Category Archives: heroes

D & D Sidekicks

Why did Batman have Robin the Boy Wonder?  Not only that, but why Bucky and Captain America?  Green Arrow and Speedy?  Aquaman and Aqualad?  Superman and Krypto the Super Dog?  Fredric Wertham, the Seduction of the Innocents and the Comics Code guy, would have you believe that they were there to make young boys turn gay and violent.  But that was nonsense, wasn’t it?  Better change Krypto for photographer Jimmy Olsen just in case.

But if that was merely nonsense, why was it such a part of the formula?

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As a D & D dungeon master, I have my own theory about sidekicks and their function in story-telling.

Young sidekicks were an important part of the stories I told as a game master because the players in my games were mostly adolescent boys themselves.  It was the same as the primary readers of Batman comics in the 1950’s of Wertham’s Comics Code.  The young hero or adventurer character, most often in the form of a non-player character, was someone they could relate to because of age.  They had more in common with the sidekick than the lead hero.  It helped to draw them into the story and make it relevant.

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As a story-telling device, you often find the young apprentice character in novels written for younger audiences.  Think of David Eddings’ Belgariad, or Lloyd Alexander’s  Chronicles of Prydain, or Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson.  The characters of Garion the youngster in the Belgariad,  Taran the young protagonist of Prydain, and certainly Jim Hawkins of Treasure Island.  

So, with that realization, I incorporated youthful characters, both boys and girls, as apprentices and student-adventurers.

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Initially it proved to be a hard thing.   Wizards and sorcerers, according to D & D rules, can take an apprentice once they reach level three.  But first level characters as apprentices are vulnerable because damage done by third level monsters wipes out the meager hit point reserves of a beginner character.  After several traumatic deaths of beloved sidekicks, the player characters begin to take steps to protect them better in combat, or quickly learn where to find priests with resurrection spells who work really cheap.

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Of course, these characters are useful for more than just creating combat complications.  They are really useful for comic relief.  The missteps, mistakes, and total botch-jobs that these inexperienced younger characters create can make us laugh, make us sweat a little to correct it, and move the plot forward in interesting ways that I, as the game master, wouldn’t have otherwise planned.

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So, hopefully, Mr. Wertham’s ghost isn’t hovering over my D & D game thinking it is all a plot to create a generation of violent, gay youths.  Hopefully he can see that it is all a part of a well-established story-telling literary device that actually helps to educate and deepen the understanding of youths.  But it is swiftly becoming irrelevant what Wertham’s ghost thinks anyway.  I haven’t played D & D for a while now.  My sons and daughter now have their own groups of friends, playing under different dungeon masters with different dice.  But hopefully, the need for youthful sidekicks will remain.

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Recurring Villains, Part Two

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Calderus, Vampire Queen of UnderSharn

In Dungeons and Dragons, the role-playing game, there is always a special villain that has to stay alive to the very end of the campaign.  His or her demise may be the ultimate goal of the entire game and, when achieved, may actually bring an end to that adventuring group as they all retire with super-high-level characters and powers to wipe out cities with a snap of the fingers.  This is the ultimate villain, the big bad, the controller who has operated behind the scenes until the very last dungeon door, the very last encounter.

Deep in the bowels of the City of Towers, Sharn, is the lair of Calderus.  She controls the doings of the undead in the entire city, in fact, in the entire southern half of the continent of Khorvaire.  The players have never yet defeated her directly. She is the one who turned the Dark Lantern agent, Lucan Stellos, into a vampire, forcing the adventurers to track him down, capture him, and return him to his Dark Lantern masters.  She is also the one who leaked false information to the Royal Eyes of Aundair, the rival spy agency of the Dark Lanterns, to make Turkoman the wizard believe the player characters are evil double agents, causing him to begin tracking their every movement and learning their every plan.  Of course, my players don’t know about that yet, so please don’t tell them.

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Big bad villains are very useful to the story-teller known as the Dungeon Master.  They allow the DM to start events moving that make no logical sense until the players begin to figure out that there is someone manipulating events behind the scenes and they must find that BBV out and track them to their castle or lair.

But adventures are not satisfying when the players attempt to cut straight to final scene and murder the big bad to bring about victory.  That kind of meta-gaming strategy has to have severe consequences.  Often that means that the villain must be at such an astronomically high level of ability that the player characters will all be turned into hop-toads after the first round of combat.  Interesting adventure, that.  The group of enchanted hop-toads have to avoid becoming part of the sauce in Calderus’ hop-toad soup, avoid the all the animated cutlery in the vampire’s kitchen, and escape to find Turkoman and get turned back into humans, halflings, minotaurs, and elves so that they can fight again another day and learn from their mistake.

