My Favorite TTRPG Characters @slyflourish @alphastream #DnD #3e #4e #5e #RPG

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Writing yesterday’s post gave me the idea for this post. Here’s a list of my favorite RPG characters.

D&D 3.5 Edition: Frylock

This is my favorite character of all time even though I’m not a fan of 3rd edition. I left D&D in 1981 due to the Satanic Panic and returned in 2005. Frylock was the first character I created in my glorious return, which was for a Living Greyhawk game day. He was a half-elf warmage with a couple of levels in rogue. I’m not sure if I played correctly by the rules, but this was an awesome character, combining the rogues sneak attack damage with high-damage touch spells. He was high charisma, manipulative, and arrogant as hell, except for that one time he met his match. He ran into Teos’s character, Ambrosia, in whose hands Frylock was like putty. He was also a terror in combat, which was helpful considering that I’ve almost never built a character for combat. Spoon-feeding me competent character design helps keep my fellow players happy with my combat performance. If I was cheating to do it, this would explain why no one called me out for it.

For over a decade, my license plate was Frylock. That shouldn’t surprise any of you.

I’ve never been able to duplicate the feel of this character since 3rd edition. The closest I came was the supremely underpowered sorcerer-assassin hybrid in 4th edition. Maybe if I cheated, I could’ve done that in other editions. 🙂

D&D 4th Edition: Rizzen Pharn

4e is the only edition of any RPG I’ve ever played in which I loved play leaders (i.e., healers). After playing the Warlord pre-gen at some convention, I knew that would be the case. My first character I built on my own was the Drow, Rizzen. He was an Inspiring Warlord, and due to Commander’s Strike, it didn’t matter whether I rolled well on my d20s. I just gave my attacks to other people, than used my minor action to heal everyone. Suddenly, I was the most popular player on the table. I can’t remember any personality quirks I gave him. I doubt I did. At this point, 4e was new, and the character builds leant themselves inherently to personalities probably due to the emphasis on roles (i.e., controller, defender, leader, striker). I didn’t feel the need to spice it up.

D&D 4th Edition: Doofus Pharn and Snuggles

Doofus was Rizzen’s brother, and he was a beastmaster ranger. That was a really good class. Combined with the class’s features, my choice of powers gave me the ability to race across the length of a standard battle map in a single turn. The first time I did this was a disaster. I was all by myself surrounded by enemies with no actions left to fight or “ink.” Once I got the hang of the character, that mobility was remarkable. His DPS was also pretty good. His companion was a jaguar named Snuggles, and using the companion, Rizzen was able to set up his own flanks without the help of any PCs. Just like Frylock, I didn’t have to build the character for combat efficiency. The race and class combination handled that for me.

D&D 4th Edition: Luigi Deleonardis

Luigi was a riot. He was the stereotype of a senile old man, and I played him to a tee. He was a brawling fighter, which meant his primary combat tactic was “rassling.” He had a belt buckle with Kord’s holy symbol on it. He didn’t worship Kord; they grew up together. Sure, Kord was a bit younger than Luigi, but Luigi took him under his wing and showed him the ropes. He felt bad for the little guy.

Initially, Luigi always annoyed other players because they thought he’d be useless, but here’s a quick story of how I avoided that. The party had to convince wood elves to let them through their woodlands. Skill challenge! Everyone went with diplomacy or bluff, but not Luigi. As he was about to engage with the elven leader, he suddenly had a squirrel moment and decided to climb a tree. As a fighter, my Athletics was pretty high, and I (uncharacteristically) rolled well. My physical prowess was remarkably impressive, so I passed that check. When we came around again, the entire challenge came down to my roll. I was one of only two players that had to roll twice in the challenge. My (perceived) age allowed me to tell an impressive story of the gods, and with a natural 20, I saved the day. In that same adventure, the ultimate mission was to rescue a kidnapped woman, and as Luigi often did, he told that woman that she reminded him of his great, great, great, great granddaughter’s . . . granddaughter. That gave Luigi the incentive to protect her directly, which is exactly what a fighter is supposed to do.

