On the Shoulders of Giants – Using the Big “Canon” Elements of a Setting
I’m a big fan of The Lord of the Rings books and films, and
I make little secret about it. One thing that comes up often is “Why don’t they
just have the eagles fly the Ring to Mt. Doom?” When this comes up, I patiently
explain that there are three “in game” reasons and one actual reason.
First, the eagles are the servants of ManwëSúlimo, Valar of the Air.
When the Valar sent help to the people of Middle-Earth in the form of the
wizards like Gandalf, Radagast, and Saruman, they were told to help overthrow
Sauron but not to do it directly themselves. The point was to help the people
of Middle-Earth solve their problem, not to solve it for them. If the eagles
work directly for the same force, do you really think they’re going to be
allowed to so directly take this errand on?
Second, the eagles are just as susceptible to
the temptations of the power of the One Ring as anyone else. Would you really
want a corrupted giant eagle with the power of the One Ring flying around?
Third, the only chance of getting the Ring to
Mt. Doom lay in not letting Sauron know that they were doing it. If a group of
eagles flew over Mordor, Sauron would’ve noticed pretty darned quick. We’d be
having flying Ringwraiths dog-fighting the eagles pretty quick, to say nothing
of orcish war machines shooting them out of the sky. The only reason that they
were able to fly to Mt. Doom unchallenged was that Sauron’s power was broken
before they started the flight.
The actual reason, however, is that that
would be a really boring book to read.
The same goes for a campaign setting. There’s
a reason Elminster doesn’t stop every conceivable threat to the Forgotten Realms,
Paladine doesn’t just step in to directly battle the evil dragons of Krynn, and
the Lady of Pain doesn’t simply end threats to Sigil before they begin. Those
would be really boring campaigns of D&D.
When you have a setting with built in power
beings such as these, part of the fun is to have them appear and to give the
PCs a chance to rub elbows with them. It’s important, however, to use them in more
auxiliary roles. Yes, they’re very fun and interesting characters, and they are
absolutely the right people to take on the situations in the novels that
various authors write about them. In your campaign, however, the problems of
the campaign should largely be handled by the PCs.
You can invent good story reasons as to why
these beings aren’t interfering. Paladine doesn’t battle the evil dragons out
of fear of what they might do to the captive eggs of good dragons. Elminster
fears that, if his interference is noticed, the Cult of the Dragon will call in
their big guns, escalating the issue. Drizzt can’t help the PCs because he’s
taking on his own share of foes. The Lady of Pain simply glides on, ignoring
the trans-dimensional threat, due to her own alien motivations.
So if the big characters aren’t going to
solve every problem, how can you use them in your campaign? In my opinion,
there are many ways to bring them in effectively.
These characters make fantastic patrons for
the PCs. Who wouldn’t remember the time that Mordenkainen himself asked the PCs
to travel deep into the Theocracy of the Pale on a secret mission? If Harry
Houdini and Arthur Conan Doyle bring the PCs into their confidence to help them
wipe out a resurgent Cthulhu cult in the bayous of Louisiana, that will be a
memorable investigation. If Hoyle himself offers your Deadlands huckster a copy
of his rules, they will not forget it.
Recently, Brother Eustace was spoken to by Manakel,
a Solari n the service of his goddess, about the possibility of retrieving the
Cup and Talisman of Al’Akbar from the Desolation of Azmartheon. The gods and
their celestial servants are restrained from directly interfering in mortal
affairs by an ancient compact following the Dawn War. By using a being as
mighty as a Solar to impart the knowledge, however, the gravity and importance
of this potential quest were definitely felt.
Another favorite way of mine to use these
characters is as an ally to explain why the PCs aren’t fighting more enemies. Maybe
your players are trying to disrupt a ritual before a Yochlol is summoned by
drow raiders who intend to set it against a nearby town. Their ally, Drizzt,
grins at them. “I will fight along the northern path. You take the southern
path. One of us is bound to make it to the ritual before the demon escapes.” Drizzt
makes his approach very obvious, luring most of the drow to fight him, leaving
only a skeleton crew to fight the PCs. Drizzt never makes it in time to disrupt
the ritual, but he does distract quite a few enemies, giving the PCs the chance
to be the heroes. “My thanks,” he says afterwards. “If I’d been alone, I never
could have done this.”
