Gaming Stories: The Evolution of Claude the Clydesdale

Clydesdale by Edward McCabe

Clydesdale by Edward McCabe

In my current campaign, the PCs emerged from several weeks in a massive dungeon and immediately started embarking upon a cross-country trek. One of the PCs was a paladin with a celestial horse. The other was a sorcerer with a phantom steed. The final one didn’t have any mount. She wasn’t really interested in getting one, but the rest of the group twisted her arm and convinced her that she needed to buy a horse. She did, and she named it Claude Awesome the Awesome Clydesdale.

Naming conventions is one of those areas where my games tend to break down in verisimilitude. My NPCs are carefully and consistently named, but I don’t do much to enforce that philosophy on my players. As a result, we wind up with names like Clarence Boone for a female horse, Beth the barbarian, and Claude Awesome.

Claude began as just a horse. His owner, despite not wanting a horse in the first place, quickly took a shine to him. When the party battled a wild efreet in the streets, the player asked where her horse was. Claude kicked his way out of the burning stables and rushed into combat against the genie, despite the fact that his puny 19 hit points could have been wiped out in a single hit. This instance led to tales about how Claude was living up to his awesome name. It also highlighted the fact that animal companions that don’t level with the PCs are not long for the adventuring career.

In between sessions, I tweaked Claude’s stats as a gift to the player. He became an awakened horse with fighter levels, making him an okay combatant and giving him a fat sack of hit points. He kept his nature secret from the group, but everybody knew there was something special about this horse.

Then another player joined the group. He had the choice of creating a new PC or choosing among the NPCs that were traveling with the group. He chose the horse.

Since then, a combination of clever role-playing on the player’s part and rules-amnesia on my part has turned Claude into a remarkably compelling character.

For the first few sessions, Claude’s player was forced to play a silent role because, in my words, “Awakened animals can’t talk.” He handled this silent role remarkably well. Then one day I happened to re-read the description for the awaken spell, which states, “An awakened tree or animal can speak one language that you know, plus one additional language that you know per point of Intelligence bonus (if any).”

Okay, my bad. Turns out that Claude can speak. The two options were to ignore that line in the rules or roll with it and say that Claude had been able to speak all the time but hadn’t wanted to for whatever reason. The player picked the last one. Claude shocked his owner with a simple “Thank you” at the end of a session while he was being brushed.

Look of shock. End session.

One problem: Claude’s player wasn’t there for the next session.

I didn’t feel like trying to play Claude myself, so we decided that Claude was just waiting for a response to his thanks. After all, the dude’s a horse – he doesn’t necessarily realize that his owner is just plain freaked by his sudden ability to speak. So Claude didn’t speak for a whole session, and his owner convinced herself that she had just imagined the whole thing.

Then Claude’s player came back. This time, Claude spoke right in front of the whole group.

This is a group that includes a pair of sorcerers who disappear every night to make sweet love in a secret extradimensional space, an intelligent sword that has taken over somebody else’s body, and an inquisitor who got invited to her religion through a prophetic dream handed to her by the goddess of death herself. But for some reason, a talking horse just seems weird.

Oh yeah…he’s a talking horse who receives messages from the gods now.

See, Claude’s player noticed that the group was short on healing, especially following the death of the party’s paladin. So he decided he wanted to take cleric levels. He received a vision from three different gods, and now serves as their messenger in the mortal plane. Because all mortals look the same to the gods, be they bipedal or equine.

Here’s the other thing with Claude: he’s bullshit lucky.

I probably would have killed about three or four PCs by now if it hadn’t been for some insanely lucky rolls, but Claude takes the cake. This was a character designed basically to soak up damage and occasionally kick a bad guy. Instead, his crit rate is off the charts, he seems to make every saving throw, and circumstances just pile up to his benefit. A prime example would be when the PCs faced off against a mythic half-dragon sorceress who should have mopped the floor with them. A really good initiative roll, a series of critical hits, and the poor decision by the sorceress to lead with an offensive spell instead of putting some distance between herself and the vicious horse led Claude to deal approximately 140 points of damage to her before she got to do anything of substance.

As a one-time thing, that’s ridiculously lucky. But this is something that seems to happen every single time. It’s like the dice gods have become as enamored with this character as my players are.

And that’s the conflagration of circumstances that led a horse to become one of the highest-level heroes my campaign setting has seen. Not bad for a 300 gp investment.

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One Response to “Gaming Stories: The Evolution of Claude the Clydesdale”

  1. Very nice. I’m having images in my head of the party in a boat crossing a river, with Claude the Awesome at the front, like Washington crossing the Delaware.

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