Sometimes I forget just how much DMing I’ve done. I have loose numbers in mind, like the number of campaigns I’ve run, but the weight of all the time and effort I’ve spent usually escapes my notice. I only think about it when something—a conversation, a feature in a new book that works with an old character, or even just flipping though my notes looking for something else—reminds me of something. My DMing history includes a massive amount of things I’ve forgotten, including some great plotlines, characters, fights, and the stories and advice that come from them. Even among the things I do remember there’s plenty I haven’t talked about on this blog. And it occurred to me: why not?
So let me tell you about Slyghen the Unfortunate.
Slyghen is a character who has appeared, in some form or another, in almost every campaign I’ve run. He’s always a goblin (or goblin-equivalent; in Hyrule he’s a miniblin), usually smart, and often a key NPC in the plot. He rarely appears quietly; I tend to make a big deal of him, even if I don’t have unfurl a “it’s time for Slyghen’s appearance” banner, and he tends to get very involved in any scene that includes him. But aside from that he changes wildly as the plot demands. He’s been a lightning-hurling healer, a hapless grunt, a mechanical genius, and a literal fiend, all strung together by his presentation and usually a measure of snarky derision. It’s not really appropriate to say he’s my avatar in the campaign or anything that heavy-handed. He’s just a guy I like, and I put things I like in my games, so there he is.
Slyghen came about as a plot device in my second campaign, The Legend of Zelda: Osaevu the Chosen. The campaign villain, Osaevu, needed to perform some action in three holy sites around Hyrule, but as she was a nasty villain-type person, the sites wouldn’t react to her. She needed misguided heroes to do things for her, so she picked a good-hearted but dumb minion and “accidentally” let slip that she was going to enslave the world and she could only be stopped by a brave group of adventurers. Everybody in her organization followed the naming structure of “[name I got from Rinkworks] the [middle-school vocabulary word]”, and “Slyghen the Unfortunate” was the name I got for this minion. The players thought the “unfortunate” epithet came about because he was weak or, as a good person following an evil boss, cosmically misplaced. Actually, it was because he was the person unlucky enough to be the patsy in the villain’s scheme. The players did eventually complete their objective, which opened the path to the Dark World, and Slyghen joined them as penance.
He died in the next fight. Unfortunate indeed.
When I put Slyghen in the Unnamed Monster Campaign, my intention was not to have him as a running character. Rather, I just thought he deserved a more fitting storyline than “tricked, then dead”. The idea to put a group of monsters, a past iteration of the players’ party, into the campaign didn’t occur to me until several sessions in, and then Slyghen seemed like a perfect fit as a retired goblin PC. But I also needed him to be a challenge for the inevitable fight and I knew a goblin with sixteen class levels was an underwhelming encounter, so his backstory involved a curse that turned him into a devil. A CR-16 devil, but a devil nonetheless. He was a goblin for conversation and a cornugon for combat, and after a bad fight with the party he got himself some cyborg or metal parts to make himself mechanically competitive. He died when the party broke into his castle, beat him to death, then crashed the castle into their airship. That’s not a typo.
Slyghen didn’t appear in my next two campaigns; the fourth ended unceremoniously after six sessions when one player (of two) left the country, and I’d plumb forgotten about him by the fifth. But the campaign after that was The Great Tower of Oldechi, which I’ve discussed on this blog extensively. Slyghen was the campaign deuteragonist, a brilliant engineer and the leader of a group who saw the tower as a prison and intended to break out regardless of what that meant for the stability of the universe. He didn’t make an on-camera appearance until Floor 26, but the players started interacting with his group on Floor 2. The party’s conflict with him culminated in a session-long fight against his lieutenants, then a session-long skill challenge/encounter when he came after the party with a giant robot they had no business fighting toe-to-toe. They did disable his robot and brutally scar Slyghen, but he escaped to fight another day. The party did not care; by beating him they proved their worth and advanced to the next stage while he remained behind, possibly trapped forever.
I did sort of cheat with the Eight Arms setting. Slyghen was an NPC ally in The Eight Arms and the Shadow Invasion, a witch who helped the party as a magical expert. He even fought alongside them for one session when the party’s normal healer couldn’t attend the game. After that Slyghen joined the Eight Arms guild, so he was always in the setting if not involved in the events of a given campaign. His next main role was in The Eight Arms and the Unforgiving Blade when he moved into goblin country to set up new branch of the guild, and even then he mostly stayed home and tended to things while the PCs went on an adventure.
Fun fact: When Slyghen joined the party for one session in Shadow Invasion, one of the regular players ran him in addition to his normal character, Nicodemus Kriedy. Kriedy died that session, the campaign’s only death, because the player didn’t heal him with Slyghen. In Unforgiving Blade, Slyghen didn’t adventure with the group because he stayed behind to tend to Kriedy after he was struck down by deadly poison. Clearly, if I do ever run that campaign about Kriedy’s final death, Slyghen should be a PC for symmetry.
I think Slyghen didn’t appear in Wrath of the Cosmic Accountant, a campaign I don’t talk about much because it was especially bad. He probably would have appeared eventually had the campaign not ended prematurely. Somewhere around there he became the final boss of our super special awesome version of D&D Delve Night, so I might count that. He did appear in the second Zelda campaign, as a miniblin who popped up occasionally to steal things from the party. I tried to make sure he always got away, even if it wasn’t with the loot he wanted. By the end of the campaign the players pounced whenever they saw him, insistent that this time they’d finally give him what for, and he met his end in the extraordinarily ordinary mass combat session. I think he was eaten by a giant snake skeleton. The end of that session is fuzzy.
Both of my current campaigns take place in new settings, and neither of them have featured Slyghen yet. That’s not a prediction for my players; that’s a warning.
I like how my players react whenever Slyghen arrives in a new campaign. It’s like the first time you see Two-Face in a Batman series, or the first time you see somebody who looks like Trunks in literally anything by Akira Toriyama. It’s that moment of “oh, yeah, this guy!”, when my players remember the character and start paying attention to him. I don’t think any of my players are exactly fans of him; they don’t care that much about any given NPC, and I think they take more pleasure in subverting a character if they know I like him. But they’re fans of me being a fan of him, and that’s close enough.
I have to assume other DMs do something like this, putting something specific in each of their campaigns. It’s probably not always as overt as a named NPC. Sometimes the recurring thread is a setting, or an item, or a theme like “monarchy as a political system lends itself to class-based abuses”. I can only think of one such thing from my own DMs, and that’s the one who builds all his battle maps out of sprites from The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. If you have any recurring themes, let me know. I’m interested in knowing I’m not alone.