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Of course, it doesn’t hurt a bit that the wizard was watching by magical means when the players stumbled upon the big bad villain.  He helped in their rescue because he realized that somebody had told him something untrue about the adventurers, and they really were useful to him and his spy schemes after all.

So, the big bad villain is an important kind of recurring villain to be met and pursued and met again, always driving the game forward to bigger and bigger doings and greater and greater rewards.

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Recurring Villains

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Now, this is a Saturday D & D post, but for the record, recurring villains are a lot more than just a part of a story-telling game.  Toxic people who have it in for you occur in real life almost as often  as they do in fantasy story-telling with villains who are often orcs.

But unlike insurance adjusters, city pool inspectors, and bank representatives, the villains in a D & D game are severely challenged to survive a single adventure.  Yes, the player characters are constantly on the lookout to slay the dungeon master’s recurring villains so they can’t recur without being raised from the dead.  No matter how much you hate that unfair insurance guy, you are not allowed to slay him with a sword.

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Mallora is not a sexy female villain… more like vile.

Mallora was a lucky witch woman.  She was one of three agents of Karnak, the Vampire Kingdom, who were trying to thwart the player characters as they sought lost technology in the wastelands of Cyre.  She was a second level sorceress at the time, capable of only a couple of basic-level necromantic spells.  She was a part of the evil organization known as the Emerald Claw, a sort of religious cult built around worshiping the undead, and had an evil dwarf fighter and an evil archer to help her trap and kill the heroes, along with about six animated skeletons who, at second level, are one-chop minions that go down in the first round of battle usually.

The green haired witch successfully trapped the heroes in the mists of Cyre and the dwarf and the archer were taking their toll when Gandy rolled a twenty and not only nailed the archer in the eye with a crossbow bolt, but made the archer’s shot go awry and hit the dwarf in the back of his bald head, shortly after Fate had knocked his helmet off.  So Mallora cast another concealing fog spell and ran like a little green rat directly away.  She survived to haunt them another day.

LucanThis she did as a member of Brother Garrow’s Emerald Claw crew in the next adventure where the heroes had to track down a friendly agent of Breland who had been turned into a vampire.  She was eighth level at that point, just like the adventurers themselves, and a much more dangerous adversary.  She didn’t prevent the characters from capturing the rogue vampire, and she did some damage, but managed to slink off unharmed once again.

 

She would enter the player characters’ lives one more time in the jungles of Xendrick as the mini-campaign was reaching its climax.  She and Brother Garrow pursued the heroes through the jungle to the giant ruins where the monster construct Xulo would finally be brought to powerful and evil life in a necromantic ritual.  Brother Garrow definitely met his end in a spectacular fashion, being sucked into another dimension through a keyhole trap set by giant mages a millennia before.  It was gruesome.

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Garrow before his transformation into a toothpaste-like substance

Mallora was aboard the Emerald Claw’s flying skiff as it chased the airship the heroes were themselves aboard.  A well-placed fireball by Druealia the Wizardess took the skiff down to crash into the jungle below with a fiery explosion that should’ve killed all aboard, including Mallora.  But is she actually dead this time?  They didn’t see her die.  So only the dungeon master knows for sure.   After all, what good is a recurring villain if they don’t recur?

 

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Another Little Inn

Last week in the family D & D adventure I told you about the closest thing our campaign has to a home base.  That was the Broken Anvil Inn in Sharn.

But there are other places like that which also serve as the starting point for quests.

Let me tell you about the Purple Mermaid.

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On a lonely waterfront in Aundair there exists a sad little ale house and inn that is losing business.  Everyone is apparently apprehensive about going to a place where so many sailors who were regular customers have simply disappeared.

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The proprietor is a festive and portly dwarf named Osric who is desperate for your business.  It has gotten to the point of offering free beer to anyone willing to rent a room.  Veteran sailors and adventurers, it seems, have paid for a room, went to bed that evening… or early morning, and were never seen or heard from again.

A storyteller sits in the bar, telling tales of a long ago voyage of discovery in which the crew of an ill-fated ship, the Lavender Leaf, happened on an undersea discovery shown to them by desperate mer-people and sea elves.  It seems a great evil had taken over an undersea temple that housed a very powerful sacred relic.  Great treasures were promised for aid in liberating the temple from an unnamed evil.

