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 It's a Sin to Tell a Lie, by Billy Mayhew, made famous by Fats Waller, and performed by Steve Goodman. 🎵
I'm in another D&D game! I'm not sure how long this one will last, but here's a character write-up for it. Meet Snibliss, a gnome barbarian.
Blippen and Jomwup Cairona celebrated the birth of their daughter Galmet by finally taking the plunge on their dream: to live by the sea, relocating to the port town of Loda. They were translators, working contracts for various gnome businesses trying to get straight with their documentation in the Loda courts, specializing in Dwarvish, Orcish, and Elven. Like most gnomes, they were a happy, jolly sort, relishing most of what life gave them, and Galmet was a happy girl, though not as able to learn languages as her parents hoped.
One weekend, the family booked some weekend leisure: a three hour tour on a ship around various islands near Loda. The ship was attacked by mermen, who slaughtered everyone on the ship except Galmet, who took a harpoon and hid until most of them jumped back into the sea. When only a few mermen remained to pick at the scraps, she emerged, a ball of fury and passion, killing them with her harpoon. It was her first rage, a spike of power followed by the most powerless she'd ever felt in her short life.
She spent almost a week adrift at sea, eating seaweed, fish, some provisions found on the ship, and though she told nobody, some of the bodies. Emaciated and hopeless, the floating remains of the boat were boarded six days after the attack by a pirate ship she'd later call home, The Filthy Insanity. A tiefling was part of the boarding crew, and he was obviously the captain. She'd learn his name to be Revus the Hideous. She lay hiding with her harpoon again.
She got a good stabbing on a few of his crewmates before they subdued her. Revus asked her what happened but she was too feral to answer. She repeatedly demanded passage to Loda.
"No can do, miss; we're not welcome there. Work on the ship, you may eventually earn a dinghy to visit."
"…but I… I don't… I can't…"
"What, sail? Well then you'd better learn, shouldn't ya?! Don't worry, we'll toss ya overboard if you get too useless."
"Snibliss. I like Snibliss, the only gnome name I know. And now it's you! Come on, come aboard, you'll be useless until we feed ya."
"Snibliss" spent years on that ship, working up the "debt" for a dinghy to sail to Loda. Her diminutive stature got them out of jams, and Revus and the crew found her a formidable force in combat, especially when she got mad. They never worried "if" she'd rage, it was always a "when." When Snibliss raged, it was against the merfolk, the subsequent hunger, to a despair that never left.
After a few years, Revus gave her the dinghy. She sailed to Loda and found it was devastating — familiar, but also unchanged. Her whole life was crushed, she was renamed and remade, but everyone in this town acted like none of it mattered. Because it didn't, not to most of them. She started a few bar fights, asked a few questions, and learned that the mermen attack was orchestrated by a group of fixers: it wasn't a random robbery, someone wanted that boat slaughtered, and hired some Lodans to arrange it. They didn't reveal their employer, and Loda's authorities found a couple dozen heads floating in port the next day.
She spent the next few years in and out of Lodan prisons, mostly for starting fights or taking risky contract work. She never visits her childhood institutions or acquaintances; she feels unrecognizable, and afraid of the anger flaring when (not if, when) they let her down. A few years into this life, she gets bailed out of jail again with a message: "Retired in Kralkukh. Come visit. R Hideous."
She makes the journey and found Revus relaxed, a little fatter, and sipping a drink. He tells her he always wished she'd sailed back to The Filthy Insanity. Talks about how proud he is of her, and urges her to explore the world and seek what she's missing rather than stay in Loda. He gives her the most valuable treasure he'd acquired: a belt of giant strength. And a starting point, an invitation to an event he received:
"It's a ball for accomplished fancy people. They've heard of my exploits, but I've no patience for it; you know I'd always prefer a rowdy cockatrice fight. Please, go in my place."
He looked at her a bit longer, with a hint of sadness, when he added:
"Tell them you're my daughter."
Snibliss has a kit themed around pirate life and sailing, so:
- Fish bones everywhere.
- Netting, seaweed.
- Unkempt hair and teeth. Leg hair, armpit hair.
- Smells of the sea.
- Eats fish, loves "improvised" meals (e.g. moonshine is more comforting than wine).
Her frame is also (obviously) large and muscular, though she's just over 3 feet tall.
She uses harpoons as missile weapons (mechanically, javelins) and an anchor with a short chain as a melee (mechanically, a maul).
Our DM gave us some allowance for magical items (we're starting at 8th level, thus, the belt of giant strength); one that I gave her was an immovable rod. In my head, when she fights, she "sets" the rod to take space above her head and fights around it, so Medium and larger creatures have an extra obstacle that she doesn't.
I mentioned acquaintances and social ties, the main two I were thinking of are:
A "country club for the good gnomes of Loda"-type establishment, where her parents enrolled her in snooty gnome cotillion classes.
A languages tutor she had as a child, so she could also be a translator (a failed endeavor; her Intelligence score is 10 lol).
Where she came from
I've now made a bunch of these characters, and when invited to this game, I paged through the Player's Handbook and didn't feel anything particularly calling me. But "gnome barbarian" stuck! It just felt fresh. Additionally, this game is with a group of fairly refined players, I was tempted to introduce some chaos.
After I had a chuckle, I remembered: my former DM (of Homage's game) played a gnome barbarian! Shout out to Segomar, who "did not take shit and could put his money where his mouth is." Snibliss is thematically a bit different, but Segomar laid some groundwork for me.
The "three hour tour" feels obvious lol, but now that I'm working with a bunch of Zoomers, I feel compelled to explain my "obvious" references. This is Gilligan's Island.
The "lost at sea" segment came to me from Life of Pi.
When workshopping this with Karen, I often said that The Filthy Insanity aren't Pirates of the Caribbean pirates — "plucky and fun, but not really evil!" No, these people do murders. They're a family, but in the way many gangs/cartels/organized crime syndicates are families.
Revus reminds me of Yondu from Guardians of the Galaxy, playing a dad to Starlord, and using the line "he might have been your father, but he wasn't your daddy."
The "cotillion for gnomes" was inspired, in part, by learning about Jack and Jill clubs and seeing country clubs play a role in Cobra Kai.
I imagine Snibliss's language tutor showing up in increasinly weird places and recognizing her in her adventures, a bit like Pavel in the Professor Layton games. I'd imagine they're in, idk, a Rakshasa lair, about to face off against the head, when an elf is stumbling out of the hallway saying (in broken Dwarvish) "excuse me, I've become lost, where can I find… oh, Galmet!? What are you doing here?"
A character I wrote up but didn't get to actually play much was Ralmahant, my little wizard badger. The party and campaign fell through as personal life sabotaged our DM (D&D, like polyamory, promises to be a life of wild fun adventure, but in practice is a ton of Google Calendars). Ral had a very toppy, high-status energy I don't normally give my characters, I'm excited to see if Snibliss can be steered this way. It'll come from somewhere else: Ral is a bit of a nutbar and came from wealth, Snibliss is more premised on martial power reckless disregard for the very structure that makes Ral feel powerful.
The poor campaign for Sioqur seems also benched for a bit, and besides Snibliss he's one of the only hitters I've made. So in a sense, I'm getting to reprise some themes of characters I never got to shake out like I wanted.
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