard and an nomad, we accepted as our boss. A forth player changed his characzers here and there. We began as nihilictic suidical small dangerous gang. With strategic planning of our nomad, sometimes with my help, sometiimes he surprised all with his plans, he began to expand our territories. Began trouble with the mafia, found help by the Yakuza. Destroyed, no annihilated an streetgang, assimilated another.

    (Funny was, that we wanted to make a party and the dice decided that to become an own kind of “love parade” with TV, reporters etc.)

    At the end of an campagin we were and had the origin of an insider information for the stock market.

    He lend as much money he could, even from the yakuza, got help from an rogue AI and made about 80 million bucks for us.

    At this point, the game changed. We were not an streetgang anymore, we were millionaires. And because our boss let the money always accessable at his accounts, he become dangerous even for companies, because not so much of them were able to liquify 80 millions within 5 minutes.

    So our streetdoc really becomes his doctorgrade, my character become faster than his shadow thru extraordinaire cyberware and the “nomad” factor of our boss increased exponentially. But none of that powers helped much in the future sessions: More intriguing, less shooting, more intimidation less annihilation. We became Corporates.

    sigh. Never forget that one.

    I got a question for all readers, Shamus, perhaps you are willing to ask it properly:

    What kind of relation do YOU have with your character? How intense get the feelings? Do you really fear for their lives etc?

    For me it is, like an brother I never had. And now, years later, I miss them, like they have gone to another country.

  37. Matt P says:

    I join the cry for a campaign run-down the likes of Mar Tesaro. Please please pretty please.

  38. Nilus says:

    Hey NRD80Y,

    My group like descent but has basically said they wont play it till the campaign expansion comes out. They hate the fact that after every dungeon there characters lose all there cool stuff, at least in the basic game. I keep explaining to them that its a board game not an RPG, but they still don’t like it.

    Descent is great for those nights where not everyone in the group shows and know one has anything prepared to run. Its get you that dungeon crawl craving out of the way with very little preparation. I do find it hard playing the Overlord sometimes. Since Descent is a board game the DM equivilant can actually win the dungeon, but my natural GMing experience makes me want to make the dungeon enjoyable and fun. So I often forgo doing things early on for quick wins so the other players can at least die fighting the big thing at the end of each dungeon.

  39. Patrick the Malcontent says:

    against a level 9 party? That should have been a pathetically easy TPK.

    Actually, an intelligently played mind-flayer of that level should have been able to wipe your WHOLE ARMY solo.

    We run a modified magic system, so no, he couldnt easily TPK the whole party, though he came close twice. As I said, they all made some nifty saving throws.

  40. Mark says:

    Hmm. If I were a GM and I were making a campaign to retire some characters, and I were using a prophecy of heroes destined to save the world from Evil, I wouldn’t be able to resist the temptation to drag out the campaign by making it so that the old PCs are not the prophesied heroes, but instead have to go find them, and then the characters they find are the new PCs once the old ones die gloriously or retire.

  41. Skeeve the Impossible says:

    neminem:
    I’m also among those surprised that you’re only lvl 8-9 after 4 years.

    Actually I am proud that we are only level 9 characters. I think it shows our ability to stay true to the world we played in. It also shows that we are die hard role players as opposed to weekly hack’n’slashers. We started as level one characters.
    We played in campaigns that took about 8 months playing weekly. Our group dinged only one or 2 lvls an adventure. Near the end we did ramp up the amount of battles and leveled faster than we had the whole time previous

  42. Ilkaduub says:

    Hi, just dropping by, been playing D&D for a while now. I’m really not that surprised that the players are level 8-9 after 4 years of playing, if that is near the limit of what the world can support. I find the old way of granting exp for kills, to be something which should have it’s home in computer games, and only there. The beauty of pen and paper role play, is that rewards can be based on factors which can’t be calculated, such as good role play, so I only give role play exp. (I know people will complain that they can walk through 4-10 battles without gaining any exp, funny enough, the same people doesn’t react to the fact, that a pc character can master a new language in about 1 month, without using it at all)

    Oh yes, great site, can’t stop reading the comic.

  43. Justin says:

    A note of thanks, Shamus: this blog chronicle is what got me started on the magic of roleplaying in the first place. After reading your site, I found me a group a few months ago and started my first campaign, which we just completed this weekend.

    I’ve decided to put up a campaign log of my own. I have little in the way of notes, so it’s going to be quite condensed and warped by imperfect memory. But hopefully someone will enjoy it, and maybe even get a few ideas.

  44. Colfox says:

    Shamus,

    Wonderful site, and amazing campaign. Thank you for the posting.

    One question has been nagging me, though. There are several times in this campaign when the party splits up. Only one time (when they met the Queen) did you specifically mention that the other players left the room.

