Woo, Chargen. That was a Hell of a ride.
Ok, to frame all this – this was Chargen for a straight up 5e D&D game. There were a few mechanical changes based on the setting (tweaks to Drow and Tieflings, new Warlock pact, new Sorcery power source) with the biggest change being that we replaced the background stuff with 4 aspects. The aspects weren’t just pulled out of the air though – after we finished chargen we sat down with each character, asked some questions, then did an Everway-style card read (Past, Present, Future) for each character using the Harrow Deck(fn).
For the unfamiliar, you use tarot like cards for the process, flipping one for past, one for present. The last one is played sideways, and it represents the future, and something that might go either way. If that’s unclear, the photos should clear it up.
Procedurally, there were just a few tweaks. I emphasized backgrounds over classes, asking for background decisions before class decisions were made. It only makes so much fo a difference, but I think it helped cement the characters in useful ways. We also explicitly have not defined much more of the setting than I laid out in my previous blog post, so there were one or two points where we stopped to answer things about the world, but those weren’t any real slowdown. The main thing was that when someone introduced a god, they had to choose which of the two characters from the Dungeon World game that god is the offspring of.
We also did a round of connections after charge to cover the trip from level 1 to level 2. Those might be their own post though.
Ok, all that said: The Characters
Kit, Lawful Good Byzant Folk Hero, Level 2 Fighter (Aspects: No one says no to the emperor, Hero of the empire, Keeping Secrets, Liberator or conquerer?)
The Byzant are one of the two major human cultures in the south, and as the name may suggest, they are roughly modeled after the Byzantines.
Kit is an archer (and is,I think, going to ge tto showcase just how good 5e made archery fighters) who pulled a Bard the Bowman when a Wyvern attacked the Emperor and dropped it with a lucky shot. This lead to accolades and the close personal attention of the Emperor, which dangerous. It also drew the ire of whoever unleashed the Wyvern, and Kit had to start looking out for assassination attempts. This provided incentive for her to get out of town, and by some coincidence, the emperor needed someone he trusted (or maybe “someone he trusted”) in Placeholder to report on matters of Imperial interest should the Empire ever decide to annex the place. As a result, Kit is something of an unwilling spy.
Kit’s Past it the Trumpet, which reflects her heroism, which is genuine, and drew great attention. Her present is the Cyclone, inverted – making order out of chaos. This represents the imperial interest in Placeholder and gave us reasont o name her contact, Theodoros, a travelling doctor/merchant. Her future is the unicorn, and it seems likely she will either liberate Placeholder, or she will rule it.
Arasthel, Chaotic Good Wood Elf Noble. Level 2 Druid of the Moon (Aspects: Under the shadow of your father, Family entanglements, Noble ties, Rule or Ruin)
The wood elves live in small forest communities ruled by councils. Arasthel is the eldest daughter of two councillors, and it was expected that she would follow in their footsteps, but her choice of druidic initiation was a mild embarrassment to the family. Thankfully, the second child (attuned to Fire as Arasthel is attuned to Earth) was much more promising.
Arasthel’s past, the Inqusitor, suggested that she had done something which brought suspicion upon her. It turned out she had given safe harbor to woodcutters who had cut down wood elf trees because they were in need. By the law, their lives were forfeit. When asked who pursued the matter, the answer was her father, who still seeks to punish her for this (and, implicitly, for the shame of her going druid). When we pulled Eclipse for her present, that seemed very loaded, especially with her being a moon druid. This could have gone a lot of ways – it’s an evil, unpleasant card, but also represents the moon triumphing over the sun. I leaned towards the darker interpretation, noting that the moon may also be eclipsed. This was to be about the second sister, the one touched by fire. Atasthel’s player had previously talked about the reason she was in Place was that she was looking for the missing sister, so we drilled into that, specifically asking what terrible thing her sister did that Arasthel let happen. It was decided that she had run off with a “man” – in quite because he’s a cambion – and Arasthel has covered her tracks, even when she and her brother were sent on this “rescue” mission.
With all that, the empty throne made for a wonderful pull. She is either going to return home to leadership someday, or the leadership of the wood elves will fall.
Sul Taeres, Chaotic Neutral Wood Elf Entertainer. Level 2 Elementalist Sorcerer (Air) (Aspects: Conceal don’t feel, Profound Disgrace, Voice under the Ice, Power of Dark or Light?)
