Blog · DM Tips and Tricks

The Third String

Heroes Don’t Need to be Perfect

For many people, roleplaying games are about playing someone powerful and amazing. Some go out of their way to make their characters as powerful as possible, sometimes to the point of being game-breaking. This is absolutely okay, people should play these games whatever way they have the most fun (so long as it isn’t to the detriment of their game mates). I play the game primarily for the stories and the silly things you can get up to. I like my characters to be creative and fun, sometimes with silly weaknesses (like an arthritic old wizard with a dex of 6). This isn’t about my characters though, this is about a campaign I ran in the summer of 2019.

In the summer of 2019 my wife and I decided to rent out a cabin on a lake with our closest friends (and our families) to spend a week together. We knew that all of us together meant we were going to play some D&D after the children were asleep, so I started brainstorming short campaign ideas. I wanted something simple, a series of short missions that could each be completed in a single session and an overall concept that allowed players to be present some nights but not others. Eventually I settled on a large mercenary guild, it would allow for bite-sized quests and the ability for characters to easily cycle out between missions. Guilds feature very heavily in my homebrew world, so it was a simple concept that would be easy to implement.

I frequently come up with random game ideas. Things I see in movies, TV, or video games, pieces of art, music, or even just stray comments made by players can give me inspiration. I realized that this was the perfect time to test out one of those ideas, the “Third String”. The Third String is the unofficial name for a unit within a large mercenary guild known as Stone’s Blood. The unit was made up of individuals each with a physical or mental condition, or significant character quirk that would add an additional challenge to adventuring. The players were asked to come up with a character concept and bring it to me so that we could flesh out how it would work mechanically.

The purpose of this was to add an extra layer to the adventure, navigating not only the world but the natural struggles of your character concept. I got excellent concepts from my players and we had an amazing time. Here were the characters they designed:

Belladonna
A half-elf druid with severe narcolepsy.

Dwaffy McWizardface
A dwarf wizard with an obsessive need to be clean.

Elner
A halfling rogue who was extremely sensitive to the sight of blood.

Froh
An extremely superstitious halfling barbarian who also happens to believe they are a human whose height was stolen.

Jarzle
A kobold sorcerer who can not control what spell is cast when they use their magic.

Ominak
A lizardfolk fighter with an uncontrollable appetite.

Tank Hammer-arm – “Sarge”
A half-orc barbarian military veteran who was injured in combat and is now in a wheelchair.

Thyme
An unbelievably clumsy wood elf rogue.

Custom D&D mini in a wheelchair.
Custom D&D mini in a wheelchair.
Custom “Sarge” miniature made from a Wizkids Orc and a Lego wheelchair.

My friends and I had an absolute blast with this concept. Overcoming the characters’ personal struggles and completing the adventures was a great challenge for the players. That week we only managed to dedicate two nights to playing D&D but the “Third String” was highly successful. On night one the adventurers were enlisted to help a young lord retrieve his cat from a tree in his family’s orchard. Things became complicated quickly when Jarzle lit the tree on fire (while trying to cast light) and revealed the “cat” to be a domesticated displacer beast. Night two found them saving a town from an army of goblins and skeletons. It turned out to be one half-starved goblin who killed a necromancer and accidentally got trapped in the necromancer’s cave with the undead.

The characters’ unique challenges added a layer to roleplaying, and to the mechanics, that kept everyone on their toes. Much fun was had by all and we will definitely be visiting this concept (and these characters) again in the future. Heroes, like real people, do not need to be perfect.

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