A good example of this was my recent use of
the bronze dragon Lazaranthios when the PCs took on Gar Shatterkeel. I wanted
the battle to feel super epic, and I thought having a dragon fighting alongside
the PCs would help explain why they weren’t having to fight every last water
elemental and orc that I’d described as being part of Gar’s forces. Using the
table I wrote for narrating the non-PC part of the battle (see my article on
the subject earlier in this blog), I would talk about Lazaranthios blasting an
orcish ship with lightning, or leaping, claws bared, at a huge water elemental,
or even being shot by a ship’s ballista and having to scramble to avoid falling
in the water. This approach helped make the battle big – “We’re fighting
alongside a massive dragon!” – but it made sure the PCs were the heroes. The
PCs killed Gar Shatterkeel, not Lazaranthios.
One memorable way to use a big canon NPC
would be as an enemy. Imagine a DC Comics superhero campaign in which Batman is
an adversary. At first, he simply feels the PCs are in over their heads. Later,
because of the actions of a common enemy, he becomes sure the PCs are up to no
good, and he expends considerable amounts of resources trying to keep them away
from his affairs. Later, he finally realizes that they’re on the same side, and
he humbles himself by admitting his error before becoming more of an ally and
I’m only scratching the surface here, because
there are many fun ways to include these well-known NPCs. They can be friends,
family, rivals, lovers, or anything else you want them to be. The one thing to
avoid letting them become, however, is a deus
ex machina. In your campaign, the PCs are the most important element, and
the canon NPCs shouldn’t ever take that away from them if you can help it.
Sparing use of the campaign’s important NPCs
can be a memorable way to make that setting live for your players. But it’s
always important that those NPCs don’t overshadow the PCS. Instead, have them lift
your PCs up and help them shine.
Thirteen-year-old me is lying awake at midnight.
She feels sick to her stomach in a way she hasn’t since her first day of secondary school,
In a way she won’t feel again until she asks someone be her girlfriend two years down the line,
Her heart feels like it’s hammering against a door, screaming, battering
Like it’s her starving frame surrounded by all the other skeletons in the closet she wishes she didn’t have to come out of but is fighting to leave anyway
And all because today a girl who wants to be her best friend but certainly isn’t
Deliberately humiliated her, accused her, slandered her
In front of the girl she thinks she might be in love with but is certainly in “God, I want to kiss her, just once, just to see what it feels like” with
And then told her while walking away “you can’t be trying to impress a girl, that’s totally gross”.
She’s been trying to dodge questions about the boy from Instagram who has a crush on her for the past month,
Been collating lists of male celebrities to pretend to like, a practice she’ll do for the next three years,
Been following around the popular girl in class,
All while fervently denying to herself that she dares to like girls.
Thirteen-year-old me is staring up at the mark on her ceiling that looks like an angel,
Closing her eyes,
And praying for herself from three years in the future to come and tell her that everything’s okay,
That this is all just a phase, no,
That this isn’t just a phase, no,
That one day she’ll be happy to be like this.
So hi, thirteen-year-old me.
I doubt this was what you wanted to see.
I’ve got no red hair with bright blue streaks
No heart tattoo to represent the heart that seeks only the love of a beautiful girl who’ll whisk me off into a world of adventure.
Where are my boots, you say? Where’s my leather jacket, my YouTube channel that had such a cool name back in 2013, my shirt in rainbow colours?
I don’t think this is quite the aesthetic you were going for; boring-haired bint dressed like a thinspiration blog probably wasn’t what you imagined for me. I’m still at your school, still hanging out with those friends you met in origami club, because they’re the people who accepted us. As it turns out, they’re a nonbinary femme person, a nonbinary pan ace person, an ace girl, a pan girl, even what you are; a lesbian.
You can tell me you wish I didn’t say that,
Wish that isn’t how I identify,
But I know that deep down all you want is to know in your heart that you like girls and only girls
For longer than the time you spent as a member of the MCRmy
Because that was well and truly a phase.
We come out to our best friend in March this year,
And all she says is “cool!”
And you feel ten pounds lighter,
Although considering how much weight you’ve lost that isn’t really what you’re looking for.
We come out to our mother in May,
And she’s fine, I swear,
Telling you she loves you,
Although maybe not to come out to anyone because she’s scared for your safety.
The next two years with her are a rollercoaster,
A series of awkward silences when you mention marrying a woman one day,
Dismissal of your girlfriend,
And occasional moments in the car where she tells you she will love you no matter what you choose,
As though this whole thing were a choice,
Why would I choose to feel like this?
