Before the story starts, my name is Ian Valenta & I’ve been a big fan of your narrated stories on Youtube for a couple of years now. I’ve only been playing for a couple of years now, but I wanted to tell this as a cautionary tale to any new player who can’t handle PC death to an obserd degree.
We all have our characters that are our favorites to go back to, time & time again. Let it be a favorite class or an idea, or whatever. But this is a story of what happens when a new player took his character down so far, became a former husk of himself, but also found true inspiration after all.
I was that player.
My character’s name is Norlion Vatumal, a young male Half-Sun Elf paladin of the Ancients. With his mighty sword, shield & the guidance of Nobanion, the Lion King of the Forgotten Realms, he has always been destined for great things. Born of a Human King & Elvin Queen, he was deemed royality by his peers & revered by all.
Except, that’s not how he went about things. He was a coward & a traitor to the royal family itself, but wanted to figure out his own path in life, so he set out in search of true power, the power of heart.
This was Norlion’s backstory when I first played him on my first game in both 5th Edition & Roll20. Already, problems arose as soon as I started playing. I’m a video gamer at heart & still am. I’m also mentally disabled by the form of Autism, so changes to me are not good for me to handle right off the bat. I can RP fairly well, but finding hidden secrets & figuring out clues was never my forte.
The first campaign was in a homebrew world, inspired by the album “Dream Evil” by Dragonslayer (which is actually a good listen to, so already good)
My first group consisted of
“Umara” Female Cleric human
“Ryder” Old Human Fighter
“Guan Dao” A Human Champion Fighter
& “Henry Houdini” a cocky Wild Magic sorcerer who casts spells with his fingertips like a gun.
We set out like normal adventurers, we chat, we fight, we pal around. At one point, one of the player’s little kid played with a farm toy, making a sound effect while all of us were in a farmland, so it fit the mood. We got along fantastic! The BBEG of the campaign was going to be Tiamat & her horde of followers attempting to summon her back into the mortal plane & it was up to us to stop her by collecting various artifacts along several different islands. We managed to hire up a boat for us to travel on, leaving us into a sea of dense fog & our own collective thoughts.
The DM decided to have a mental breakdown & called the whole campaign off, leaving us by the wayside with no warning. We were crushed & I was pissed off especially about how the grand tale of Norlion was just going be left alone like that.
Months pass & I join into another group, this one ran by a hardcore DM (whom I’ll call Richard) who played with some harsh rules accounting to death & enemy placement. Of course, I didn’t know this right off the bat, so I went along his game for a while because it was the only game I can schedule in & it was the module, Tyranny of Dragons, which I hatched a bad plan of my own.
Here is where my paladin started to go down the toilet, metaphorically. Richard granted me to play as my Paladin of Nobanion once more! But I still felt betrayed by the former DM & leaving me alone, so I adjusted his backstory to include the ship he sailed on exploded, causing the paladin to drift off to sea, leaving his memory behind. He would gradually gain back his memories of his former allies & his time on the boat, but because it was a different group, I was only making callbacks that only I understood & didn’t connect at all back to the story at hand.
But as the game progressed, I got more & more frustrated with the DM’s choices. Horrible timings, fudging dice rolls (which BTW, he was using real dice that was heard him rolling away) & weird choices, even with the premade module. He even threw in the Deck of Many Things just to screw with us more & more, causing udder chaos. But the tipping point was how he treated me when my character dies for the first time.
It was a long day traveling, one of the party, a Dwarf fighter, collected said Deck of Many Things & drew a card, sending his soul off somewhere else & us freaked out. We all headed down into a tavern for some well deserved sleep. But the whole tavern was joined in by shady characters in cloaks. We made our stand that we wanted to sleep inside with the warm fires, but the shadow men were having none of it & told us to get lost or face dire consequences. Begrudgingly, we agreed…..
At first. Both in & out of character, I was fed up with how the game had played out & so took a rock to a window, smashing it open for us to hide inside to rest. But the shadow men saw us doing it & an epic battle ensued. Blades clash, spells cast & Norlion took the brunt of it because the DM wanted me to feel the pain of breaking the rules, I felt it.
We won, but their daggers were laced with poison (probably added salt to an open wound) & so Norlion slummed to the ground, with no healing left & no potions. I broke down crying, sobbing over the “punishment” that was given out to me. I begged my party to take my dying body into the woods to die alone, making sure they go out on their own instead. I wanted to at least have a graceful death, but as we were finishing up, the DM detailed how my character looked up into the night sky & with one knife blow from another shadow man, Norlion slumping over, dead.
