I really wasn’t sure I’d bother writing this article, because it’s going to be a little self indulgent. However, after finishing the Great D&D module play through, the more I thought about it the more I thought that sharing this might help others.
I want to talk about each of the characters developed over time. I cannot go into the full history and background as deeply as I would like because each character would be a novel on it’s own. I just want to summarise how the characters grew in their journey as swiftly as I’m able to. Why? Many reasons, one of which is to pay homage to my awesome players that helped create the heavily appended story you are about to read. More than that though, I want to show how a simple and open rule system like Classic D&D can allow a character to grow, change and become a part of a living world.
I’m going to do this character by character, in the relatively random order they currently are in the pile in front of me. I won’t worry about levels etc, they range from 29 to 36 and if you understand Classic D&D character progression then you’ll know roughly what each character level is. Demi-humans are of course at max level.
Magic User, Neutral, Minothad
Raka started out as the last descendant of a failed merchant family, and his motivation behind his search for adventure was to fund a merchant fleet and re-establish his family name among those honoured in Minothad.
Like most Magic Users, Raka tended to focus on making living things into dead things as explosively as he could. The Elf in the party did the tricky non-killy magic so Raka could go in heavy on the destruction. As he gained levels though, his spells did veer more towards utility spells that the party came to rely on. All in all though, Raka was just like the majority of wizards in terms of being a spell caster.
Where Raka began to really distinguish himself was in magical item creation. Of course he helped make swords and armour for the party, but once he learnt to make constructs he changed the face of the game. His first invention which he did in secret was the creation of what he calls Pocket Ponies. Sure, they looked like my little pony figurines (or My Little Weasel, more on that later), but on command they became a tireless riding horse that was immune to normal weapons and to spells less than 4th level.
From there he researched making custom Drolems for the party, which they happily donated funds for. He also made special compasses for his ships which controlled the weather, giving the ships perfect wind all the time. His magically enhanced fleet certainly exceeded his initial goals. He eventually retired to his own personal plane where he works on making the perfect unstoppable golem army which he intends to hire out as mercenaries. In doing so he put his feet on the road to Immortality.
Elf, Neutral, Karameikos
Vyalia isn’t even his real name, it’s the name of a very secretive elven clan in the Grand Duchy of Karameikos. He was basically a Ranger, in that he specialised in woodland survival. He initially just used a simple spear and javelins, though I think he threw a javelin maybe two or three times in the duration of the campaign. We learnt over time that like many systems, D&D does not give spears due credit, so I allowed him during character downtime to retrain in the Partizan instead.
It was the air of secrecy Vyalia cultivated which made him stand out. In particular he always had at least one Charm spell up his sleeve, and at the appropriate moment he would target some poor orc guard or similar and probe him for information about the area. If that guard didn’t know enough, he’d find out from that guard who might know the information. This process made so many dungeons so much easier and the overall worth is incalculable. Add to this the range of clever utility spells he took, and his skills as a second rank fighter, and he definitely pulled his weight in the party.
Vyalia eventually retired in as much secrecy as he lived. The party knows he took the Green Realm (Twilight Calling Module) where they think he might have taken the former owner of the realm as his wife.
Druid of Zirchev, Neutral, Karameikos
Maith is from the old Traladaran people so his name is much longer, but everyone calls him Maith for short. He comes from simple peasant stock, and just one day set out to see if he could walk in the steps of the figure he most admired from stories; the great Traladaran hero Zirchev.
The player was really set on playing a Druid, but when we looked at the process for Druid the class seemed really under power. You give up armour, many of the best spells, the right to have a domain of your own, and even the ability to turn undead. In return you get a couple of cool spells, many very situational spells, and that’s it. We talked it over with the group and decided the one thing that might bring some balance back, would be to restore Turn Undead. Druid is still under powered with that change, but they can at least contribute more to the party.
Maith was no mere stitch-bitch (aka Healer), he really focused a lot on utility magic. Many times the party would hit a wall, then Maith would say something simple like, “Cast your Cloudkill, I’ll have complete control over it with Control Winds so we can fumigate this entire section of the dungeon.” He was an absolute master of synergy, which is something roleplay should always be about but so rarely is (rare in western groups, I understand eastern groups differ).
His retirement was much like his beginnings, very humble. He returned to his home grove and continued to work on the relationships between the races. He actually united most of the goblin tribes and negotiated peace between them and the elves. Though ever a willing helper to his friends, above all he is a servant to nature.
Halfling, Neutral, Karameikos
Halflings really are the runts of the D&D player races/classes. Cherry is a simple country girl who happens to also be a weasel wrangler. She’s basically a ranger, complete with Dire Weasel mount/companion. At first her best contribution was to be the poor sod who had to do the stuff too dangerous for others to do. For example, if the thief found a trap but couldn’t disarm it, Cherry got to open the chest. On one hand, this is meta-gaming, because you are using the superior Saves that halflings have. On the other hand, Halflings are known in game to be resilient creatures unfazed by things that would kill a human. Anyway, Cherry performed this duty well into Expert levels, but she never let people forget it.
