The dwarf awoke, as so often, staring up at a wooden ceiling. He wondered where he was as he listened to the sounds of movement nearby. The back room of a tavern? His nose scanned for the scent of brewing, but found none. Maybe the cellar of a market – somebody was shouting, and he heard what sounded like sacks of grain being tossed around roughly. Or a stable – lots of grunting, wheezing, and clanking going on around him.
The dwarf, who could not remember his own name just yet, licked his lips to see whether he had been drinking the night before. At once his eyes narrowed, adrenaline coursed through his frame, and on instinct he rolled to his right, just avoiding a blast that singed the floor where he had lain. Rolling onto his stomach he sprang to his feet to find himself facing a gruesome floating ball of flesh covered with eyestalks. A Beholder, he knew it to be. It was injured, and it seemed to be surrounded by all manner of other armed creatures.
As the dwarf tried to decide whether to attack or defend the monstrosity, the Beholder was beset by arrows, fire, lightning blasts, and a powerful swing from a massive Dragonborn who seemed familiar. A halfling-sized creature even stabbed at the Beholder’s fierce central eye with a dagger. But the dangerous spheroid, fighting for its life now, sent rays in all directions from its eyestalks. One of its antagonists fell unconscious while another, a woman, ran away screaming in fear.
The dwarf picked a side, more from instinct than analysis. Without serious injury and heavily armored, he tried to distract the Beholder away from the fallen warrior, as did the Dragonborn, but to no avail – another blast from an eyestalk killed the poor wretch. The dwarf, enraged, swung at the round monster but missed. As he shifted around looking for an opening, he spotted a female in the distance, who calmly sent a missilelike spell at the Beholder, ending its life and the battle.
A slap on the back from the Dragonborn surprised him. “All good, Barrick?” Barrick – he knew that name, he was sure of it. “All good, all good.” The female who had killed the Beholder walked up and looked him in the eyes, and called out “Z’alden, can you come, looks like another concussion. Sit down, my friend, sit down.”
The dwarf came to, finding himself standing, fully armored, in an embrace with a huge humanoid. Probably another happy drunk. He himself tended towards glumness and archness, but some others grew hug-happy, he well knew. Had it been ale or mead this time? He noticed two women in the background, both pointing at him and his buddy. He became aware of a unique bitterness, and reacted by swinging his helmeted head at what he now knew to be his assailant’s face. He missed, being too short and without any real strength in his legs, but the two women, apparently spellcasters both, each hit the creature with magic blasts, and the brute fell dead at the dwarf’s feet.
He wasn’t sure he recognized the women, but he now knew what side he was on – theirs. The crowd was large and active, but the dwarf had an intuitive grasp of the situation from body language and defensive tactics. The main threats were another humanoid like the one just killed, and a huge Beholder doling out deadly magic from its eyestalks. He watched as a halfling-sized creature attacked the humanoid with a dagger. He thought that would be the death of the pint-sized braveheart, but just then a projectile of some sort threaded the Beholder’s eyestalks and struck the neck of the humanoid, who fell gurgling to his painful death.
Meanwhile an enormous Dragonborn was standing over a fallen human, fending off bites from the Beholder while laying hands on the human in a healing ritual. This was someone worth fighting next to! The dwarf sprang into action, twirling his axe like a baton at the horrid ball of flesh until one of the eyestalks blasted him onto his back, senseless. The dwarf sensed no more.
The dwarf came to consciousness facing a very large humanoid whom he did not recognize. He wondered whether they were friends. He – the dwarf – was holding a shield in one hand, and axe in the other, and in his axe hand also an eye at the end of a thin rope. He knew this must be a drinking game, but could not think of the name of the game, or exactly how it went. It appeared that the stranger was holding him by each of its powerful hands, and before he could react he found himself flipped upside-down and smashed onto the wooden floor. The dwarf sensed no more.
The dwarf, coming to his senses slowly, could tell he was held by a powerful creature who wished him no good. He saw magic blasts careening overhead as the woman who sent them turned invisible. He saw a great blob of flesh with one big angry eye and several smaller eyes at the ends of appendages, bobbing around chaotically and shooting rays at the many warriors within a few steps. One of these rays struck the dwarf full in the face, and he realized he wanted to defend the great ball of lovely flesh, to find the invisible woman and kill her, or maybe to kill a different woman, who had just been knocked unconscious by another ray, or maybe to kill the giant Dragonborn fighting nearby.
Held fast by an unseen creature and unable to move to do any of this killing, the dwarf had a chance to notice the taste of blood in his mouth. Immediately realizing the danger he was in, his focus returned, and he perceived the blob of flesh for what it was, a horrific and dangerous enemy. Though immobile, he managed to surprise the great round beast, and even cut off one of its many eyestalks, which in falling wrapped itself around his axe handle. Suddenly the gruesome thing disappeared completely. He turned his attention to the strong humanoid holding him, getting in a shot at his knees. But the brute did not buckle, instead lifting the dwarf like a sack of grain and bringing him down hard on his head. The dwarf sensed no more.
