Monday, May 8, 2017

Smurfs & Dragons

Image result for smurfs
Smurfs first appeared in my AD&D game back about 1985 as a wilderness encounter.  The party (Alain Blademaster, Fazil the Elf, and Blint Brokenhaft) was trudging off to Barovia or somewhere and, deep in a forest glade, they began to hear singing ... insipid, repetitive, saccharine singing that just wormed its way into the brain and lodged there.  Soon a choir of little blue men (three apples high) in phyrigian caps came into view ... small, elusive, and quick.

"Roll a save vs. Spell"

"I failed."

"Okay, you lose a point of Intelligence, a point of Wisdom, and you start singing the song too."

"What?  Permanently?"


Gratuitous smurf-stomping ensued, but Alain's player was still grumbling about his slightly below average Intelligence score a year later.

My younger daughter had a smurf-themed birthday party a few years ago and among her swag was a DVD with a bunch of the Hanna-Barbera episodes.  Sometimes, when not watching the Dungeons & Dragons cartoon or the Anne of Green Gables miniseries (Sullivan 1985 ... I think Anne would have made a crackerjack DM), she'll pop the Smurfs in for a bit.

Recently, on a long car trip, I asked my older kid (who likes to DM) what her favorite episode of the Smurfs was.  The idea that I was trying to pitch to her was that good DMs can find and repurpose plotlines from virtually anywhere.

"The Howlibird"


"Yeah, it's great."

Image result for howlibird
Here's the plot (as she described it to me):

  • Papa Smurf messes around with magic and accidentally creates a potion that makes his potted plants try to murder him (a good start)
  • Papa Smurf orders some of his incompetent underlings to take the dangerous potion to a desert and bury it (where it will only be a danger to Bedhouins I guess)
  • His incompetent underlings instead simply chuck the potion off a cliff and head home.  Unbeknownst to them, it lands in a bird nest a mutates a chick into a giant screeching horror (which utters the dread syllables "Howli-howli-howli-how" over and over again throughout the episode)
  • The Howlibird attacks Smurf-village
  • The smurfs try a variety of methods to combat the bird and drive it off -- all of which fail
  • Papa Smurf works away until he can produce some deus ex machina spell that reduces the bird to an extra small size
  • The smurfs mock their now-impotent foe

Here's how we decided to repackage Howlibird for consumption by D&D players:

    Image result for graz'zt
  • The Argent Company, a party of paladins, destroys an avatar of Graz'zt; unbeknownst to them, lingering in the smoking landscape of the battlefield is a chunk of the Abyssal-lord's wicked liver 
  • paladins move on to next quest; local clerics discover liver-fragment, carefully collect it, and bring it to their bishop for disposal
  • the bishop seeks divine guidance and learns that if the liver is flung into the sea, Ulmo Sealord will bear the fragment to an undersea abyss and cast it in (sending it back to THE Abyss)
  • the bishop dispatches a party of clerics on this errand, however the liver tempts them toward indulgence and sloth.  Somebody fails a saving throw and the clerics end up frittering their days away in the hamlet of Guff's Crossing, drinking ale and waiting for the weather to clear up ... eventually they just chuck the liver in a hedge and head back to their master
  • the liver infects the alder tree it lands against and mutates hatchlings in the bird nest therein--the Howlibird is born!
  • The Howlibird rampages [here's where the PCs probably come in]; it's big and bad and wreaks havoc.  Hear it's cry and you are stunned (if distant), rendered comatose, or just die (if close).  The Howlibird is immune to most attacks ... or rather it dies but then just rises again in a day or two.  What to do?!
  • The bishop Communes to learn how to stop the Howlibird--this takes a week of purification, intense prayer, and meditation ... the PCs have to keep him alive long enough for him to make contact with the divine genius and learn what to do 
  • The bishop learns that the liver of Graz'zt is behind this (if the PCs didn't already work that bit out)--sends PCs to go find it and do the job properly
  • Guff's Crossing has become a nightmare landscape and the alder is an evil ent-thing that needs bashing 
  • Once in possession of the liver-fragment, the PCs have to make saving throws of their own as they journey to the sea while the damnable thing constantly tempts them to sloth and indulgence
  • Splash.  Spell weakened.  Howlibird can now be put down for good (and there's always a lingering option that the liver gets intercepted and begins spawning new horrors at some later date ... kracken anyone?) 
Image result for medieval bishop

She was pretty pleased with the results and may use it with her own D&D group if she can work it in before the year is over.  One of the real beauties of this is that the plot is so stinking simple and she knows it by heart already that she can run it on the fly.  A fun little experiment in repurposing plotlines that demonstrates how even the most unlikely (or insipid) content can be tapped by a proficient DM.

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