Introducing new characters into an existing narrative can be a real bugbear. I’ve commented in the past on Privateer’s smooth handling of new introductions into the Iron Kingdoms – Why yes, this character or faction has existed for years, but they’re only now coming to your attention because… – and I can’t help but tip my hat to how smoothly the writers can insert a new warcaster or whatnot as if they’d been there all along, generally without needing to rely on tropes or rehashing the same concept. Recently in my D&D Group – Salty Tales – I was challenged with something similar, albeit nowhere on the same scale.
The Salty Tales crew were originally Skagen, Alastor, Lia and Tarryc – SALT, get it? – but after the events of the Hidden Shrine of Tamoachan, inserted into Storm King’s Thunder to get the characters to a level where they could advance – Alastor’s player wanted to change his character. It was also time for Tarryc to be retired from the party, given that he was a DM-run NPC whose purpose was to help guide the party if the players – all pretty much new to D&D – until such time as they no longer needed their hands held. So, being the benevolent Dungeon Master that I am, the stars aligned and a plan was devised.
Alastor had been bitten by a werejaguar in the shrine and had, unbeknownst to the party at large, contracted lycanthropy. Their first night back in Amphail was a full moon. Skagen and Lia, both elves, rested and then went to explore the town in the wee hours, only to return to inn to the sounds of conflict, a small explosion, and a figure being thrown through an upstairs window, followed by an assailant leaping after it. The defenestrated figure was Tarryc, being heartily disemboweled by a humanoid cat-monster of sorts. The elves intervened and slew the creature, only to see its corpse morph back into the familiar shape of the tiefling Alastor, and poor Tarryc having died of his wounds.
Side note: The shock and horror on Skagen and Lia’s player’s faces was pretty damn amazing. Alastor’s player was at least partially in the loop and had realized what was attacking Tarryc shortly after it began, but still…
The next morning, the local lord called the two survivors before him and, for lack of a better term, assigned a… watchdog… to them, on behalf of the Lord’s Alliance. Vontherion, the half-elf bard, was to accompany Skagen and Lia as they journeyed North, to monitor, report, and otherwise keep the out of trouble. An encounter followed on the road where the three characters bonded, for lack of a better term, though Lia and Skagen still considered Von a complete git… and from there all was well.
Except it wasn’t.
Von’s player started a new job, and the hours weren’t conducive to his playing in the game, and my own schedule meant that shifting it wasn’t an option. After playing one session, Von was no long an option as a player character, and our group was down to two players, instead of the three players I like to run a game at. Enter a new player! Another work colleague had previously expressed interest in joining the fray, and discussions were had, and a contract was signed in the blood of the… um.. wait, no, just ink, I swear. We could only find a red pen. No worries, thought I, we’ll have a new character in the party, they can recruit him in the Inn or something and…
What the heck’s a Tortle, aside from what it sounds like? … Oh. It is what it sounds like. The new player wants to play a humanoid chelonian named Gad, and apparently it’s an officially supported race thanks to Tomb of Annihilation. Well, okay then, at least he’s not playing a teenage Tortle monk. No, he wants to be a paladin with an Oath of Vengeance.
So I had two problems. One, I needed to remove Von from the narrative. Two, I needed to insert the new angry turtle man. Why is this Tortle – from a tropical clime months of travel to the South – in the North, heading toward snow-covered regions? Two birds with one stone time.
What if Von wasn’t -really- an agent of the Lord’s Alliance? He’d blown into Amphail all like “I’m so important, check out my swag, I have an important name and title and stuff” and the locals had been suitably impressed and had believed him, his reputation having preceded him, but what If he wasn’t the real Vontherion? What if he was an imposter? What if the real Vontherion had travelled further South some time ago and had met up with one of the local noble turtle folk, adventured with him for some time, and had died fighting the nastiness of the Tomb of Annihilation (or even just been eaten by a dinosaur)? What if, honor-bound, that Tortle had left his homeland and travelled North to Vontherion’s homeland to notify his family of his passing?
Okay, now what if False-Von, Lia and Skagen camped out for the night, with said Tortle in the immediate vicinity, and the Tortle overheard False-Von claiming to be the real Vontherion? Being a creature of honour and driven North by his bond with the true Vontherion, clearly the falsehood would not stand. The imposter is besmirching the name and reputation of the true Vontherion, and must be dealt with accordingly.
Hilarity ensues, and the two elves are roused from their meditation by a crunch as Gad summarily executes the imposter Von. Inter-party conflict is set to erupt, despite both Skagen and Lia actively disliking the false-Von, in-character, since they first met – this bipedal tortoise had just committed murder right in front of them, after all – when who should appear but the vampire spawn the party had stupidly revived in the Hidden Shrine, after triggering the curse that says that not too long after escaping the Shrine, they’d be hunted down by the nasty old pointy-toothed gribbly. Both spellcasters open up, the turtle knight teleports directly behind the vampire span and basically swings for the fences, his spiked mace carving a gouge through the vampire’s spine and putting paid to the threat.
Having killed the nasty, the three have a moment to re-evaluate the situation between them, and the new party is formed.
Salty Tales now consists of Skagen the Elven Tempest Cleric, who is finding his faith-based powers malfunctioning, Lia the Elven Necromancer, driven to master her power so that she can restore Tarryc to life, and Gad. the Tortle Paladin, who finds himself an oddity in the savage frontier. S, L, G. Perhaps I should change the name to Slug Tales…