Sul Taeres most often goes by Treewind because humans can’t pronounce his name right. He is the youngest of the three wood elf siblings, and naturally attuned to air. His sorcery is viewed as outright freakish by the wood elves, and he kept it secret of many years, revealing it only to his sisters. They both supported him, but the second daughter was especially supportive.
His past came up as Hidden Truths, inverted, so we talked about how his magic was revealed – it happened when he had to save the life of another elf, and that elf was his father (who, if you’ll remember, is a bit of a jerk). He was practically disowned on the spot, and after the disappointment of the eldest child, this turned even more attention on the second daughter. We determined that Sul Taeres is unaware that she ran away voluntarily, and genuinely thinks he can save his sister.
Which spills into the present – The avalanche, inverted. Things settling into place I asked what was keeping Sul Taeres in place. Duty and the quest for his sister, sure, but what else? The answer: A voice from beneath the ice. Obviously, I’m delighted with this.
So when the eclipse came up again for the future, it was too perfect. Again, that is so much the card for the missing sister, and it raises the question of whether Sul Taeres will follow her down that dark path, or find a new one.
(Mechanical note: I’m writing up the elementals sorcerer for this. I have no published reference.)
Tuak Pel, Neutral Drow Bounty Hunter. Level 2 Warlock. (Aspects: Combat capitalist, Renegade elf of the ice, Questionable relationship with Glemmer, Binder or Opener?)
I have no great love of the drow, but in the absence of the underdark, they are elves who live on the ice. and have adapted to it through dark magics (and they use Inuit names).Pel is one such elf, and the intent of the character is to be a melee warlock, so he’ll be going Sword Pact at level 2. The idea was that he had sworn fealty to a dark power but due to the nature of the pact (and the amount of drinking involved in that evening) he was a little shaky on which one. We talked a little bit about bounties – he cheerfully works for all authorities in Placeholder, and when manhunting work is not available, he collects rare herbs on the ice for Theodorus.
For the past, we saw our old friend the inquisitor, but we could not use it in the same NPC for it, so instead we talked about who among the Drow might be pursuing him, and form this we determined that while there are many warlocks among the drow, they do not pact with Sleepers (things beneath the ice), and that is exactly what Pel did. So far as they are concerned, his should has been ripped away, and his old Mentor (Uglo) now hunts the abomination who wears his old apprentices skin. This, of course, not so healthy for Pel.
For the present, the Cricket, inverted, was a bit os a head scratcher at first. I looked at it hard before it struck me that it was absolutely representative of Glemmer, the Tiefling charlatan and another member of the party. The players had been discussing some history, so it cemented on this – Pel had “Killed” Glemmer to collect a bounty, and in doing so allowed Glemmer to establish the identity he currently operates under. Perl got paid by Glemmer and by the dwarven marshall who had put out the bounty.
The future came up The Dance. Looking at the card, it really felt like the it was going to be about Pel’s sword, and thinking about what that meant was inspired by the suit of the cards. I was struck by the image of the key, and it clicked – his sword will be a key, but the question is whether it will open something, or lock it away.
Naoto the Thunder, Lawful Good Halfling Soldier. Level 2 Cleric of Storms (Aspects: Last hope of sunset, The thunder and the executioner, Quest for the blade of storms, A sword has two edges)
Naoto is from he Sunset Shire, a halfling shire not far from Placeholder which has half thawed. Naoto herself is a warrior priest armed with a hallooing scaled naginata. At first, the idea was that she had been sent out to find an army to protect the Sunset Shire. That lead to the question – this seemed like a mission doomed to fail, so who was getting rid of her? We flipped the first card to help answer.
The flip was The Beating, and that upended things wonderfully. it was not that they needed an army, it was that they had one already, and it was BAD. Naoto’s sister (So Mei, the Executioner) had turned to necromancy, and had convinced the shire that an army of “ancestors” was the path to safety. Naoto desperately seeks some way to defeat her sister and restore the Shire.
The present revealed The Forge, inverted. That suggested a classic theme, a broken weapon. Naoto seeks the Blade of Storms, but so does the executioner. The blade was revealed to Naoto in a vision that she assumes came from her goddess (Inazuma, daughter of Fafnir and Tetra) but these things don’t exactly come with an SSL certificate.
