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Back in Black
Breaking in the Newbies, Part 2
by Kenton Kilgore
I was impressed by the characters that Matt (almost 17) and Tasha (14) created. Matt decided to play an elvish assassin* who used a glaive and a scimitar rather than the archetypical elven sword and bow. His character, who goes by the nom de guerre “Volke” (Matt is also a video gamer) is also very moody and impulsive, and the other players soon nicknamed him “Emo-elf.” Matt took some in-game results and wove them into his character’s persona: after repeatedly failing to notice some goons who were stalking the party, Matt decided that his character was so introspective as to be oblivious to most things. At another point, he made a lucky roll in calming the party’s horses, so he decided that his character had a lot of empathy for animals.
*It was not until quite some time after Matt created Volke that Ally Jane reminded me that under my house rules, elves can’t be assassins. As the character was well-established by that point, I just let it slide.
Most teenage gamers like to go for “kick-ass” characters, but Natasha created Ennostielle, a priestess of Hanali Celanil, the elvish goddess of love and beauty. As I describe here, “En” (as she was nicknamed) doesn’t dish out a lot of damage, but she is nevertheless quite powerful, with a range of mind-affecting spells and abilities. Ennostielle quickly became the spokesperson for the party, which was to prove very handy in the next adventure.
The Monster of the East Road
Suthyml, I told them, sits along the shore of the Shallow Sea (which is really a very large lake). Behind its wooden walls, it is home to perhaps 1500 permanent residents, with about 500 people passing through at any time. Because of its location, it is a trade center for merchants traveling along the roads that ring the lake and those brave enough to sail across it.
Suthyml’s roads are not paved, merely packed earth that quickly turned to mud in the rain that accompanied the party into town. Houses are made of wood, cut from nearby forests, and many are dilapidated or ramshackle. Suthyml is a good place to find supplies (many different items are for sale in the numerous shops scattered about the town), hire services, and find entertainment—and trouble—at the many inns and taverns. Suthyml has no organized districts, no permanent markets (vendors set up stands wherever they can find room), and very few pleasantries. Thieves and other unsavory characters are plentiful, and venturing out alone after dark is for the bold or suicidal.
At the west end of Suthyml is a steep cliff about 300 hundred feet high, with a worn path running up it. At the top of the cliff is a wooden palisade, and beyond that, several wooden longhouses and barns and a round stone keep (about 60 feet high). This the home of King Swedd Garrldym, an ogre of a man—not very smart, but cruel and fearless—who extorts hefty fees and taxes from the citizens and maintains brutal, but minimal order with his “King’s Guard,” many of whom are former brigands.
Continuing the “traditional” theme, I had the original three characters (Lassiel, Joni’s wood elf ranger; Raina, Beth’s high elf magic-user; and Clover Tealeaf, Ally-Jane’s halfling thief) encounter “Volke” and Ennostielle at the Inn of the Last Laugh. The place gets its name from the sign outside, which depicts two men fighting: one is choking the other, and the one being choked has pulled a knife. Under them, in small letters, the sign reads: “Who Will Laugh Last?”
Being the only non-humans in town, the PCs bonded, and when asked about the relationship between “Volke” and Ennostielle, Natasha quickly ad-libbed that the two are brother and sister (mirroring the fact that Matt and Tasha are real-life siblings). After letting the players interact for a while, I dangled a “traditional” adventure hook under their noses: a reward from the king for the head of a monster menacing the area.
It so happens, I told them, that travelers and merchants have disappeared while taking the East Road from Suthyml to Mhrthym, the closest town. In the last two fortnights, eight men have vanished, never reaching their destinations in either of the towns—and those are just the ones that people have heard of. King Garrldym had sent out men to investigate, but they hadn’t found who was responsible for these disappearances. No traces of the missing men have been found, but folks walking the road and those living nearby have said that they’ve heard shrieking and howls coming from the woods around, especially after dark.
Getting Into (Non-Player) Character
I’ve seen many Dungeon Masters struggle to create interesting NPCs. Usually, the problem is that the DM might know the NPC’s name and stats, but can’t compelling portray the NPC to the players. My way around that is to “cast” each NPC using people I know or celebrities, and then act out the NPC as if I were that person. For example, I based Kelanwald on my friend Mike, who is very extroverted and has a distinct voice and way of speaking. I exaggerated some of Mike’s mannerisms, borrowed some of his signature phrases (“Capital!”), and successfully channeled him, fully engaging the players.
For another example, I based the demeanor of Emorr, the owner of the inn, on the menacing Anton Chigurh as portrayed by Javier Bardem in No Country For Old Men. Which was not to say that Emorr was flipping a coin to see if he’d kill someone: rather, he didn’t speak often, and when he did, it was in a low, deliberate monotone, with the reserve of a real badass. And badass he was: though the players never found out, Emorr had killed seven men. The only clue to that was the tally marks he had tattooed into his arm, which he politely refused to explain when Lassiel asked about them.
Getting Down to Business
Accordingly, the party noticed (thanks to some well-made observation rolls) that they were being sized up by some local thugs, unarmored 0-level scrubs with daggers, knives, and clubs. Remember, the party consisted of five 1st-level characters, two of them unarmored spellcasters, only one of them a fighter-type, so the opposition couldn’t be too tough. The party slipped outside the inn, into a dark alley, where the ruffians followed. It was there that the players realized that because all of their characters were either elves not in metal armor or halflings not in metal armor, they surprised opponents on a 1-4 on a d6. Carnage ensued. One round later, the party was unharmed and the players were high-fiving each other.
The next day, the party set out on the East Road with Kelenwald, and that night, while they were camping by the road, I had Kelenwald wander off into the bushes to relieve himself, whereupon (following my script) he was surprised and quickly, quietly killed by the monster. Why? Because the party was the star of the show, and he was only a bit player whose role had been fulfilled.
When Kel didn’t come back after a half hour, the party went looking for him, to find only moist gobbets of his remains. What followed was a cagey cat-and-mouse affair as the party stalked the monster that was stalking them, which led to the party finding its lair, a cave along a stream not far from where they had camped. They set up an ambush at the cave, but the monster followed their trail there. Finally revealing itself, the monster—a bugbear—fought well and put a scare into the party, but was badly wounded by Clover (two critical hits with thrown daggers!) and Raina (“Burning JAZZ Hands!”) and forced to run. Lassiel pursued and decapitated it with her sword.
What’s killing monsters without some treasure? Inspired by the Dungeon Masters Guide, I had made the treasure in the bugbear’s cave be things that the monster would have collected from waylaying travelers and merchants. So instead of a big pot of gold, the party found:
Going Off in a Totally Different Direction
More Black in Black
Posted December 2010
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