The longest RPG campaign I’ve played in is The Ballad of Hal Whitewyrm.
Back in 2011, I wrote a post titled The One Character That Got Away, in which I spoke about Hal Whitewyrm, a player character I always wanted to play but never had a chance to. At the prompting of my friend Judd Karlman, I spoke about Hal, and what kind of game I would want to play if I had the chance. I wrote,
“I’d play the character I’ve carried with me for years, Hal Whitewyrm, a half-elven bard with weredragon blood in his ancestry (weredragons are a race of female-only shapeshifting wyrms from the Moonshaes – see the thread there?). He’s the guy I wrote stories about in my teens yet never got to play. Hal is all about the romantic journey (as in literary genre, not mass market Harlequin titles), facing adventure in a large world, ideally of the legendary danger kind, with fast friends at his side, a love life to look forward to, and death around him to put it all in perspective. Think Aragorn’s journey, but with a bard who also deals with issues of identity.”
Next thing I know, Judd had made a campaign at Obsidian Portal and we started to play a Burning Wheel game set in the Forgotten Realms. In tune with the ideas we spoke about the type of game we would play, we named the campaign The Ballad of Hal Whitewyrm, both a reference to Hal being a bard, and to the medieval ballads from which we would take inspiration. This would be a play-by-post game, and we were jumping-in-place excited.
We played that game for 3 years, from 2011 through 2014. It was lightning in a bottle. The first few months alone we were on fire, practically playing dueling keyboards. Our posts were fast and furious, a rat-tat-tat of high adventure gaming. I would be at work, back when I was at the university bookstore, writing posts in my crappy semi-smartphone in between cashing out college students buying sodas and microwave burritos. Judd would reply as fast as he could while he juggled school and work and his other extracurricular activities. It honestly was gaming magic. And like magic, with time, it vanished. Time passed, life happened, and although we both loved the world we had created together, we let it languish. I’ll always see it as my fault.
See that description I quoted above? Judd was spot-on in bringing those themes out to play in our game. As I wrote in my original post, Hal was me, my avatar. And as much as I tried to see it as only a game, at times it affected me personally. Hal’s journey in many ways paralleled my own. It was uncanny, because Judd did not know anything of what was going on in my private life, yet his insight into the game, his ability to hone in on the themes important to Hal, this meant that more often than not, Judd was pushing buttons without knowing. And at one point, I had to tap the mat. I had to concede. It was gaming magic.
We played in fits and starts after that, fueled by the love we had for this game. We refused to let it go, but it happened. My life changed a lot over 2012-13, and Hal went on living his life in the Realms, just without us there to see his adventures.
In terms of actual time spent playing, this isn’t the longest campaign I’ve played in; that title actually goes to the Vampire: The Masquerade Miami By Night chronicle I ran at home for almost 3 years of weekly-ish sessions. But The Ballad of Hal Whitewyrm feels like the longest campaign I’ve played in because of the emotional connection I have to it. Each post I wrote describing Hal’s life in the Realms felt as if I was truly there, seeing through his eyes. We experienced the world together. We shared a life. If you have seen the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode The Inner Light, where Picard experiences 40 years in the life of a man in what are a few minutes in real-time, then know that is how I felt every time I played Hal Whitewyrm.
It was gaming magic. And magic lives forever.
During the month of August, I am participating in #RPGaDay, an opportunity to talk daily about different topics related to games and gaming, organized by Dave Chapman, designer of Doctor Who: Adventures In Time and Space. I’ve been out of gaming for a while, so this is gonna be an interesting exercise.