The Longest Game: Robert Wardhaugh’s Epic 40-Year DND Campaign

Imagine starting a game of Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) at the age of 11 and never stopping. For Robert Wardhaugh, a history professor at the University of Western Ontario, this is a reality. Robert has been the Dungeon Master (DM) for a campaign that has been running for an astonishing 40 years. What began as a secret pastime with a few friends has grown into a monumental undertaking that occupies much of Robert’s life and home.

Robert’s dedication to his campaign is unparalleled. He boasts a collection of around 30,000 hand-painted figurines, countless custom-made terrain pieces, and dozens of devoted players. His game has to be exceptional to maintain interest over four decades, attracting players who even fly in to participate.

A House Built for D&D

When Robert was buying a house, his top priority was having a suitable gaming space. His entire basement is now dedicated to his campaign, filled with a staggering array of miniatures. This space is more than just a room; it’s a testament to his commitment and passion for the game. Every inch is meticulously organized, with shelves and display cases showcasing his extensive collection. This setup allows him to quickly access any figure or terrain piece needed for his intricate campaigns.

Transforming his basement into a D&D haven was no small feat. Robert invested countless hours and resources into designing a space that could accommodate his vast collection and provide an immersive experience for his players. The room is adorned with thematic decorations, including medieval banners, maps, and artifacts that transport players into the fantasy world as soon as they step in.

The gaming area is divided into different sections to facilitate various aspects of the game. There’s a central table where the action unfolds, surrounded by shelves filled with meticulously organized miniatures. Each shelf is dedicated to specific categories, such as different fantasy races, monstrous creatures, and notable heroes and villains. This organization helps maintain the flow of the game, allowing Robert to swiftly bring in the necessary elements.

In addition to the gaming table and storage, Robert has a dedicated painting area. This section is equipped with all the tools and materials needed to paint and modify miniatures. It’s a space where creativity flows, and Robert spends many hours bringing his figures to life with intricate details and vibrant colors.

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The ambiance of the room is enhanced with lighting that sets the mood for different scenarios. Dim, flickering lights simulate a dungeon’s eerie atmosphere, while brighter, natural lighting creates an open, outdoor feel. This attention to detail extends to the soundscape, with background music and sound effects that add another layer of immersion to the gaming experience.

Creating this ultimate gaming space was not just about functionality; it was about crafting an environment where imagination could thrive. Robert’s basement is a sanctuary for creativity, a place where stories come to life and adventures unfold. It’s a testament to the power of dedication and passion, showing what can be achieved when one truly loves what they do.

An Impressive Collection

Robert’s collection includes around 30,000 hand-painted figurines. This is not just about quantity but also the quality and diversity of the pieces. He has everything from common fantasy races like orcs, elves, and dwarves to unique and rare figures such as Tiamat, the mother of all dragons, and the demonic lords from the Demogorgon. Each figurine is a work of art, painted with intricate details that bring them to life.

Robert’s figures are not just static pieces; they are integral parts of his storytelling. Each one has a backstory and a role within the campaign. The heroes, for instance, represent key characters in the game’s lore, while the villains and monsters add layers of challenge and intrigue. This collection allows for dynamic and engaging gameplay, where the visual elements enhance the narrative.

  • Fantasy Creatures: Orcs, elves, dwarves, vampires, undead, zombies, werewolves, beholders.
  • Legendary Figures: Tiamat, demonic lords, high-level wizards, kings, and queens.
  • Custom Creations: Unique figures tailored to the specific needs of his campaign.

The vast array of miniatures allows Robert to craft intricate battles and detailed scenarios. Players can visualize the action, making decisions based on the tangible representation of the game world. This tactile element adds a rich dimension to the gameplay, making each session memorable.

The Role of Terrain

Figurines alone are not enough for a campaign of this scale. Robert has created an extensive array of terrains to match the diverse locations his players might explore. Whether it’s green fields, mountains, winter landscapes, deserts, or water terrains, Robert has it all. He meticulously builds towns reflecting various historical periods and cultures, ensuring that each adventure feels authentic and immersive.

Art of Tabletop Terrain

Creating terrain for a D&D campaign is an art form, and Robert is a master artist. The process begins with a concept, often inspired by the needs of the current campaign or a particular scene he wants to bring to life. He sketches designs, gathers materials, and begins the meticulous work of crafting each piece.

Materials and Techniques

Robert uses a variety of materials to create his terrains. Foam, plaster, paint, and natural elements like sand and rocks are common. Each piece is hand-crafted, painted, and weathered to create a realistic and immersive environment.

