Delay Note: Days 5+ are delayed because I got completely owned by some kind of infectious disease for about a week. Verdict is still out on what it was, but as one of the possible scenarios was dengue, no chances were taken.
When I was a teenager, the philosophy at the table was to utilise player skill to survive the narrative. Fastidiousness was rewarded with furtherance of plot, unveiling of story, and deeper investment into the machinations at hand. Sadly, we rarely made it very far. Sometimes, we went through upwards of four character deaths a long night. Each time the party completely faltered, the DM packed up the narrative and gave us a disappointed look — he was never going to tell us that particularly story again, and he was never going to reveal to us, who had failed, how it may have ended. Like defeated gladiators, we returned to our pens after and spent the week at school discussing strategy and ideas.
In college, that paradigm changed with GMs who put more stock in telling the whole story than in adhering to the rules of survival. Suddenly we had characters who lived out the year-long campaigns that ran from Fall to Summer that grew with us and became zeitgeists of those years, reflections of us whose traits we absorbed year by year. If in high school my identities were being ground and reconstituted and my growth was measured in how long I could keep each idea alive, in college I deepened my sense of self through role-playing by adapting a single idea through a washer of different ideas, story hooks, and inter-relationships.
However, because those characters were reflections and because, for the most part, they eventually became parts of me as I also changed with their inclusions, the stories about them outside of their eras fade and the group instead tells stories about you. As a player, because identity was a large part of what I played for, that was always the fate of my character stories.
But as a gamemaster, the ideas were all different. I didn’t need to create only the characters I could stand to keep in my skin for a long time; I could create caricatures, facades, fools, and annoyances! I did, and those are the characters I am remembered for.
The Devil Box by Richard Pett gave me my first NPC boobytrap – Lumbie, a half-goblin, half-troll hybrid who is incredibly useless and yet extremely integral to the successful conclusion of the adventure. While I had already peppered my players with my interpretation of Eberron’s fallen noble race, goblins with cloying and high-pitched voices who wore stolen whitewashed fences as ridiculous masques, nobody was ready for how utterly banal and stupid the “last scion of the great shaman line,” Lumbie, was going to be. I foreshadowed it gingerly in the goblinoids’ reactions when they realised that the only way to contain the chain devil their people were charged with was with Lumbie’s help, and the players did give me a few raised eyebrows when the goblins revealed that they had sold Lumbie to a circus… but once they actually bought back Lumbie and in his incredibly stupid presence for more than five minutes, I knew I had done my job right. The party had to babysit him, change his diaper, try to reason and communicate with him… and the goblins? Were very happy to conveniently not be there whenever Lumbie had an emergency.
“I hate Lumbie.” My brother told me after being his primary caregiver for the adventure. Even today, the easiest way to make his face contort in disgust and accusation is to go, “Hey, remember Lumbie?”
My brother will never forget Lumbie.
For different groups at different times, the characters people remember: from Remnants, Cador Hare. From Out of the Abyss, Shuushar the Awakened.
If you ever get the chance to run Out of the Abyss for your party, ham up Shuushar. Give him voice, take away his self-preservation instinct, have him lecture the party constantly, let him display powers he will never use. Trust me, it’ll be worth it. They will never forget Shuushar.