Tag Archives: Dungeons and Dragons

Saturday Night D & D on Sunday

Yesterday I forgot that it was Saturday.  But that doesn’t matter much in a D & D campaign.  You may not play at regular times… or at all, like this week.  But you do what you can when you can.  Just like in real life.  So let me share a character gallery, in order to give me my weekly dose of fantasy sword and sorcery nonsense.

These illustrations all come out of my D & D notebook.  They are done in colored pencil on colored paper.  Many are copied from models in catalogs, action movie stills, comic books, and illustrated Dungeons and Dragons products, but always interpreted in my own style and costumes.

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Borrowing Characters

I admit it right from the start.  You don’t have to sniff out any Scooby-Doo-like clues to get at the fact of it.  For my family D & D game, I steal characters whole.  Mostly from things the kids have watched and loved on TV or in the movies.

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These mostly ad up to funny side bits and digressions.  In the epic chase across the continent of Khorvaire they conducted when the adventure involved chasing a secret-agent vampire who had gone rogue from his government spy service, they had to receive important information at one point from a randomly generated pair of characters.  So I stole whole this pair from a Cartoon Network favorite show.

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I turned Flapjack and the Captain into a half-elf with a crazed addiction to candy and sweets and a blue goblin capable of mind tricks and random evil that he doesn’t really mean to commit.  They have only appeared in one adventure so far, but I kept them around for use again, if the time is right.

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Vanellope from Wreck-It Ralph makes a sweet gnome and convenient comic relief character for when you are journeying in the Dark Dimension and visiting places like Castle Ravenloft.  I have not actually used her in an adventure yet, but I have one prepared in a haunted cross-dimensional ghost-castle.

 

And some characters are lifted whole out of game supplements and pre-made adventure books.  Some of my favorite characters are things that you were supposed to kill in the adventure, but charmed and made friends with instead.  Like the denizens of floating Cloud-Castle Tempest.

 

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                                                                                                         The big ol’ Tempest kids

The supplement listed the giants of Castle Tempest as being evil and secretly cannibalistic, preferring to eat human adventurers.  I turned them into a widow and her cloud-giant kids lost in time (in the game world we are using giants once had a high-technology empire that fell back into dark ages, so I merely had to make them into accidental time travelers).  Not all adventures have to be about chopping the heads off monsters and stealing their stuff.  A family like this makes for interesting and bizarrely out-of-proportion friendships and troubles.

So, not everything that makes my Dungeon-Master fictions interesting is entirely my own work.  Like good comedians everywhere, I am not above stealing a joke.

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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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What Happens at the Castle, Stays at the Castle

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Part of being a dungeon master is the responsibility for creating the dungeon.  Now I do intend to fully explain the events of the siege of Castle Evernight in a future Saturday D&D post, but today I want to show you my dungeon setting, the Keep of the Duke of Passage, Dane Evernight.  This is me thinking like an insane architect to build a tall, spindly castle that no real-life king or duke would ever try to live in.  But insane as it was, it had to be drawn to scale and the inner workings had to be mapped out on grid paper where every little square represented a space of 5 feet by 5 feet.

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Level one shows the areas you would enter coming in through the front gate.  Colored-in areas represent the solid stone from which this castle is built as well as the rock spire it was precariously perched upon.   The usual dungeon-master map symbols apply.  The little empty rectangle thingy blocking passageways and interrupting walls is to be interpreted as a door.  You can also see that to visit on horseback requires your trusty steed to be able to climb stairs.  So, unless you have a verily dexterous and unusual horse, you should probably ride in griffin-back or dragon-back.

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Moving to Level 2 brings you to where the Duke’s Great Hall would receive you as a visitor.  There are also places you would like to get to, especially if you are a teenage boy, like the harem and the bathing pool attached to the harem, and maybe the Magic Lab, but you will most likely not be allowed into those places.  But you see the dark spots in the walls?  Those are the garderobes.  You probably will be allowed access there, because, when you gotta go, you gotta go, and that is the proper place to go.  Medieval castles have primitive plumbing.

