War Stories (D&D Month 4)
No discussion about D&D can really be complete without talking about the stories that come out of it. At the end of the day, after you’ve stripped away all of the arguments about mechanics, all the dumb monsters that you never intended to use in your game anyway, and the edition number you’re a fan of, what really matters are the fun times you had and the geeky tales you have to tell to your date, ensuring that you will never, ever have a second date with them.
So to close out D&D Month (yes, next Friday is the 28th, but I miscalculated when I put up the first one of these, so this is the last one, okay?), I’d like to share some of my fondest real stories from around my own gaming table. Because I’m an eclectic guy, some of these aren’t strictly about D&D, but the spirit is the same.
I encourage you, my readers to share your own stories, either in the comments, or on the forums.
And without further ado…
The Tale of the Oil
Contrary to many a stereotype, there are LOTS of female gamers out there and yes, they even play the ‘hack heavy’ warhorse of the tabletop: D&D. It has been my joy and privilege to share my table with more than a dozen of these women over my decade of gaming experience.
Some of that might be thanks to the fact that I went to Mary Washington College (later the University of Mary Washington). Yes, the place where the Morganna’s Body arc and Magi Club 7 is a real place and it really does have unusually large groundhogs, an albino skunk and uncannily intelligent squirrels. It also started life as an all-girl’s school and to this day has a majority female student body.
There was such a high concentration of estrogen-enchanced geekitude there that the Original Ere campaign’s first three players were all women. Posters on the forums would know two of them from there was Pele and Fyrasha. If you know much about these two and their play styles then what happened with a one-off gag is slightly less surprising.
It all started when, frustrated at the limitations of a low level campaign, I started Original Ere at level 6 with appropriate wealth for that level. Those of you who have started play above first level know too well that it’s almost inevitable that you’ll end up with ~2000gp left over after buying the items you want: too little to get something really good, too much to just leave ‘on the table’ as it were.
While the players pondered what to buy, we started talking about how useless Use Rope is in comparison to real skills. Being college students, this led to jokes about a bondage themed class and the magic items they would need. This in turn came around to oil of slipperiness. On a lark, all three of them then bought a vial of the oil and a spidersilk rope (an Ere item that’s basically a stretchy silk rope).
The talk about the oil intrigued me, however (not that way, you pervs!).
Given how brutally D&D 3e shafted anyone who fell prone, the oil was a pretty nasty combat advantage item if not for it’s slightly prohibitive cost. Buy you know who doesn’t have to pay for gear in 3e and who doesn’t have to be built on any rules even resembling PC creation? Monsters.
Thus, I designed Zect of the Drinking Gourd (listed there for 4e, where the monster creation rules make him slightly less of a cheap bastard), who many of you will recognize from Rune Breaker. If you’re not familiar with him, Zect is a demon who carries a nigh-infinite gourd filled with a mix of oil of slipperiness and lamp oil. By drinking and spitting this oil, he can coat people in slippery oil that makes them fall or fumble their weapons, ignite the oil and burn his foes, or even belch the oil as a stream of flame. He basically just stands back and lets you burn, punching the crap out of people who manage to close on him.
It would be eight months before the PCs were powerful enough to face Zect (who is visually inspired by Auron from Final Fantasy X), and I was pretty stoked about it.
The coolest dude in videogames.
The PCs arrived in a village under siege by minor demons and begin burned by Zect. After fighting their way through his minions and saving some innocents, they square off and Zect gave his ‘and your little dog too’ speech.
And that’s when it happened. Throughout the entire combat, Pele had been staring at her items list for reasons I didn’t understand at the time. Pele is a packrat with her characters and this list had things like interesting rocks she picked up, random furniture she stole from evil lairs, and just all kinds of random crap. And of course, after months and months of real-world time, the oil of slipperiness was still there.
Zect won initiative and doused everyone in oil of slipperiness. Instead of moving (and probably falling over), Pele had her character throw her own vial of oil at Zect. Everyone else then either retreated or took ranged attacks on Zect, forcing him to move after them… and failing his balance check. Over and over. Somehow, this poor bastard never managed to get back on his feet while the party swiftly surrounded and butchered his demonic ass.
