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Category Archives: Old School D&D
Many of the player characters were complicated dudes, with complex pasts that often came to influence the present. I do believe all of those characters were originals– that is, characters who had been with the campaign since the first adventure. As the DM, shaping stories for the player characters was a lot of fun, something to which I gravitated. Action has its place and I certainly did not shy away from dangerous foes, but I certainly took the most enjoyment from the character stories, especially seeing the players react to and use what I gave them.
One of my favourite player characters though was Salporin Charn, a character who joined the Assembly of the Dragon in a later campaign. He was a sailor who wanted to own his own barge. He was a drinker, womanizer, hearty eater and gambler. His story was simple yet I was very interested in him, in part, because of how Jason drew him: His conical helmet, his whiskers, and the fantastic bastard sword with the falcon hilt. I remember Chris and I marveling at how straight Jason had drawn that sword. He claims to have not used a ruler and we had no reason to not believe him. It was a treat to see the original drawing still intact in the folder of old school D&D material from the 1990s.
Looking at his character sheet, Salporin was a Level 8 Fighter. His weapon of choice was the aforementioned bastard sword. His shield was emblazoned with a “spear” and “bird”. (I don’t think that shield was ever drawn.) He wore a breastplate in the bluish-silver plate of the Assembly of the Dragon. His conical helmet was plate with a “leather back”. His boots were “brown leather”. His pants were “loose” and “dark brown”. His jerkin was “dark blue” and his cloack “long, dark blue.” I quite like that his gloves were recorded as “deerskin”.
The back of his character sheet mentions that his light grey, dark grey Dhurran horse was named Boulder. Jason also saw fit to record that one of the saddle bags was filled with “tea, cups, and kettle.” I seem to think that Salporin was the campfire cook of the bunch.
Here is his biography as written at the bottom of this character sheet:
38 years old; 6ft; 228lbs, born in the spring
He was born and raised in the port city of Vilekta. His father was a riverboat captain, so naturally Salporin felt drawn to the sea. When he was old and strong enough he was hired on as a crew member of a river trade ship. He hoped to save enough money to purchase a barge of his own, but he often spent most of his earnings on drink, gambling, women and food (the latter of which accounts for his rounded figure). He was on shore for a few days when the Assembly found him. He has taken up adventuring but the sea will always be his first love. He still hopes to buy a river trade ship and has recently started saving money he earns as the captain on one of Alon’s barges. Salporin loves a good laugh and a good story– not to mention good drink and fine women. At times, his sea-going manners make him appear rude and disgusting, but the Assembly of the Dragon accepts it all in good humour. He has recently found himself involved with one of Enid de Caela’s friends, a relationship that is looked upon not-too-favorably by some of the nobility. Those closest to these two, however, wish them the best of luck. Salporin’s body is muscle, covered by some fat. His dark hair is worn short with a bald spot on top. He likes to keep a scruffy face “to tickle the cheek of a pretty woman on a close encounter”, he says.
I find it interesting that Salporin’s dad never involved him on his own riverboat. It was similar for Aspitis Previs— he was a son of a nobleman who did not support his son’s interest in seafaring. I also like that in between quests Salporin worked as a captain on a river barge. (Alon was a player character who owned several river barges.) The final quote about tickling the cheek of a pretty woman is about as salacious as I’d ever be in D&D back in those days.
I distinctly remember in the late 1990s / early 200s feeling disappointed that we never “finished” D&D. Several of the later adventures were building to a final fight with the “Dark One”, a powerful, evil force that was starting to influence the world. I often wondered how it would have all ended. I don’t think that anymore. As I look through the binder now I think about fond memories of those days, but also envision what the characters would be doing. The younger me would have certainly have made it so that Salporin did save enough money to get his own ship. The older me feels like Salporin never did save enough money– he could not cut back on drink, food, gambling, and women– and thus remains as captain of a barge within Alon’s fleet. When old age gripped him, Salporin would become an administrator of the river boat trade, often conducting business in the dockside taverns, regaling the younger folk with tales of his time with the Assembly of the Dragon.