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Level 3 is the level I would most want to see if I were touring this place myself.  Not only is it the place that has the library in it, but it houses the limner’s studio, and the limner is the resident painter, picture-maker, and white-washer of fences and garderobes.

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Level 4 contains the “Party Central” places that every highly social and only mildly psychotic nobleman seeks to spend his schmooze time.  There’s a ballroom for dancing, a solarium for getting sunburn when you drink too much wizard’s ale and dance naked in the sunshine for too long, and a hall of mirrors for admiring the way the sunburn makes your behind glow bright red.

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Level 5 is getting up to the top of the towers.  In a vertical dungeon like this one, this should be nearing the adventure climax.  That was not how it happened, however.  I will tell you more about that in another post.  This is where the belfry bats and the Duke’s treasures are stored.

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By the time you reach the Summit of the Keep, you are beginning to think that something is seriously and morbidly wrong with this Castle.  This is where you will find the Evil Doctor Zorgo and the animated remains of Duke Dane Evernight.   And golem labs next to sarcophagus rooms?  Something has gone terribly wrong here.   But don’t have nightmares about it, or anything.  Rest assured that Gandy Rumspot and Mira the Kalashtar have already solved this problem or I wouldn’t be telling you about it.  Dungeon masters, at least the good ones, never reveal a secret before the dice are rolled.

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More NPC Nonsense

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A view of the D & D table in my library.

I believe I warned you last Saturday that I had a lot more stupid stuff to share about Non-Player Characters in D & D.  I probably let it slip that I really like playing all the weird parts and the monsters about to be slaughtered.  I intend to share more of those strange characters today, so you can get a real sense of why my D & D games get so out of control and my children are turning into sword-wielding sociopaths.

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Barkley is not exactly the family dog.  He’s a gnoll.  That means he’s a monstrous hyena-man who would be inclined to hate and eat humans were he not raised from puppyhood to gnollhood by a beautiful female elf cleric.  He now hates the gnolls (and probably eats them) because in the first D & D adventure, his gnoll brothers tried to kill and eat his beloved elf mother.  He traveled with the Player characters for about three adventures.  And though they treated him like a dog, they came to rely on him in several tough battles.  He proved his dog-like loyalty and learned some critical spy skills from them, so he became a Dark Lantern (a secret agent for the kingdom of Breland) and began a life of hunting and killing evil gnolls.

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Mysterious Mara was one of the few civilian survivors when the weretigers attacked the lightning rail train with the player characters aboard it.  She tagged along because she would not have survived otherwise.  She has never revealed her true identity, and it’s a real mind-blower related to the royal court of Aundair, but the player characters have been too busy with other things to look into the mystery.  In fact, she is what the D & D manuals call an “adventure hook” because following up on her essential mysteriousness would’ve led them into the middle of a kingdom-crashing conflict.  In the meantime, they have been feeding her, teaching her to make use of her natural acrobatic skills, and generally befriending her, not realizing she is the reason so many enemies of Aundair have been tracking and attacking them.

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Caitian Redfurr is a shifter, one of those half-men with the abilities of a cheetah, able to run like a rocket and use speed to best her foes.  She has been a part of the campaign since just after Barkley joined.  Her son, Night Sky, is the son of a former Dark Lantern leader whose ghostly presence now inhabits Fate’s head.  She has used her skills with a sword, and her skills with a bow, and her skills with Talaen Kara, the intelligent double-bladed weapon, to save their fat from goblin cookfires on numerous occasions.  The players are fond of her and trust her as basically an added member of the family.