All because of a joke item bought almost a year earlier and forgotten.
And ever since then, in every one of our campaigns, we had at least one person buy oil of slipperiness ‘just in case’.
Coulmni Agni: Metagirl Supreme
Jenny Everywhere is ostensibly the first ever Creative Commons, open source character. This means that anyone and everyone can use Jenny in their stories, art, videos, etc for the small price of linking back to the project that created her.
I think she’s a pretty amazing idea and actually have plans to have her show up in The Descendants at some point now that I’ve opened up the multiverse with the CynQuest arc.
Oh, and I accidentally invented a similar character as she pertains to tabletop RPGs.
Coulmni was born alongside the World of Ere after I failed to even place in the same Wizards of the Coast campaign contest that eventually gave us Eberron and decided to just write stories in it. Coulmni was a sidekick type character to Gage Infernus (more on him later) in the first World of Ere story, the unfinished ‘Dawn on Ere’. Alongside Gage and the haughty sorcerer Hechubhan ‘estu Soturai, the Blood of Dragons, Coulmni was tossed into a battle against an awakened horror from the Age of Tragedies.
Coulmni in her original incarnation was a sorceress with lighting-focused spells and the Energy Admixture: Lightning feat. She is always an adorable redhead who prefers to dress in blue who has lightning powers of some sort.
Hey, remember when I related the tale of my handle ‘Vaalingrade Ashland’ coming from a mis-hearing of a documentary following a journey from ‘Stalingraad to Iceland’? Well Coulmni’s name has and even stupider origin. You see, in Freshman year of college, my then-girlfriend and I watch The Land Before Time (do I know how to plan a lady-pleasing date or what?) both out of nostalgia and so I could wash the taste of End of Evangelion out of my brain.
If you haven’t seen the series, meet Petrie:
Petrie is, at times, almost impossible to understand. Even at the best of times, his speech pattern can best be summed up as ‘what it the French Chef from the Little Mermaid did meth?’. To this day, there is a line that I cannot in any way parse, but it sounds like ‘column me Angie’ or possibly ‘call me agony’–which is decidedly badass.
But anyway, that story didn’t go anywhere, but Gage did, and in one of Fyrasha’s very first games ad DM, I played him and at 6th level, took Leadership with a certain sorceress as his cohort. While the concept, design and characterization of Coulmni was all me, I would attribute her popularity in large part to Fyrasha’s roleplaying of her being both adorable and manic.
The group loved Coulmni, and during the course of the Original Ere campaign, asked to see her cameo there. She did so in the form of a rare non-annoying escort quest (note: escort quests are more fun when the objective is both adorable and capable of bringing down chain lightning on enemies instead of bumbling stupidly into a horde of zombies.).
And so it came to pass that Coulmni in some form got cameos in pretty much any game I ran or played in… then things got weird. First, Fyrasha cameoed her in a game I wasn’t in to the delight of the players in that game, then I played her at a few con games, noting that she’d appeared in a lot of games as an injoke. For several months after that, I heard from friends at cons about how they used Coulmni (she’s apparently become an acceptable form of DMPC, as players’ fears of railroading are overshadowed by the fun little girl character, apparently).
And then one day I was reading a thread on (IIRC) RPG.net about favorite gaming moments—and saw the name Coulmni Agni appear in context of a game I never heard about from a poster I didn’t know!
That was about six years ago, so I don’t know if Coulmni still lives on without me, but I do know that she’s jumped from my gaming and into my written universes. How’s that? Well in the Academy X game I played in and for which Warrick was created, Coulmni’s incarnation there was as his sister: Talia Coulmni Kaine (whose future husband was Omar Agni).
Yup. Tammy AKA ‘The Irrepressible Spark’ is, in reality, the Descendants-verse Coulmni, right down to the red hair (despite none of her family having it) and electrical powers (despite the family having metal control powers). Coulmni is a tiny goddess basically and I, the mere instrument of her will. Make sacrifices of candy to her!
