When I was 14 I started playing 3.5, and I also joined so many forums and formed a part of so many roleplay cliques that I played more aborted D&D 3.5 campaigns online than any human being has a right to. At this point in my life I was mostly unaware that RPGs other than D&D 3.5 could be played to any kind of satisfaction. If someone had wanted to run a campaign based on anything from Deus Ex to Donkey Kong I would’ve said “well, you know, D20.” I tell these stories from time to time on Twitter and they amaze and entertain people, so I thought I might as well tell them in the blog as well. Maybe someone can learn from them, as they are mostly a cavalcade of megalomaniacal failures and mistakes that stemmed from a teenager who viewed the game as a conduit to optimally annoy the other players. Read these, and then do the opposite of practically everything that I did, and maybe you’ll have fun.
D&D 3.5 Civilization
At some point in time, one of my many GMs caught wind of the fact that editions of D&D existed before 3.5, and that they had bizarre rules for playing a castle building simulator. He also owned the Stronghold Builder’s Guide, which did some of the same for D&D 3.5. But you have to understand from the get-go that at this point in time we thought that rules supplements essentially existed to give us ideas we could OBVIOUSLY do a million times better ourselves. So the Stronghold Builder’s Guide clued my GM on to the possibility of a dominion game, and from there, he designed his own book of several thousand insane, stupefyingly broken rules to carry this out.
Each player in the game was a ruler of his or her own Nation. We essentially made up whatever we wanted and the GM then private messaged us a bunch of stats for our kingdom that would never matter and would hardly be referenced again except in very vague ways. Our characters were rolled “organically” and I got very lucky with my stats. One of the stats we would roll for was our level. This got hilarious quick. Essentially, aside from rolling up ability scores randomly, everyone rolled 3d6+15 for level. I was level 25, and the Paladin was level 18, the Fighter Level 21 and the Rogue level 19. I played as a Wizard and created Premier Sicily Blanche of the United Socialist Workers Republic of Magotopia. This carried the deep dominion bonus of “your population is happy but you can’t oppress them into the dirt like everyone else can” which I violated regularly by casting Mass Charm Person. The socialist worker may be guaranteed a bill of his or her rights, but not the +20 Will Save necessary to beat my domination spells.
Before we continue it’s important to understand the mindset of this game. We weren’t playing for real, adult, amicable fun. Our characters were essentially conduits for us to carry our many petty grudges and incidental forum flame wars on to a neutral battle ground where we could soundly defeat one another. Every player agreed only on how much they hated every other player, and some disagreed. Many didn’t agree on how much they hated me, for example. Everyone thought they hated me the most, and everyone was wrong about that. This was our proxy war.
The Fighter was into two things at the time: Ayn Rand and fight club. His nation was Libertarian Fight Club, where everyone was a rational actor unencumbered by big government and entering the free market fist-first. Competition was very high and very bloody in every market, and even the apothecaries fistfought each other over who provided the most affordable and competitive emergency care. Nobody ever figured out how this society worked. If Orcs read Terry Goodkind and sort of agreed with it they wouldn’t be as Libertarian as Libertarian Fight Club. The Fighter’s small government was so small that the only guaranteed right is that somebody could someday punch him hard enough that he’d die and they’d be Libertarian King instead. He’d regret this eventually.
The Paladin’s creativity was limited to a theocracy practicing off-brand Christianity. He unsuccessfully tried to get a plot hook going where he’d fight a proxy crusade, and he would not agree to play unless he could worship Jesus as a D&D God, because he could have no false gods before him even in his online fantasy games. He had the distinction of considering us all heretics, and his nation would not open diplomatic channels, but it would also never actually do anything to any of us. It merely existed, begrudgingly.
The Rogue had a very standard serfdom that was essentially the most livable kingdom from any kind of reasonable perspective. She might not give you the right to vote, but she’ll stand by respectable ideas like “it isn’t state interference in trade to keep organ traders from harvesting lungs in the dead of night” and “maybe constantly casting Dominate on your population violates some kind of basic human rights.” You’ll only eat stale bread and peas, but there wouldn’t be zombie laborers building magic cannons in your neighborhood and you wouldn’t be enslaved through usury for tripping over a rock and landing with your hand on a piece of paper. The latter was a thing the Fighter specifically told his people he thought was okay, and a product of creative business acumen.
Instead of “adventuring days” we had “adventuring months” and at the end of the month we’d get a private message report. The Fighter’s report was probably full of preventable deaths if the state believed in being a state, and mine detailed my progress on my plan to murder every other player nation.
