Player Character Cameos from Previous D&D Campaigns

It's Saturday afternoon. The powerful party enters the icy caverns. They are confident the final key to the gnome prison hides within, a leftover of the deceased beholder who once held it close. As they stride across the slippery stone, there’s a flash! A creature whizzes past them, experts of combat and perception, without being seen. Their eyes track its blurred movement as it dashes up the wall and onto a stalactite high above them. It stops, holding a colorful orb — the final key — in its palm. As fast as it reached the stalactite, it drops to the ground in a single movement, landing in front of the party. The creature is a pale-skinned elf with deep purple eyes and stark white hair. “Friends of Primedordus, are you?” the elf asks. The party nods, still stunned at the elf’s dexterity. “Well, then you must be looking for this.” he says, lifting the orb up toward them. He takes a step forward and gives the orb to the warlock, who asks the elf for his name. “White Crow, a very old and dear friend of Primedordus.” he responds. “And it’s time for me to go, I wish you well in the end of your journey. Tread carefully, this is when the greatest mistakes can be made…” With that, White Crow lifts a pristine gem from his belt, grasps it close, summons a portal of mystical glass, and steps through with a final glance toward the party. As quickly as the elf appeared, he faded away.

I’ve ran a few campaigns in my homebrew world, from the Savage Front to the Dead Isles of Altarin. With each campaign, my world’s history grows. The events that take place in them become canon, as do the actions of the player characters. Alongside both of those things are the player characters themselves. When a campaign in my world, Eldar, ends, they don’t fade into the background — they stay in the world. Not only do they stay in the world, they have a lasting impact and might continue to change it for decades to come.

Players love that.

Players, I’ve found, especially love when their current characters encounter their old characters in one form or another. Think of it as a cameo of sorts.

When my players encountered their former characters in the Frozen Expanses of Iskryn campaign, they were shocked and excited. Here were their previous characters running about the world, still adventuring and impacting it day by day.

If you’ve played multiple campaigns, adventures, or even one-shots in your world, try to find a way to incorporate previous player characters into current games! Doing so makes the world feel alive and gives weight to the players’ actions.

Of course, their previous characters’ actions should have effects on the world already. If a party devastates a cult to a dead god, that cult’s presence should be significantly lessened. If a demon lord is slain in the Abyss, its soul swept to the wind, it should remain gone. If a party saved a city from a horde of incoming hobgoblins, there should be statues of them in the city square or bardic tales of their heroism sang in the present.

But I’m not talking about that aspect of old campaigns. I’m claiming that old characters should show up in current stories.

Let’s look at a few ways to accomplish that.

Tales of Their Exploits

One easy way to remember old characters is to establish evidence of their existence throughout the world.

Perhaps the party is passing through a popular inn and they hear a bard sing about their previous characters’ exploits. There might be a detail or two wrong as well, and a lot might be embellished! The players will know that.

There’s also a chance a famous sage wrote down their story and the tome became a treasured read across the land, from the coast to the green inland plains. The characters in the present could encounter this tome by chance or by design. Something inside it might be pertinent to the present day, or they might stumble upon it while scouring an ancient library for clues about a mystery cult. 

Don’t feel like you need to force it and make it obvious, though. The bard’s song need not mention them by name. The tome does not need to be named The Adventures of Primedordus and Aku; it can be titled The Frozen Expanses of Iskryn: The Epicenter of All Conflict; the song could be in the first person.

The players will know what’s happening and they’ll love it.

Remnants of the Past

There are concrete ways to reference previous characters and heroes without encountering them in the flesh.

Previous characters probably wielded powerful artifacts or ancient weapons. Let them reappear in your current campaign! This can spark the party’s imagination, wondering what happened to the previous character and how the artifact left their side. This was an incredibly long mystery in a game franchise called Guild Wars. Between Guild Wars 1 and Guild Wars 2, a legendary sword appeared in the hands of the one of the new main NPCs without any inkling as to how it got there. This mystery encouraged discussion and speculation for many years in the community. You can accomplish the same in your D&D campaign!

Besides former items, previous characters might have children who are alive during the campaign. The current party can run into them as patrons, allies, or even villains.

Speaking of villains, maybe the villain from a past campaign wasn’t killed or banished forever. They might show up again, requiring the current party to retrace or reinvent the old party’s path to victory. In fact, it might even lead the party to track down each of the old party members...

Actual Encounters

The former two approaches are great, yes, but the best way to give a cameo to old player characters is to have them show up in the new campaign for a valid or believable reason.

Maybe the party needs powerful allies against a powerful foe. Perhaps they run into an old PC by chance at a great gathering of leaders. They might even face off against this former player character whose turned to darkness after doing so much good in their early life. There are lots of possibilities!

It’s important that you are confident in pulling this off, though. If you don’t think you can do the former PC justice, don’t do it. You don’t want to tarnish their reputation with a cameo.

On top of this, you need to ensure the old PC doesn't outshine the current party. There needs to be a reason why they can’t stay and help the party, eliminating the threat with ease. Be prepared to present the reason because the current party will likely ask them to stay awhile and help.

In Summary

Player character cameos from previous campaigns is a great way to show off a living, breathing world that your players have an effect on. Great ways to accomplish this include:
  1. Gracing the world with tales of their past exploits.
  2. Allowing the current party to encounter remnants of old PC’s past.
  3. Including old PC’s in the current campaign as allies, villains, or patrons.
Until next time, stay creative!

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