Saturday, February 1, 2014

Table Talk: Don't Ever Field a One-Eyed Dragon

Do you have a gaming story of your own? Well we'd love to hear it! Contact Improved Initiative with your best tabletop tale, and we'll feature you on Table Talk. Make your friends jealous, and grab a little bit of the spotlight. You totally deserve it. Also, if you'd like to follow us, drop by Tumblr or Facebook.

Also, this story is part one of a trilogy, which is now complete! Here's the full list of The Ballad of Baldric Brimstone.

Chapter One: Don't Ever Field a One-Eyed Dragon
Chapter Two: Why You Never Give Your Party The One Ring
Chapter Three: Big Gay Half-Orcs and Utterly Destroying Plot

Now, onward to this week's tale...

Being the new guy in an established game isn't easy. Most of the time you haven't met the other players, you don't really know what's been going on with the story, and you're not always sure if your character is going to gel with what's happening. However, not long after I published my short story "The Irregulars" with Paizo (you can still read it here) I was invited to join a campaign. It was a home-brewed affair that had been going on for some time, and I was told to put together a level 8 character.

Boy, did I ever.

The Ballad of Baldric Brimstone

Have gun, will travel.
The character I created for this game was a reformed villain with a secret history. To all appearances he was a human gunslinger/alchemist by the name of Baldric Brimstone. A quick draw specialist who relied on speed and overwhelming firepower to see him through most situations, he was a fairly good fit in a generally chaotic, and generally neutral, party. However, despite his human-like appearance (I burned a feat slot to take Pass For Human for this back story), he was actually a half-orc.

Bred to a savage tribe for quick wits and fast hands, he had been a fire-bomber who left little standing on any raid he was part of. A disagreement with the tribal chief, who got lit up like dry kindling in a lightning storm, led to this alchemist fleeing, lest vengeance be visited upon him. A frontier family found him half-starved and exhausted, along with some broken bones and no few deep cuts. They took him in and helped him recuperate, and that was his first brush with a culture where "might makes right" wasn't the whole of the law. He learned the trade of gunsmithing, and decided to try and make up for some of his dark deeds by taking up the cause of good. Nothing like a Chaotic Evil to Chaotic Good switch to grant you plenty of motivation.

So, Baldric shows up as a new recruit to a mercenary guild of adventurers. He's assigned to a party, and told to go and deal with a dragon problem.

Hunting Trouble

It should be mentioned that before this game session began I asked the DM very specifically if he first, allowed advanced firearms if the player could afford them, and second, if he allowed called shots. He did, and he did. This needs to be mentioned up-front.

So, the party finds its way to a village that looks like something out of my character's past. Houses are burned to the foundation, people are scattered, and there's little enough left standing. The party is given directions to a certain mountain, and we pick our way along to a cave that looks big enough to house a dragon. We enter, weapons drawn. We see a horde with an unconscious child atop it; no dragon in sight.

So the party, being an adventuring party, starts exploring. We don't find hide nor hair of the dragon, but as soon as the mysterious orphan on the horde awakens a red dragon lumbers in. He's big enough to be full grown, but whether it's a juvenile or a young dragon it's still several challenge ratings higher than the party. However, the DM mentions that the dragon looks wounded. It's covered in deep cuts, it's limping, breathing hard, and one eye has been completely destroyed.

Don't get ahead of me, now.
Because we aren't commanded to roll initiative immediately, the bard begins to parley with the dragon. Most of the party speaks draconic, including Baldric, but he feigns that he doesn't. There are exchanges back and forth, rolls are made, and mechanically speaking the negotiation is going about as well as a thing like this can be expected to. After the third or fourth exchange though, I turn to the DM and declare a readied action. The readied action in question is to draw my pistol, and make a called shot to the beast's remaining eye.

Bulls-Eye.. Er... Dragons-Eye

Despite the out of character knowledge that the negotiation is going well, all Baldric is hearing is that we, the heroes, are negotiating with a creature responsible for destroying lives and attempting the murder of an entire town. So, butting into the negotiation, he demands to know why the red dragon in question decided to just attack the town.

Its response? "Because I felt like it."

Polyphemus, eat your heart out.
I cannot emphasize this enough; no one at this table has seen me game before. For some of them this is their first campaign. We are facing a threat somewhere between 2 and 5 challenge ratings higher than we should be, and before anyone can stop him Baldric drags iron, pulls the trigger, and rolls an 18 on the die. After all the negatives were calculated, that was a 19 on a touch attack against a flat-footed opponent.

I hit.

The Aftermath

Fortunately for yours truly I had built a character with a very impressive initiative. Unfortunately for most of the rest of the party, the dragon went directly after me. I took another shot, and got out of the way. The dragon, being evil, blind, in pain, and a dragon, blew fire all over the cavern. The blast torched most of the party, and dropped a goodly number of them. Baldric remained untouched and kept shooting.

For three or four rounds this fight continued, with flung alchemical weapons and flying lead peppering this already injured creature. The still-standing members of the party got in on the action, and some of the bombs were having a noticeable effect. Before the dragon could be dropped though, it took wing and got the hell out of dodge. The party's in shambles, and standing over them is a lunatic with a smoking gun who not only hasn't taken any damage, but is reloading his pistol and demanding to know if they're going to let that thing get away.

You want us to what now?
I had never seen that many looks of dumbfounded disbelief at a gaming table before. First that I had an extraordinarily stupid idea, and then that it worked out in my favor. Also, the DM learned a valuable lesson that night; no matter what you put on the table, or how powerful it is, someone in the party is going to try and kill it. Always be prepared for that.

The truly funny thing about the whole situation? This was only the second game where I had to roll out hit points for my character. I did not roll well. I was at the controls of a glass hammer who was getting by on little more than a high initiative, brass balls, and a decent intimidate check. Baldric's hit points didn't dramatically improve as he gained levels, either. Despite that he not only survived the campaign, but became a king by his own hand, building an empire from ashes with little more than a fast hand and a can-do attitude.

In time this story shall also be told...

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