A friend asked me how I come up with ideas for roleplaying campaigns. The honest answer is that I don't create a plot line, encounters and maps to populate until I have the entire villain cast firmly in my head. Without him or her and those menacing, power-hungry underlings, the plot would have little, if any, triumph.
Sure, the players could roll dice from dawn to dusk. And, yes, one of the players undoubtedly would have either made, bought, traded, stole, or just outright inherited some ridiculous ego-fueld bastard sword powered with the undeniable forces of sunlight and righteousness; but how often can he brandish that sword? CONSTANTLY...!
Whenever he entered a tavern, a temple, a den... every time.
I can see the group throwing up their arms and groaning--again!--as I'm typing this blog post, smirking. Some real funny shit came out of those sessions. We still talk about the player who said, with his thief, "I motion to the dragon to come over here." The audacity. Everyone roared with laughter. Well, you can imagine what happened next. No, fire didn't race around the dragon's teeth and over its outstretched tongue to incinerate the fop. The damned thing was bored. It hadn't laughed so hard in ages...
But I knew this ahead of time, and was playing around with various concepts of dragon personalities. Not types, like the classic metallic or chromatic breeds of AD&D dragons. I was toying around ideas like do dragons have a funny bone? Are they always jaded lizards ready and willing to kill for sport? Some, perhaps, but then they'd just be bull sharks with wings and furnaces. If they're intelligent might as well go the distance, right?
So, I did.
In the end, the dragon perished, sort of. If I remember correctly, the ranger and the archer fired a stream of arrows at the dragon's neck. He swung his neck back, too high, enraged with the shift in civility. The dragon smacks the cavern roof with his head and loosens stalactites, which come crashing down around the players. The mage-thief among the group predicted this possibility. It was epic. The rumbling cavern. Towering cones of earth. Sweeping gouts of fire. The players were hard pressed and barely escaped...
But in order to role-play the dragon properly, I had to journal the old creaky lizard, in character.
I was so engrained with the traditional concept of the RPG dragon, I wasn't sure where to begin. So, the journaling began.
What was the red death like in his prime? Did he venture far? Did he forge alliances, and if so, with who? He recalled an unfortunate experience with a dragon hunter. He grappled with his own imperfections among his fellow kin. He was embarrassed by his flatulence, which caused him great belly pains and produced even more breaths of fire.
He discovered a farming village and preyed upon them. They grew something that soothed his belly aches. Yup, you guessed it, ginger.
All of this I journaled. So that when the time came I knew exactly how the dragon would think, what his mannerisms were, and most importantly, how he would respond to the players' characters.
Journaling helped me free the dragon from the trappings of stereotypes. And, it gave me a character I have enjoyed thinking about from time to time. I may reconstruct his journals someday. They're long gone, somewhere in a landfill, buried among other adventurous tales. Who knows, I may fully resurrect him. I did, in the campaign, though. He swore to hunt the players down, and finish what they had started...