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Tales From the Tabletop III

"Work!" The word that nearly brought the world to ruin.

Wherever they are found, and wherever they have traveled, Kender evoke a common adage amongst those who have encountered them.

The most dangerous thing in the world is a bored Kender.

I must beg to differ in this tale.

For those who don’t know Kender, they are a race of Halflings/Hobbits known for an overwhelming sense of curiosity. So great is their curiosity that they are fearless even in the most dire of circumstances. Encountering a dragon that could roast them or stomp them into jelly without a second thought might make them ‘feel a little funny’ but it would not deter them from approaching.

It also contributes to their most infamous habit. Kender have no sense of personal property. Seeing something fascinating in someone’s pocket will cause them to ‘borrow’ it to examine it. They fully intend to return it, of course, but are typically distracted and forget they have it before then. They acquire and lose items with such regularity that a Kender family heirloom may have been in the family for all of two weeks. Kender do not view this as theft, and become quite indignant when accused of such.

They are also lucky beyond anything natural.

The Kender in this tale is one Darmok Tinkettle, ran by a player in my group with a flair for creativity — and driving a Dungeon Master nuts.

Darmok happened upon a fascinating little rod in one of his adventures, which was obviously magical. The item was an artifact which could duplicate nearly any spell effect in existence, but had a chance that it would fail to function, or teleport the user to a random location.

The rod required a command word to activate its power. If this command word was known, or discovered, a practiced mage could discern the enchantments within it and activate the powers they wished to use. To those without magical skill, it randomly cast spells as if it was a high-level wizard.

No command word was available with the rod, but this didn’t deter Darmok whatsoever. Whenever an item like this showed up in the campaign, I provided a one in one thousand chance that the holder might discover the command word by accident. A carefree and curious Kender is exactly the sort of creature to randomly rattle off words and phrases into perpetuity, so it suited Darmok right down to the ground.

Darmok would regularly pull out the rod as he adventured, trying new command words.

“Abracadabra!”

“Hocus pocus!”

“Ala peanut butter sandwiches!”

While none worked, he was untroubled. He knew he would figure it out eventually. Being far removed from his kin in his travels, he managed to hold onto the item as well.

During one adventure, Darmok found himself in a spot of trouble. He was caught perched on a narrow ledge with a group of very angry ogres snarling at him from both above and below. Though he had managed to take down a few of the monsters, they were resorting to dropping and hurling enormous rocks, which left him in dire straits.

Running out of options, my player pulled the rod out of his bag of holding, pointed it at the ogres below, and desperately said, “Work!” Then he rolled the dice.

I stared — open-mouthed and stunned — when the dice stopped on the one in one thousand number that meant he had discovered the rod’s command word. I knew this wasn’t going to be good.

I rolled the dice and the random spell which had activated was a meteor swarm. I rolled up the damage and found that he had nearly decimated the group of ogres below the cliff. Those who survived ran for their lives as fast as their legs could carry them. Those atop the cliff did so as well when the smoke cleared, and they could see the smoking, scattered bits of their kin on the ground below.

Now, I was suddenly faced with a character that was already a threat to the world order in possession of an artifact of untold and unpredictable power. Intoning its mystical command word, Darmok played with the rod for a few minutes upon reaching the top of the cliff. Fireballs, lightning bolts, stinking clouds, and all manner of fascinating, deadly magic spewed from the rod at random, unoffending rocks.

Darmok decided that he was now a great and powerful wizard. As such, he required attire more suited to one of his station. He set out for the nearest town to ‘borrow’ what he needed. Upon finding a woman’s summer dress hanging out to dry, he made a few modifications. Soon enough, he was dressed in the frilly, powder blue robes of a great wizard — with a rather deep neckline.

Upon discovering that there was a magic school in the town, he decided to present himself to them, so that they might stand in awe of his awesome power. He strutted up to the wizard standing guard at the gate — his short stature allowing him to use the rod as a walking staff.

There, he brandished his staff with a flourish, and in a voice he felt was appropriately deep and mysterious, introduced himself. “I am Darmok the Magnificent.”