The Fury of Magotopia
In Magotopia everyone was guaranteed a house, food, magical schooling and the subversion of their will to my greater agenda through casting of unavoidable high level domination spells. I had Epic Spellcasting and like every mage who ever took Epic Spellcasting, I was going to invent a spell that read “I win the game.” I had a rock solid plan that involved sending invisible people with magic tools to build secret portals in every other nation, through which my proxy army of devils would arrive and kill everybody. I had forged ironclad contracts with all the devil kings and queens I could find, neck-deep in legalese. Nobody else had as much magic as I had, so they had a hunch I was going to feed them all to gogmagog but they kept rolling untrained skill checks that told them nothing about it.
Magotopia’s relationship with every other nation was essentially that Magotopia was going to run them all over for unneeded lebensraum. My first post in the out of character chat was “HAHA I’M GONNA KILL ALL OF YOU” after I’d just rolled a Level 25 wizard. My first action in the game was to question the Rogue’s parentage very loudly and publically to all of the land, and to tell the Fighter that I would open trade with his nation but all I could sell his barbarian horde are shivs so they could kill each other in back alleys for silver pieces more efficiently. The Paladin was basically the Vatican and had some kind of 11th dimensional angel chess going that he was unable to realize because Paladins top out at really bad, worthless Level 4 spells and don’t qualify for Epic Spellcasting. In a logical game of D&D 3.5 we’d have generated some high level serfs who’d have notable class levels, but instead we had a faceless mass of “working class,” “aristocrat class” and “army class” people, who never got to do anything important.
The GM had a plot in mind about our nations uniting to fight a common threat, but I killed the common threat (some kind of giant rune dragon thing) by casting Imprison on it with such nonchalance that it might as well have been an accident. The game then continued to be about our mutual, unabated enmity. The Fighter tried to invade Magotopia but I essentially paid everybody in his army not to fight me, with fake money that I made by casting fabrication spells a bunch of times in a row. They would never know the difference and in fact most of the Fighter’s currency would be fake fiat playmoney I made in my palace backyard with low level spells for the rest of the campaign. I’m pretty sure the psycho organ traders plaguing Libertarian Fight Club (as much as a social ill can plague a state that recognizes nothing as a social ill) also had something to do with Magotopian necromancers.
Magotopia’s endgame was to cast an Epic Spell that’d simultaneously open portals from Hell to every nation. Devils would then subvert every local authority and ultimately rampage unchecked like slobbering beasts across all of the land, except Magotopia. Magotopia would be fine, because the campaign would be over since I’d win by killing everyone else. No game could occur after that so the Devils wouldn’t subvert me. Plus my contracts had infinitesimal clauses preventing me from coming to harm. I had almost +45 to my Diplomacy check to insure this would happen.
There was a problem. Even at Level 25, I didn’t nearly have a high enough spellcraft check to produce the spell I needed, so I had to use mitigating conditions. In D&D 3.5, you cast epic magic with a Spellcraft check, and to reduce this check difficulty from the mid 100s, you spent months researching mitigating conditions like “takes twenty minutes to cast” and “deals hundreds of damage to you when you cast it” which reduce the difficulty of casting the spell. I decided that nobody was going to attack me any time soon, so my health was patently unnecessary. I took Backlash Damage as a mitigating condition because I had a bunch of ways to increase my hit points. When the time came I could shapechange into a Solar or something and gain a huge constitution and survive all the damage, so I took 50d6 backlash damage. I didn’t know at the time, however, that I was taking 50d6 backlash damage. I misremembered how it worked, and I thought that it dealt twice my hit dice back to me as damage: so it’d be 50d4 instead of 50d6. But no, it was d6s, and “twice my Hit Dice” section only meant it wouldn’t do more than 50d6.
So when the Dies Irae came and I cast the spell to win the game, I fried myself with about 15 or so more damage than I could handle by my own calculations. Premier Sicily Blanche went up in smoke as devils flooded the world from her many portals, and without her, the contract I made with the devils was null and they were free to just conquer the world however they wanted, including what remained of Magotopia after I went off like a nuclear bomb.
The Devil Wars
The GM at this point seemed to sense that the campaign was off the rails and that I really meant it when I said I would kill every other player. However, this GM was bound to one code and one code only — verisimilitude. Faced with the fact that he allowed me to really summon a vast, near-infinite army of devils that really were going to kill everyone he could only play the devils as straight and intelligently as possible. To do otherwise would be unrealistic.
Everyone in the out-of-character chat was more excited than furious about my self-immolation and the fact that something actually interesting had finally happened in this campaign. Devils began to infiltrate every level of government. You had lower level devils just attacking everything in sight, and then you had higher level devils passing themselves off as heroes with shapechange to gain the trust of the population, or killing diplomats and nobles and switching places with them, or otherwise inculcating themselves everywhere. It was a one-two punch of deviousness. Every devil that could shapechange was preparing for when the low level devils were all trounced, which would inevitably happen because level 15+ characters wipe their butts with Imps.
