I first was introduced to Dunegons & Dragons crica 2002. I’d always known of its existence, but always kept it at arm’s length. For some reason growing up, no matter how much I could geek out over Final Fantasy, or adore my favorite comic book characters, lose myself for hours (days? weeks?) in MMORPGs, or re-watch the entire Star Wars trilogy at least once a week (remember when there were only 3?)… D&D always felt like it was in a category of nerdom that was somehow beyond the level of geek that I was comfortable with embracing. I don’t know if it was the advent of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings films in the early ‘00s that finally tipped the scales or not, but when a new friend said “Hey, come try it out, I promise it’ll be fun”, I finally relented and figured it was time to see what role-playing games were really all about. Two weeks later I couldn’t wait to run down to the local hobby shop to buy my own copy of the 3.5 edition Player’s Handbook, and things haven’t been the same since.
A Matter of Class
Fast-forward 15 years or so and save for a lapse in activity during the 4th edition era, I’ve created, played, lost, or just filed away ideas for dozens of characters, and D&D has never been far from my gaming mind. I once on a whim pulled an all-nighter home-brewing my own 3.5e character class I called the Telekinetic (which I can now admit to my friends was in fact just a way for me to shoehorn a Jedi into a traditional Gygax fantasy world). I’ve always loved the creative space of coming up with unique characters and simple yet alluring story hooks; perhaps almost more than even playing them out! So as the APN team set out to create a ragtag crew of adventurers, I spent a while trying to come up with something I’d never done before. I’d played fighters and rogues, wizards and monks, but realized I’d never in my years explored the granddaddy of support classes: the Bard. As a long-time lover of music and with our party being pretty large I decided a Bard would be the perfect fit for our little team experiment. So it was decided that Sydretorian, the Half-Elf Bard was born!
Maintain Against the Grain?
When coming up with a concept for Sydretorian, or Syd as I’d take to calling him for short (I always enjoy elaborate fantasy names which can be easily shortened or nick-named; in fact, I started with Syd and just started adding syllables until it sounded reasonably Elvish!), the first step (before even having his name) was settling on his race. A loud voice in my head is always telling me to play against the grain and do something that mechanically works in direct opposition to the class’s goals. For example, a half-orc which suffers a penalty to their Charisma score would not normally be the “correct” choice for a Bard, since the class relies heavily on their Charisma score to perform, cast spells, and more. Voluntarily taking on a hurdle like that creates a challenging role play situation and forces me as a player to get more creative in the game to overcome challenges. So Syd was ALMOST created to be a half-orc, but eventually a combination of the quieter but more rational voice in my head, as well as the fact that I’d never in all my years played a half-elf, won over.
How Do I Get Infinite Respawning Throwing Hammers?
With the race, class, and character name out of the way, the next most important thing for me was deciding on what kind of Bard and musician Syd would be. Concept art for Bards inevitably features a jovial fellow with a lute, and I thought to myself, “Self, everyone knows how cool lutes are, but there’s got to be something even COOLER that you could do”. So I kept soul searching, until inspiration struck me one afternoon: Narbash. A bard-like character in the (now defunct, RIP) MOBA game Paragon, Narbash charged into battle with an entire rack of drums & cymbals hanging around his neck and used bones as drum sticks. As a real-life drummer myself, Narbash’s percussionist style naturally resonated with me and I thought maybe something like that would be Syd’s claim to musical fame! But the more I considered the logistics of trying to stand near an enemy and strike them with my weapons with a set of tom drums in the way, I knew I had to keep tinkering with the idea. After all, I wasn't going to get to throw hammers at enemies and have them magically reappear in my hand like in a video game now, was I?
So I liked the lute, but it just wasn’t enough. I loved the drums idea, but they’d need to stay clear of the action. What’s an bard to do? Finally, the idea evolved to its final form: The One-Man Band. You know, like the guy you see down at Pier 39 in San Francisco. That weird guy playing several instruments at once by what appears to be erratic flailing of his limbs. The guy that panhandles for money and seems like a really silly street performing gimmick, but deep down you know anyone that chooses that for their career has GOT to have some stories. Now I was on to something, and I’d found Sydretorian’s place in the world. A peculiar half-elf with a passion for music and performing, but also for seeing the world, it’s various cultures, and all the tales they have to offer. All with his lute in tow, a pan flute in his pack, and a kick drum strapped to his back with its mallets tied to his boots. You know, like one does.
Want To Know How I Got This Patch?
The final step in the process is for me to start coming up with the physical description of the character. Being a half-elf isn’t generally going to lead to the most glamorous or unique looking individual, but having drafted a relatively colorful character concept I figured I’d need to find some ways to make him stand out. Shout out to Hero Forge for their ability to help players bring their fantasy characters to life, and without which I’d perhaps never settled on his side-shaved top-knot haircut, devilish goatee and cocky demeanor, or the eye-patch slung over his left eye (the origin of which Syd carries a multitude of Dark Knight Joker-like scar stories; will anyone ever hear the real story? Is he even missing the eye?) Toss on a comfy traveling shirt, a colorful kilt, and a book of songs and Syd was ready to make his debut into the world.
With a quirky concept I was happy with, I presented Syd to our wonderful DM for her blessing on having a menagerie of starting instruments instead of the usual one. It was agreed upon but met with some questions with regards to where the instruments came from, is there anything special about them, etc. (among other character motivation-related inquiries), to which I honestly hadn’t considered. And as we prepare to go deeper into our campaign over the coming months, I still don’t know if there will be anything special about them, and that’s okay, even exciting to me. I believe in the idea that playing Dungeons & Dragons is a collaborative experience in telling stories, and that means involving everyone in your character’s stories; even the DM. I want my characters to belong to my party and to my DM as much as they belong to me, and for the DM to have the freedom and ability to surprise ME with twists about my own character that I hadn’t anticipated or thought of. That level of creativity and co-ownership of the experience is what really creates the long-lasting memories that made me fall in love with D&D so many years ago.
So, what are we waiting for? Let’s go explore the Underdark (and find my stolen instruments now that we’re out of that cell!)