The guard held out a warding hand. “Oh no. The last thing we need here is one of your kind picking up something and running off with it to cause mayhem. Begone, you little thief.”

Darmok sputtered and fumed. “My kind? Thief? How dare you! I am insulted! Everyone knows not to insult great and powerful wizards, because we are stubbly and quick to anger!”

“Away with you, Kender. If you do not leave immediately, I will call for the city watch to detain you.”

Darmok had endured quite enough of the man’s insults, and decided a lesson was in order. He raised his staff, aimed it at the offending wizard and shouted, “Work!”

One of the random failures rolled up, so nothing happened.

Darmok shrugged, gave his staff a little shake, and said, “Must have been holding it wrong. Let’s try that again. Work!”

The artifact didn’t fail that time, and the random effect was an itching spell. The gate guard went into a furious bout of scratching while screaming for help.

When two other wizards arrived in response to the alarm, one made the mistake of saying, “Oh no! A thieving Kender! Get it away quickly!”

Darmok snorted in indignation. “Well, I never! If you are all so rude, I’ll just find another place to show off my amazing magical talents then.”

One of them yelled, “Get out of here before I set your topknot on fire!”

Never threaten a Kender’s topknot. It really is a bad idea. Trust me.

Once again, Darmok raised his wizard’s staff. “Work!”

I groaned when the effect was a mass dispel. Every magic item and ward in the general vicinity ceased to function immediately. The wizards knew it, and began to panic. Darmok, of course, did not, and thought the staff had failed again.

“Work!”

A powerful stream of water shot forth from the staff, blasting the wizards back into the building. Derisive shouts about Darmok arising from deeper within the building prompted him to continue teaching these rude wizards a lesson. Anyone who would behave so discourteously toward a noble adventurer and great wizard such as himself must be evil wizards. As a good wizard, it was his duty to bring them to justice.

“Work!”

This time, one of the random teleports rolled up. I picked up the stack of folders containing the maps of various locations in the world, closed my eyes, shuffled them on the table in front of me, and picked one randomly. From that, I blindly picked a map, opened it, and dropped a six-sided die.

I groaned again, knowing this was a disaster waiting to happen. The location was a temple, far from any civilized land, where a lone guardian protected the one thing preventing a flight of deadly black dragons from ravaging the world. The most prized possession of their horde, which was now within the temple, was the key that imprisoned them in a pocket dimension.

The immensely powerful golem that guarded the temple ensured that nobody disturbed the six-foot long, pure onyx statue of a crouching black dragon. Removing it from the lair would not only break down the barriers preventing the dragons from returning to the world, it would also serve as a beacon to draw the dragons to it.

The guardian, while crafted by the brightest of minds with the most powerful of enchantments, had a limited vocabulary and scope of thought. Thus, it said exactly the wrong thing upon Darmok’s sudden appearance in the temple’s entrance hall.

“Stop, thief, or be destroyed.”

Already irritated by the wizards, Darmok quickly shook off the confusion caused by his sudden relocation. He pointed his staff at the golem and said, “Oh yeah? Take this you pasty-faced rock for brains! Work!”

I slapped my forehead when the effect was a dimensional shift. I banged my head against the table when the roll I made for the golem’s saving throw was a natural one, indicating a catastrophic failure.

The way completely open, Darmok spent several happy hours exploring and examining all the fascinating items in the dragon’s horde. He stuffed his pockets and magical pouches, but always found something else delighting to keep him there. Then, he happened upon the statue.

Upon examining it, he thought it would look good in front of his friend’s castle. There had been a slight misunderstanding the last time he visited, concerning some of his wife’s underthings going missing, and Darmok thought the statue would make a good peace offering.

Scratching his chin, he tried to figure out how to move the massive thing. Upon looking through the many magical possessions on his character sheet, he saw a ring of telekinesis. The ring worked to lift the statue, but its magic wouldn’t last long enough to take it any long distance.

