Sunday, April 26, 2009

The Ultimate Sandbox: The Strategic Review #6 Part 2

Before I tackle the Bard, there is one more article that needs to be mentioned – The Quest for the Vermillion Volume, a short story by Robert J. Kuntz. I was all set to discount the story, since it is an obvious parody, but it's also Rob Kuntz. As Gary's major partner in the creation of D&D's earliest lore, I'm scraping through this story for nuggets that I can use, while ignoring the most obvious parody elements. The most obvious thing that can be useful is the cast of ready-made NPCs, as detailed below.

Drystaff the Necromancer: Drystaff is a stereotypical magic-user with his beard and staff and pointy hat. He is described in the story as a Necromancer, which makes him 10th level. He has in his employ a number of men-at-arms, as well as a troupe of elven scouts. Drystaff makes a number of anachronistic references to Earth culture, and given that my campaign will involve frequent world-hopping it would not be too much of a stretch to say that he has travelled to modern day Earth. But no, he says instead that he has scried other planes using his crystal sphere - either way works fine for me. We are also given some other minor details of his life: He has a cheating wife, and was trained in magic by the great Thaumaturgist Grimm. He rides a mule named Grumbold. He has also met a barbarian named "The Hog" in the north-eastern marches – perhaps the Ice or Frost Barbarians in the far north-eastern regions of Greyhawk.

Highton: Highton is an elf, the leader of the scouts working for Drystaff. He was chosen by his Lady, the Witch-Queen Evvolon, for the mission.

Lamhand: Lamhand is a Hero (a 4th level Fighter) who works with Drystaff, possibly as a henchman. He is a simple-minded oaf, and that's as much as we get from him in the story.


So what happens in this story? It seems that the characters above are hired (or ordered in the case of Highton) by the Witch-Queen Evvolon to retrieve a book from near the lands of Stra-Tac. Stra-Tac is home to Dunn-Red, the Enemy, and his spies and servants are abroad searching for the book as well. They find the book, but Lamhand (who was sent ahead with a company of horsemen) steals it back from them. Drystaff and the elves are captured by Dunn-Red's spies, but Lamhand rescues the wizard and Highton. They escape with the book, only to fall into a trap set by a mysterious rotund thief, who absconds with the book.

Which leaves me with the biggest mystery of the story. Who is this guy? The whole punchline of the story is the reveal of his identity – which is given as RST. I have no idea who RST is, beyond being a rotund thief. It's quite plausible that it's a joke that won't translate at all well as a usable NPC, but I'd still like to know who it's meant to be, if only so I know what that story was on about.


We learn that there's an Elf-Witch named Evvolon who lives in the Greenwood with her subjects. Could this possibly be the 'Elf-Land' that I conjectured from details in Men & Magic?

The Enemy of the elves is named Dunn-Red, and he rules the land of Stra-Tac. Little is shown of him, except that he employs human spies as well as armies of hairy, brutish humanoids – most probably orcs.

It's interesting to note the depiction of the elves here – these aren't your god-like Tolkien elves. Instead they're short with curly-toed shoes. They're more like the modern depictions of elves, Santa's helpers and Keebler elves and such. This fits into my conception of elves as a race on the wane - they used to be like Tolkien elves (and they may regain that power some day) but now they are diminished and wearing pointy shoes.

Silver Nobles are mentioned as a type of coinage – I'll keep that in mind when I'm looking for more evocative names for coinage than your average "Silver Piece'.


The events of this story will have occured in the recent past of the campaign. With the book (whatever its purpose) having been stolen by the mysterious RST, both Evvolon and Dunn-Red will have servants hunting for it. The PCs could come into this story at any point, allying with one side or the other as they wish. How this scenario plays out could have a lot to do with the identity of RST – anyone out there have any ideas?

The NPC Drystaff will be active in the area of the Greenwood and its surrounds, as well as his men-at-arms and henchman Lamhand. Highton, as head of Evvolon's scouts, will remain in her service, perhaps heading up the hunt for the book.

The Greenwood and Stra-Tac will no doubt be minor regions in the World of Greyhawk. But thankfully that world is quite open to customisation, and I'll no doubt be able to fit them in somewhere.

Drystaff's mentor, the Thaumaturgist Grimm, I will have working as a trainer at the Guild of Magic-Users. Similarly, the barbarian known as "The Hog" will be a powerful chieftain, encountered should the PCs venture up into the realms of the Frost or Ice Barbarians.

Next up I'm tackling the Bard for reals.


jamused said...

Might I suggest that you deal with the parody elements by saying that this is actually fiction in the game world? That is, it's a satire told by minstrels and their ilk, which may or may not have some kernel of truth--possibly nothing more than the names being of "real" famous people.

Nathan P. Mahney said...

That could work, aside from the many anachronisms. I want planet-hopping to be a regular occurence for my PCs, but not something that my NPCs are generally aware of.

fischgeist said...

I've been wading through your Ultimate Sandbox postings all day, and with much delight - this would be an awesome campaing to take part in! Keeping in mind how much these guys loved backwards and jumbled names, I suggest these character names are such. But while it's obvious that RST is TSR backwards, I can only scratch my head why Evvolon appears to be "No Love" with an extra "v" and have no guess for the other names.

Russell Harrell said...

RST is TSR backwards, perhaps not meant to be a parody of a specific person. This story seems to be dripping with references to the early gaming groups from the 70s.