Name: Princess Azeld
Campaign: The Legend of Zelda: Shaman Gates
Things of course, start difficult. It turns out I’ve had more characters beginning with the letter A than any other. Possible contenders for this spot included:
- Steampunk Iron Man/Wolverine hybrid
- The world’s fastest mummy
- A golem from the plane of elemental falsehood
- A literal witch doctor
- A magic gnome with delusions of grandeur
- A fire-hurling nihilist bird
- An old-timey circus strongman
- Juju David Bowie
In the end I decided I couldn’t very well go all month without talking about Princess Zelda, murderhobo.
Azeld may be the least inventively-named character I’ve ever had, and this is from a person whose roster includes Rock Hardslab, dwarven shouting enthusiast. She is, as is to be expected, an adventuring princess. However, she’s also a blackguard, dedicated to spreading her influence through power, rage, and control. She would have made a perfect villain for a Zelda campaign except that she’s the leader of the heroes and arguably the main character. I’ll say this repeatedly over the course of the month, but unlike many DMs I don’t feel the need to run an evil campaign, where the party is actually the villains. I find that happens enough organically.
Actually, you know what? Every time I talk about a PC becoming a villain, joining the villains, or being better suited to villainy, take a drink.
While Azeld on her face is exactly the wrong character for the campaign, in practice she’s exactly right. She approaches situations from the perfect angle for a video game (that is, approaching them from the front and hitting them until they aren’t situations any more), which gives us precisely the feel we want out of the game. She knows immediately which items are meant for her character and fits them into her build, which not only keeps them useful but makes me feel great; ask any DM who spent hours designing an item how it feels when the players put it in the “sell for cash” pile. And despite that, turn-by-turn she doesn’t feel beholden to the “hold forward, mash attack button” strategy video games and 4E often warrant. She keeps looking for opportunities to do something wacky, like using fallaway suplexes to hurl enemies off cliffs, keeping our fights lighthearted and creative. She just saves her cleverness for when she’s already ankle-deep in monster organs.
I like when players do interesting things in fights, especially when they use terrain or allies in ways for which they were not intended, so Azeld doesn’t change my DMing style as much as she reminds me what I like about it. However, once her player learned things like that were not only tolerated but encouraged, she started looking for it, and that gave me the idea for the boss of the eighth dungeon, who could only be killed by creative use of the environment. That boss would not have existed were it not for this character, and without that boss the dungeon would not have functioned the same way. I have several instances where a character’s backstory or personality informed or created an adversary, but never one where the character’s playstyle created a whole level.
This campaign hadn’t ended yet, so I don’t know what’s going to happen to Azeld. I assume she’ll reign victorious and not join the bad guys no matter how often I try to get her to. Perhaps she’ll learn something about herself and resolve to be a better, more compassionate ruler. But it’s more likely she’ll say “I don’t know, hitting things with swords has worked for me so far”, because that’s much funnier.