My unorthodox style never held me back, but it always provided comic relief.

D&D 5th Edition: Balasar Kimbatuul

Balasar was a gold dragonborn battle master fighter who played the bongos, and by that I mean that I went to Toys ‘R Us and bought a set of bongs to play at the table. I created him for Sly Flourish’s Horde of the Dragon Queen campaign, and somewhere on is a picture of me playing those bongos. The first leg of the campaign is a really tedious slog with little opportunity to rest and recover abilities. The rat swarm was particularly annoying, but the first leg ends with a blue dragonborn calling out one of us for a one-on-one fight. I spontaneously shouted out, “Honor duel!” That became his thing. He’s always pick the baddest NPC on the battlefield and convinced that NPC to duel him. It wasn’t through some class or racial feature, but purely through role-play, which Mike facilitated. In such a situation, it’s easy to outshine your fellow players by grabbing all the glory. I honestly don’t believe that ever happened. Besides the fact that my dice are weighted towards low numbers, so I was often knocked out, Sly Flourish is literally the best DM I ever had. He allows everyone to play as they want to play, and yet characters rarely stole each others’ thunder, nor did players annoy each other. As players, we deserve some of the credit for that, but most of it goes to Mike, and I like to remind him how grateful I am for his talent as a DM. I was in his home game for many years and play-tested most (all?) of his published work during that time.

D&D 5th Edition: Portia Tossgobble

Portia was one of four members of the Tossgobble family I created. Because I can play only one of them at a time, they never met in-game, but they were all siblings. Portia was a halfling, kensai monk in the D&D Adventurer’s League. Because I play once per year, I forgot most of her details. I was playing her at Winter Fantasy, and we needed someone to steer a ship. It suddenly occurred to me that she had a sailor background, so with a natural 20 on my attempt to steer the ship . . . well, let’s just say I finally had the opportunity to yell, “Ramming speed!” The adventure’s treasure included a perfect item for her: a +1 trident. All I need now is a magic item or feature of some sort that allows her to breath water, and she can rule however many seas Faerun has.

I could go on, but I won’t. Maybe I’ll remember some other fun characters and share them in a future post. I liked my occultist in 13th Age (another Sly Flourish campaign), but I was on my last legs as an RPG player at that point. My memory and my thrill in creating meaningful characters waned during that time.

It doesn’t surprise me in the least that all of these characters were D&D characters.

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Dungeons & Dragons is a trademark of Wizards of the Coast, LLC, who neither contributed to nor endorsed the contents of this post. (Okay, jackasses?)

Twitter-Inspired Thoughts, Part V: 4th Edition Combat #DnD #4e

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| Part I | Part II | Part III | Part IV | Part V |

I didn’t think I’d write a part V, but here we are. Once again, I’m my own inspiration.

Inside information: I made up that rule number.

I’m going to expand on this thought. For proper context, I point you to my post on how I prefer to play D&D and my dungeon crawl system PDF. Because neither of my two non-spam followers are going to click through, here’s the gist of them. Dungeon Crawl System: I created a system for 4th edition D&D that quickens combats and removes the annoyance known as the 2-hour adventuring day. (Your number of hours may vary.) My Approach to D&D: While I can enjoy a good combat, I prefer role-playing a quirky character to rolling dice, immersing myself in the game world and taking interest in even the most mundane of NPCs. That limited context will have to do if you don’t want to click thorough.

If you’re in combat and roll a natural 20, what have you accomplished? I’m not talking about your character; I’m talking about you, the player. What did you accomplish? Rolling a 20 (or any hit) is just a matter of random chance for the player, so while it represents a character’s achievement, the player hasn’t done anything of note. That’s why I prefer puzzles, moral dilemmas, and the like. They’re a challenge for me, the player. This doesn’t mean combats are useless in this regard. One thing we accomplish in all aspects of the game is that we’re telling a cool story. I just prefer that in doing so, we’re more screenwriters than moviegoers. I want to be the one writing most of the story rather than have random chance present it to me. That is, I prefer to moderate random chance so that it provides tension without overwhelming the story.