The future was the Demon’s Lantern, effectively the will o the wisp. This suggests that she’ll find the blade, but the question is whether it will save the Sunset Shire, or doom it.
Glemmer, Chaotic Good Tiefling Charlatan. Level 2 Cleric of Trickery (Aspects: Clarion: hero of the ice, Secret Identities, Awkward entanglements, Who the hell am I?)
I should note that Glemmer’s player rolled insanely well for stats. one 13, everything else was 15+. Tieflings are apparently badass.
Thankfully, there aren’t many of them, and they don’t get along very well. Compound this with being a priest of Ngaro (Child of Jack and Job, God of Ice and Shadow) – a god the tie flings mostly pray to only to avoid the ire of, and Glemmer had every reason to head towards the thaw. This was clinched when he received a vision that he presumes form his god (sound familiar) that told him that Placeholder must remain free.
When the past flipped up The Trumpet, it was one of those moments that are exactly why I love the unexpected things that come from this sort of charge. The Trumpet (which we’d previously seen with Kit’s heroism) was totally at odds with Glemmer as we had described him so far, so we kicked this around a bit. It turns out Glemmer had done a great act of heroism in the past, slaying a Sleeper (albeit by accident) under his old name, Clarion. In fact, it was Clarion who Pel had “killed”.
The Present, with the Theatre inverted, was much more in line with what we had described, as it touched upon the complex web of deception Glemmer was building, including three separate identities. It’s all tenuous, and in his merchant guise he is doing business with Theodorus. He also has discovered another Trickster priest in town, but has not discern their identity, and there is a cold war of mischief afoot.
Having the Liar come up for the future was pretty much exactly right. The question is, ultimately, whether Glemmer’s lies will overwhelm him.
Israfil, Neutral Good High Elf Hermit. Level 2 Paladin of the Thaw (Aspects: Bringer of the Storm, Placeholder hero, Life is but a dream, Left by my Lover)
Israfil has been dreaming for two thousand years. He was sealed in a high elf Watchtower. He expected to pass on to the Fae with the fountains of wine and beautiful gardens, but something went amiss.
The Wanderer, inverted meant that for the Past we focused on how he ended up int he Watchtower. Turns out, he wasn’t supposed to, but his lover had asked him to meet him there, and he got stuck. Maybe it was an accident, maybe his lover didn’t fancy the idea of skipping out on the wine and gardens in favor of millennia of duty. Israfil was not a Paladin when he entered, but he was when he came out. He doesn’t know if this sis a function of the Watchtower itself or if it’s related to the Thaw (his code is going to be the Green, as a manifestation of the Thaw). The player compared it to the Greatest American hero – Great power, no manual.
For the present, The Big Sky inverted was another blow against freedom, so we talked about what bound him. It turns out he’s explicitly bound to the thaw, something he discovered when he tried to find his old lover and could not. We talked a bit about his authority, and while no one (except maybe high elves) would recognize it, the natural world would.
For the future, the cyclone suggested that he would either reign order or destruction, or as the player summarized “Bringing the storm”
I need to make sure these get names and faces, but we have some decent starting NPCs
- Theodoros, the doctor/Spy
- The Wood Elf Councillor and Father of the three
- The Sister of the three, attuned to fire
- Fire’s Cambion boyfriend
- The dwarf marshal
- The Executioner
- The Unknown Trickster Priest
- Israfil’s Lover
We got a few more when we did background connections, but at this point I am crazily tired, so that will have to be another post.
I must have totally missed it: why is everyone starting at L2?
Partly because everyone has played before and l1 is pretty much training wheels – it takes almost no XP to get past it and we wanted the leeway to say the group had done some stuff in the past. But at the same time, we didn’t want to pre-empt some of the level 3 choices, so 2 seemed like the sweet spot.
Where are the tarot cards from? I like the art, would be interested in getting a set if they’re commercially available somewhere. Thanks!
It’s the Harrow Deck from Paizo. I think it’s between printings at the moment, but you may be able to find it on Amazon.
I just picked up a copy of the harrow deck. I think I will use this method for my next campaign. Now I have to decide between 5th Editon, Dungeon World or a FATE hack. 🙂