Why would I choose the papercuts between the webbing of my fingers
When I could be the man covered in magic and glitter and joy and pride?
You tell girls at school you’re gay
And they tell you they’re bi,
And you will wonder if you’ll ever come out to a heterosexual heteroromantic cisgender human being.
Their names are Ruth, Kirsten, Georgia and Voice,
And they are the best allies you could ask for.
You will wonder if you’ll ever fall in love with a girl who likes girls too,
A girl who won’t make you think of Ally Hills songs and scratching your own heart like it’s your eyes in the middle of hayfever season.
Her name does not matter,
It’s what you forget
When you grab her hand while crossing the street
And get more tingles than an ASMR video could ever give you.
It’s what you forget
When you ask her to kiss you in a music room,
Because in that moment she is really Julie, and you are Maddie,
And “kiss me, Hardy” is the last words your doubt will hear before it is shot by the taste of her mouth on yours.
It’s what you forget
On your first date with her,
When you make jokes about making her fall on her neck
Thinking that if she does that she’ll match the way you’ve fallen head over rainbow trainers for her.
So yes, thirteen-year-old-me.
You like girls, but you like more than that
You like music, and girls, and song, and girls, and politics, and novels, and poetry, and girls.
Girls are not all you are, but they are a part of who you are.
And they are a part that you will look back on,
A part that you will remember wishing to be torn from your body like a vial of blood at the phlebotomists,
And you will laugh at how stupid you were
To wish girls away.
I might not be the girl you wanted to become,
But I’m the girl you were meant to become.
A poem based on that “what you’d tell your thirteen year old self” post from last night
Len -the short 5'1 female with pink hair and dark brown eyes- walked down the street, a hand grabbed her arm and pulled her into an ally. Her eye twitched as the arm threw her further into the ally, she grabbed the small knife from her boot as she was thrown. Not long later Len left the -now blood coated- ally without a scratch or any blood on her, she gently licked the blood from her knife and put it into her boot as she walked into Tori whom seemed to be admiring the ally.
Vertoria was walking around, bored out of her mind when she smelled the fresh blood. “It’s too early for this kind of thing” she mumbled to herself. she followed the scent to a blood covered alley. “Woah calm down there short stuff. Nice job by the way”
After days of attempts, A had finally defeated Wallace and completed the cycle again. but her victory was short lived as Bill the Collector had revealed that he had planned for this and Wallace was one of his agents. With the power he absorb from A throughout her adventure he had collected enough to soft reset the world in his design, a random world of pure chaos. It was then an unexpected friend revealed a way to save the world from this chaos, A would have to travel once again with the voices and defeat his champion in Kanto just as red did long ago, but she could not bring any of her allies and start from scratch. releasing her pokemon she accepted the challenge and step through the portal.
Though she left the pokemon she released wished her luck and left to live their lives till she returns
Annie had successfully fulfilled her goal of fighting the strongest pokemon in the region, she returned to victory road to continue her training if A ever needed her.
The Kraken, Cruelthulu, was concerned with the events that had presented itself and dove deep into the ocean, there he met with his master, Lord Helix, for guidence. Helix gave him a sign that all is in A’s hands now and to only hope for her victory. with no other choice he returned to the surface to assist his friend Doge as a forensic expert.
The Mighty Cop, Doge, quit his job and became a private investigator and took up an apprentice who was a graduate from the pokemon daycare. he still feels the sting from the loss of his old partner Bird Cop, but this only drove him further to solving crimes in the Hoenn region.
Cabbage the White received a vision and began to lead his people to the Kanto, from there he ran into The Archangel, Double A Jay. Double A Jay bowed to him and apologized for what had happen all those years ago, but Cabbage had forgiven him, for it was not his fault. He told the archangel of what had transpired and offered to assist him in his battle. The archangel accepted without hesitation.
5'7", full name unknown, ate a bunch of pokeblocks, grew to 5'8", and then exploded.
M4, Bloddy Azu Marill, returrned to Littleroot and made a grave for her love Zexy, she visited every day for a week before being approached by none other than bird jesus. infuriated by his presence she lashed out at him, yelling why he had not joined them, why did he let this happen. she used rollout but could not reach him. He said that he could not help because this was not his journey to take, but offered M4 to help take bill down from their end while A fixed the world from the other. M4 looked back on the grave and tied her bandana on her head, for Zexy, she’ll fight once more.
A step through the portal to Bills new world, her story continues in Fire Red…