4e changed things for me. I actually enjoyed combats because winning a combat felt like I was accomplishing something. The tactics were intricate. I had to cooperate with my team of PCs to defeat the tactics of the DM, just like what you’d do in the real world.

See the source image

Damn, that sounds nerdy. I know real life combat is very different. I’ve trained in the martial arts since I was 14. I’m just drawing an analogy. The point is that you have to use your brain and employ sound tactics in 4e D&D. It seems so strange to me that one of the most common criticisms of 4e is that it’s a combat simulator that sacrifices role-play. The mechanics of 4e kind of made role-playing a character part of combat, and it’s why I had a much easier time fitting in with other gamers during its run. That gives me an idea for tomorrow’s post. Seriously, typing that sentence gave me an idea.

All that said, I’ve always said that if a game system doesn’t do what you want it to do, it’s you’re own damn fault. You can use any system to play any style.

I’m a Napoleon Dynamite-esque martial artist.

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Dungeons & Dragons is a trademark of Wizards of the Coast, LLC, who neither contributed to nor endorsed the contents of this post. (Okay, jackasses?)

Twitter-Inspired Thoughts, Part IV: 4th Edition Stat Blocks @shawnmerwin @MerricB @bandofmisfits #DnD #5e

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Last Saturday, I tweeted the following.

All of those discussions were inspired by or involved NewbieDM, S Keldor lord of Castle Greyskull DMLSP (that’s a mouthful), Roving Band of Misfits, and Merric Blackman. I can say that NewbieDM and Merric are good at doing that; I’ve never interacted with S Keldor. Note that while I’ll be quoting them in these posts, much like my brain at 3 am acknowledged about me, I can’t do their arguments justice either. You’ll have to click through to see everything they’ve said. My only purpose here is to express my own opinions while providing context for their genesis and giving credit to those that inspired them. If you want to know what they think, click through and ask them to clarify.

To keep my posts short, each issue will be dealt with in its own post, all with this same introduction. | Part I | Part II | Part III | Part IV | Part V |

Part #4: 4th Edition Stat Blocks

Okay, I know what you’re thinking. “Didn’t you already write 39 pages on this subject (Cambria 11 pt. font)?” Well, sort of. Those posts were about intellectual property law, so the comments on this particular subject were obscured in a sea of other material. Because this is still going on in my mind and the minds of others, it’s worth a brief and focused reexamination. Besides, this is going to pick far fewer fights than yesterday’s post.

So Shawn, who clearly has no idea what he’s talking about (settle down, internet tough guys; inside joke), inspired a complimentary response from Roving Band of Misfits. This led to a back and forth between Merric and me. I’m just going to post a couple of tweets. If you want more context, click through to the thread.

My response boils down to this.


Merric has a good point. I don’t expect any bestiary to be printed with one-stop/4e-style stat blocks (henceforth, “OSSB” or “OSSBs”), but I do expect Wizards of the Coast to make them printable via D&D Beyond, or to provide PDFs for download on their site. However, I don’t care what they choose to do (especially now that I’ve done it). This post is about why I think they’re helpful.


Merric’s position is that shorter stat blocks allow you to make more complex creatures. However, if you hide a stat block’s complexity through shorthand, the complexity not only disappears, but the stat blocks all become nearly identical to one another.

Let’s use an example. Halaster Blackcloak’s stat block (Waterdeep – Dungeon of the Mad Mage, page 310) is about 2/3 of a page long. In my OSSB treatment, he’s 3-1/2 pages long (see page 12). What should be going through you head is, “How can you expect 3-1/2 pages of content to be properly run with about 81% of it missing?” Well, without an eidetic memory or tons of study time, you can’t.

