Xander of the Broken Antler

Hello All,

                I recently took part in a Christmas themed one-off D&D session. We did it over Zoom, but it was still great to roll some dice again. I didn’t use my normal random number character building methods for this character, but I still think it’s pretty neat.

This is the backstory for Xander of the Broken Antler.

*****

                It began like any other holiday season. Xander was home tending the hearth, waiting for his parents to return home from their shopping excursion to town. Xander was patient for a ten-year-old and was not concerned that they were running late. He busied himself with preparing dinner and writing his letter to Santa by firelight. It was a short list: a wooden ship, a new hat, sweets and something nice for his parents. The simple list of a kind child. He would soon deliver it by tossing the letter into the lit hearth of the fireplace, as was the tradition in his village, but he would wait for his parents to do that. As the night grew long, Xander could wait no longer and fell asleep on the rug in front of the fire.

                His parents never returned.

                Xander woke in the morning to a knock on the front door of the cabin. He opened it to find his neighbors there; sadness spread across their faces. They could hardly speak, but through sobs and choked voices, he understood what had happened. His parents were beaten, robbed, and left to die in the snow.

                The neighbors offered Xander their home. They said he could stay as long as he wanted. He thanked them and said he would come, but he wanted to say goodbye to his home. When they agreed to leave him there, Xander closed the door and went to his room. He sat on his bed and cried quietly for hours. He has heard of similar crimes committed across the countryside and knew the perpetrators rarely paid for their crimes. That thought crystallized in his mind. They would never pay for this.

                Night was beginning to fall. Xander knew that he would need to leave soon if he was to make his way to his Neighbors’ cabin. That thought floated back into his head, first like drifting snow, then like a frigid blizzard.

                They will never pay for this.

                His parents loved him and raised him to be kind. They would want to be remembered, but also for him to be safe. He knew he should have gone to his neighbors. They had always been good to him. They would treat him like family. Like family.

                Like family.

                He knew he should be charitable. They died due to the cold. The thieves may not have meant to.

                May not have meant to.

                Leave them to die slowly in the cold.

                Xander was unsure if the voice growing stronger inside him was his own, but he was sure of its intent. Guided by confidence uncommon for one so young, he moved to the hearth. For the first time in his life, he knew this letter would be read.

                Xander tore up his previous letter and gathered up a new piece of thick parchment. Rushing to begin his task, Xander cut his thumb along the side of the paper. A deep, stinging wound, but he hardly noticed it. He wrote a new letter to Santa Clause.

                Dear Santa,

                I have been good this year. I have been good all my life, as have my parents. But instead of gifts, they received death, and I misery.

                Know that I have only one request. If you grant this request, I shall never want for anything else.  One single gift for which I am willing to devote my life in exchange.

                I want revenge.

                With that final sentence, Xander felt a weight lift from his heart. For the first time in his short life, he was feeling hate. Admitting that was not only a relief, it felt good.

                Xander began to toss the paper into the fire when he realized he had not signed it. He scrawled his full, god-given name across the bottom of the page. Then, Xander felt a sting in his thumb. Guided again by assurance not his own, he pressed his thumb beside the signature, leaving behind a small bloody print.

                He folded the paper and threw it into the fire.

                Hours passed as Xander watched the fire. He wasn’t sure what he was waiting for, just that he had to wait. As the fire grew dim, the weather outside shifted. The light snowfall of the afternoon turned to a fierce blizzard. The chill wind howled and battered the cabin until suddenly, every candle in the house blew out as if the wind itself were let inside.

                “Do you hate them so?”

                Xander didn’t turn to face the voice behind him. He continued to stare into the dwindling flame. “Yes.” He whispered. “More than anything.”

                “And you would give your life to have theirs?”

                Xander considered this. He watched the flames and wondered if he could walk away. Could these flames be reignited, or would they succumb to this cold wind?

                “Yes, I will give my life,” Xander said.

                The response he received was a loud crack like a bone snapping behind him. At the same time, the fire went out, leaving only dying embers.

                “Take this and exact your task. Only with that can our pact be forged. Only then will I visit you again.”

                Xander turned to find he was alone in the room. Though it was dark, he could see no one, and nothing changed in the room, save for a curious item left on the floor. A bone, no, an antler.

