Tag Archives: story-telling

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.

Eli Tragedy

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.

Mallora

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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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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Saturday Night D&D

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“The party now rushes through the front gate of Castle Evernight.  Gandy swings down from the room where he operated the pulleys that opened the drawbridge and barbican doors to rejoin his fellow fighters.”

Princess Mira the Kalashtar- “Do we see any more golems or other fighters to stop us?”

“You do not.  Since you took away Dr. Zorgo’s wand of golem control and Zorgo himself died in the plunge from the tower, there no longer seems to be anyone to keep you out of the castle.”

Gandy the hafling rogue- “Then the castle is now ours!”

“Perhaps the Duke’s daughter would dispute that.”

“Sien, I’m sorry.  But the Duke and all his servants are now dead.  We liberated the castle and have a right to claim it.”

“Sien Evernight looks at you sadly.  She says, “I do not dispute your right to the castle.  But my father, remember, had been changed into a gold  golem.  And even though he grabbed Dr. Zorgo and pulled him over the tower’s rail, he may have survived the fall.  Of course, that doesn’t make him actually alive.  But with no one controlling him, we may be able to talk to him once again.  You can have the castle for all I care, but I want to know what my father thinks.” …and I think you need to be reminded by the DM that your leader committed to replacing the Duke and ruling the city. “

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Yes, I have been playing Dungeons and Dragons with my own kids, and the pencil and paper characters we use for the silly story-telling game have become, over time, real people to us.  But the game has slowed way down since number one son left to be a Marine and number two son got a weekend part-time job.

So, the conquest of Castle Evernight might end up being the last adventure actually conducted around the D & D table in the upstairs library.

Mickey the Dungeon Master

So I created a Facebook page for the family game and intend to post stuff on there that may keep the game at least a little bit alive outside my own stupid head.

I intend to post stuff there to update everyone on what is happening in Eberron to the members of the ongoing quest.

Just as a reminder, I will show you the player characters again;

Number one son’s character is retiring to be the new Duke of Evernight, married to Duchess Sien Evernight.

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Number two son’s character is the irrepressible halfling, Gandy Rumspot.

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My daughter, the Princess’s character is Mira the Kalashtar.

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My intention is to use Saturdays, the traditional game night, to post more D&D stuff to this page and the Facebook page.  I need more creative ideas to keep filling this blog daily, and I have done considerable work setting up the game as Dungeon Master.  I don’t want it all to go to waste.  You will be welcome to come anytime and take a look.  But I am just too immature and set in my ways to totally give up D&D.

 

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Gingerbread Recipes for the Future

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I have been suffering through bad day after bad day recently.  I had a fender bender.  My favorite football team got plowed into the turf in the playoffs.  I have been suffering a great deal from weather-induced arthritis pain, low blood sugar, and viral infections.  And I even reached the download limit on my WordPress account, meaning I will have to pay more money to post new pictures.

But this blog is percolating along at 30 views per day or more.  I am being read and exposed to the light more than I ever have in my whole writing life.  That doesn’t earn me a penny, in fact, it costs me money, but it has to be a very good thing.  I deal with pain and hardship through creativity.  I create things to make it better.

When I was a kid, there was a little old German lady that lived in our little town.  She had a tattoo on her forearm.  She had been in a concentration camp in Poland in the 1940’s.  But , living as an Iowan, she was the most cheerful and loving old lady I knew.  She gave me chocolate bars for holding the door open for her at the Methodist church.  She gave homemade cookies to all the kids constantly.  She did not have any children of her own for very sad reasons that no one ever talked about.  She loved it when children visited her at her little tar-paper-covered house that we nicknamed “the Gingerbread House”.  I vividly remember being there one cold winter night after choir practice when she gave us gingerbread cookies and hot chocolate.  She told us on that snowy winter evening, “Gingerbread makes everything better.”

I have to believe that philosophy is essentially correct.  My stories are like gingerbread.  If I cook them just right, they will have that good ginger taste that soothes all hurts and longings.  So, I started putting together a story in honor of her.  She is already a character in several of my stories.  But I needed one where Grandma Gretel was the main character.  And it has to be about baking gingerbread and telling stories.  In fact, I think I will bake a little magic into it.  The gingerbread men she bakes will actually come to life.  And I will put together a theme about overcoming the darkness with a smile and wink and a recipe for gingerbread.

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Family Stories

If you’ve read any of my posts so far in my thousand-mile journey as a blogger, you have probably already noticed that when I write, I am definitely a story-teller.  I can’t go a day without telling somebody a story.  I usually tell lies when I write because I tell fiction stories.  The names of the characters are never the real names.  Sometimes the events are not the real events.  That’s what fiction writers do.  We tell lies.girl n bird  It can’t be helped.  But in the midst of those lies, the truth usually comes out.  The characters and events are shadows of what is real.  But the feelings, the understandings, the moments of revelation… those are essential truth… the truth that fuels the very mind of God.

One important revelation happened to me yesterday, a black day that added to a long list of very black days that buffet me with heartache and worry as I struggle to raise children in a system designed to defeat me.  We were in a local restaurant after a long day of school withdrawals and doctor’s visits, Henry, the Princess, and I.  I won’t call the restaurant by name because that would give Taco Bueno free advertising that.they didn’t pay for… um, okay… that was a mistake.  But I’ll probably remember to edit that out later… probably.  Anyway, we were sitting at a booth in Taco Good-o waiting for our bean burritos, chips, and dip, and the Princess, whom you sorta see in the paffooney today, began telling me about Atlantis Alpha.  It seems Alpha team is having trouble keeping all their members alive.  The leader has a brother and a sister.  She believes they have both been killed, but it turns out that the brother is actually alive…  Well, you get the idea.  The Princess is writing a script for an animated cartoon she means to produce in the future with her friends in Anime Club at school.  It all sounds very tense and exciting.  And it means that just like me, she is a story-teller, bent on relating something important through science fiction and fantasy.cudgels car

I am just guessing here, but I believe the story-teller gene came from my Grandpa.  He was my mother’s father and he was a farmer who could tell a funny story with the best of them.  He used to tell us stories all the time about the infamous Dolly O’Malley and her husband, Shorty the dwarf.  It was my understanding that these were real people.  There were houses in the southeast corner of our little Iowa farm-town, the infamous Ghost House was one of them, that were collectively known as Dolly-ville because she had purchased all four at some point, probably with the idea of profiting off real estate, and had let them all collectively rot into ruin.  But, as with most of my Grandpa’s stories, their sheer veracity was always in question.  Not only did I get my penchant for changing names (and I have used no real names in this story… forget about the Taco Bueno thing), but I got my knack for embellishing to make it funnier from him too.  The story I remember laughing about the hardest was the time that Dolly and Shorty had gotten into an argument about politics.  Apparently Shorty was using a string of bad words against some stupid thing that President Truman had done, when Dolly, not known for using color-free language herself, got tired of his invective and physically threw him off the porch.  Of course, the second or third time I heard that story, Shorty landed in the middle of the hog pen in the front yard, and being a small man, nearly drowned in pig poo.  What can I say?  I was maybe seven.  Pig poo was funny.  (I know I used a real name in this paragraph, but honestly, you don’t know it wasn’t really President Eisenhower.)

So let me tack on a hopelessly disconnected conclusion to give you the moral of the story.  Story-telling, like the appreciation of pig-poo humor, runs in the genes.  And I shouldn’t worry so much about those times when things go wrong for my children.   They are story-tellers too, and can probably lie their way out of any dungeon of doom.

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