Cherry was a good archer, and an excellent fencer, but where she excelled was as a Wizard. For those of you who don’t know, Halflings in Classic D&D can never learn magic … ever. Yet, Cherry would out-magic both Raka and Vyalia. Her secret was two-fold, the first being that the dice just favoured her a lot (no I wasn’t rigging rolls), and enemies were so often failing saves vs her magic. The biggest thing was the collection of rings she kept. D&D has a thing called a Ring of Spell Storing, which would let you cast the spells contained within even if you don’t know how to use magic. Whenever the party found a new Ring of Spell Storing Cherry would remind them of the treasure they found when she opened such and such a chest, or the trap she triggered in that corridor. Sure enough, all the Rings of Spell Storing went to Cherry. You might think it hard for her to manage all those rings, but a Bag of Holding always gives you the item you think about when you reach into it, so she could fast change rings in a round.
Cherry constantly outdid the other casters, or did until Raka’s power surpassed her ring collection. Before Cherry retired she had all the other spell casters make her rings filled with illusions and other showy stuff, with a promise they would refill all of her rings at least once a year. Cherry then rejoined her clan where she holds a spectacle at least once a year, where the best Halfling Wizard ever born entertains clans from all over the area with her amazing magic.
Dwarf, Chaotic, High Forge
Despite the potentially misleading name, Bellgrim is the first female dwarf I have ever DMed for. She had the amazing good fortune to get an natural 18 for her Dexterity, which seemed strange at first for a dwarf, but I soon got it. Bellgrim is actually a little ball of pure rage who is out to destroy as many monsters as she can. She is basically a monster hunter, and a surprisingly awesome one. Her weapon of choice is the battle axe, backup up with a heavy crossbow. She’s also trained in all of the siege machines like Ballista, in case the little bow isn’t enough.
Right out of the gate her superior Dexterity made Bellgrim a brilliant front line fighter. I’m not sure if the chance to hit her ever got better than needing a natural 20. The battle axe cleaves monsters apart thanks to weapon mastery, which can also stun monsters and prevent counter attacks. She will also use every underhanded method she has to kill as many as effectively as she can. Her blood lust has put her at odds with the party Paladin Odette, but Bellgrim usually has such impeccable logic behind her actions Odette often cedes to the blood lust.
There will be no retiring for Bellgrim. Odette’s land is very near the biggest and most deadly mountain range packed full of red dragons. With the aid of her best friend Kamari (thief, see later), Bellgrim hopes to kill every dragon, take all the treasure, then maybe hunt for a dragon ruler or two. Such a monumental task will also draw the attention of the Immortals, perhaps setting Bellgrim up to become Immortal herself.
Fighter/Paladin, Lawful, Glantri
Odette comes from a minor noble family, and like all nobles in Glantri, she was forced to study magic. She certainly has the intellect for it, or could have equally been a cleric. However, due to a magical accident at an early age Odette had all her hair turn stark white, and she swore off ever doing magic again. Despite having extremely average Strength, Odette fled her family and learnt how to become a fighter.
At first Odette struggled, because having a very average Strength of 10 made her a poor fighter. Her Dexterity was only just above average so she didn’t even have much AC. When Odette did have though was an 18 Charisma and the social skills to make use of it. Once Odette got better armour and Gauntlets of Ogre Power, all her limitations were removed. She became the perfect charismatic diplomat who could talk her way out of most things, or beat her way out of the talking failed.
One thing she will also be very well remembered for it taking one one on one fights that could save having a larger fight with more carnage. Many times I thought she had taken on more than she should, but time and again she put every bit of talent she had into the fights and won every time, even against foes with a higher level and greater mastery than her.
As such a natural born leader, Odette began the one to put down roots and create a domain, mostly so we had a domain to run the campaign around (many modules require it). Her leadership was impecable, and she thought nothing of spending personal funds to right any wrongs done in her realm. It most definately became a realm of law, but not at the expense of compassion and open mindedness.
Odette retired to run her realm. She has been granted the title of Countess, though she still serves her king loyally. Thanks to the help of her friends, her realm would rank roughly forth or fifth most powerful in the known world.
Mystic, Lawful, Ylarum
Sachi is basically a combat dancer out of Ylarum. Like most mystics she seeks perfection in mind and body, and her adventures are a way for her to push herself to the limit. Unfortunately by the end of her career nothing could push her to her limits, as she was simply too powerful for it. All players agreed, including the player of Sachi, that the Mystic is outrageously broken. I have to have a serious think about how to fix the class for use in Phaemorea.
Mystics have limitations, and I did try to push those limitations. Once they get 4 attacks per round, and combine that with Speed and Haste, then things get insane. Sachi actually focussed on being an archer, just so the party had a chance to play after her initiative. When Sachi got serious she would hand out damage in the several hundreds per round. Beware the Mystic class, it’s way more game breaking than Weapon Mastery.
To return to Sachi as a character, by far the most memorable thing is her combat prowess. She was fearless, and would throw herself into seemingly impossible battles, where she swiftly made them very possible battles.