    Is this how it was handled all the time? Or when the party split up, did the other players generally stay in the room, and just have to pretend ignorance of things their character would not have known?

    This has always been a troublesome mechanic for me to work well. Either they leave the room, and get bored and “out ot character”, or they stay, and learn things they wouldn’t know.

    I know this post and question is WAY after the fact. If it gets answered, great. If not, that’s cool too. Thanks again.

  45. Shamus says:

    When the party broke up – they went in the living room and played Mario Kart. :)

  46. Sharnuo says:

    Haha, love what you said about naming your characters. It’s so true…

    In my last RPG I had a big monster with big tusk-like claws and stuff and they called it “The Beatle” and claimed it had laser vision.
    They also called the main villain “The Blockhead” because of his mask. (And later called a mask wearing villain a Rat…)

  47. Viger says:

    Finally. After reading and enjoying a campaign from 5 years past, i finished the last chapter. I feel compelled to post a few comments, namely praise.

    First, please excuse any mistakes i might make – english is a foreign language for me.

    Second, thanks very much for entertaining us with that campaign. Its been a pleasure reading and imagening all that happened.

    The picture with the traveling routes really left me head-shaking – lots of trouble and traveling. And all that to well-prepared places, with people at the locations and own stories to keep all fascinated, players and readers (obviously) alike. So – thanks again for the huge load of work. The detailed maps, the plots and twists – just great. I wish i had been there :-)

    Last, thanks (once more) for the thoughts you shared with us, about the playermotivation and the consideration of alignments.

    In campaigns i play, it is usually a bit different – either we have a very detailed, mostly human world with a low magic-setting and an ongoing history or a rather free high-magic environment with almost no guidelands. Both has its merit, but both can not achieve your level of attunement, or, well maybe it is immersion i mean.

    I think, what impresseed me most, was to find that your group managed to solve the plot with fun in-character. I´m more used to either do some plot-hunting out-of-character or get no plot at all with loads of fun – but no progress storywise. Ah, alas, so you let me dream about a campaign that for me attained the highest levels of playmanship.

    And with a final bow, i start to read all that other stuff you have here :-)

  48. thumper69 says:

    Shamus, I found all of this far too late. But, I must say that I truely enjoyed every single page.

  49. Skye says:

    Just have to say, my favorite campaign lasted for four years, all through college, and at the end we cornered the final boss, a manipulator of a mob boss, with barely any decent combat abilities (He was a custom class of the DM’s, basically this really weak guy who had managed to put a bunch of deals over and had become head of a huge version of the mafia) but a whole lot of skill at manipulating people into all sorts of crimes, with the last one being the genocide of the entire gnomic population of the word apart from the one in our party and a single boatload we had managed to help escape. We all managed to get into a room with this guy when he was unguarded, and were all set to wreak some major karmic comeuppance. We all buff up, and then our cleric turns on us, locks the door, and proceeds to kill us, then the mob boss, and take over the operation. Then the DM told us that he (the cleric) had been evil the whole time, as apposed to lawful good, and had been basically bluffchecking us and using Undetectable Alignment for around ten years in game time. Best game ever. Still haven’t been able to stop metagaming and to trust that guy’s characters since.

  50. Matthew says:

    I have no D&D experience and the only role playing experience I have would be from gaming. I do have to say that this is an amazing site and I am really glad I stumbled on it. DM of the rings is hysterical and I will be reading through that several times! Also I just finished reading the campaign you posted and would love (LOVE) to see you post another!!! Actually. Do that POST IT POST IT POST IT POST IT!
    But on a serious note I think you do a great job. You are very gifted in story telling. I realize I sound like a fan writing to a movie star… I guess the only thing I have omitted is requesting your autograph lol

  51. Kristen says:

    Oh my goooooosh!!

    For the past week I’ve been reading your D&D adventure, and I loved every single bit of it. I’m really sad that it’s over (obviously, it has been over for a while, but now it’s over for me and I have to move on and find something new to read…)

    This was really amazing, and I didn’t mind one bit about the skimping out on details parts! Kudos to you, your wife and the players. You all rock!!

  52. Brian says:

    Great stuff here. I have conceived possibly inviting a writer to a good campaign, but I am no DM. After fully reading this and ‘DM of the Rings’ in just the last 3 days, I have come to 3 great conclusions:

    1. You are very skilled and dedicated even with the few-months gap as a counterweight. The reason I don’t DM is because putting things together so well never really comes to me until after an even has ended.

    2. Lower-level characters CAN have seemingly-epic adventures if they are put through a good enough story and are willing to RP their character properly. You had a great group.

    3. I have far too much free time.

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