My player asked, “Is the opening of my purloin sack wide enough to slip over the statue?”

Though sorely tempted to say no, the dimensions were plainly written on the description of the statue, and it would work, so I told him, “Yes.”

Darmok proceeded to whistle a merry tune while sliding the purloin sack over the head of the dragon. It was a magical bag with an enchantment that allowed it to hold anything that would fit through the opening, regardless of whether the sack was deep enough to actually contain it. Once inside, it actually entered a pocket dimension not unlike the one holding the black dragons, making it weightless and easy to transport.

He also raked a King’s ransom of coins and gems inside for good measure.

Still whistling, Darmok finally had a new grand quest to deliver the statue to his friend, so he left the temple. Around the world, wizards of power panicked. They knew a great evil was awakening, and someone had somehow removed the only means of containing it. Mindless of this, Darmok skipped across the unfamiliar landscape, trying to get his bearings.

The dragons battered the weakened barriers preventing them from returning to the world to take revenge on those who had imprisoned them.

I pulled out my ace in the hole — Rogan Illiciat. He was a deceptively ancient and powerful sorcerer who knew things and could do things that others could barely imagine. When the world threatened to come apart at its seams, I reached for Illiciat as my nuclear deterrent.

I teleported Illiciat to Darmok’s location, and had him begin immediately questioning the Kender about the guardian and statue’s whereabouts. Kender are also notorious for launching into stories only barely related to the subject at hand, and Darmok was no exception.

“You know, my uncle Trapspringer once found a dragon statue. He called it Puff and said it was a magic statue that he’d found by the sea.”

My player was making up the story on the fly. It was such a perfect, meandering, and amusing narrative that I let him go on with it for a while. I honestly wish I had been recording it or something. It was that entertaining.

After a minute or two, I finally continued with the game while we all laughed at the ridiculous tale my player was telling. Illiciat knew time was short, and took action. He cast spells and detected that the statue was on the Kender’s person. All the while, Darmok continued his tale.

Knowing it had to be in some sort of bag of holding, Illiciat began disenchanting all of the many such bags on Darmok’s person.

That derailed Darmok’s story immediately. “Hey! What are you doing, you old leather-faced, scraggly-bearded, son of a dwarf’s bum?”

Darmok ceased his insults when he found himself rolling down a pile of purloined goods that grew higher and wider with each magical bag that Illiciat dispelled. Eventually, that included the dragon statue, which squished the pile and made Darmok fumble while trying to aim his magical staff. The acrobatic little Kender regained his footing, and aimed his staff.

“Take this! Work!”

Illiciat made his saving throw. It was just a chain lightning spell, but considering the way the debacle was going, I was still glad he was unaffected.

Illiciat quickly teleported Darmok off into the distance. He then turned his magic upon the statue, and transported it back to its place within the temple. He strengthened the spells that sealed the dragons, ending the threat. Then he discerned what had happened to the guardian golem, and shifted it back into the world to resume its post. Finally, he added new wards to hide and protect the temple from intrusion.

By this time, Darmok had returned to gather up his possessions. He was preparing to once again storm the lair to retrieve the statue for his friend when Illiciat teleported back to the Kender’s side.

“You ridiculous little creature! You nearly brought the entire world to disaster!” Illiciat shouted.

“And you stole my statue, you pus-filled ogre’s butt pimple! I’ll show you, you dirty thief! Work!”

Illiciat shrugged off the barrage of magic missiles.

Darmok growled in frustration. “Work!”

Once again, a random teleport rolled up, finally ending that particular nightmare.

Darmok managed to hold onto that staff for the longest time. Far too long for my nerves. He only eventually lost it upon venturing into a Kender village, putting it safely back into the hands of non-player characters that I had control of.  Even better, I now had another nuclear deterrent that could reasonably appear virtually anywhere, at any time.  Everyone was a little more careful about assaulting Kender from that point forward, and came to dread a single word as much as I had.

"Work!"

The most dangerous thing in every universe known and unknown is a bored Kender with a magical artifact.

 

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