                He picked it up. It was a single sharp tine from what must have been a monstrous antler. As he turned it over in his hand, it changed from bone to blade. The pale dagger glimmered in the dark and tingled in his grasp. He knew right away that it gave him power, but more importantly, it gave him direction.

                Xander disappeared from his town without a trace. He left behind the murderers, stabbed to death and shoved up the chimney of his parents’ now abandoned cabin.

*****

                Woof! I know, pretty dark for a Christmas character. I started with the concept of a warlock who has a pact with Krampus, and it just expanded from there.

                I built the character to be a stealthy magic-user. I picked spells to help him stay hidden and then gain combat advantage. If he had more levels, I would have to figure out how to give him the Sneak Attack ability to use these spells and the theme better. Think Nightcrawler from the second X-Men film, but Christmas themed.

                For the pact, I imagine Xander is compelled to give to the good and needy, but he is then obligated to punish the wicked to balance the scales every time he does. Basically, it’s a naughty or nice based pact. The dagger is the focal point of this pact, and it allows him to sense who is naughty and who is nice.

                I really like this character, and while I doubt I’ll ever play him again, I have a feeling I’ll be writing more about him in the new year. In the meantime, I’m well on my way to finishing my edit of the first ten chapters of my book, and likewise, I’m almost done with the accompanying writing partners. You can find a sample from the group below. Stay tuned for an update in the coming days.

Death May Die wizard miniature

Happy Holidays!

Upping Your Game: RPG Characters as Writing Prompts Part 2

Part 1 can be found here: Upping Your Game: RPG Characters as Writing Prompts Part 1

I want start off by reminding you that for the purpose of this prompt, I will be building a fantasy RPG character that could be used in D&D, Pathfinder, or any system that uses the same core ability stats: Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma.

I chose to do this to make it easier to get the point across with a familiar system. I also randomly chose a familiar fantasy race. In this case: a Goblin. His name is Clot.

Clot, King among vermin

Clot’s Stats were rolled randomly and placed in the order they were rolled. After racial modifiers (D&D 5th ed) they are:

  • Str: 14
  • Dex: 12
  • Con: 15
  • Int: 10
  • Wis: 10
  • Cha: 11

Weird stats for a goblin. He could make a good thief, like most goblins, but that doesn’t lean into our prompt. We want to explore weaknesses, hardship and formative experiences. The strength and con are very high, so that is where we will start. Sometimes standing out is a weakness.

When Clot was born, he was nearly twice the size of the average goblin infant. When his mother bore no further children, the tribe determined Clot must have eaten his siblings to grow so big. His size was a strange omen, one that filled the small with awe, but drew the worried gaze of other.

We have now established a myth or rumor for our character. It is unlikely to be true, but its existence can create conflict which is what drives plots.

I don’t want to make Clot into a fighter and I want to lean into his weaknesses. So how do we make his strengths into a weakness to overcome? And what do we do with those middling metal attributes?

As Clot grew older, he soon towered over his kin. His physical prowess was feared, but did not inspire respect. In a fully goblin tribe, Clot would have been a king, but his people were a lesser caste. Those who ruled his class were Orc, and they saw in Clot a rival to be put down.

While Clot has incredible physical attributes for a goblin, he is average by Orc standards. Moreover, the fact that he could potentially overpower one of the upper caste means he was not only feared, he was disdained.

How could he hope to thrive, jeered and beaten by all those around him? The Orcs hated him for rivaling their power. The goblins attacked and spit on him to impress their betters. Clot was relegated to the lowest position in his clan. He slept each night, bleeding in the gutter among the filth and the other vermin.

This harsh treatment can help to explain his high constitution. His skin is scarred and thick. He has been hardened by his life.

But we want to make use of his mental stats too. They have room to grow. Clot’s life is a prison he cannot escape through strength of body. 

Among the refuse, Clot found peers. The rats were like him: dirty, despised, discarded. But they were also strong. He saw in them the fire of survivors. That was something worth embracing.

Among the rot, Clot found friends. As he treated the rats with respect, they returned it. Food and warmth was shared. What started as respect grew to kinship. The rats grew to anticipate Clot’s needs, as if they could understand him.

Among the swarm, Clot found power. He was not imagining it, the rats listened to him. Clot soon realized he could hear them too. They started as many trembling voices. They shrieked in a chaotic choir. But they soon became one voice. His voice.

Clot found his way out. 