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So, it is an interesting inn, with a promise of adventure.  But there are obvious consequences to choosing to stay there.  In the corner of the tavern room sits a sea wizard with an ominous look about him.  Why is he waiting there?  Are there connections between his presence and the disappearances?  Do you really want to find out?

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As always the quest must wait for the next turn at the D & D table.

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Albert Pujols

You have probably gathered by this point that I like Albert Pujols.  Of course, that would be the wrong conclusion for you to draw.  I LOVE Albert Pujols.  And I am not alone.  Not only did the man take my favorite team from the doldrums of the 90’s to World Series titles in 2006 and 2011, but he did it with a work-ethic, a grace, and a power that restored my faith in a sport that had been rocked by scandal and steroid use.  He restored my faith in humanity.  He is not only a sports hero.  He is a really great human being… a super hero.  Did you watch the 60-Minutes’ piece?  There isn’t anything more to say about that.  Humility is part of the equation.

 

I got my love of baseball from listening to games on the radio with my Great Grandpa Raymond.  We listened to the Minnesota Twins take on the baseball world on KGLO Radio in Mason City, Iowa.  I heard Harmon Killebrew smack homers and Tony Oliva get key hits in crucial situations.  I followed the exploits of Rod Carew.  And then, the St. Louis Cardinals took over the 60’s.  They were in the World Series three times and won it twice.  Bob Gibson was pitching.  Lou Brock played Left Field and stole bases.  It was miraculous.  I would go on to live and die with the Cardinals every baseball season, even though I could only follow them through the newspaper and occasionally when they played the Cubs on TV.   Tim McCarver, Ted Simmons, Willie McGee, Tommy Herr, Ozzie Smith, Jack Clark, Mark Macgwire, Scott Carpenter, Scott Rolen…  If those names don’t mean anything to you then you are not really a baseball fan, and you probably didn’t read this far anyway.

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Anyway… he did it.  600 home runs.  He is now part of an elite group in the record books.  And there is no doubt he is one of the best baseball players that ever lived.

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The Siege at Castle Evernight

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I believe I gave you fair warning that I would be telling the story of how, in our family D & D game, we conquered a castle that was occupied by the forces of evil.  Well, this is it.  It happened in the castle I described as an adventure setting last week.

The heroes, led by the halfling Gandy Rumspot (number two son’s character) and Mira the Kalashtar (daughter the Princess’s character) were asked by the Kingdom of Breland to investigate what happened to their ally, the Duke of Passage, Dane Evernight, in the Kingdom of Aundair.

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So they loaded up their trusty airship and flew to Passage.  Where they immediately learned of two mysterious boys made completely of stone and, yet, still living.

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They found the two in the city square north of the castle.

Druealia the wizardess; You two boys are golems?  Living statues?

Angel statue;  We weren’t before Dr. Zorgo took us into the lab.  We were castle pages to the Duke of Passage.

Gandy the rogue;  He changed you?  Who is this Dr. Zorgo?

Faun statue; Zorgo was the Duke’s court physician.  When we woke up in the castle, everybody had been turned into some sort of golem.  Stone golems, rag golems, animated statues… even the Duke himself.  None of us remember much about our lives before our minds were put in these new bodies.

Mira the Kalashtar; We have to get inside the castle and put things right!

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So, the question became, “How do we get into the castle without this Doctor Zorgo finding out and turning us into golems too?”

The answer came from a visiting professor from Morgrave University in Sharn.  Professor Hootigan was a sentient giant owl.  Not only could he warn them about the dangers of facing a mindflayer, a psionic monster who can read your thoughts and attack your mind, which Zorgo actually was, but he could fly the two lightest members of the adventuring party up to the summit of the castle, bypassing all the many traps and defenses that Zorgo had most likely laid.  And it didn’t hurt that both Hootigan and Mira were psionically able to protect the group from Zorgo’s mind attacks.

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So up they went.  Hootigan’s flying skill roll was high enough to not only get them inside, but get them in quietly enough not to awaken the sleeping stone gargoyles who guarded the heights.

They were protected from Dr. Zorgo’s routine mind probes of the castle by Mira’s mind-shielding powers.

Once they were past Zorgo’s lab, they soon discovered two different things.  Zorgo hadn’t yet changed the Duke’s daughter, Sien, into a golem yet.  She was still imprisoned in the castle’s dark pit, called an “oubliette”.

They also discovered that fighting golems was extremely difficult.  They discovered this in a fight with three golems they dubbed Moe, Curly, and Larry for some mysterious reason.