In writing about the player character Ren Treesinger (here and here) I came across a mention of a fallen character named Aspitis Preves. I have no memory of this character so I dived back into my old collection of D&D papers from the 1990s and uncovered more information about him, which I shared in a recent post entitled “The Mystery of Aspitis Preves.” It provided some answers, but I still did not remember the character. I remember a lot of details about other player characters so it is odd I cannot remember this guy. Tonight, I went back into the files and uncovered the reason why I cannot remember: He was met by the players in Adventure #11. As previously stated, he died in Adventure #12, which means he was only around for one adventure; but, it is very likely he was a NPC in #11, which means he was a player character that did not survive his first outing.
The image above is part of a hand-drawn map. It is labelled Adventure #11. You can clearly see “Pansis” on the island. Aspitis’ character sheet biography states he was from Pansis. I then found a passage in a story written by me entitled “Beginning Story #12”, which means it was the introduction I read to the players before we began Adventure #12. The story is written in ink, is shockingly tidily printed, and contains very few scribbled out words. The passage is as follows:
Ren and Illistyl spend time becoming more acquainted with Aspitis Preves, the newest member of the Assembly [of the Dragon]. The Assembly invited Preves to join soon after seeing the dwarves off to safety, but [he] refused. He knew he could not stay in Balta so he accompanied the Assembly to Almor where he would then decide what to do. In a new land, Aspitis felt the ties of an odd friendship he had made with the Assembly and he could not get himself to leave. Now he enjoys hunting with Ren and Illistyl. Oddly enough, Cyric has become very open toward Aspitis, showing him around the land of Almor and training him in swordplay. Maybe it is the fact that Aspitis, like Cyric, lived in darkness, but saw the light. Whatever the reason, the two have become trusted companions.
I had been surprised to learn I had used slave-trading in an adventure, but this passage strongly suggests the slaving was the main plot for Adventure #11. The mention of “seeing the dwarves to safety” makes me think Aspitis and the aforementioned villainous Morgan Eskalderne were antagonists in the quest, with Aspitis eventually turning his back on this “darkness” and perhaps even betraying Eskelderne. Redemption was a reoccurring theme in my old school D&D. I returned to D&D via 5th edition a couple years ago and in the limited number of campaigns– I don’t call them “adventures” anymore– I’ve run there has been no whiff of redemption. Often those that do wrong feel the bite of justice / vengeance even when they try to right the wrongs. If I really think about that I find that odd because I consider myself a forgiving person who believes people can change and redeem themselves. And if I think about THAT then I think it just boils down to crafting campaigns with emotional punch and not campaigns built around my personality. “I’m tired of happy endings” might be another way to explain it.
Across this span of years, the ending for Aspitis Preves might be the most unhappy of all those who perished in service to the Assembly of the Dragon. He changed his life and set out on a grand quest with his new companions only to have the details of his death forgotten. His character sheet is incomplete. His entry is the list of the fallen is incomplete. He never even had a chance to name his horse.
In a previous installment of Old School D&D I mentioned I could not remember much about a player character named Aspitis Preves. Tonight, I once again sifted through the folder of old D&D material and found two of his character sheets. One (seen above) is very tidily written but is missing his XP and Level on the front-side. The other appears to be the active character sheet, with modified experience, money that has been reduced, and stats that have changed, but the back-side does not list his skills or his biography. The skills and biography are on the first sheet.
I know I copied the character sheets between adventures, updating the biographies, skills, equipment, and so on, so perhaps I had started to do that with Aspitis but did not finish before a new adventure began. I may have also started copying the character sheet as the adventure neared its completion but abandoned the task when he died. Either scenario might explain why I kept both copies. Since this was more than 20 years ago I can only speculate. I had hoped finding his character sheet would jog my memory but it has only created more mystery. His biography is full of tantalizing information….