What Merric is missing is the fact that compressing everything into a small space with up to 90% of the content missing can no longer be considered “describ[ing] them”; you’re merely hinting at what they could be, because most DMs can’t run that much material as intended in combat unless it’s right in front of their face. Now, you may also say that most DMs couldn’t possibly handle a stat block as large as Halastar’s. Well, that’s kind of the point. OSSBs will always be easier to run properly than the alternative. Put another way, if Halastar is too big to run, abbreviating it will make it even harder. It’s always harder except for the most simplistic of stat blocks, which break even. by publishing OSSBs, game designers need not fear making more complex stat blocks.

So, how do DMs typically handle very complex stat blocks in combat? In my experience, they just go with what they know: Fireball, Magic Missile, and Hold Person. That is, the spells that are most popular among WotC designers themselves (in part due to their universal value in combat) are the ones they memorize, and rather than look up a new couple of candidate spells every round, DMs just use those adjusting each for spell slot level. They sure as hell aren’t going to use Symbol in combat, and most couldn’t handle Confusion either unless they had the time to look up and memorize it, but the brain has only so much space to store these spells. What’s the difference between Halastar casting Magic Missile and a Githyanki Gish doing it? Spell level. That’s it. The result is that every monster they run become slight variations of each other. In other words, not only is stat block complexity lost, but so is the complexity of the game itself. Everything’s the same, and it can be boring. If OSSBs don’t fix that, nothing really will short of computers running the combats for you.

I really don’t get the resistance at all, so if you have a different view, please speak up.

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In case the tweets are deleted, here are images of them.

#DruidWorldProblems @jwrp666 #DnD #RPG

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I must admit I never thought of this.

This meme reminded me of one of my favorite characters, who was the only druid I’d ever played up to that point. Named after Jeff Goodblum’s character in the Fly, Brundle was a thri-kreen swarm druid that could turn into small primates. In other words, he was a bug that turned into a swarm of little humanoids.

I played him in a Dark Sun campaign in which all but the human cleric were thri-kreen from the same hive. I was the middle child of the bunch (no acting necessary) and of low intelligence (no acting necessary), so everyone picked on me (no acting necessary). To make things easier on the DM, I wrote up the post-session journals but did so from the point of view of Brundle. The facts were largely accurate but overstated his importance and criticized the others as useless. Brundle was always the hero and leader of the group … in the journal.

4e swarm druids were the coolest druids.

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Dungeons & Dragons and Dark Sun are trademarks of Wizards of the Coast, LLC, who neither contributed to nor endorsed the contents of this post. (Okay, jackasses?)

New Living Campaign for #4e #Dungeons & #Dragons #DnD #RPG #GenCon CC: @Erik_Nowak @Luddite_Vic

Information has slowly been swirling through or local Washington, DC gaming community, and to a lesser extent, beyond that. The Gamers’ Syndicate has put synDCon on hold and is focusing its efforts instead on something that you can enjoy all year round: A living campaign for 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons. Many 4e players feel that there’s still more to do with 4e, just as 3rd Edition players felt there was more to do with 3e, and we’re seeking to give 4e players that same opportunity that Paizo gave the 3e players with Pathfinder and, more to the point, Pathfinder Society.

Living Campaign

For those of you that don’t know what a “living campaign” is, I point you to the Wikipedia entry, because Wikipedia never lies. Actually, “living campaign” is often defined differently by different people. To me, the most important aspect of a living campaign is allowing all of us to meet each other. In other words, it grows the role-playing game community; however, there are other important aspects to it. It allows the players to shape the campaign world even though their playing pre-written adventures. That is, if the majority of players accomplished a task in one adventure, that fact will be tracked by the authors and shape how future adventures are written. What the players do matters, even though they’re sharing the experience with thousands of players worldwide.

