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A Twitter conversation last week led me down a rabbit hole.
In case DoubleDM’s tweet is deleted, it asks, “So have you had more Dungeons or Dragons in your #DnD Games?” I responded, “Dragons by far.” Another person’s reply brought up the adventure, Horde of the Dragon Queen, for 5th Edition D&D (“5e“). This had me remembering Balasar Kimbatuul, one of my favorite D&D characters, known for invoking honor duels in Sly Flourish’s home game. For those who haven’t played it, the party faces a blue dragonborn, Lennithon, at the end of the first act. One PC has to face him, and there’s no chance the PC will win, even rolling all crits. It’s just impossible. At some point in the next act, the PCs meet Lennithon again, but are far better suited for the challenge. Despite Balasar insisting on an honor duel, he’s able to defeat Lennithon on his own, with his fellow PCs picking off Lennithon’s allies.
So, why bring this up? Because this segment of Horde of the Dragon Queen is essentially the plot of Popeye the Sailor Man cartoons.
In many of the cartoons, and in the live-action motion picture with Robin Williams, Popeye has two fights with Bluto/Brutus. The first one, he loses, and after some story and/or character development, Popeye exacts his revenge. While Popeye relies on spinach for that final push, PCs in Horde of the Dragon Queen rely on hit point and ability increases and the acquisition of better equipment that comes with leveling up.
Of course, this is a trope, so it’s not unique to Popeye. A scene in Only the Strong immediately popped into my head in which the protagonist claims that this time he isn’t playing around. This eventually gave the viewers (all three of us, I presume) the same result in the final, cheesy battle for supreme control over high school kids.
There are other, better-known examples. Nevertheless, this is the first time I drew the connection, in part because I don’t recall ever seeing that before in a TTRPG story, and in other part because of the distance between those two scenes with Lennithon. With respect to the former, I’ve had characters meet a BBEG before their final fight, and sometimes on not-so-friendly terms, but I’ve never had a direct fight with one. I find it interesting that this isn’t a more common trope in D&D. It reinforces my belief that players are far too averse to losing a fight, and adventure writers write their adventures accordingly.
It’s not railroading; it’s drama.
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