Fun Fact: at 15 as of this post, Tammy is the oldest incarnation of Coulmni, who is usually 12 in other forms.
It’s likely every gaming group has this one guy. You know the type: he’s cool to hang out with, he throws great parties and always pays his share for the takeout… but for whatever reason, once the dice come out, he does Not Play Well With Others. Maybe he was brought up on a different system with a different philosophy, like a hack and slasher coming into a roleplay heavy setting, or someone whose group didn’t do the whole ‘everyone works together’ thing.
We of course had a guy like that. Like I said, he was a great dude right up until the moment of character generation. He consistently played guys who didn’t want to work with the group and who often was working counter to the party’s interests. This is the story of how, in one game, he managed to force himself through a conga line of mounting humiliations by following this philosophy.
This was the aforementioned game in which I played Gage. Fyrasha required all characters to have some kind of dark secret to provide story hooks and complications to the game. Gage’s was that he was a religious heretic from a fanatical society who was being hunted by the Church. Unbeknownst to me, my friend decided that his guy was going to be the assassin sent to kill mine.
Some of you might be sensing the problems this might cause in the group dynamic. That was just the tip of not just the iceberg, but an entire comet’s worth of failure-ice.
Instead of starting with the group, he decided to hang back and observe us. Unfortunately for him, we ended up going through a border crossing between kingdoms. The main party easily made it through, but being an assassin, he couldn’t and so tried several Wile E. Coyote level plans to get through, including riding under a wagon (and being dragged through the mud), jumping the wall further along the border (and running afoul the brutal hounds guarding the wall), lying to the guards (without ANY ranks in bluff or even a decent Charisma score), and finally, going through in a group of refugees in dsiguise.
By the time he got through, the party was long gone and he had to track us, ending up being completely separate from us for two real life weeks as he continued to blunder into the aftermath of the party’s actions. He also failed to level up when we did thanks to not participating in the encounters.
Then came that fateful night where he finally caught up with us. The party was in a town, resting and rearming when Gage and another character (a halfling cleric/favored soul before that was an official thing) were out getting the lay of the land. The assassin crept up behind us and the halfling heard him coming. Turning, he saw a man sneaking up with a knife, ready to kill his buddy and cast inflict moderate wounds on him.
Hearing the commotion, Gage turned and took a slash from the knife, but no sneak attack damage because rogues don’t work that way. Gage proceeded to attack twice with his rapier and crit once, killing the attacker without eve knowing his name or purpose and without that character ever making contact with the party.
Gage went on to be eaten by a swamp monster the very next week, so it was extra futile trying to kill him.
Kiss of Death
Character evolution is a strange thing. Case in point, in the early days of the solo game she was created for, Pele (the character being played by my friend whose handle is Pele) was just as clever, but far more nasty than she eventually ended up.
There are a lot of reasons for this; her player finding her borderline ingenue approach to all things non-combat more fun to roleplay, coupled with the morality chain of trying to rein Ru in without treating like a slave (plus the hypocrisy of admonishing him for cruelty after the below incident) were all contributing factors. This particular instance, however was kind of a perfect storm of pissing the character off, hitting her triggers, and the player having had a really bad week and looking for catharsis.
Shortly after obtaining Ru (in exactly the same manner as she did in the novel), Pele heard tell of a bandit king who raided and took slaves from frontier towns, especially women and went after him. Being a lone and also played by the most slippery player in D&D history, she scouted out the bandit camp and decided that going in guns and fire breath blazing would hurt the slaves ad other captives. Plus, as an ex-slave, she wanted these guys to suffer.
Instead, she had Ru (who at the time, she thought was just a magic sword that changed shapes—at the time, he was in the form of a bracelet) disguise her as a wayward traveler and let herself be captured. The plan was to then let Ru go hog wild in the middle of the camp, but the bandit king had her bought to his tent—which was in an anti-magic field.
