More Than Meets The Eye
It feels like the right time for another post about D&D.
The last one was all the way back in October 2021. It featured a verdant forest, a terrifying guardian and the disappearance and apparent death of not one, but two player characters.
This time I'm going to try something a little bit different, and move away from the classic format that has served me well so far.
I'm going to try and write an actual story from the perspective of a creature. A story that describes a situation that my players encountered, while on one of their many delves into the perpetual dungeon.
So, sit down, strap in, and watch what happens when I step outside my comfort zone.
If you're planning on playing through the Dungeon of the Mad Mage and want to go in blind, this blog post spoils some stuff on the first level.
You have been warned.
🔊 Transformer Noise
Our supplies were running low and tempers were fraying. If we didn't get some more coin soon, the gang might very well start acting a whole lot more like those blood-sucking freaks we were impersonating.
Even Uktarl was feeling it, snapping testily at anyone who asked how long it would be before the next patsy arrived. It was a valid question. Everyone spent a considerable amount of time applying and maintaining their makeup and prosthetics and that effort had to have a payoff.
I mean, the daily, completely unused full-dress rehearsals were more of an issue for the others than they were for Nik, Syn and myself, but still, it didn't do us any good to point out that we had it much easier. Thugs tend to get a bit stabby if they think someone else has it better.
We were sitting in the statue room, playing a game of Dragon Dice when Brast returned, holding a finger up against his fanged mouth. We stopped yammering immediately, the game forgotten and took our places.
Finally, a chance to put on a show and shake down some idiots.
This was going to be good.
Oh god they're all dead.
The cut through us like we were nothing. Like we weren't even real to them.
I thought we had the upper hand for a few moments at the start, when they were approaching down the passageway. Nik and I skimmed their minds to find images of people they'd met recently and quickly shifted into our new roles.
They were cagey, but we were convincing, and they let us get close.
Then Brast did his ham-handed speech with that stupid accent of his and the jig was up. I kept telling him, focus on the blood, not on their gold, but he didn't listen. If Le'stat was here he would have been much more convincing. He's such a good actor!
It all happened so fast.
The wizened little fellow made some motions with his hands and a monstrous explosion ripped through the statue room. Brast was the only one left standing, but before he could do anything, one of them froze him solid with a blast of cold air.
We were shocked. They were so violent! Nik lashed out in panic and then tried to run away, but that bird-thing flew after her, slammed her into the wall and then eviscerated her with his talons.
I did the only thing I could think of.
I threw my hands up and pled for my life.
I figured they wouldn't kill one of their own so easily, so I shifted into the shape of the one with blue skin and started yammering about how I'd do anything to survive.
I meant it to.
I'd seen what they could do.
They robbed me! The irony stung.
Then they told me to wait down here for anyone else who came through, helping them out as necessary, except if they were wearing a red bandana on their arms, in which case I should stab them in the back? Also, I should take tolls, but I would have to give half of the tolls to the bird thing the next time I saw him?
It was so confusing, but I just nodded along obediently in fear of what they might do to me otherwise.
And then they left, going back the way they came, towards the elevator.
I explained everything to the rest of the gang, except for the bit where I was a coward, and they listened to it all. Uktarl gave me a withering look, but otherwise seemed to take it in stride. Something about this sort of thing being "part of the job", that "they knew the risks" and that "it was about time we got rid of some of the chaff".
I skimmed the surface of his mind though, and I knew he was scared, and the bravado was all just a façade. Not surprising really, he'd been vying with Harria for leadership of the Undertakers and losing this many followers was going to throw a massive wrench into that plan.
We cleaned up as best we could but found that we were unable to move the now frozen form of Brast, so just left him there. I suppose he'll be able to at least hold an expression now, crappy actor that he was.
We didn't really do anything other than that. I mean, what could we do? We couldn't just up and leave or we'd just be ceding territory to the Xanathar Guild, and we couldn't fall back to the crypts, as Harria didn't want anything to do with us.
