• Michael T. Christensen

You're Nothing Without Allies

Last week, I briefly touched on the creation of my first D&D character, Calvin Dugray (human swashbuckler), and his first adventure (which ended with getting knocked out by a troll). However, the whole point of a game like Dungeons and Dragons is that you’re not the only one playing – you’re one of several players, working together to tell a story collaboratively. That’s why, for today’s installment, I’m focusing on the other players I’ve fought beside.

I’ve been playing with the same group, off and on, ever since I started playing in college almost eight years ago. Players come and players go, but it’s always a fairly large group, at least seven players (not including Daniel, our DM). In our first session, this was the line-up:

Kalan Lightfingers (halfling rogue) - Your classic thief, Kalan would steal the pants right off of you if he thought they could make him some cash. Or if they were magical. Or if he thought he could do it without you noticing. Or if he was bored. He was a talented liar, but also quite a troublemaker, and got us into almost (but not quite) as much trouble as he got us out of. At the end of the day, though, he ended up very literally pulling our asses out of the fire… but more on that at a later date.

Xann Bravesword (human paladin) - All paladins are virtues of righteousness, and our paladin was no different (except that he was a bit more lenient about torture and murder). For reasons that should be obvious, he and Kalan did not see eye to eye on just about anything.

Roth (gnome mage) - Roth was our magic user, and was obsessed with copying spells into his book. Every scroll or ritual we found would go straight into his hands. He was often more interested in the ideas of what magic could accomplish than the morality behind it, but we’ll get into that in a later column. He also had a Familiar, a pet monkey named “Nanners” (short for “Bananas,” I guess?). Man, we loved that monkey…

Gorg (half-orc barbarian) - Gorg had a good heart and was a beast in a fight, but was dumber than a bag of bricks. At least, that was the idea behind the character’s creation. In truth, thanks to the player controlling him, Gorg ended up being more observant than the rest of the party put together. At one point we were in a haunted monastery, standing around in the kitchen, looking at the remains of a meal interrupted by the untimely deaths of the monks, and trying to count how many monks could have been turned into ghosts, and thus waiting to collect our souls. Gorg looked around and said, “There are six chairs. Wouldn’t there be six monks?” There were six other players who had completely missed that detail.

Ceos (dwarf cleric) - Ceos was the opposite of Kalan in a lot of ways. While Kalan stuck to the shadows and scouted ahead, Ceos often charged blindly into rooms without thinking. While Kalan planned and weighed the options, Ceos reacted and acted impulsively. While we joked that Kalan would backstab one of us if paid to do so, he was actually intensely loyal; Ceos, on the other hand, once force-fed another character a magic seed because a plant from the future told him to do it, and had no other reason. Ceos wasn’t very smart, is what I’m getting at here.

Teya (elf fighter) - Little was known of Teya… because the girl playing as her never really got around to providing any backstory for her. While she would usually sit back and let the rest of us bicker amongst ourselves (a byproduct of rarely being able to get a word in edgewise - we were, and are, a boisterous lot, especially in college), she thrived on puzzles. We’ll get into the specifics in a later post, but one of our adventures was basically back-to-back riddles in a race against the clock, and she was so good she forced the DM to cheat to try to throw us off.

Based on the cover for Avengers: The Initiative #5, by Jim Cheung. Clockwise from top left: Roth, Xann, Teya, Ceos, and Gorg. Not pictured: Kalan, Calvin Dugray (me).

It’s been over seven years since that first campaign ended, and I still remember these characters and their personalities. I remember the bickering and arguing, and I remember the cheers of triumph. I remember where everyone sat around the table in that first group, and which side of the table usually ended up with the best snacks.

When We Last Left Our Heroes…

Last time, I mentioned our mission involved fighting two trolls, and that Calvin Dugray ended that fight face-down in the dirt. Here’s what we didn’t get into…

After meeting up in a town called Kareth’s Landing, we were recruited by a woman named Fiona, who worked for the Empire. We were tasked to travel to a necromancer’s tower – she had heard rumors that the necromancer Marcos the Black, long thought dead, was active again (which, when someone studies the magic of reanimating dead flesh, is not that much of a stretch). We were meant to check it out, and if necessary, kill the necromancer.

We made our way east, found and killed the trolls, and then we arrived at the tower. We fought goblin skeletons and an ogre skeleton, and found the necromancer responsible… but it wasn’t Marcos the Black. Instead, it was a woman named Rebecca, who had been working as Marcos’ apprentice before his death.

When we found Rebecca, she was in the basement, about to escape through a secret passage. So, of course, as soon as she told us who she was, chaos ensued. The group argued whether to hear her out, kill her, or let her escape. As we debated, she pressed a trick button and a wall slammed down and separated us from her – or at least, that was the intention. A few of my allies were faster than I was, and managed to get over to her side before the wall came down, and knock her out.

Once we tied her up, we interrogated her, and for some reason she thought we weren’t who we said we were – she believed we were part of a group called “The Enlightened.” She was afraid of three things: the local goblin tribes, The Enlightened (whatever that was), and Fiona.

However, we had someone on the roof scouting the area, and they noticed an army of goblins approaching…

So we decided to hold the tower ourselves against an army.

Roth and I holed up in the basement – I guarded the escape route (more on that next week), while Roth and Rebecca used lamp oil and alchemical supplies to build bombs, so we could bring down the entire tower to cover our escape.

Meanwhile, Kalan set himself up on top of the tower, calling down insults and using his bluff check to make ourselves seem much mightier than we actually were – in the hopes of scaring the goblins and giving the fighters the upper hand.

On the ground floor, Gorg and Xann defended the front door and forced the goblins into a bottleneck, using the corpses of fallen enemies as cover. At one point, they took down a bugbear (which is a huge hulking goblin-like creature – almost more like an orc or a troll), and cut off its head. Then they tossed the head outside in front of the rest of the army, giving many of the goblins pause, and a reason to dramatically rethink their life choices up to that point.

Ceos and Teya's players were absent for the battle, so their characters were out of commission – more on that next week.

And together, we held the tower.

When you’re playing a collaborative roll-playing game like Dungeons and Dragons, you have to trust your fellow adventurers… otherwise it’s meaningless. True, there weren’t technically any stakes, and we all knew that if we stopped fighting the bad guys the game would just end, but you still get sucked into the world of a game, and the story you work together to tell. The group’s victories become personal to you, and your character’s failures become the group’s burden to share. When my character planned to leave the group, the other characters tried to talk him out of it and understand why he was leaving, even though I, as a player, wasn't technically going anywhere.

I still game with a few of these players (though some have drifted away over the years), but I remember each of these characters – my first adventuring party – like fond friends.

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