Saturday 11 November 2017

The Ballad of Asgrimm Thunderbeard

You had me at "rules for dinosaur racing."
I had my first experience of 5th edition Dungeons & Dragons on Thursday whilst visiting my wee cousin in Dundee. A bit anxious since I hadn't played a game since 3rd edition, but I figured it couldn't be that different, and since it utilised the new stuff from Tomb of Annihilation, how could I not?

"You have, no doubt, heard of Curupuri? Curupuri is the spirit of the woods, something terrible, something malevolent, something to be avoided. None can describe its shape or nature, but it is a word of terror... Now all tribes agree as to the direction in which Curupuri lives... Something terrible lay that way. It was my business to find out what it was."
 - The part of Asgrimm Thunderbeard shall be played by professional huge person Braun Strowman.

I have a few "stock" characters I have in my RPGs. There's Matylda, a "human" warrior that looks like a Greek statue - i.e. 8 feet tall, pale, skin like granite, and utterly inscrutable; there's J'uk, a lizardman/Argonian/reptilian bard who resembles-but-is-legally-distinct-from the legendary Deekin of Neverwinter Nights; there's Bork the Gentle, a pacifist orc who does his best to keep his friends alive while never hurting a fly if he can help it. Then, there's Asgrimm Thunderbeard.

"It will be a comfort to me to know that I have one ally in the hall, however inefficient and ignorant of the subject he may be."

Asgrimm is my preposterously over-the-top barbarian archetype. Think Professor Challenger freed from the constraints of Edwardian civilization, who treats science and discovery as if it's an indolent nephew that owes him a great deal of money (that is, he grabs it by the ankles and shakes it down for all its worth), mixed with the more genial bombast of Manly Wade Wellman's Hok the Mighty. He has a habit of weaving various items - totems, trinkets, artefacts, bits and pieces of his fallen enemies - into his beard, like an even more horrific Blackbeard.

"Cerebral paresis! Mental inertia! Wonderful!"

In this scenario, the party went to kill an evil king leader gentleman whose stronghold was on a 300ft plateau. Said king leads a host of Pterafolk, which (you can guess by their name) are Pterosaur humanoids. As I came late, the adventure had already started: the stronghold was on fire, several blows landed, all sorts of chaos. Since I came to the party late, I played the part of a guest star - in this case, one of two captives being held by the Pterafolk. As such, I was a lowly Level 1 Barbarian. (The other was a bird-man the party freed, who flew away with much gratitude before I regained consciousness).

"Well, sir, let us do what we can to curtail this visit, which can hardly be agreeable to you, and is inexpressibly irksome to me."

As a guest star, I felt completely disposable. This allowed me to be bold and reckless - which, it turns out, is a specialty of 5E barbarians. My thinking was to do everything I could to help the regular party, even if it meant putting my character at risk. I'm nice like that. I also had unbelievable luck on my die rolls, winning almost every one, which no doubt messed up the DM's plans.

"There seems to me to be absolutely no limit to the inanity and credulity of the human race. Homo Sapiens! Homo idioticus!"

First, I burst the ropes binding me like they were wet spaghetti. A Pterafellow saw this, and rushed towards me. Since I was weaponless, I did what any barbarian would do: grabbed the fell creature, and hurled it onto the roof of the stronghold, which was on fire. I didn't land a direct hit, mostly because said Pterafellow heroically managed to flap its way off-course from the centre - in the heat of the moment I forgot about Pterafolk's aviational predilections - so it survived.

"Away, sir, away! Raise your mind above the base mercantile and utilitarian needs of commerce. Shake off your paltry standards of business. Science seeks knowledge. Let the knowledge lead us where it will, we still must seek it. To know once for all what we are, why we are, where we are, is that not in itself the greatest of all human aspirations? Away, sir, away!"

The next turn, the enraged, flaming thing swooped back down - so much the better! I leapt into the air and grappled the burning horror to the ground, immobilising it while evading its snapping beak and rending talons, beard and chest hair singeing infuriatingly. At this point I could see my new friends were sorely pressed, surrounded by the wretched winged wastrels, so I formulated a plan...

"Living, as I do, in an educated and scientific atmosphere, I could not have conceived that the first principles of zoology were so little known. Is it possible that you do not know the elementary fact in comparative anatomy, that the wing of a bird is really the forearm, while the wing of a bat consists of three elongated fingers with membranes between?"

When my turn came around, I hurled the fire-cloaked fiend at the nearest foe: the combination of incineration and being used as an improvised weapon finally claimed the beast's life, though I still had an angry compatriot to contend with. To prevent the beast taking off for a dive, I grappled it to the ground while I looked for my next move. At this point, one of the party - the elf archer, Greenshield I think his name was - was cast to the ground, perilously close to his own demise. I knew I had to act quickly, and hurl myself into the fray - but how?
"I feel that there is reason lurking in you somewhere, so we will patiently grope round for it."

By my next turn, I realised there was only one thing for it: I would have to take my fight to their fight. I hoisted the frenzied foe up and charged towards the clump of furious fliers, crashing into them like a bearded boulder. With my enemies collapsed in a heap, I threw my entire body weight onto the writhing mass of wings and beaks, hoping to hold them long enough for the party to regroup. And regroup they did! Toby the Untouchable Druid - still reeling from being "touched" by the Evil King's vicious attacks - invoked a great spirit to increase our health, with an earsplitting cry of "NO TOUCHING!"; Greenshield recovered and loosed his deadly arrows in a fit of rage; Crix the Lizardrogue sneaked into the fray unseen; Malakyte the Drow Warlock read an unholy curse from a book bound in skin of the Evil King's own brother; and Bavid Dowie the half-elf bard rallied our spirits.

"The true scientific mind is not to be tied down by its own conditions of time and space. It builds itself an observatory erected upon the border line of present, which separates the infinite past from the infinite future. From this sure post it makes its sallies even to the beginning and to the end of all things."

In the end, we slew the Evil King and his winged warriors, and I was only too glad to assist these brave adventurers. As I was effectively a controlled NPC, I could not partake in the party's bounty of gold, jewels, and treasures - which was fine by me, as my quarry was not such baubles.
No, Asgrimm Thunderbeard sought a complete Pterafolk specimen to bring back to his tribe of scientifically-minded fellow barbarians, to study and exploit: the Pterafolk have long harried his people, so this will be highly useful in repulsing future raids. With a wealth of corpses, Asgrimm had his pick of grisly trophies, too: soon, a black talon was added to the charms woven into his beard. Asgrimm bid his adventurers farewell, tied a mostly-complete cadaver to his arms and back in a ghoulish facsimile of a gliding apparatus, and leapt off the plateau's edge into the mists below.

 "After all, it is natural that the whole world should hasten to know what I think of such an episode."

So that was the Ballad of Asgrimm Thunderbeard (5th Edition). I had a lot of fun, I helped the team out, and I learned a bit about 5th Edition Dungeons & Dragons. Perhaps Asgrimm will return on the party's travels, aiding them when they need it most and expect it least, and providing some flavour to Dowie's fireside tales...

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