So we waited, passing the time playing dice and cards, in the vain hope that maybe they wouldn't come back and we could move on with our lives.
We weren't that lucky.
The very next evening, while I was on watch, I heard footsteps and conversation coming in my direction. Looking through the spyhole, I could see a group of people approaching from the direction of the elevator.
For a brief moment I thought our luck had changed, but then I saw the wizened little fellow from last time and my gut sank. Just as I started heading back towards the others to warn them, the door I was hiding behind burst into flame! It caught suspiciously quickly and it wasn't long before the entire hallway was filled with smoke and I couldn't see anything.
Coughing and spluttering, I quickly shifted into the same shape as the last time I saw the old man and did my best to act casual. A blast of air ripped through the corridor, clearing the smoke, and I could see again.
But so could they.
Thinking quickly, I explained that I'd been lying low in the hallway after drawing the attention of the nearby bandits and that I'd help them out in exchange for a share of the loot. The idiots actually let me tag along! As I moved forward with the group and listened to them casually talking about horrible, horrible things, my mind was racing, trying to figure out what I would do.
That's when I noticed the flame haired one was wearing a red bandana on her arm.
Remembering the orders that I was given, I realised that I would need to find a way to attack her, or face the wrath of the first group. Looking across the room at the ice statue that was once Brask made my decision easy to make.
I just needed to find an opportunity.
I got my opportunity, but I messed up. I messed up bad.
The group ended up striding right into the "lair" and I didn't even have a chance to warn anyone. I heard Uktarl doing his vampire schtick and then the sounds of a fight. Now, Uktarl was a big guy, and he knew what he was doing, plus he had a few of the others with him, including Syn.
Figuring that I should take advantage of the distraction, I tried to shiv the fiery one in the back. I got a good hit in, but it wasn't enough. I tried to follow it up and finish the job, but she was fast. Faster than she should have been.
And now she was angry, and I could see the fire surging in her eyes and the heat washing off her in waves.
I needed to get out of there.
Then I saw Syn shoot out of the room where the others were and race down the hallway in my direction. Clearly things had gone poorly, so I made eyes at him and we both shot off together. As we were running, I told him to shift himself to look like me, to confuse them. He never was too bright.
Glancing back, I noticed that the fiery haired witch was in hot pursuit. She hurled a bolt of fire in our direction and hit Syn square in the back, blowing a smoking hole right through him! He dropped to the ground, the force of his momentum rolling him right up against the wall in a disorderly pile.
I didn't stop.
I just kept running, away from Harria, away from the Undertakers and away from the murderous invaders.
I didn't come back until they were all gone.
I saw them go, laughing and joking, counting out our meagre belongings between them.
They didn't leave a single one of the gang alive. There were bodies everywhere.
I knew that with no-one to help me clean up, it wouldn't be long before the carrion eaters appeared, and I couldn't face them alone.
I wandered, lost, surviving as best I could.
I had plenty of time to think.
To think about how they had it so easy.
Coming down here, ruining lives, doing whatever they wanted.
And I decided that I wanted that for myself.
So I watched, and I waited and eventually one of them was stupid enough to go off alone.
And I killed him and took his skin and I returned with them to the inn above.
And now I can do whatever I want.
Doppelgangers in Disguise
And thus ends the story of a very specific shapeshifter that my players met a long long time ago. Or maybe, thus begins a story?
Doppelgangers are pretty fun, though I don't think I played these ones to their utmost potential. They didn't really have specific personalities or motivations and it was hard to use their shapeshifting to much of an effect, as having a strange friendly person appear inside a dungeon is generally going to make any canny player suspicious.
Hopefully, if any of my players read this, the story above should give them a glimpse into the world that they disrupted, and it should let them know that neither I nor the sole surviving doppelganger have forgotten.
As for the story itself, it was both enjoyable and stressful to write. Enjoyable because I like stringing together words in a pleasing fashion, but stressful because it was different and unusual.
Still, I'll probably do it again.