The Campaign Setting

Every campaign needs a campaign setting: a world that needs protecting and sometimes saving. Some famous examples of Dungeons & Dragons campaign settings include Ed Greenwood’s Forgotten Realms, Keith Baker’s Eberron, and Gary Gygax’s (everyone bow, right now!) Greyhawk. Our campaign setting hasn’t yet been named, but it’s one of our own design, spearheaded by the devious mind of Erik Nowak (who, if you recall, brought us Rotting Toes). Erik premiered the first two adventures (co-written by Dave Phillips) for this campaign setting at synDCon I and synDCon II. The setting is high fantasy, but not quite that high. Characters will use inherent bonuses so that acquiring magic items won’t be critical, and when they are acquired, they’ll be special.

We’re also introducing a mechanic for tracking a character’s reputation in the kingdom, and have a fairly ambitious plan in the works, but those are topics for later posts.

GenCon 2013

As I’ve mentioned before, I’ll be running the two introductory adventures at GenCon this year, which serves as a sneak preview of the campaign. However, we’re working on the first four adventures, so we’re on track for an official start not too far in the future. Stay tuned.

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Rotting Toes: An #Orcish Dice Game #DnD #4e CC: @Erik_Nowak

Yeah, this game is probably fair.

This is a guest post from DM extraordinaire, Erik Nowak. I was one of the players in this game and have used Rotting Toes in the last season of D&D Encounters. I hope you enjoy it as much as we did.


In a recent D&D 4E session set in Neverwinter, the players needed access to the city’s orc-controlled River District. They approached a gate guarded by several bored orc soldiers. Some of the orcs were lightly dozing, while others were gambling, playing a dice game in the dirt. It was to be a simple role-playing exchange: the orcs act tough and demand 10 gold pieces per character to enter their territory – either the heroes paid, or they act tough and refuse and a fight breaks out. Instead it went like this:

“Can I make a check to see what game they are playing?”, one player asked.
[Rolls a skill check; super high result, of course.]

I responded, “Um… sure. It’s called, uh, rotting toes.” That sounded fittingly orcish.

“How is it played? And can we join in?”

“Sure, the orcs are happy to take your gold.”

Then I found myself in a pickle: I needed a dice game! I don’t know any dice games other than craps, and I didn’t want to use that.

So I made one up on the spot.

The first thing I thought of was the old school AD&D method of rolling for ability scores: roll 4d6 and drop the lowest die. I started there and was able to tie it in with the name by thinking that the die-dropping represented a toe rotting away from a diseased foot. Then I made the rest up right there and let the players have a go!


The game has its root in the story of an orc warrior who was suffering from a wasting disease of the foot that resisted magical healing. A shaman of Yurtrus, the orc god of death and disease, told the warrior that his fate was in the hand of Yurtrus alone, and the inscrutable, silent god would do as he pleased, unmovable by deed or prayer. All the other orcs could do was bet on whether or not the warrior’s toes would rot off.

(What happened to the orc, you ask? His toes all rotted off. Then his foot, followed by the rest of the leg. Then he died. Orc tales don’t have happy endings, people.)

Pictured: Someone who didn’t take the feat, Skill Training: Math.

Playing the Game

To play rotting toes, you need 4 six-sided dice and a group of several players with coin, one of whom is the Hand of Yurtrus, or “the Hand” (the dice roller). The role of the Hand switches to a new player each round.

The Hand places a bet, typically 1 gold piece. Other players place bets on whether the Hand will lose or win (“rot” or “not”). The Hand has three chances to roll doubles in 2 separate throws of the dice. If 2 throws yield doubles, the Hand wins, and the players who bet on a loss lose their coins, which are distributed evenly amongst the Hand and the players who bet on a win. Otherwise, the Hand loses, and his coins, plus the coins of the players who bet on a win, are evenly distributed amongst the players who bet on a loss.

