Wednesday, February 5, 2014

[D&D 40th Anniversary Blog Hop] Day Five


First character to go from 1st level to the highest level possible in a given edition. (Or what's the highest level character you've ever ran?)

This one's going to be a bit of a eulogy for a beloved character, I'm afraid.

In yesterday's post I noted that most of my experience with high-level characters has been as the GM observing my players take their PCs up the ladder. Whether it's been (A)D&D, the various Palladium systems, or even class-less games like Savage Worlds or Pendragon, it's always been a vicarious experience for me watching characters go from zero to hero.

Fortunately, I do have some experience with getting a character advanced far enough that they're no longer having to kill naught but goblins and giant rats, but it's been many years since I've managed that feat. The last time I did this was also the furthest I've been able to advance a character.

His name was Utgar Skullcleaver, and he was an AD&D 2e Fighter with the Barbarian kit, created with the then-just-released Skills & Powers, part of the eminently broken "Player's Option" series. It was good timing, because I created Utgar to play to what I then perceived as every negative stereotype of a D&D character: he was a one-dimensional killing machine, with few scruples and even fewer morals. I played him as a total Arnie-version Conan knockoff, shamelessly exploited the game's loopholes and inconsistencies, and even gave the DM a "magic item wish list" of stuff I wanted to find in treasure hordes, please and thanks. Needless to say, I had a total blast the whole time.

I discovered the joys of playing to D&D's strengths rather than trying to "story game" the system - my first indication of how far 2e had drifted from the game's initial roots came in the form of rejecting the then-fashionable dictates of play and just letting my inner Munchkin out.

Despite this, Utgar quickly took on a personality of his own, and became something of the central character in the group's unfolding saga. To this day, my old group still refers to that venture as "the Utgar campaign." Utgar made it to, I believe, 8th level. I was formulating plans to take the campaign in a nation-building direction by traveling to the shattered land of Damara and installing Utgar as conqueror-king, or die trying. Unfortunately, the same "Player's Option" books that had enabled me to munchkin the hell out of Utgar's stats also proved my undoing before I could achieve that lofty goal.

In this case, it was the Critical Hit tables in Combat & Tactics. I had sent Utgar off on a side-quest of my devising (that the DM happily enabled) as we prepped for our departure to Damara (which in turn gave me a chance to run a guest session for the rest of the group that I wrote about yesterday). The side quest ended up with Utgar going toe-to-toe with a griffin. It was a tough fight, but Utgar was winning - until the new "random combat event" table in C&T dictated "reinforcements" for the monster. Naturally, the griffin's mate showed up.

I might still have won, but then the second griffin got a critical hit. Roll on hit location...head. Roll severity...maximum. Roll save versus death...fail. After 8 levels of play, Utgar was dead, just like that. Alone in the wilderness as he was, there was no chance of healing or resurrection. I still have the crumpled-up character sheet that I initially threw in the trash in a fit of pique (and later retrieved as I cooled off). That was also the end of the campaign. Like Zeppelin losing Bonzo, the rest of the group just couldn't countenance continuing on with the campaign missing one of its own.

Utgar lives on in our collective memories and hearts, of course. He was one of the good ones.


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