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Ian O'Rourke
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4E Sessions 35-37: The End of Everything

After two years, to the month,and 37 sessions, the 4E Campaign came to an end on Friday (two days ago). It was a unique experience, most notably because it was a conclusion of a campaign, rather than the conclusion of a period of play which just happens to not have any more sessions. The Buffy campaign had conclusions at the end of season one and two but was expected to go on. The Pendragon Campaign had a great conclusion, but there was a slight, group delusion of it continuing with a new generation at the time. We'd have to go back to the group's first Crescent Sea (3E Campaign) to find a proper finale. This was a proper, emphatic finale on numerous levels.

What the 4E Campaigns reminds me of is the role-playing group is blessed with imaginative, dynamic and mature individuals that embrace change and the new rather than avoid it and have an almost subliminal and preternatural ability to negotiate ideas and riff of each other for the betterment of all. This creates an experience at the table that we take for granted but probably isn't the norm. One of the facets of this heady brew is passion for renewal at the table, we don't just play the same thing continually, we look for something quite different each time, play it with a passion that all but consumes it, and then we move on to something else. The goal this time was to have our own version of the full 4E D&D experience: the full three tiers, levels 1-30, the use of miniatures for a level of tactical play (a major new element for the group) and an epic story that fully mined the potential for a different feel in each tier, ideally with the same characters. Okay, we tweaked the default experience in that we probably extended the authoring power of skill challenges a bit, had different rules for things inside and outside of encounters in the epic tier and we probably averaged a level every one or two sessions, but I'm convinced we got a distilled, injected with awesome, valid 4E experience. It was 4E to the max.

I'm going to take a moment to praise the characters: they were brilliant, if I do say so myself. I'd probably even suggest they were very different characters to what we normally see in our games. They were very unique, prideful, selfish and, in many ways, broken individuals. They were heroes in the classic sense, rather than the modern fictional sense. Heroes because they could make a difference, not because they were entirely altruistically driven to do so. This was intentional, another sign of the group's ability to clue into an idea and max it out. This was further strengthened by the fact this worked, it was always played to strengthen the experience at the table rather than destroy it and this carried on through the whole of the campaign with those attitudes bringing perpetual twilight to the world and us destroying lives and nearly the world while at all times we remained the 'heroes'. How that was balanced by all participants at the table, often in an almost tacit and invisible way, was brilliant, and it created a unique sword and sorcery experience woven through all three tiers. The characters had style, failings, brilliant imagery and just dripped pure awesome. As a composite creation, to blow the groups trumpet a bit, they were fascinating. I fully expect to benefit from this rich and passionate approach to characters in Fading Suns.

Let's face it, final episodes are hard. A Final episode to a two year long campaign that has seen the same protagonists go through three tiers of play each with their own unique feel and who have grown in depth and feel in proportion to that is even harder! Throw in the fact the penultimate episode was a blinder as well (I was influenced emotionally by small parts of the penultimate episode, it was very sad) and it seems almost impossible. The finale was brilliant though. The final miniature-based encounter was great. The final personal encounters before the end of the world worked really well. The big reveal on some new miniatures was strangely exciting. The way we got to define the nature of the next reality as the three remaining heroes, who once could only make petty and selfish power plays in the heroic tier, but who now stood as final arbiters was frickin' awesome by any assessment. Fantastic stuff, all the more powerful for having played through the three tiers and no less powerful despite the fact we knew it was coming! The ultimate indicator of the quality of the finale? It felt done. It felt right. I particularly liked how the three quite different views on the nature of the next reality actually came to be in balance and in agreement at the end. Not in a forced way, but in a natural way that was right for each protagonist and allowed them to be the fantasy equivalent of The Authority defending what they had created in the next reality. That in itself was another sign of the groups ability to subliminally negotiate such issues over time for the strength of all.

Was their some minor issues along the way? Yeah, but none that are serious or worth mentioning again. Indeed, they only got mentioned on here in the first place because I'm fascinated by how these things work rather than them being experience ruining issues. If I was to pick my favourite tiers it would probably be a toss up between the heroic and the epic, but then the middle of things is always difficult, and the paragon tier was one big middle which meant it suffered just slightly against the other two, while having moments that would probably sneak into a top 10 (which I'm not even going to try). I know what would be number one though? The killing of Ashura, the primordial of the sun and life, and the casting of the world into perpetual twilight. I'm not sure superlatives exist to describe that session.

Overall, the whole experience was just fantastic. Unlike many, many gamers who profess that their best gaming is behind them in their early twenties, I'm glad to say this isn't remotely true for me, and that is good.

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