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After a very frustrating slap-fight in which they discovered that you can’t kill or wound a rag golem with weapons, they finally won the day when they discovered all they had to do was stop the Larry golem from playing “Pop Goes the Weasel” on his fiddle.  That took away their will to fight.  And they were even helpful as former faithful servants of the Duke.  They revealed that all the golems in the castle were controlled by one golem-control wand wielded by Dr. Zorgo himself.

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First they sneaked down to the oubliette and rescued Duchess Sien.  Then they had to steal back her magical armor and swords.  Many more golem guards and gargoyles were in the way of achieving their goals, but they used a bit of trickery to turn the odds in their favor.

They tricked Major Jak Pumpkinhead into thinking that the castle was being assaulted from the front.  When all the castle defenders rushed to the front towers, Gandy closed the inner gates on them, locking them all inside their very own defensive positions.

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Finally they confronted Dr.  Zorgo himself.  This time Mira’s defensive mind shields were not so successful.  Zorgo incapacitated Sien Evernight and Gandy Rumspot with mind attacks because they did not have their own psionic defenses (and because Mira rolled a 4 when she needed at least a 10 on the 20-sided dice).  Dr. Zorgo set the golden golem that had once been Duke Dane Evernight on a course to killing Mira.  At the last possible moment, Mira threw her magic dagger at Zorgo’s golem wand, rolled an 18, and destroyed it.   The gold golem, realizing he was now free, exacted his revenge.  He grabbed Dr. Zorgo and plunged off the balcony of the castle’s summit with him to a jarring destruction at the bottom of the 300-foot tower and cliff.

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It was a mostly “happy ever after” event.  The player characters now owned a castle, provided that Fate agreed to marry Duchess Sien and become the new Duke of Passage.

The numerous golem servants, having nowhere else to go, and no longer being human, elf, dwarf, or whatever they had been previously, stayed on to be castle servants.  Duke Evernight’s golden head was retrieved from the bottom of the cliff and, still able to talk, was to be the useful adviser of the new Duke.

That is pretty much typical of our D & D adventures.  Full of slapstick humor and mindless destruction, it was a whee of a time that made us laugh and enjoy time spent together playing weird imagination games with various toys, props, and dice.

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Pumpernickel Is More Than Just a Silly Word!

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We descendants of Germans  all understand something you all probably don’t know, and might have a hard time actually accepting.  Germans and German Americans like to simply call things what they are… but we do it with remarkably silly words so you don’t take things as seriously as you probably should.

Seriously…  Pumpernickel bread looks an awful lot like a cow pie.  Don’t know what a cow pie is?  That’s because you don’t speak Iowegian. Remember that post?  A cow eats grass, digests it for a while, bakes it in the secret methane chambers embedded secretly within every living cow, and then the old garbage shoot plops out the cow pie.  Flies love to eat it.  The grass grows fiercely after absorbing what the flies and maggots leave behind.  Yeah, that.

The bread originated in Germany where, as I have so graciously pointed out to you, they call things simply what it is.  Pumpern in German means to break wind. Nickel is a variant of Nicholas or Nick, which is the name der Teufel, err…the Devil often goes by.  So the bread is called, in its simplest translation, “Devil’s fart bread”.  Isn’t that rich?  And it tastes good too.

But what’s the point of praising pumpernickel?  Well, it brings to mind in Mickey’s mangled mish-mash of a mind an old Daffy Duck cartoon.

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Yes, the tale of the Scarlet Pumpernickel has been playing out in Monkey Town where the Great Orange Buffoon in charge of it all is busy making Nixon noises.

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“Yes, my lord, there is an investigation  into the Russian connection between your henchmen and Vladimir Putin,” said Director Comey.

“Hmmm…  Fake News!  Very Sad!” moaned the Buffoon.  “Comey, I appreciate you smearing Clinton and all you did to help the greatest most historic election ever… but you’re fired!

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“Aha!” says Comey, revealing himself to be the infamous hero, the Scarlet Pumpernickel “…now I have you, my lord! But, wait! Fired, you say?  Um, you do have the authority to fire me, don’t you.”

“Now, clear out your desk, loser!”

“Ah, but this action makes you look guilty, my lord.  Perhaps the sting of my sword of justice will prick you in the behind yet!”

“Sessions!  Defeat this loser for me!  Very sad, sick man!”

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“Me thinks you have not heard the last of the Scarlet Pumpernickel!” cried Comey as he leaped out the tower window into the chasm with a river at the bottom far below.

What happens in the next episode of the saga of the hero named after devil fart bread?  Only time will tell.

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Interesting way to introduce my latest Monkey President cartoon attempt to depict Trump… no?  You do realize he’s a German American too?

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