I’ll confess a fondness for the shorter races of the Forgotten Realms. Sure elves and dragonborn and the like are cool, but there’s something about dwarves, gnomes and halflings that just triggers my imagination. Halfling Barbarian Tunnel Fighter! Gnome Storm Cleric! Sitting in my stock of characters-to-use-when-I-get-the-chance are a Dwarf Monk with a drinking problem and a Halfling Rogue who got conscripted into the local militia. When I flipped the first card for today’s post I saw a halfling, and my mind went “Ooh!” and then I flipped the others and went “… huh…. iiiinteresting”.
Normally when I pull cards from the Dossier Decks I’m looking to create an interesting NPC, though last time we switched gears and used the cards as inspiration for a character for Iron Kingdoms: Requiem. I pulled the cards for today’s article and I was torn. Are we making a character or an NPC today? We’re sticking with an NPC, but really, I feel like either is a solid option for Pippa Westbuck.
So Pippa is clearly talented in the ways of magic, and isn’t bound to a stuffy library somewhere as indicated by her fine travelling clothes. She’s a little absent minded and constantly recalls moments from her youth and from days of yore. Her constant companion is a raven that speaks Dwarven, and occasionally utters portentious omens. As a lover of history myself, Pippa immediately struck a chord with me but it’s the raven that triggered some more sinister ideas.
Halflings are long-lived, so she’d likely have a good depth of experience, but at the same time, the little folk tend to settle down wherever they’re comfortable. Even if we put Pippa in her later years, say, 200ish, she’ll have spent at least a century of that in a community of her peers rather than adventuring. What if she has a knack for history, but the personal experiences from her youth aren’t personal experiences from her youth?
Suppose Pippa was of a scholarly bent, but not necessarily of magic. We know she likes history, so what if she leaned into her natural charm and began adventuring as a bard, perhaps the College of Lore. She had a knack for the magical side of bardcraft, but it was the knowledge that drew her in. You could even argue that the Cutting Words ability Lore bards pick up manifests as her confusing foes with anecdotes and historical tidbits.
Let’s say Pippa and her adventuring buddies went underground, where they bravely fight their way through the catacombs before coming up against Thavis of the Eternal Stone, a dwarven sorcerer long since given over to the ravages of time refusing to yield to death’s grip. A short, bearded lich, if you will. Conflict ensues, and Pippa watches her teammates fall around her as they battle the master of knee-high necromancy. Pippa gives her all, firing everything at her disposal at the lich before darkness overwhelms her.
After a time, Pippa regains consciousness to find herself alone before the lich’s throne. The bodies of her friends lay on the cold tile, while the lich’s own form lies broken and shattered on the steps leading to the throne’s dais. The only other movement in the room is that of a large raven perched on the throne itself, head cocked at our halfling hero. She hadn’t seen the bird before, but it seemed to bob its head at her as if acknowledging something.
Dusting herself off, Pippa sets a pyre for her companions, knowing that there’s no way she can retrieve their remains and return them to the surface. The raven periodically mutters in a tongue unfamiliar to her, presumably dwarvish, and at one point settles on her shoulder. After paying her respects Pippa returns to the surface and, disenchanted with the heroic life after the deaths of her friends, retires from adventuring to focus on scholarly pursuits…
… but she has lapses. Every once in awhile she realizes that she can’t remember what she did yesterday, or the day before. She finds notes that she didn’t write. She finds a dwarven runestone rolled under her desk. And this raven keeps muttering at her in what she’s told is dwarven. She never learned the language, but on more than one occasion she’s muttered what feels like an expletive. Surely she just picked it up from the raven, no? And then there was that time she debated with a runesmith about the nature of three specific dwarven runes. At least, she’d been told she’d debated with the runesmith. She couldn’t remember doing so, and knew nothing about the etymology of the runes.
In truth, the raven is simply following its master, as all Familiars do. So what if the master is hiding inside a little halfling bookworm? From time to time the master surfaces, and tells the raven of his plans now that he can move freely among the still-living…
SkeletonKey’s Dossier Decks are a great tool for creating NPCs or inspiring character creation or even a full campaign. What if Pippa was loose in Candlekeep? What would the evil Thavis be able to achieve with access to Faerun’s greatest repository of knowledge? Should the party befriend and ally with Pippa as they work to uncover whatever mysteries they’re … well, uncovering, how will they react to the unwitting traitor in their midst? Will they realize that their foe was alongside them throughout the entire adventure before the lich’s machinations wreak havoc? Can Pippa be relieved of her incorporeal stowaway? More questions than answers… there’s an adventure here just waiting to unfold.