11-20 of 37 Questions
Continuation of a quiz, lifted from Tumblr, about D&D, in the style of LJ
Part 1 of this quiz series, in case context is important. If you’re happy to live a context free life, or you remember the last issue, do continue!
(One of my many attempts to get MidJourney to show me a market scene. Not terrible.)
11. Favourite NPC(s) you’ve ever played?
Thunder Lies Dreaming goes in here, I’m pretty sure. He was originally a player character, an elven ranger/mage (I think; he might have been a fighter/mage/thief), who appeared in one seven or eight hour sprawling session I played in as a teenager. Conor, the GM - running a solo game for me, because other players were very hard to come by - had recently read some of the Amber books and some of the Elric books and had the Dark Sun boxed set and also some other stuff. This accounts for some of Thunder’s eclectic background, his rainbow mohawk, green trenchcoat, pair of flintlock pistols which he never uses. These days, as an NPC, he’s one of two leftover bits from Paradise, a distant and ancient plane of chaotic good that shut itself from the multiverse in order to balance out the shutting off of Infernus, a lawful evil plane so much worse than Baator that it had to be amputated from reality. The other bit is his slightly oversized ginger cat, The Enemy. Thunder is also - because it’s necessary for such an entity to have some role within the multiverse - a sort of avatar/proxy for the concept of the discovery/availability of information. He’s related to the Endless, in some ways, but he’s driven and compelled by his role in reality in a way that they’re not. And when he’s dealing with mortals, he’s capricious, sometimes incomprehensible, always somewhat infuriating, but basically helpful. He’s an element I use to tie a lot of different campaigns, worlds and settings into one ‘cinematic universe’, partially in connection with his Moorcock-derived own origins, and partly because I just plain like the idea. He rarely has more than a minor part in any given campaign. Sometimes he doesn’t overtly appear at all.
12. NPC you wish the PCs had spent more time with/gotten to know better?
This question presupposes more development of NPCs than I do before the PCs cross their paths. Most non-antagonist NPCS are encapsulated by a name, a description, a role in the story, sometimes a picture (picked from Pinterest or AI-generated) and sometimes a class and level. Antagonists get their own character sheet in D&D Beyond, which I sometimes then abstract out into a monster-like statblock. Only after the players react to an NPC do they get more development. So the problem doesn’t really arise.
There are occasional NPCs I look forward to describing and including in the game. Mostly, these are people whose place-in-the-world I think is pleasing, like Thunder Lies Dreaming, above, or a specialist seller of diamonds for resurrection spells, or a charcoal burner who lives on the edge between a forest and a desert, or a dimensional fisher who lives by extracting random stuff from a tiny interplanar crack in reality, or any of the other possibilities caused by magic and weirdness in the setting. But the mere mention of these places them, and that’s enough.
13. Favourite place(s) you’ve described or created?
Mostly these are cities. Bael Areen, in the world of Davon, is a (relatively) huge city-state at the centre of a commercial and magical trading empire. It’s in a relatively distant “past” of the original campaign in that world, but it very much took on a life of its own. It’s influenced by Sigil and Bas-lag and London and Amsterdam and it’s pretty clear in my head. It was the setting for one of the long-running campaigns for maybe a third of it, and I have a couple of short stories and at least one novel brewing there.
And there’s Green Bastion, which I’ve described in this newsletter before, and which is more-or-less the home base for the player characters in the Heliomar game. I love the description of cosmopolitan, complex settlements, and the sheer range of possibilities within them.
14. Place you wish the PCs had spent more time in, or a plot hook they didn’t follow?
Like the NPCs, plot hooks don’t get much development until they’re picked up on. Place-wise, I’m interested in the concept of the stronghold, as per… 1st Edition? D&D, where when the characters reached about 9th level, they developed or were given a demesne to run. But that gets into a very different style of gameplay, and not everyone’s into it. Possibly very few people are into it.
15. What are your favourite battle memories? Do you have a favourite villain/enemy/monster you’ve played?
Hm. I love combat from the player side - and that’s becoming ever more clear as I play in Aidan’s game, in particular - but I don’t find battles from the GM’s side of the screen all that notable (even though I still enjoy them). There was a fight in Utterbaum in a semi-indoor courtyard with a number of different NPCs and a boat swinging on a rope, which sticks in mind a bit, and a few in Heliomar with varied large monsters, but nothing that would give a no-shit-there-I-was kind of recounting. At the same time, I remember a fair number of fights from the player side, even from one-shots at conventions and the like, which were great. There was one in a FATE game where my character buckled his swash so hard I ran through eight Fate Points in one combat, starting with three; it was a thing of magnificence.
I do remember a 2nd Edition D&D game decades ago wherein the players wrangled a thing with a psionic power that could create organic matter and a fireball, creating a fuel-air bomb that killed a ravening orc horde in one shot. That was more in the spirit of invention than battle per se, though.
16. Is there something that you desperately want to run someday, be it a specific system, setting, module, campaign, NPC, etc?
I would like, at some point, to run a campaign wherein there are frequent meaningful discussions between player characters about in-game, in-character strategy toward ends that belong to the player characters, rather than being provided by NPCs (or other GM-originating circumstances) as quests. This already happened, to a fair degree, in a campaign I ran about 15 years ago called A Thousand Ships. But I’m not convinced you can plan for this; it’s one of those unexpected successes that arise from interaction of unpredictable factors.
Separately, I am looking forward greatly to running 5th Edition Spelljammer and Planescape campaigns.
17. What is your proudest improvisation moment?
That would be telling. I don’t want to know, as a player, which bits of a game are planned and which improvised, and I don’t like exposing that information to the players either. One of the things I truly love about Matt Mercer’s game-running style is that I can absolutely never tell which is which.
18. Funniest improvisation moment?
Well, see above. But also, one of the features of my neuroatypicality is that just-plain-comedy doesn’t appeal to me at all. Comedy as a side aspect of something else, sure. I have nigh-on damaged myself laughing at specific instances in Marvel movies and the odd game. But if you start chasing after laughs as the main point of a thing, you neglect narrative and plot and continuity, all of which are much more valuable to me. Laughter as an audience/player reaction (like betrayal as a plot) is a cheap victory.
19. Is there any major plot detail you would go back and change from a game you’ve run?
No. Definitely no. The chips falling as they do, and building forward from that is the very essence of campaign play. Going back and changing things is for other art forms - novels, say, or comics. There is sometimes feedback to be had, like that-is-not-the-emotional-response-I-was-aiming-for, or all-animals-will-be-adopted-even-to-the-point-of-ignoring-the-plot-two-by-four, or the like, but going back and changing things is… not right.
Which is not to say you can’t reboot a setting (I’ve done that, when the weight of continuity got too much) or even a campaign, but I feel it has to be a conscious and external decision, not just that you didn’t like how a particular thing worked out.
20. Best/worst player-ism that stuck in a game (ex. getting a name wrong to the point that’s just what everyone says, whether on purpose or accident)?
There’s an undead dog in Utterbaum called “Biohazard”. The quasi-military subgroup that the Utterbaum player characters are in is called “UNIT ABSOLUTE”. There was a major NPC in Spellbound and several subsequent campaigns called “Ship”, because she was originally a sentient, well, ship, who didn’t get named before she gained the ability to take on a humanoid form. Trying to rank any of these as best or worst doesn’t work for me; they become part of the continuity and background of the games and meld in with everything else after a bit. Which is as it should be.
The next ten questions will occur in a future issue. It might be the next. It might not. We’ll see.