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Finally for this Saturday, I mentioned Turkoman last week.  He is what is called a “patron” in D & D NPC-terms.  He’s the man with the expertise when a beloved character is cursed with frogs hopping out of their ears or is turned completely to stone by a gorgon’s kiss.  He also provides necessary magic items, spells, enchantments, and critical advice that can help bring an adventure to a conclusion.  When needed, he can even lend a hand in the actual adventure, giving the characters a chance to overcome difficult odds and find adventures that they would not otherwise have access to.

So, once again I have passed my word limit and must draw to a close with so much more to tell.  Even if you are bored stiff by D & D nerd-ism, I intend to inflict more upon you in the future.  So be warned, be wary, and watch out for curses that make frogs hop out of your ears.

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NPC’s (Non-Player Characters)

In Dungeons and Dragons games you are trying to bring characters to imaginary life by getting into their deformed, powerful, or magic-filled heads and walking around in a very dangerous imaginary world.  You have to be them.  You have to think like them and talk like them.  You have to love what they love, decide what they do, and live and die for them.  They become real people to you.  Well… as real as imaginary people can ever become.

But there are actually two distinct types of characters.

These, remember, are the Player Characters.  My two sons and my daughter provide them with their persona, personality, and personhood.   They are the primary actors in the stage play in the theater of the mind which is D & D.

But there are other characters too.  In fact, a whole complex magical world full of other characters.  And as the Dungeon Master, I am the one who steps into their weird and wacky imaginary skins to walk around and be them at least until the Player Characters decide to fireball them, abandon them to hungry trolls, or bonk them on the top of their little horned heads.  I get to inhabit an entire zoo of strange and wonderful creatures and people.

Besides the fact that these Non-Player Characters can easily lead you to develop multiple personality disorder, they are useful in telling the story in many different ways.  Some are friendly characters that may even become trusted travel companions for the Player Characters.

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D & D has a battle system based on controlling the outcomes of the roll of the dice with complex math and gained experience.  In simpler terms, there is a lot of bloody whacking with swords and axes that has to take place.  You need characters like that both to help you whack your enemies and to be the enemies you get to whack.  There is a certain joy to solving your problems with mindless whacking with a sword.  And yet, the story is helped when the sword-whackers begin to develop personalities.

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Crazy Mervin, for example, began life as a whackable monster that could easily have been murdered by the Player Characters in passing while they were battling the evil shape-changing Emerald Claw leader, Brother Garrow.

But Gandy befriended him and turned him from the evil side by feeding him and sparing him when it really counted.  He became a massively powerful ax-whacker for good because Gandy got on his good side.  And stupid creatures like Mervin possess simple loyalties.  He helped the players escape the Dark Continent of Xendrick with their lives and is now relied upon heavily to help with combat.  He was one of the leaders of the charge on the gate when the Players conquered the enthralled Castle Evernight.

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Not every NPC is a whackable monster, however.  In the early stages of the campaign the Players needed a magic-user who could read magic writing, use detection spells and shielding spells and magic missiles, and eventually lob fireballs on the bigger problems… like dragons.

Druaelia was the wizard I chose to give the group of heroes to fulfill these magical tasks.  Every D & D campaign requires wizarding somewhere along the way.  And Dru was a complex character from the start.  Her fire spells often went awry.  When Fate used a magic flaming crossbow bolt to sink a ship he was defending, killing the good guys right along with the bad guys, it was with a magic crossbow bolt crafted by Druaelia.  Her fire spells went nuclear-bad more than once.  She had to learn along the way that her magical abilities tended more towards ice and snow than fire.  She learned to become a powerful wielder of cold powers.  And while she was comfortable in a bikini-like dress that drove the boys wild because she grew to love the cold, she didn’t particularly like the attentions of men and male creatures that went along with that.  More than one random bandit or bad guy learned the hard way not leer at Dru.  There are just certain parts of the anatomy you really don’t want frozen.

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The Player Characters will need all sorts of help along the way, through travels and adventures and dangerous situations.  They will meet and need to make use of many different people and creatures.  And as Dungeon Master I try hard to make the stories lean more towards solving the problems of the story with means other than mere whacking with swords.   Sometimes that need for help from others can even lead you into more trouble.