One night, the orcs returned from a raid with a stockpile of food and keg after keg of ale. Clot was never invited to feast, but this was his opportunity. He waited until the leaders and their favorite sycophants were drunk, and then unleashed the rage of his swarm upon them.

This is another opportunity to build a lingering myth or rumor for Clot. We know a low level character and a rat swarm couldn’t wipe out a whole clan. But that doesn’t mean this story can’t be exaggerated. 

The rats tore into the unsuspecting clan, aided by the strong hand of their king. In the low light, all the tribe could see was the glint of a thousand eyes and one bloody dagger. By morning, their bones were picked clean. The swarm was satiated – they had eaten well. So had Clot.

A grisly tale to inspire fear and respect. Whether it is true or not can be explored in the campaign.

As for his power, there are multiple ways to explain this. My choice is that Clot is a fledgling Druid. I know his wisdom is low, so his spell-casting potential is going to start off pretty weak, but this is another opportunity for good storytelling.

As Clot escaped to the wilderness, he found himself conflicted. The ways of nature were those of balance. But in his heart, he found little room for such thoughts. Peace was a concept beaten out of him. A cold flame burned in his chest. If he could tame it, he could build a kingdom. If he could not, he would burn his new kingdom to the ground.

If Clot can tame his hatred and anger, we can showcase this by putting all his ability modifiers into Wisdom as he levels. He may even go from being an objectively evil character to one with more of a neutral alignment. From a certain point of view, he could even become a hero.

If Clot gives into his rage, we will distribute his improvements more broadly. We can also express his inner turmoil through multi-classing. Maybe he adds some points to Charisma or Intelligence and takes a level or two of sorcerer or wizard to gain access to actual fire. Or maybe he dips into rogue or fighter and leans into the traits nature gave him. This would be followed by further improvements to his physical stats. In this way, he could augment his shape-shifting and relying on brute strength over spells.

Regardless of the direction we go in, Clot has a solid foundation. Moreover, we built it using the numbers we rolled for more than bonuses to hit rolls.

I hope this article inspires some awesome characters. If you use it and like the results, please leave a comment. I would love to see what you can come up with!

Upping Your Game: RPG Characters as Writing Prompts

Welcome to Upping Your Game – the series where I help you make your favorite games tell a better story.

For my first article, I’m going to break down an old strategy I have for making engaging NPCs and player characters for tabletop RPGs. It’s pretty simple and seems like random generation, but let me explain my design method and I think you’ll see how this can lead to some great characters.

One more disclaimer: we aren’t aiming for “strong characters” in a game-play sense. If you’re a GM, you might want to give your players a re-do if they roll up a particularly difficult character. On the other end of the spectrum, if you’re looking for a more challenging experience or play at a table that is more interested in role-play than combat, then this may be perfect for you.

The basic method is just to roll random ability scores. That’s it. But the really important part is that you have to keep them in the order they are rolled. That mean that for D&D or Pathfinder you will want to roll 6 sets of 3 D6 dice and place them in Strength, Dexterity, Consitution, Intelligence, Wisdom and Charisma in the order they are rolled. By contrast you would usually roll the numbers then place them in the most appropriate places. For games with races I would also suggest picking one at random. Then you pick your class or profession (game specific) based on what you have rolled.

If you are unfamiliar with D&D, check out a basic character sheet.

But why do this? Why do you choose the class, and how does it make interesting characters? Let me explain – good stats don’t make good characters. Bad ones do. Or, to put it differently, interesting characters are defined by their flaws not their strengths. A person is more defined by the challenges they face than the skills that come to them naturally.

Every fighter has a high strength stat. How could you ever make that interesting? But try to explain why they have a 7 in wisdom, and you’ll see what I mean. This can also apply to higher than average stats in strange places. Why does your wizard have a higher strength stat than wisdom, or an equal constitution to their intelligence? Are they natural factors, or did something in their life mold them? You can use these numbers, that would usually just be “dump stats” (the numbers you throw into your least important stats) to build your character’s background and explain why they chose the path they did.

In the next article, we’ll roll up a character as an example. Hopefully, we get a good one. The last time I did this, I created a giant-slaying gnome fighter. I’m hoping for a magic user this time. Fingers crossed!

Part 2 can now be found here: Upping Your Game: RPG Characters as Writing Prompts Part 2