Hey! Thanks for reading! Just a reminder that I wrote this some years ago, and may have much more complicated feelings about this topic than I did when I wrote it. Happy to elaborate, feel free to reach out to me! 😄
🎵 The song for this post is No Rain, by Blind Melon. 🎵
If you've never played a tabletop RPG like Dungeons and Dragons, Mouse Guard, Dungeon World, or Fate, I highly recommend you try. It makes a game out of storytelling with friends and has an extremely high ceiling compared to most other entertainment.
Last year, some friends invited me to a Dungeons & Dragons game they were running. It's the first time I've played in many years, and I feel like sharing the backstory of the character I'm playing. Since I came in late, the players met my character in a burial mound near a town called Sul's Horn:
Like many monks, he was left at a monastery as a baby, with no clue to his past or origin. Even the most charitable monasteries would swiftly reject a tiefling baby, but this monastery was one following the teachings of Ilmater. Maybe accepting him was a political move by an ambitious master, hoping to improve their standing? Maybe leadership wanted a challenge, even though this "project" had a reasonable chance of failure? The tiefling never felt fully welcome there, and many had their misgivings; nonetheless, he was taken in and made useful. He was taught humility, charity, and how to defend himself. He was given the name "Homage."
While he showed promise, his mind often wandered. Nobody could see when his focus wavered, as his solid green eyes didn't have pupils to follow. They never noticed how often his eyes were looking at the dark corners rooms. He could swear he saw flickering in the shadows.
After a few weeks of odd shadows and hearing whispers, he was getting suspicious of supernatural influence, and ready to say something to the masters. On his way to a master's hut a hand pulled him behind a tree. He immediately found himself surrounded in blackness. Magic? He'd heard it existed, but never seen it. The hand belonged to a gnome standing before him, who introduced herself as Elhani.
She spoke directly, stating that his true name was Karreus. She claimed to know more of his origins and ancestry, but said "your past matters less than your future. You are chosen by Mask. We watch you, as you will learn to watch others. You can choose for your life to be that of your masters here, but you know you will never feel whole. When you are ready to pursue service to a real power, activate the scroll."
He was back at the monastery to find a scroll in his hands. He was technically home, but felt more like a stranger than ever. He questioned whether to trust the gnome, but this was the first time he felt like maybe he mattered. After mulling it over it for three days, from the safety of his dormitory, he activated the scroll.
After a boom!, he found the whole dormitory collapsed, killing or wounding dozens of other students. The masters peeked out of their buildings and found their tiefling experiment Homage, completely unharmed in the center of the blast radius, over the screams of pain coming from the rubble. They ran towards him, and he instinctively ran away. He heard a voice (Elhani?) calling to him from a shadow: he ran into it, and emerged several thousand feet away. He knew he could never go back, the experiment in compassion failed.
Emerging from the shadow, he had a paper in his hands. It said "Seek Ryton in Sul's Horn. The clues to your past are where you'll never lose them." He then noticed the other (hopefully final?) side effect of the scroll: his torso and arms were covered in tattoos. Runes? Scripts? He could swear he just saw one move! "I'm going to have to cover that up soon…" he said.
When he got to Sul's Horn, the only word he heard about Ryton was that he was long dead, and vague speakings of a burial mound. He walked in, hoping to find a tomb…
Under his Ideals, I gave him a quote: "If there's no reason to be seen, don't. If you must, make it useful to you. You have no home but your body." He's a Monk, but he very easily could have ended up on the Rogue's path. His treatment as a tiefling makes him reluctant to be interacted with, but the same treatment (and his desperation to get along at monastery) made him extremely charming when need be.
Ilmater is not a particularly combative deity, so his training included lots of acrobatics, jumps, landings, and literally "hanging around," often by his tail, to the chagrin of his masters. He's broken a few bones in his life trying what we would today call "sick-ass parkour" but the injuries haven't discouraged him.
He's frequently conflicted about his allegiance to Ilmater's teachings and those of Mask, who he barely knows but emotionally resonated with. It's hard to undo 22 years in a monastery that glorified compassion and suffering. Despite being a pretty poor student, much of Ilmater's teachings dripped into him via osmosis.
- Extremely charming! Skilled at socializing, but ultimately anxious.
- Playful: if you leave a room and say "don't touch," well…
- Conflicting approaches from Ilmater teachings + Mask tendencies. Often one will betray the other.
- Resentment at never belonging can fuel some Bad Decisions.
Homage exemplifies most characters I've played in D&D over the years. He's reckless: to paraphrase something said of the Dota player Jimmy Ho, "[Homage] is the king of those high-risk, low-reward plays." We had one game where we had to rid a town of a Basilisk; Homage's suggestion was to play dead and smell delicious to lure it out for the rest of the party attack from afar. Overall, since he's not real, I let him take a lot more risks than I would.
In terms of mechanics, he's very Pablo in that he prefers charm, charisma, deceit, mobility, and indirection over things like martial prowess, or magical utility. My characters never clear out a room with a very powerful spell, or wield the best weapons or armor. They're mostly slippery.
He's also a very Pablo character in that he makes smartass comments, and can't resist a good joke. When coupled with his mobility, it makes me joke that I accidentally created Spider-Man, taunting enemies with one-liners while zipping around them.
I love playing him, and might write up other characters I'm playing to show where I hope to deviate.
On D&D itself
If you've never played tabletop RPGs, it's probably the least accessible of the games I listed in the intro. Each player ideally buys and reads most of a Player's Handbook (not cheap); the DM has to buy the other two rulebooks and prepare adventures. Unless you have some decent experience, it's not very pick-up-and-play.
That said, if you've got friends who play or have played, it's an extremely rich game. Reading the spell list and imagining scenarios to use them is more fun than a lot of fiction, and there's worlds upons worlds of supplemental material. It's iconic for a reason.
Thanks for the read! Disagreed? Violent agreement!? Feel free to drop me a line at , or leave a comment below! I'd love to hear from you 😄