Sachi did eventually take the Red Realm in the Twilight Calling module, where she could take on the one machine of war the party held her back from fighting. She hopes to further her combat prowess there before returning to share her teachings with the cloister.
Thief, Chaotic, Irendi
Kamari is an island girl who just wants as much fun, new experience and thrills that she can. She’s very free spirited, but not at all mean, greedy or horrible. She’s one of the few in the party who doesn’t worship Zirchev, instead favouring Kytharia. She left the islands because she was bored with them. Adventuring offered thrills, companions, and money to by more thrills with.
When we started playing I was worried about Kamari. Thieves in Classic D&D only get 1d4 Hp, and their thief skills really suck. Sure enough, at the start of the adventure, the thief is trying to look for traps just ahead of the party, and stopping all the time to listen. If any noise was heard it was straight back to the middle of the party. Things begin to change though, in the same way an avalanche starts with the trickle of a few pebbles.
The first change came when Kamari got Elven Boots and an Elven Cloak, drastically improving her stealth. It meant a sneak test could be her thief skill, then the boots or cloak, then her Stealth (Indoors) skill. Basically, she was very hard to detect, and thus she could move further ahead of the party. Then came the Ring of Invisibility, now making her even harder to detect. The trouble was that she’s still a human, and thus she needs light.
Finally Kamari was able to save enough money to pay a wizard to make her a Cat’s Eye marble, which will grant Infravision once per day. She was now unteathered and roaming well ahead of the party, leaving chalk marks etc to communicate with the others. It was around then that the party did something I thought was strange. Bellgrim had been given a Girdle of Giant Strength to make her a more potent fighter, but after an adventure Bellgrim gave it to Kamari. That one item was a dramatic increase in thaco, and it doubled the damage on a melee hit. Weapon Mastery was creeping into the equation as well now, which created the 8x damage effect. x2 damage from back stab, x2 damage from the girdle, and if lucky enough on the hit roll it was x2 damage from Mastery. Based on the way Haste works, in the way it doubles then doubles again, we all agreed that the same maths would apply to damage. Now, Kamari was a killer.
The entire group agrees that if the group had a single MVP it would be Kamari. Her achievements grew again and again. Her one stab kill of a large red dragon, the failed kill of a huge black dragon which got her charmed, the number of mages and Lichs she saved the party from. Much like Sachi, the party would sometimes just let Kamari off her leash and then come back when she’d tallied the loot.
Of the many things she did, I feel I must tell two stories, where I both failed and succeeded as a DM. First, I let the cleric make a circlet called the Circlet of the Seer. The circlet grants permanent Truesight, which when given to a really good scout it makes them a flawless scout. Even though I but some hard to get requirements on it, I wonder if I should have let it be made at all.
The second thing is also about item creation. Kamari wanted a pair of Daggers +5/Slicing (think Vorpal). Kamari used favours from dukes and kings, that is, multiple entire adventure rewards. People agreed they would find a mage to do the enchantment if she could find the hardest ingredient to get; the wood from a once sentient tree which was killed by an Odic. The wood had to be gathered on the same night the Odic was killed. I also told the player that I’m not adding that to any modules, you’ll have to see if you get lucky, unless you have any other way to get it. This combination is near impossible, because Odics move on every single night and they rarely take treants. She offered hundreds of thousands in bounties, but none could get it. Until that is the party did the module Where Chaos Reigns. It took about 20+ levels to get it, but she got her wood. Including a staggering payment to the wizard, she got her daggers.
What was really fun about Kamari as a DM is to see her evolution. It also helps when someone plays a thief more as a pure adventurer rather than playing to the name ‘theif’, and stealing from the party. Kamari didn’t steal from the party because she usually got pick of the loot anyway, and there’s no challenge is stealing from people who trust you.
Karari won’t be retiring either, she will be joining Bellgrim on the purging of all red dragons from Norwold, or the subjugation of them maybe, that might be fun too.
I usually write all my modules, I have since school. Okay, mostly that was because I couldn’t afford to buy a module. Playing though these modules has been an incredible journey. You can see the struggle TSR was having in keeping the IP, because there are so many errors that a simple proof read would have caught. It’s hard to comment on the quality of modules, because different style suit different people.
One thing I wanted to really monitor within myself was the possibility that I was looking back at Classic D&D through rose tinted glasses. I’m working up a full launch for Phaemorea, so I needed to be reminded what system I’m writing for. I’m really happy to say that the system still stands up really well against the modern ones. D&D 5th Edition and this D&D are about equal in my estimation, each with pros and cons.
This Classic D&D does truly have some cons. Perhaps the biggest one when using the modules is that D&D scales in steps, assuming each box set is purchased in turn to keep up with the characters. When you take those later rules and apply them to early modules the balance is disrupted. I’m not just talking about Weapon Mastery either, the General Skills rules were not once used by any of the modules, though I did integrate them into the playing and it worked well.
The biggest thing for me though is; Was it fun? Yes, it definitely was on so many levels. I know stories will live on beyond the first telling of these tales, and that to me is the truest test of a gaming system.