  • Foam and Plaster: For building structures and landscapes.
  • Paint: To add color and texture.
  • Natural Elements: Sand, rocks, and foliage for realism.

Diverse Settings

To keep his players engaged, Robert ensures that the terrains are as diverse as possible. He has created:

  • Green Terrains: Lush forests and grassy plains.
  • Mountain Terrains: Rugged cliffs and high peaks.
  • Winter Terrains: Snow-covered landscapes and icy regions.
  • Desert Terrains: Vast, arid expanses with dunes and oases.
  • Water Terrains: Rivers, lakes, and coastal areas.
  • Urban Areas: Villages and towns from various historical periods and cultures.

A Labor of Love

Painting and preparing the miniatures is a time-consuming task that Robert takes on himself. He spends several hours each day painting to ensure that every figurine meets his high standards. This meticulous attention to detail means that each piece is a work of art, contributing to the overall immersive experience of the game.

The painting process is not just about aesthetics; it’s about bringing characters to life. Robert uses high-quality paints and fine brushes to create intricate details. Shadows, highlights, and textures are carefully applied to give each figure depth and realism. This level of detail helps players connect with their characters, making the game more engaging and emotionally impactful.

The Painting Routine

  • Preparation: Cleaning and priming the miniatures.
  • Base Coating: Applying the initial layers of paint.
  • Detailing: Adding intricate details, shadows, and highlights.
  • Finishing Touches: Applying varnish to protect the paintwork.

Robert’s dedication to painting is evident in the quality of his miniatures. Each figure is a testament to his skill and passion, making his collection one of the most impressive in the D&D community.

Protecting the Investment

Given the time and effort invested in each miniature, it’s no surprise that Robert is protective of his collection. Players are not allowed to take their figurines home or even touch them during the game. This rule ensures that the figures remain in pristine condition and that the intricate setups Robert creates are not disturbed.

A Different Approach

  • No Player Handling: Only Robert moves the figures on the table.
  • Preservation: This approach helps maintain the integrity of the miniatures and terrain.
  • Consistency: Ensures that the game setup remains as Robert envisioned.

While this rule might seem strict, it underscores the importance Robert places on the visual and narrative elements of his campaign. By controlling the figures, he can maintain the high standards he sets for his game.

The Role of Storytelling

One of the unique aspects of Robert’s campaign is its depth and complexity. His world is an alternative fantasy version of historical Earth, enriched with mythologies and histories from various cultures. Players can explore Athens, encounter historical figures, and engage in quests that span generations.

The Story That Never Ends

Robert’s campaign world is a living, breathing entity. It’s an alternative fantasy version of historical Earth, where mythologies, legends, and real historical events intertwine. This rich tapestry allows for endless storytelling possibilities, making the game world feel alive and ever-evolving.

Players in Robert’s campaign can explore ancient cities, meet historical figures, and delve into mythological quests. The world is meticulously detailed, with every region, city, and character having its own backstory and significance. This depth of lore ensures that there is always something new to discover, keeping the game fresh and exciting even after four decades.

Generational Storytelling

Since the beginning, over 500 characters have been created and played within the campaign. New players are invited to join a game that they can participate in indefinitely. Characters can start as individuals and evolve to control entire empires over generations, adding layers of depth to the narrative.

  • Character Evolution: From humble beginnings to rulers of empires.
  • Family Legacies: Characters’ descendants continue their legacies.
  • Macro-Level Play: Managing nations and influencing global events.

This generational storytelling adds a unique dimension to the campaign. Players are not just playing a character; they are contributing to a vast, interconnected world with a history that spans centuries.

Custom Homebrew DND Rule System

Robert’s campaign is built on a homebrew rule system that he has developed over the years. He values fast-paced gameplay and has customized the rules to keep the game flowing smoothly. This flexibility allows him to create unique aspects that are not found in the standard Dungeons & Dragons rule system.

A DND Homebrew Masterpiece

When Robert started his campaign, he quickly realized that the standard D&D rules needed adjustments to fit his vision. Over time, he developed his own homebrew rule system, tailored to enhance the storytelling and gameplay experience. This system allows for faster, more dynamic gameplay, reducing the need for constant rule checks and interruptions.

Key Features of the Homebrew System

  • Fast-Paced Combat: Streamlined combat rules to keep the action moving.
  • Custom Skills and Abilities: Unique skills and abilities tailored to the campaign world.
  • Flexible Magic System: A magic system that allows for creative spellcasting and customization.

