Anecdote: Inappropriate Dwarf

21 September, 2011

Once upon a time, I was a young rogue, fresh to work as an adventurer. The Paladin had died, and the bad-ass fighter with the terrible accent kicked the bucket, too, leaving me as the party “face.” I was terrible at negotiating, knowing who to trust, and pretty much everything a good “face” is supposed to do, but I digress.

So our most experienced adventurer was this dour old Dwarf named Baldin Thorgrim Fireforge. When we first met, I thought he was a typical, dour, keep-to-himself type of Dwarf. We exchanged a few words in Davek, had polite chitchat about his clan and about Moradin. We fought at each other’s backs, countless times, and I love and respect the man as a big, excessively hairy brute of a brother. But, sometimes, it was tough.

So we finished some work for this town councilor, a pretty well-off town called Chendl. Getting sent off someplace new, we know that we’re in good graces. “My liege,” I said to the broad, “if it would please you, our journey would be expedited greatly if the city could provide us with horses.”

*Above* A horse. Probably.

“But of course, my dearest, handsome and wonderful retainer,” she told me. “They shall be provided for you at once, the strongest, most fit, and beautiful horses we have to offer.”

My noble friend, the honorable and never-faltering Baldin stepped forward, then. To this day, I still haven’t forgotten the words that came out of his mouth at that time. “Yeah, uh… do those horses… come with condoms?”

We left Chendl without horses.

-Lancar

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One of my favorite things to do as a DM is to give and follow hooks. A player’s story is the baseline of their character, and can easily provide logical reasons why they act the way they do. The noble, Southstar, trusted few people because he distrusted the politics and favor-garnering of his Elven allies; no gift came without a price. Collins, the seedy mercenary with a beggar’s past, always worked harder with the promise of gold and treasure. Baata, a dwarf, trusted other dwarves (character background is not difficult).

Character hooks that players establish are easily the most valuable. A player knows their own story, and will always keeps it close to heart. As a DM, take what they offer and use it to wrench their hearts into sad distorted mush. I suffered for a year and a half under a DM that ignored starting hooks. Hooks outside of the module just wasn’t his style (all DMs have their quirks and styles). But for that entire time, my warlock friend was searching for his kid sister. The campaign ended with him rich and retired in the city of Chendl, but sister-less.

I try my best to bring attention to unresolved hooks. I’ve written epilogues for finished campaigns. Sometimes, NPCs write letters to the party. The party revisiting cities makes for some interesting downtime, meeting with older NPCs. However, there are many hooks that are much more difficult to resolve.

The Vampire, Kosius, was the strongest officer of the Vampire Queen’s army. In life, he was a history teacher, and later, strategist. He strived to be practical and even-handed, and valued knowledge over everything. Romulus was an enemy dragon, responsible for sending hordes of dragonblood soldiers at a party led by The Wyrmslayer. Cool and calculating, he was secretly proud that his mate, who he opposed, had such staunch allies. Rojas was a veteran police detective, old and coming on retirement. He solved mysteries in eastern New Hampshire, while being seduced by the power of a lesser devil haunting his apartment.

This alternate dimension thing comes from ideas combined from a manga called Tsubasa Chronicles and the Jet Li movie, “The One.” There are hundreds of different dimensions/worlds, however, each dimension is a variation of one base world. And thus, each dimension has the same people, but a series of variables has been introduced… from a different set of choices, to a different victor in a major war, to a different time or planet. But because each person is essentially the same, their personality is similar, as is their face, and general quirks. Interesting, huh?

The three characters presented earlier are quite obviously from three different campaigns. I have re-used all of them, in my main Eberron campaign, also switching their allegiances in order for the players to see different sides of them.  Kosius, without him being a vampire, is an aging no-nonsense professor at a military academy. Rojas went from being a modern police detective to an old-world fantasy righteous rebel leader. Romulus died and went to Hell… where my current Hell campaign party became employed as gladiators, by him.

With this model, I can recycle NPCs that the PCs vaguely understand and can predict. Also, I can pursue interesting hooks that had previously been ignored with these already-established personalities. There is also much cross-dimensional tomfoolery. One of my favorites was the Elf, Southstar, finding the Eberron-born version of his girlfriend… except 100 years younger. Other examples are: an orphaned PC finds his parents alive, the other version of you has a criminal reputation, and the form of magic you practice is extremely rare in this world.

You know, I was really hoping that your Asakura wouldn't be trying to kill you, too.

Ah. Maybe the other you in that dimension is of the opposite gender. Wouldn’t that be interesting?

-Lancar

I’ve read a few articles on the topic, notably Wizards’ article about revenants. The particular idea that I’m trying to work with is… that a Total Party Kill (or similar happening) does not grind the party to a screeching halt, but rather becomes a new turn.

In my Hell Campaign, the list of characters the party can use is made up of characters that have died or been killed during the last 1.5 years of the campaign. It’s a side-campaign that has a goal that must somehow be accomplished for the main campaign to viably continue. There are three parts of this campaign that I wish to be different from the norm. The first is the foundation, the view of the world and of hell. The second is the subtle effects the world itself has on the characters. And lastly, but most interestingly, is the cruelty inherent to the world.

Some awaken, while others have been wandering for decades and centuries. It’s a world that mirrors their own, but somehow feels off, slightly wrong, or uncomfortable. Perhaps the sky is a hue too sickly, or the sounds of footsteps echoes too ominously. Blood runs from the eyes of the fountain statue in the middle of town and no one bats an eye. This is my world’s foundation.

Of the possibilities I plan to explore is how the actions of a powerful party affects certain parts of the Underworld. Allies and enemies long since defeated may have been changed drastically in unlife. Certain powerful fallen may have grown even stronger in the Shadowfell. One of the most powerful messages I wish to convey in this campaign is that though everything may seem the same, everything is different…

On the topic of the characters, each PC is vaguely aware that they have been killed, with their own opinions on the matter. This hell has been warping certain facets of their personalities in the shape of character flaws. These are roleplaying tools that should prove interesting. One flaw that I highly look forward to is a young Dwarven girl that was unfortunate enough to strangle her elderly father and clan leader to death. One of her character flaws is that in times of stress, she seeks to strangle a living creature. Further, it remains a flaw because such an action is ironic to her nature.

Body mutations, race changes, inability to use the abilities of their previous class, peronality changes… everything is permitted, as I am an advocate of character death able to change a character entirely. Further, going along with the subtlety of the setting, I think much will work out. For example, a character previously a Warforged has been brought to hell, but is succumbing to a curse of flesh. Another character has developed a fractured personality, one that is near-opposite of his normal one. Using the example in the previous paragraph, there is much offsetting about a sweet, young girl, tears running from her eyes, slowly and unwillingly twisting the neck of a small mammal.

Finally, each player knows of the campaign’s cruelty. The goal of the campaign, for each PC involved, is the chance to return to life. Each and every character have lost hooks, stories that could not be finished, because they could not fill the role. It pleases me greatly as a DM, because I would love to pick up some of these stories again and be able to finish them with a satisfying ending. It also pleases me to see players feel strongly about their happenings, with a desire to fulfill their goals. The creature that lives, I foresee, will be responsible to fulfill the wishes of his fallen comrades.

Because I am a humorous DM, all of the PCs involved are actually related to one actual player. So regardless of who will “win” and who will “lose” along the way, we will make that player cry. Oh, and the campaign will be epic.

How have you made your players cry, recently?

-Lancar