After my wife Kristen (with the help of the other two Quest Friends) made me an unbelievably elaborate, DIY Game of Thrones Board Game 2nd Edition 9-player expansion set for our anniversary in January (complete with its own full-table map and 3D-printed game pieces), I knew I had to get my act together.
The bar had been set high, and I knew I wanted to do something really special for her birthday this May.
So I decided to take one of her favorite book series and make a Dungeons & Dragons adaptation for her to play. By channeling the infinite role playing power of D&D, I would design a module to give her the chance to BE one of her favorite fantasy characters of all time.
I retreated deep into the Quest Friends Game Forge (sitting on my couch) and knew what I must do. I resolved to forge a customized homebrew D&D character class and an entire campaign based on Garth Nix’s The Old Kingdom book series to let her be Sabriel, the heroine she has secretly wanted to be since childhood (and let’s face it – still does).
It would be so easy using the Quest Friends Game Forge: I would heat the raw metal of unlimited potential (D&D) and shape it according to my goal design (The Old Kingdom series). The finished product would have carefully designed mechanistic details reflecting the rules and worldbuilding of The Old Kingdom, yet the endless capacity for creative role playing brought to us by D&D.
For those of you who haven’t yet read Garth Nix’s Old Kingdom series, it takes place in a fictional world full of fantasy, good and evil, magic, and history. Sabriel is one of the main protagonists, a young woman who inherits from her father the role of the “Abhorsen,” a kind of magical warrior able to walk in both Life and Death, and sworn to protect the realm against evil magic which takes the form of “free magic” or “necromancy.” Unlike most other mages in the realm who can channel only the good “Charter magic” to protect the land, the Abhorsen is unique in that she must master a combination of both charter magic (good) and free magic (chaotic and/or evil) if she hopes to defeat such evil forces.
This unique combination takes the physical form of a set of seven bells, which are actually free magic constructs, constrained and controlled by powerful Charter magic to allow their wielder to use them for good rather than evil. Necromancers, on the other hand, use such free magic for evil purposes, such as allowing or forcing the dead out of Death and into Life to wreak havoc on the living. A necromancer might use a bell to bring an evil spirit from Death and into a fresh corpse to do his bidding, whereas the Abhorsen might use a bell to banish the spirit back into Death. Each of the seven bells has unique sounds, properties, uses, and histories that govern its abilities.
The Necromancer Bells
And so I had resolved to capture this wonderful world of fantasy and translate it into a D&D campaign that would honor the rules and overall spirit of the The Old Kingdom series. This would require two main things:
- A homebrew long-term storyline capable of sustaining an entire group of players in a way that stays true to the feel and themes of The Old Kingdom
- A homebrew class of Wizard to allow a player to be the Abhorsen
The storyline turned out to be the easier part. I decided to use the Tales from the Yawning Portal (TYP) publication, taking the quests/dungeons/maps and repurposing them in sequence around a newly fabricated storyline in the world of The Old Kingdom. In TYP, for example, the original modules were made to be unrelated to one another, with each quest having suggested goals and character inspirations. In my homebrew quest, I created a single unifying plotline which is broken into subquests – with a single TYP module plugging into each subquest. Of course I can’t give away the underlying plot – you’ll have to read our gaming chronicles and piece that together for yourself! Needless to say, the plotline is inspired from the events in Sabriel and the following books, and could theoretically be something that happens long after or long before the events in the written series.
For example, we started the Sunless Citadel module under the premise of my wife’s character being the young Abhorsen-in-Waiting at the end of a very long period of peace (such that she’s never really had to fight necromancers or free magic spirits before). Suddenly she must begin her Abhorsen duties by investigating strange happenings in the town of Oakhurst. The other two Quest Friends were drawn to Oakhurst because Hjolram (a Dwarf Cleric of the Forge Domain) is in search of the magical Gulthias Tree fruit to heal his dying father, and Tiberius (a Dragonborn Rogue Thief) is hoping to find his two lost friends who were last spotted near the town.
The homebrew Wizard class turned out to be the most work and the most reward. I had to faithfully re-create the spells, abilities, dangers, and temptations of being the Abhorsen using the rules of D&D. I chose Wizard to make a homebrew class in order to give the character emphasis on the powerful magic wielded by the Abhorsen, but also the disadvantages of poor physical fighting and defensive skills (which likely would be made up for by the rest of the team). So I used the classic Wizard build including everything in the PHB with the exception of a completely new Arcane Tradition, or Wizard School.
And so I present to you in my next post the “Wizard School of the Abhorsen”! Here I go into how I created this Wizard School from scratch, and how to incorporate it into your own D&D quest.