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But as I am now nearing the 800 word mark on a 500 word essay, I  will have to draw it all to a close.  There is a lot more to say about NPC’s from our game.  They are all me and probably are proof of impending insanity.  But maybe I will tell you about that the next time we sit down together at the D & D table.

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Dramatis Personae D&D Style

One of the most fascinating things about Dungeons and Dragons, the story-telling adventure game with sword battles controlled by dice rolls, is the characters.  They are a creation by committee.  You take a blank character sheet, roll six basic numbers by complex rules on dice, and then decide who that character is; paladin, rogue, magician, archer, swordsman, etc… what that character is; human, elf, dwarf, hobbit… I mean halfling, orc, gnome, or Minotaur… and then do the complicated math that those choices entail.  But then you have to do the real work and give that character life in the form of hopes and dreams, likes and dislikes, personality quirks, and goals.  They have to become collaborative characters for a play that won’t actually be written until the players perform it.

These, you may recall if you are nutty enough to read Mickian regular features, are my children’s player characters.

Adventure1Ditty Bytcha who prefers to be called Fate is my number one son’s original character.  He is a fighter wearing magic armor who loves to make things as an artificer (one who builds devices with magic).  He eventually wants to cut his own arms off and replace them with mechanical ones.  He is also quick to leap into the fray and is fairly deadly with his chosen weapons.  He once made a crossbow that had explosive power enough to blast apart a ship and kill everyone on board, including the people he was trying to save.  He is also a good leader and is always ready with a joke that can even make the Dungeon Master laugh.

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And number two son’s character, Gandy Rumspot, is a food-loving halfling that also likes making ships.  No kidding, he likes being a shipwright and designing sailing vessels… and flying airships powered by captured air and fire elementals.  He likes riding pteradactyl-back and firing crossbows at the evil enemies from the air.  And he is good at making fun of other characters, even to the point of making some of them angry to the point of tantrums… especially his sister’s character.

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And, of course, my daughter the Princess’s character, Mira Mirkestasia is a telekinetic Kalashtar who floats everywhere instead of walking.  She possesses an intelligent throwing knife that not only comes back to her hand after every throw, but seriously wants to kill Gandy for his sister-jokes.  She protects the whole group from those like the evil Dr. Zorgo who threaten to take over your mind and put your brain inside a stone golem.

And, of course, three people is probably not enough to actually survive in magic-rich and dragon-filled Eberron.  So additional characters are required to go on and actually survive dungeon-crawling adventures.  These are known as NPC’s, Non-Player Characters.  I will tell you more about them in another post, but here are the two most important ones;

Druaelia is a female wizard whose familiar is the owl Temper.  She was there for the very first level-one adventure killing rats and gnolls who were particularly weak and stupid.  She started as a magic user looking to be the fireball expert.  But her fire magic kept going astray (rolling a 2 or a 1 on a 20-sided dice is catastrophic failure and not a good thing to roll when fire is involved).  And she eventually learned she was much better with ice and snow magic.  She is naturally immune to cold and can wear bikinis in winter, a useful thing when more than half of your team is made up of adolescent boys.

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Elytharra, more commonly referred to as El, is the cleric and healer of the group.  She is much more modest and devout, being a worshipper of the blue dragon Aureon, god of wisdom and magical knowledge.  She is the one charged with learning how to heal boo-boos (and re-attach heads and raise the dead) because hunting for treasure in dragon caves is a dangerous business and dice rolls can make really bad things happen.  She was also part of the very first adventure, and the rats almost ate her.

So the main reason we have enjoyed D&D adventures so much is the fact that the characters are so surprisingly real.  We learn to care deeply what happens to them, and want them to prosper in the face of evil, no matter what comes.  And the real secret behind them is… in truth they are really us.

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