The Paladin was the second one to go. The Theocracy of Jesusland defeated the Imps, Lemures and Bearded Devils pretty easily, because everyone was armed with holy water that the Paladin convinced the GM was worth at least a +3 bonus, Good aligned and cold iron benefits against Devils, because the power of Christ compels them. However the Paladin neglected to even look at the rules for perception skills or his own Detect Evil feature. He was shanked at night by Gelugons dressed in lead bodysuits. They then reanimated his corpse and had it run around the land taking demoralizing zombie showers in every fountain with a statue of Jesus that could be found, because “that’s a thing that Devils might do to a defeated foe.” Everyone else would face similarly humiliating fates if the Devils defeated them.
The Rogue fought the devil infiltration admirably, by taking a clue from the Magotopian handbook and instituting a communist command-economy dictatorship, executing everyone in her cabinet in a paranoid rampage, and then just getting stepped on by Pit Fiends when the devils realized that they really could just bumrush her castle and win rather than continue to fail at infiltrating her government. They encased her corpse in gold and put it out in the ruins of the castle courtyard, and it was really quite tasteful all told, and spoke of the sophistication of Pit Fiends over Gelugons.
Magotopia was in bad shape. Premier Blanche had essentially erased the government when she exploded, and all kinds of layered mind control spells wore off, including the numerous Illusory Landscapes that I cast to keep from having to spend money on actual beautification campaigns. I tried to get back in the game as Premier-Secondary Sardinia Noir, unelected supreme dictator of New Magotopia, but the GM switched rolling schemes on me, because it “wouldn’t make sense” for a flunky to be as powerful as Sicily. So I rolled 2d6+5 for level and ended up a level 10 chump wizard, and I didn’t even bother. Sardinia soon found her internal organs and her brain stuffed into a vacuum-sealed chrome box by Chain Devils. When you said a magic word, what remained of Sardinia inside the box would cast a spell for you.
The Ballad of Mammothtusk MammothMammoth
Libertarian Fight Club managed to survive the Devil Wars by stealing my ideas. I had expressed interest in the amount of monsters in my dominion such as Ogres, Minotaurs, Dragons, Beholders and other kinds of creatures that really didn’t want to become serfs to Devils. By this point in time armies of humans were useless, but if Sardinia could convince the Mind Flayers, Avolakia, sentient gas clouds and other monstrosities that it’s way better for them to rule the world than it is for Devils, then I might survive to an endgame where a Beholder eats me, rather than one where Chain Devils stuff my organs into a chrome box. Unfortunately the devils were really quick on the uptake about that.
The Fighter though, managed to use his policies of open borders and might-makes-right to incorporate all kinds of beasts into a massive army of untold devastation. Billions would die. Up until this point, the GM had been using a dice roller to input HUNDREDS of rolls at once and attempt to simulate mass battles. This would not happen again. Now, NPCs were dying everywhere “because.” Mind Flayers fought Horned Devils. Beholders flew in like jet fighters and strafed Devil positions with withering fire from their eye rays. Mortal men and women took the sidelines to Ettins, Ogres and Giants. By the GM’s estimations the world would be near totally depopulated of anything sentient by the end of the war.
After the last devil was slain, Libertarian Fight Club would rid itself of its final god, its final master — the Fighter.
The Devil Wars would produce a champion, by the name of Mammothtusk MammothMammoth, a randomly generated traitor who challenged the Fighter to single combat for his Libertarian Crown. This was the only human who’d made a difference in the Devil Wars. The Fighter had asked for at least one human champion to help him justify his army of monstrosities. He got his wish and thensome. Mammothtusk MammothMammoth was crazy badass. He had been designed to put an end to this miserable campaign once and for all, and by the gods, he did.
The Fighter under any circumstances should’ve won just by sheer level difference, because he was an Epic character and Mammothtusk was Level 15, but unfortunately, he had such amazing feat choices as Alertness, Toughness and Weapon Focus and Weapon Specialization and Improved Initiative. He had a whole bunch of feats that read “I do more damage with my sword” and none that prevented Mammothmania from rampaging all over him. MammothMammoth had Shock Trooper and the Fighter didn’t even know what that was or what book it came from. Years of killing others and taking their things had honed MammothMammoth into a true Randian superman. So the Fighter was ousted and his kingdom became Mammothland, and that was the last of the players dead. Mammothtusk went for a classy public execution by using Sardinia (who had by this point become a legendary artifact rather than a poor lady stuck in a box) to cast an instant death spell on the Fighter, and herald the era of MammothMammoth.
“Go to hell, Wyatt,” the Fighter said at last. “I’m getting you next campaign.”
And oh, there would be more campaigns. I would go on to play a bunch of campaigns with this group, most of them not lasting very long nor end up very friendly.