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Welcome brave traveler of the internet. This week we are talking legends. Both players and Dungeon Masters alike can use them as a tool to enhance their Dungeons & Dragons game.
From the Desk of Nerdarchist Dave
Legends are a great base for Dungeons & Dragons adventures and campaigns. The D&D Monster Manual is a great source of myth and legend. Here are some of my favorites
Gnoll Fang of Yeenoghu
Gnolls celebrate their victories by performing demonic rituals and making blood offerings to Yeenoghu. Sometimes the demon lord rewards his worshipers by allowing one of them to be possessed by a demonic spirit. Marked as Yeenoghu’s favorite, the lucky recipient becomes a fang of Yeenoghu, the chosen of the Gnoll Lord. In much the same way Yeenoghu created the first gnolls, a hyena that feasts on a fang’s slain foe undergoes a horrible transformation, becoming a full-grown adult gnoll. Depending on the number of hyenas in a region, a fang of Yeenoghu can lead to a startling increase in the gnoll population. Finding and killing the fang is the only way to keep that population in check.
Monstrous Motherhood. Hags propagate by snatching and devouring human infants. After stealing a baby from its cradle or its mother’s womb, the hag consumes the poor child. A week later, the hag gives birth to a daughter who looks human until her thirteenth birthday, whereupon the child transforms into the spitting image of her hag mother.
Hags sometimes raise the daughters they spawn, creating covens. A hag might also return the child to its grieving parents, only to watch from the shadows as the child grows up to become a horror.
Creating a Nightmare. Nightmares don’t appear naturally in the multiverse. They must be created from pegasi. The ritual that creates a nightmare requires the torturous removal of a pegasus’s wings, driving that noble creature to evil as it is transformed by dark magic.
These are all from the fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons Monster Manual. So the truth, is you don’t even have to create new myths and legends if you don’t want to in order to use them in your game.
From the Desk of Nerdarchist Ted
Legends are great storytelling devices in games but sometimes we think that they are only tools of the Game Master. But I can assure you that even the creators of fifth edition D&D feel this is something that the players can or should engage in. So lets looks at the players’ side and then we can talk about the DM’s side as well.
I am playing a barbarian in the newest campaign I joined. When I made him I looked at the personality traits and under Acolyte the very first option is to idolize a hero and refer to that person’s deeds. This specifically calls out for those characters who want to create stories and make references during the game. As a player you have the power to immerse yourself in the world and create this hero of legend who did something of note. You can work with your DM to incorporate it into the game or have it be just something your character talks about.
You can go even further with it. Have the hero be a false idol and they never did anything of what the legends say. Think about how your character would deal with the knowledge if they found it. Would you destroy it and preserve the legend or would you show it off and proclaim the legend false? How would their ancestors react? It just makes an avalanche of questions. On the other side what if the legends were true and you met them, or found their chosen weapon? How would you then react? Would you feel unworthy to wield it? Would you carry it with pride?
For a DM legends get the ability to add depth and realism to your world. As people we cling to stories. How many millions of people are entertained daily with books, movies and TV shows? We adore entertainment and in a world where monsters and magic have the ability to be commonplace, legends become the regular stories told at gatherings.
Every family might have a legend that they talk about. It could be a curse to avoid. It could be a monster that lives in the woods near the village meant to make the children be home by nightfall. It could even be a hero that always chooses the right path in hopes to educate those who hear it so that they might good decisions in life. But whatever legend or legends are being told characters have the ability to have it be a major impact on their life.
Are you playing an urban game where people are terrified to go into the woods? Are you playing a game where you have to follow the footsteps of a hero? Are the player characters those who are dealing with the curse and want to see it gone? Legends build a world and make it more alive. So if you want to create a setting where characters chase after dreams and legends, if you want a game where the players want to explore the setting and stories you have made then legends are a great way to add this amazing spice to your game.
From the Nerditor’s Desk
Whether you draw on real world sources for inspiration, turn to the narrative material in the Monster Manual or concoct your own mythology, including legends in your Dungeons & Dragons game gets a lot of mileage for a Dungeon Master.
But take heed! A Dungeon Master’s words have weight. If a shepherd at the tavern tells the party the old tall tale of Goldhorn, chances are curiosity will be piqued and adventurers might go looking for adventure. Be prepared for the possibility of questing, even if the local legend was never meant to be more than a thread in the tapestry of your world.
Legends are a terrific hook for any adventure. After all, what adventuresome sort wouldn’t relish a chance to make their own mark on a legendary tale? That’s the juice!
On Critical Role, Campaign 2, Episode 44: The Diver’s Grave, the Mighty Nein went in search of a legend — Dashilla the Dreadful. The characters had heard the legend a couple of times and grew intrigued to check it out. An incredible adventure ensued, and by the end of it the party had in some ways unwittingly perpetuated the myth.
In a new campaign my game group started, the party arrives in the podunk fishing village their guild assigned them to and spends the first evening at the tavern. By the way, that was entirely the players’ choice, I did not start them in a tavern — they went there of their own accord!
While mingling with the folk of the town, one of the characters performs for the patrons (of course) and encourages others to participate. One woman shares the legend of Goldhorn.
“Zlatorog is a legendary white ibex whose realm is in the heights of Mount Triglav. Called Goldhorn because of its golden horns, which are the key to a treasure hidden in the mountains around Triglav. A young and brave hunter from the Trenta Valley fell in love with a beautiful girl and managed to win her heart by bringing her beautiful flowers. However, one day a rich merchant came by and tried to gain her attention by giving her golden jewelry and dancing with her. As the hunter approached the girl, she mocked him. The hunter was desperate and left. Persuaded by another hunter, called the Green Hunter, who was said to have brought about the fate of several honest boys, he decided to go that very night to find Goldhorn and claim his treasure. In the morning, they found the animal, shot it and pursued it. The dying animal dragged itself onto a narrow, rocky ledge. Suddenly the boy saw on a dangerous trail the most beautiful healing flowers. The Green Hunter forced him on to catch Goldhorn before it ate the magic Triglav flowers that grew from its blood, but it was too late. Goldhorn had already eaten one and the flower gave it tremendous life power. It ran towards the hunter, who being blinded by the bliss of its golden horns lost balance and fell from the mountain.The river Soca brought his corpse to the vale.”
The party was enthralled. One of the characters, a noble huntsman, is particularly enticed. I learned two important things right then: evocative NPCs really help sell the immersion for players, and players see adventure everywhere. The only reason I had the tale to tell was because I came across it looking for Slovenian mythology. That’s my own heritage, and I thought it would be neat to draw on the culture and geography for the setting.
But the players didn’t see it that way. To them, the legend of Goldhorn meant there must certainly be a mythical beast up in the mountains, and potential for treasure. They added this to their quest log posthaste. I had no intention this as an adventure, just a tale to give the party’s new hometown some flavor. But now it’s a big goal for the group to mount an expedition to the mountains and see what this Goldhorn legend is all about. I love it when the players do half the work for me.
Next time the party finds a dusty old book in an ruined temple, overhears someone at the cafe who knows someone that knows someone that swears they saw the Bearowl of the Brooding Woods (“The body of a giant owl and the head of a bear! Swoops down from the trees and bites you’re frickin’ head off, it will.”), or swaps stories with travelers on the road, give them a story to remember.
And if they’re convinced the legend is real, the players give you an opportunity to help them add their own part to the legend, and maybe start one of their own.
Until next time, stay nerdy!
P.S. How about some legends around magic items? You might find some inspiration in the Tome of Magical Mystery now on Kickstarter here.