31 years old, 6ft 2, 188lbs, born in the spring
Born in the seaport city of Pansis, Aspitis was naturally fascinated with the great seafaring ships. As the son of a nobleman, however, he was not permitted to join a crew, nor did he really want to. Aspitis wanted to captain his own ship, so as a child he studied navigation and when he was old enough, he purchased the Wavewalker. How he fell into the evil of slave-running with the ruthless Morgan Eskalderne, he will not say. Before these dark years however he traveled the seas to distant lands, carrying exotic goods. He soon accumulated great wealth.
This biography strongly suggests Aspitits was a NPC who became a character, much like the sailor Salporin Charn or even the aforementioned Ren Treesinger. I think I can safely say Aspitis helped the players in a quest and decided to join them as a way to atone for his darker, slave-running days. That feels like something the teenage me would do. I am, however, a wee bit surprised that I had slave-running in my old school D&D.
Those of you who enjoy the fantasy genre might recognize the name Aspitis Preves as a character from Tad Williams’ Memory, Sorrow and Thorn trilogy. I was quite terrible (and lazy) at creating names so I often borrowed from genre fiction I enjoyed, including Tad Williams’ work. Indeed, the surname Eskalderne is most likely a riff on the character Einskaldir from Memory, Sorrow and Thorn.
Apsitis’ character sheet reveals he had a Shrack Axe (-2) slung on his horse. (I’d give negative modifiers for a weapon with which a character was not familiar.) This suggests Aspitis survived at least one encounter with a Shrack and thus may have, in fact, been predeceased by Ren Treesinger. (I had written earlier about how Ren and Aspitis died in the same adventure.) But I still don’t remember!
As a final note (for now) about Aspitis, I see that he never named his horse.
I received some positive feedback about my first post about the D&D days of my past. I had shared information about Ren Treesinger, an “Elven Fighter” who died suddenly in the midst of an adventure. I dug back into the old school D&D archives and pulled together more information about this character who was always, to be honest, a second-stringer. (I’ll introduce the A-listers in a future post.)
First, I discovered Ren was killed by a Shrack, not a Shrike as originally posted. The Shrack was indeed inspired by the Shrike creature from Dan Simmons’ Hyperion, but I was, perhaps, wary of borrowing directly from existing material and thus put my own spin onto the creature by renaming it a Shrack. I found in the archive a complete list of “The Assembly of the Dragon”, which is what the collective of player characters was called. As part of this document, I had recorded the heroes who had fallen. Here is the entry for Ren Treesinger…
8th level Elven Fighter. Killed on the 15th day of the twelfth adventure. Died suddenly at the hands of a Shrack. Buried next to Landen. The last of the Dragonslayers. Completed 5 adventures.
It was kind of me to record his death “at the hands of a Shrack” instead of “died when a Shrack fell on him.” I was curious about the line “buried next to Landen”, but then found a short fiction I wrote in which the surviving members of the Assembly of the Dragon gather in a tomb to say farewell to the fallen Ren Treesinger. Other fallen heroes were entombed here, too, including Drezen D’Urden, Boris Creel, and Landon Aldwell. (More about those dudes later.) Interestingly enough, the same short fiction mentions Aspitis Preves died in the same adventure, but was buried elsewhere. I don’t remember the details of Aspitis’ death or even much about the character. He must have been a player character because his name is recorded on the complete list of The Assembly of the Dragon, though his name is penciled in at the bottom of the page with no additional information given.
Ren Treesinger was the last of the Dragonlayers, which made me think that the players met him as an NPC during the quest that culminated with a fight with a dragon. That fight, including its location, was heavily influenced by the movie Dragonslayer. I found a picture Jason R. had drawn from adventure #6, in which Cyric Lyonsbane faces the dragon, and since Ren had completed five quests (#6 to #11 before he died in #12) that, to me, confirms he met the Assembly in #6. Ren’s equipment sheet also reveals he had a “dragon scale shield”, which is something he mostly likely had as a Dragonslayer or made for himself during or after adventure #6. (The dragon scale shield is right out of the movie Dragonslayer, too, by the way.)