I turned off my mic & sobbed for over an hour & a half of time. All my time wasted, I felt & I blamed myself for all the things the DM was doing & what did the DM say about all of that happening? “Stop crying, you little baby. It’s only a game.”
I lost it. My heart shattered to a million pieces because of that & even with making a new character (which isn’t easy for me to do on the fly), later on made my character a zombie, a mockery of what I went through.
But even in my tears, I never gave up on playing my character to the end, like a solider marching on despite his wounds. I asked Richard if he had any campaigns that needed an extra healer or player. Luckily, he happened to be a part of a Curse of Sthrad campaign & I asked the DM if I could join. He said yes & I started to put ideas together for a new character to fit within the dark & depressing mood of Barovia.
But the more time I spent on the sheets, I keep thinking back to Norlion & his crazy time through all of it. Was he worth becoming a paladin? What was his end goal? He didn’t have one. He was young & foolish towards the end, but maybe…. He didn’t have to be.
I took my despair, my anger & rage, my hopelessness into Norlion, turning the once fun loving paladin of Nobanion into a zombified Oathbreaker Revenant Were-Lion, cursed by Sthrad to join in on his army with his brand of dark magic, but my character refused, becoming a beast that can’t control his primal instincts as a twisted visage of the lion god he once worshipped, wandering the forests, in search of blood of the vampire who cursed him, but also a chance of redemption.
The Curse of Sthrad campaign was already 2/3rds the way in, but it gave me back the love of D&D again, with the new party consisted of:
“Woodstock” a Warforged Druid of the Circle who was played by a calm, collected Texan, accent & all.
“Thoroar” a Human hulk of a Barbarian warrior who was played by Richard as a pure Murderhobo (Figured he would be that way)
& “Azaruth” a Teifling Wizard of Azuth whom Norlion formed the best bond with.
The party met up with Norlion by pure accident. Thoroar was having another of his arguments towards Azaruth about returning a dollhead to a woodshop owner. Frustrated, he punted the dollhead clear out into the woods & Azaruth goes out to fetch it. Norlion clutched onto the doll head & a burned soot covered sword in the other, shaking & growling at him as Norlion demanded where Sthrad might be & if the wizard can be trusted. We agreed to team up, showing off my shapeshifting powers to aid in attacking the nearby tribe of bandits.
Seeing how Azaruth saw the pure intent that Norlion showed in his eyes, he gives the paladin a broken sword hilt. This was the Sun Sword, a magical holy weapon that needed a crystal to power it from within Sthrad’s Castle. The Sun Sword became Norlion’s signature weapon with his shield & over time, the bond between each of us grew & my confidence rose with it. Even with Richard’s playstyle of being our Murderhobo, we still played like we were playing out a drama show on TV.
Eventually, we rode into Sthrad’s castle, armed & ready to take him down, once & for all. We fought fang to fang, sword to sword as each clash could have been our last. I gave an inspiring & intimidating shout-out to Sthrad about the evils he must atone for & in the process, gotten a natural 20 out of that moment. Finally, after losing one of our allies in battle, we succeeded & turned Sthrad’s body to ash with our combined might, the sun rising up in Brovia for the first time in ages.
As the dust cleared & we headed out, a faint glimmering light shaded around Norlion as he looked up to see Nobanion waiting for him, with his fiery mane aglow. Norlion was finally deemed a hero & Sthrad’s magic holding him together dissipated, his body for a brief moment, shown the handsome young man underneath the bitter cold skin. Azaruth sheds a tear for his dear comrade & in act of pure surprise to both the player & me, kissed Norlion long & hard as a sign of love & care towards the redeemed paladin before he faded away into the light.
My story is messy, choppy & overall not that cinematic. But D&D is a way to experiment with how you play & to find yourself, in more ways than one. My lesson here is to always keep moving forward & improving yourself, even if it means taking a lot of bumps to get there. I’m glad that my paladin has finally gotten his happy ending, even years later. But someday, he will return, fresh & more engaging to play as, since paladins are always my go-to
Let the light of Nobanion guide me & others towards their destined futures!
This story is so much of what I love about d&d as a DM and as a player. Yes it can be messy and turn out not fully in our favor, but so can life. And I think some of the coolest fantasy rpg moments come when our games are like a super powered version of our lives, and the lessons we take away can be carried with us along the way. Great post!