This homebrew system is designed to immerse players in the story, minimizing downtime and maximizing engagement. It allows Robert to introduce new elements and mechanics as needed, ensuring that the game remains fresh and exciting.

Enhancing the Experience

Robert’s custom rules are not just about convenience; they are about enhancing the overall experience. By removing unnecessary complexity, players can focus more on their characters and the story. This approach has been crucial in maintaining player interest and involvement over such a long period.

  • Immersive Storytelling: Rules that support and enhance the narrative.
  • Player Agency: Giving players more freedom to shape their characters and the world.
  • Dynamic World: A rule set that adapts to the evolving campaign.

Robert’s homebrew system is a testament to his creativity and dedication. It shows how a DM can tailor the game to fit their unique vision, creating an experience that is both engaging and memorable.

High Stakes and Real Emotions

In Robert’s game, the stakes are high. Death has real consequences; when a character dies, they are out of the game. This rule has led to emotional moments at the table, with players deeply invested in their characters. Robert strives to create an experience that evokes genuine emotions, making each session memorable.

By making death a significant consequence, Robert ensures that players are fully invested in their characters’ fates. This approach creates a sense of urgency and tension, making every decision and action matter. Players know that their choices have real consequences, which heightens the emotional stakes of the game.

Real Consequences

  • Permanent Death: Characters do not come back after dying.
  • Emotional Impact: Players experience real emotions when their characters die.
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  • High Stakes: Every action and decision carries weight.

This approach has led to some powerful moments at the gaming table. Players have wept over the loss of beloved characters, celebrated hard-won victories, and mourned tragic defeats. These emotional highs and lows are a testament to the depth and richness of Robert’s campaign.

Building a Community

The emotional investment in the game has also fostered a strong sense of community among the players. They share in each other’s triumphs and tragedies, building bonds that extend beyond the gaming table. Robert’s campaign is not just a game; it’s a shared experience that has brought people together for decades.

A Family Affair

Robert’s dedication to his game has influenced his family life as well. His daughter has been around the game since she was a child and started playing at a young age. Now 20 years old, she continues to participate in the campaign. Robert’s commitment to his players extends to his family, and he navigates the complexities of relationships within the game.

Playing D&D together has been a bonding experience for Robert and his daughter. It has provided them with a shared activity that has deepened their relationship. For his daughter, the game is not just a hobby but a significant part of her upbringing and family life.

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Navigating Relationships

  • Family Dynamics: Balancing family relationships within the game.
  • Long-Term Players: Handling the involvement of players who become part of the family.
  • New Relationships: Integrating new players, such as his daughter’s boyfriends, into the game.

Robert has had to navigate some unique challenges, especially when it comes to new relationships. When his daughter started dating, her boyfriends wanted to join the game. Robert made it clear that while relationships might end, the game continues. This approach has led to some awkward moments but also highlights the enduring nature of his campaign.

A Lifelong Commitment

For Robert, the game represents friendship and creativity. It is a plank that holds his friendships together, allowing him to stay connected with people from different stages of his life. His basement is a sanctuary where he can immerse himself in a different world and unleash his creativity. Robert has no plans to stop playing, painting, or building. For him, the game is a lifelong adventure that will continue as long as he lives.

A Legacy of Friendship

  • Enduring Friendships: Maintaining connections through the game.
  • Creative Outlet: A space for continuous creativity and storytelling.
  • Lifetime Commitment: Robert’s dedication to the game as a lifelong pursuit.

Robert’s campaign is more than just a game; it’s a testament to the power of imagination and the enduring bonds of friendship. As long as he can gather his friends around the table, the adventure will continue.

A Legacy of Imagination

Robert Wardhaugh’s 40-year Dungeons & Dragons campaign is more than just a game; it’s a living testament to the power of imagination, dedication, and community. Through meticulously crafted miniatures, diverse terrains, and a richly woven narrative, Robert has created a world where adventure never ends. His basement is not just a sanctuary for his creativity but a gathering place for friends old and new, where every session adds another chapter to an epic saga. As long as Robert continues to paint, build, and play, his legacy will endure, inspiring countless others to embark on their own lifelong adventures in the world of tabletop role-playing games.

Kathy Stone

LitRPG Author Kathy Stone

Kathy Stone has been in love with words (and games) since she was a child. Kathy’s favorite books growing up were from the Sweet Valley High series, Nancy Drew, and the Goosebumps series. She loved playing the Nintendo and later the Super Nintendo. She is a mother of one and is living in Indianapolis, IN. Kathy loves a good book, a good laugh, and has been occasionally known to partake in a D&D session or three.

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