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.
And so another year begins and I’ve asked myself to be more productive in 2017 on the writing front. This is not to say I did not write anything in 2016. In fact, if I take a moment and reflect I should be able to see that I did indeed pen a considerable amount of content for a guy with a young family, a business, and hobbies I am not ashamed of enjoying. In the coming days, I’ll type a few hundred words about each, but the short form goes a little something like this:
- 40K campaign blog
- D&D and other RPGs
- The Grim Collection
- Aces Weekly
But when reflecting I tend to focus on what I did not do and not what I did, and on the specific topic of writing I spend too much time thinking of that promise I made to myself ten years ago as I was approaching 30 years on Earth. I had told myself I would get published by the time I hit that milestone. And I did it! I wrote, produced and self-published the graphic novel Psychosis. The next five years saw me taking on new projects– comics and short fiction– getting published, self-publishing, and, admittedly, working on projects that got shelved for one reason or another. The next five years after those first five years were less successful and way less productive. Sure, ideas and snippets of work got put into notebooks and some stories and comics half-materialized via the keyboard, but the actual finished material was sorrily lacking. A particularly hard kick-in-the-nuts came a couple days before Christmas one year when I was dismissed from a children’s chapter book I had been hired to write. That was then followed up by an even bigger blow when my mom died of cancer in January 2015.
Mom’s death destroyed me and I certainly feel I am still recovering from that shock and loss. To a much lesser degree I think I am still creatively recovering from the dismissal from the children’s book. I am not one of those writers who only writes for himself. A large part of me writes to gain recognition, praise and acceptance from other people. It is one of the reasons why I’ve more recently thrown a lot of effort into crafting short fiction for a series of interconnected games of Warhammer 40K and will spend hours planning and writing multi-sessions campaigns for D&D and other RPGs. I get immediate feedback in a D&D session, and my 40K pals have said the short fiction has added immensely to their enjoyment of the game. The only other time I’ve felt that same energy is when I did signings at the local comic store or was at Cons promoting and selling my work. I’d love to be on the other side of the Con table again, but I’ll need to produce more new material first.
Which is why I now need to end this first blog post of 2017. I am once again working with Manoel Magalhaes– a name you might recognize from Acts of Violence, Synchronicity, The Colonel and The Orphan. He asked me to work with him on a short comic for Aces Weekly. This blog post was my warm-up. Now it is time to turn to script writing.
I am pleased to post that Those Who Devour was posted last night on The Grim Collection. Artist Butch Mapa finished the artwork in the winter of 2015, but I fell into a funk brought on by grief and lost all interest in most creative endeavours. I had a long period of feeling overwhelmed by most things and this made it hard for me to feel passion about anything. I can’t report that I’ve overcome these feelings, but I can report that not all days are bleak and in recent months have taken to writing again even if that writing pertains only to D&D and a 40K campaign in which I am involved.