My expectation was that she would have to fight the dude hand-to-hand… that was not what happened. Instead, she started playing inexplicably submissive and asked for bluff checks,, intending to get close to him, grapple him and hold him hostage. She failed most of them and ended up handcuffed when the dude realized she intended to harm him.
Then she really weirded me out by asking why the bandit king wanted her brought to him. Admittedly, I never intended for things to go that far—in truth, she could have broken the handcuff with a STR check, so I was deeply confused as to what the hell she was on about.
As an aside, I feel that there should be a roll that you can fail to bluff the DM.
After some needling, I gave in and the bandit king, as a show of power and ickiness, forcibly kissed her.
At that point, she breathed fire into his mouth.
Let me say that again. After failing at her initial plan to bluff her in game enemy, she instead bluffed me and proceeded to breath fire into a dude’s mouth during a kiss she coerced not out of the character, but the DM.
Seeing as there are no rules in 3rd Edition for exhaling napalm into someone’s throat and lungs, but my group does go by the chunky salsa rule, so the bandit king was toast, looking like the guy at the end of the Bad Romance music video.
She then broke her cuffs and hauled the smoldering corpse of the bandit leader out of the tent, asking if anyone else wanted to face her. There really aren’t enough intimidate bonuses for the huge-but-sweet lady coming out of a tent where magic is impossible carrying a guy whose lungs she somehow immolated saying ‘come get some’.
All The Words, None of the HP
I could (and probably will) make a post specifically for my non-D&D adventures in gaming, but this one is one of my favorites and I just couldn’t wait to relate it.
In the Academy X game, I of course played Warrick and Fyrasha played a flying speedster with energy draining powers named Danni. The most important point here is ‘flying speedster’.
As demonstrated above, our group a) never follows the script, b) is way too creative, and c) is big on RP. Part of point C up there is that we always say exactly what our character says. We never just go ‘I tell him X’, we give the whole speech, often doing voices (Warrick has the most offensive Booklyn accent known to man).
So it came to pass, in this game set at the Xavier School, that our group got back from an adventure to find things to be… not quite right. Specifically discovered that his girlfriend (X-men canon character, Mercury) suddenly didn’t seem to recall that they were dating at all and said nasty things to him.
The idea was to start a mystery in the game as to what was going on. The GM and the big bads didn’t count on Warrick being… pretty excitable about the whole thing. See, over the past few weeks, Warrick had an animosity toward members of a separate training squad, one of whom was a mentalist. When Mercury broke nasty with Warrick, she used the same derisive name as that guy did, tipping the metalbender off.
And that’s where the chaos happened. Warrick got the PCs together and told them of his suspicions and also a plan: he was going to go to the mentalist character for ‘help’, saying he suspected canon character, Hellion of being up to something and turning Mercury against him, thus throwing him off the scent while the group worked to undo his mind control.
What we didn’t know was that this kid had infected the entire student body and most of the staff already and Warrick’s words made him panic and send everyone to attack him and his friends.
And this is where the epic moment comes in. Danni decided that, rather than have just the five of us face off against the whole school, she would go get help from someone she knew would have tons of anti-mind control training: Cyclops.
The problem is that Cyclops was asleep behind a thick, oak door. Luckily, Danni is very, very fast.
Why luckily? Because in the HERO system, a speedster can make an attack called a move-through, converting their speed into damage at the cost of taking part of that damage themselves. I think you can see where this is going. Moving at just under Mach 1, Danni smashed through Cyclops’s door and proceeded to—all in one breath (note that this means Fyrasha was saying it in one breath) explain the entire plot and current situation to him.
Talking in HERO is a free action, so she was able to speak as the same action as smashing down the door. The moment she stopped talking, her action ended and thanks to the massive amount of STUN damage she’d done to herself going through the door, she promptly passed out and remained as such for the entire ensuing fight.
Fyrasha and I had a running joke about what that game would look like as a comic book and both agreed that it would have been a two-page spread of Danni smashing through the door with the opposite page being taken up entirely by a single huge speech bubble.
And that’ll do it for this week. Next week, I talk about my favorite comics character of all time: Gambit.
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