The dwarf struggled to clear his head. He sensed commotion around him, but what was going on? He watched as a flaming sphere appeared from out of nowhere in the midst of several huge humanoid creatures. What was that all about? It looked like some magic blasts were being shot around the high-ceilinged room. One of the humanoids picked up a smaller being and pile-drove in into the floor. A bar fight getting out of hand? The dwarf tasted not ale, but rather his own blood, and that had the usual effect. Adrenaline flowed, and the dwarf struck out at one of the humanoids, stopped the creature in its tracks, then leapt to his feet. Enraged now, dwarven blood pumping to every muscle and fiber, he spun his axe viciously at the two figures nearest him.
The dwarf noticed a bulbous Beholder nearby, shooting rays from its eyestalks at a motley crew fighting against it. One of this crew, a female, killed a cleric hiding behind the Beholder with a fire blast, but at the same time one of the humanoids killed a smaller creature. A halfling-sized creature shot off one of the Beholder’s eyestalks with a crossbow, but one of the humanoids kicked another woman in the head, knocking her unconscious. And so on.
Suddenly a huge Dragonborn approached the dwarf and yelled “Barrick – amulet?” Crouching defensively, Barrick – if that was indeed his name – readied his shield for the blow that he expected. “Barrick – amulet!” came another shout from the impatient giant. The dwarf realized that no foe would know his name, and tossed over the necklace he was wearing. This seemed to satisfy his apparent ally, who strode confidently towards the Beholder. Whatever the amulet was supposed to do, it apparently did not; the Dragonborn soon flew away, howling in fear, victim of one of the eyestalks’ rays.
While he watched this display, the dwarf was grabbed from behind by one of the humanoids and dragged into a melee. Fully energized by now, he managed to strike his assailant and two others, break free of the grab. He pushed two of them into a nearby fire, and killed the third outright with an axe blow to the neck! Seeing the Beholder attack a prone human, he got in a lick or two, then watched as the Dragonborn, free from his psychic torture, threw everything he had at the many-eyed monstrosity. Watching too much and moving too little, he was hit in the head by one of the humanoids. The dwarf sensed no more.
The dwarf felt soothed by the healing touch of a woman, a strange woman. As he looked around, he spotted an enormous Dragonborn breathing fire on a handful of tough-looking humanoid figures. One of these, angered by the attack, jumped at the dwarf and kicked him in the head. The dwarf sensed no more.
The campaign had not started well for the dwarf Barrick. After a long planning session, he and Felsmon had had a go at the guards on the castle’s parapets, but Barrick missed his mark, and needed help from his comrades. Happens sometimes, he knew.
His companions were at their best, though. After Rift had magicked the castle’s big doors in half, Felsmon cowed an entire roomful of orcs and goblins (lackeys and minions all) by spreading his wings and bellowing like, well, a dragon. Clever Tira figured out which room would contain the antidote that would give them back their lives, and Z’alden found it there, and doled it out. They together organized the defenses: dead orcs as fake sentries, mines, and so on, with Rift casting locks at the most important points. The group tried to rest before the battle they knew was coming.
Despite their best attempts, they missed a secret door, and through it burst 4 powerful-looking humanoid figures. Barrick just had time to grab his weapons, and to bite down hard on his tongue.
The dwarf had long ago undergone training in BattleRage, and had recently once again taken up the practice of self-mutivation, as it was called. The simple technique of biting his tongue hard enough to draw blood worked for any dwarf, although other creatures had their own techniques. In a dwarf, a tongue wound would heal within an hour, but the taste of blood in the mouth would meanwhile elevate adrenaline, dull pain, focus the mind, heighten the senses, and produce a rage that could be directed at enemies with shocking results. Of course, he had tasted lots of blood besides his own. Many an axe blow had splashed orc blood onto his face, and he had bitten some 50 or 75 foes through the years. But dwarf blood tasted different from any other, bitter, not so salty, unique.
For Barrick, who had been fighting for what seemed like a hundred years, the technique had another advantage. He knew the taste of his own blood better than he knew his own name, and he knew what it meant. In the fog of drunkenness, or during the temporary amnesia after getting his bell rung, or sometimes even in the weakness of having his mind controlled by an enemy, the taste of his own blood produced the sudden realization that his own death was waiting for him, perhaps only seconds away. More times than he could count, this taste had spurred him to quick action, and kept his mortality at bay.
He bit down hard now, as the second Humanoid through the door grabbed him, upended him, and pile-drived him to the ground. The dwarf sensed no more.