The picture that starts off this post was drawn by Jason R. in the mid-90s. Not possessing a scanner, I took a photo of the original art and then did my best to darken the pencils in Photoshop. The end result is less than the original piece, but the shoddy reproduction, to me, is in keeping with the “old school” theme of these posts. I hope Jason R. takes no offense.
Represented in the artwork is the “dragon scale shield” and Ren’s “fancy long sword” with “Elven runes”. He is wearing “padded armor” and “Elven chainmail”. His up-to-date character sheet also mentions “full leg protectors” and “bluish-silver plate bracers”, none of which are in the artwork. The blue-silver plate was a favored armor among those of The Assembly of the Dragon.
Further mining of the old school D&D archives might turn up more information about Ren Treesinger but, for now, I will say farewell to this 1990s fantasy hero.
I spent a considerable amount of time in 2016 crafting campaigns for Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition (D&D 5E) and one-off sessions for Fantasy Flight Games’ End of the World system. I had gotten back into D&D after a 15+ year hiatus when a group of adult friends invited me out for an all-day session of D&D 4th edition (D&D 4E). I was instructed to create a 8th level 4E character and was given a link to D&D Insider– an online tool that was supposed to make the task easier. This was October 2013. I hadn’t played D&D in more than 15 years and the D&D I was involved in back in them days sure as shit did not look like the D&D I saw when I logged into D&D Insider.
The 4E session on a stormy, snowy day in December 2013 was a test of endurance. 12+ hours in a basement with a bunch of guys I had only started to get to know through my work at ComicReaders Downtown. These were gregarious, jovial dudes– each one a business professional– with varying degrees of gaming in their collective histories. Great guys. But, man, 4E was not the D&D I knew growing up. The character sheets were complex. The fights relied heavily on miniatures and tactics. The plot involved a drug that was ravaging the city streets, turning addicts into gibbering fools who wanted to suck c*** for a fix.
That campaign plot obviously did not come from a Wizards of the Coast sourcebook and, truth be told, I probably never laughed as hard during a D&D session as I did that day. But that aside, I found 4E challenging from a new player perspective, especially since this here player spent most of his D&D years as a Dungeon Master (DM) and not a player.
There was no soliciting c***suckers in my D&D.
There was also no Armour Class (AC). That was too complex for us back in the late 80s when I was learning the rules.
A lack of focus, a lack of access to rulebooks, and a drive to tell stories rather than learn pages and pages of rules led me to create a stripped down, hybrid D&D that took rules I liked and did away with all the rest. From what I remember I only ever owned one D&D rulebook: Unearthed Arcana– the tattered broken-spine edition that followed me from North Bay, Ontario to Sydney, Nova Scotia and then to Regina, Saskatchewan where it now resides in a place of honour in the back of a basement closet alongside short boxes of comics, a dangerously overloaded shelf of graphic novels, 40K kits, and X-Wing miniatures stored in an industrial strength organizer that should be found on a construction site and not in a closet behind nerd shirts. The rest of the books belonged to my buddy in North Bay– Brent Y. Several Monster Manuals, a Dungeon Master’s Guide, and some miscellaneous stuff I vaguely remember. It was in North Bay that I started playing a lot of D&D, even going so far as to adapt my homegrown system into a James Cameron Aliens RPG, a post-apocalyptic survival RPG, and a system inspired by my love of action movies where the players were mercenaries. It was also here that another friend introduced us to Star Wars RPG– which I don’t remember playing– but somehow stuck in my mind so that I would eventually play it for a considerable period of time when the family relocated to Sydney.
Less than a year after the epic 4E session, D&D 5th edition was released and I got curious. Advance information suggested 5E was a return to “old school” D&D with less emphasis on combat tactics and more focus on storytelling. I was intrigued because the 4E session had piqued my interest in the forthcoming new release but had also unearthed so many memories from those countless RPG days of yore. I am now fully back into D&D. I own rulebooks. I’ve learned and use the rules, including AC. I’ve got an active campaign going with a great group of gals and guys. And, most amazingly, I now play D&D with my two sons.