Some role-playing campaigns go on for years, generating dozens of tales that get told and re-told, becoming a shared lore for that group of players. But of equally mythic stature can be the campaigns that, for whatever reason and despite their promise, never get beyond one or two sessions. Their unrealized potential is spoken of in hushed, reverent tones, and though players may try to recapture that lost magic in order to bring that potential to fruition, it’s never the same. That time and place can’t be recreated. It can only live on in pale imitations and the regretful refrains of, “That game was going to be so awesome.”
My group’s white whale was a World of Darkness campaign that lasted all of two sessions. White Wolf’s role-playing line was a pretty big deal in the 90s, the hip newcomer in the black leather and the trench coat. I initially stayed away from it, due in no small part to the fervency of some of its fans, who took their devotion to the game a little too seriously sometimes. But when a bunch of my regular gaming friends started getting together a campaign, I figured I’d be safe among familiar faces whose gaming styles I knew. None of them had the potential to go all goth on me.
Rather than sticking to just Vampire or Werewolf, our GM was allowing the entire range of World of Darkness characters. And so a rather motley band of supernatural creatures began to take shape. We had an ancient mummy. We had a were-rat and a mage. We had a vampire who was essentially Norma Desmond from Sunset Boulevard. And we had my character, Padre. That wasn’t his real name, but he’d forgotten that in the madness that came with his transformation into a vampire. He’d been a seminary student, preparing for the priesthood and studying the various religions of the world when he was attacked by a member of the Malkavian clan. The Malkavians are a group of vampires who just aren’t right in the head. They have an ancestral history of insanity that’s passed along whenever they infect a new victim, and Padre got a dose and a half. Between the passed-along madness of the clan and his enormous guilt at having been turned into what his faith told him was an abomination before God, Padre came up with this twisted mélange of all the religions he’d been studying. And became convinced he was its prophet.
With nowhere else to go, Padre began preaching to the homeless of the city, usually delivering wild, rambling sermons that mixed all the good bits from the Bible and the Koran and the Talmud and whatever else came to mind. The unearthly charisma provided by his vampirism soon led to him gathering a sizable flock of followers, many of whom offered themselves as food in exchange for his wisdom. Relieved at not having to hunt unwilling victims, Padre embraced his flock, becoming its mad shepherd, and it was this notoriety that led to him eventually meeting up with the other characters my friends were playing. The interaction was fantastic. Everyone was into their characters. The GM was positively buzzing with the story potential we were offering him. There was that tingle, that sense that things were clicking. Something epic was brewing.
And then we never played again. Two sessions, and that was it. Our GM didn’t like that we were playing in our friendly local game store. Too many people, not right for the mood he wanted. We begged, we bargained, we reasoned, but no, we couldn’t continue. Attempts to regroup at one house or another never materialized, and like that, Padre and his nocturnal companions vanished into the notebooks, their stories untold. That game is still spoken of with a reverence that belies its brevity. We’ll never know if it would have blossomed into a compelling story or bogged down with too many subplots to juggle. But sometimes, it’s better that a campaign exists in that state of eternal potential rather than live on to see that potential squandered. “What if?” often has a much greater allure than “What happened was…”