You guys remember the gold-dragon-lawyer-paladin I mentioned way back when? Sure ya do. All my PCs are super-fascinating and it’s a privilege to know about them. But for all you new readers, the character in question was a gold dragon. He was a lawyer. And also a paladin. And none of that’s relevant, because what we’re really talking about today is the dude’s backstory.

If you know Captain America, then you know gold-dragon-lawyer-paladin. He came packaged with The First Avenger’s “man out of time” shtick. Awakened after untold eons in suspended animation, he discovered a world totally changed from the one he knew. He lost his loved ones, his titles, and everyone he ever knew. It’s highly compelling and original stuff, but even that’s not the point. What we’re really really talking about is my GM’s reaction.

You see, I was new to the ways of geekdom back then. I didn’t know it was poor form to invent prehistory for someone else’s campaign world. In an attempt to make a suitably interesting epic-level PC to join this long-running game, I made up some half-baked malarkey about “the first city” that lay beneath my GM’s cradle-of-civilization desert.

“Oh yeah. That ancient empire your archaeologist NPCs are digging for? A degenerate offshoot. My city comes from a time before factions like Primal Good and Primal Chaos split into a pantheon. What are these ‘gods’ you speak of anyway?”

Now I’ve got to be honest. I’d have had a fit if some newbie presumed to walk all over my cosmology like that. This is my world! You just get to play in it! But to his credit, my GM let it ride. My creative contributions were assimilated into the larger history of the world, and the game played on unperturbed. That process informs my thinking about collaborative storytelling to this day.

You see, I find that there’s a wonderful sense of freedom in the past. You can always decide that another tomb lies undiscovered. Yet another cabal of sorcerer-kings once ruled in the region. The tyrant lizards held sway before that. And even further back, before the shards of the Dragon Mind shattered into a thousand chromatic pieces, the wyrms of yore shaped the landscape by dreaming as one.

You can go as weird and as deep as you want. Because time is just another dungeon, with yet more twisting passages and hidden rooms. We can tack on as many as we like. And when it grows to cumbersome and unwieldy, we’re allowed to decide that some are apocryphal: minor footnotes or scrivener’s fictions against the chunks of timeline that actually matter for the current campaign arc. One can only assume that the beach where Artificer is burying her treasure was once part of an ancient manufactory, and that the archipelago where she sails is the fallen aftermath of the conflict that birthed the warforged.

Any dang way, what do you say we invent a few ancient civilizations in today’s comments? Whatever your setting happens to look like at the moment, imagine the people that lived there in the beforetime. In the long long ago. What were they like? What befell them? And if I were to dig a hole down to their ruins, what am I likely to find?


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