Order of Play

1)      First Throw: The Hand rolls 4 dice, looking for any set of doubles. Regardless of whether or not doubles were rolled, the lowest die is removed from play (a “toe” has “rotted away”), and the Hand rolls again.

2)      Second Throw: The Hand rolls 3 dice, again looking for a set of doubles.

  • If doubles were rolled previously, and doubles are rolled here, the round ends and the Hand wins.
  • If neither throw yielded a set of doubles, the game ends and the Hand loses.
  • If doubles were rolled in one of the throws, play continues to a third throw with the lowest die removed from play.

3)      Third Throw: The Hand rolls 2 dice, again looking for a set of doubles.

  • If doubles were rolled previously, and doubles are rolled here, the round ends and the Hand wins.
  • If a second set of doubles is not rolled, the Hand loses.

Playing Rotting Toes in Your Campaign

To play rotting toes in your D&D game, have a PC take the role of the Hand and place a bet. Allow other PCs to make win or lose bets as well, but these bets are optional.

The Hand then rolls the dice until he wins or loses, as outlined above. For ease of use, I didn’t bother recording the number of actual rotting toes players or how each one of them bet. I simply said that when the Hand won on a 1 gp bet, he gained 2d4 gp to represent the winnings taken from the pot. Anyone betting on the Hand to win gains the same amount. If the Hand loses, any PC who bet on the Hand to lose gains 2d4 gp.


One character in my game – the rogue, of course – asked if he could cheat. I allowed for it, but due to the number of eyes on the dice, it would be difficult to do unless the cheater brought his own weighted dice – which the orcs would never allow! To cheat, the Hand throws the dice and makes a Hard DC Thievery check. On a success, the Hand may change the result of one die thrown. A failed check makes the other players suspicious, and the DC for future checks increases by +2. A second failed check confirms the players’ suspicions, and will get the thrower ejected from the game (at best), or attacked. When playing with orcs, a Hand caught cheating is very likely to be killed immediately.

Additionally, it is a little-known fact that when playing with orcs, winning too many times as the Hand will also arouse suspicions of cheating, whether the winner actually cheated or not. Typically, if a player wins more than 3 times in a row as the Hand, he is given a savage beating – even if there is no evidence at all of cheating – just for being “too lucky” and making a mockery of Yurtrus’ judgment.

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D&D Next = Dungeon Crawl System, Second Edition: Validation!

I said this on Twitter, and I’ll say it again here. Based on what I’ve seen from the later D&D 4e products, the current season of D&D Encounters, and D&D Next, I feel like all the work I did on the dungeon crawl system was completely validated. (It’s a shame the Living Forgotten Realms living campaign writers didn’t follow suit, as it would have breathed new life into the campaign.) WotC basically took 4e in the direction I took it about a year ahead of time, and after processing the feedback from 4e players, D&D Next is looking like a “dungeon crawl system, second edition.”

Please note that I’m not suggesting they plagiarized my work (though I know they were aware of it), and even if they did, it’s not illegal. I’m simply pointing out that great minds think alike, and apparently I’m a great mind. 🙂

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Updating My “Bloodied” List for 4th Edition D&D

Image care of

In my post, Three Thoughts From Last Week’s Game, I presented a list of terms I use to substitute for “bloodied” (a term used in 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons for a creature who’s been reduced to half their full hit points). It gives the game a bit more flavor. Last night’s game had an addition to the list (care of Luddite Vic) for Aberrations. These are creatures from the Far Realm, which is a plane of existence that’s unimaginably confusing, resulting in insanity relatively quickly for any that visit (and somehow survive that long). The list is updated below.

Oh, and the session was fun. All we got through was two combats, but they’re two of the longest combats in the Hall of the Fire Giant King, and we’re talking high-paragon level. Compared to most 4e D&D games, my Dungeon Crawl System moves very quickly. I wouldn’t want to think about how slow it would have been if I were using the standard system for encounter design.

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Aberrations unraveling
Flame creatures steamy (as if doused with water to put out the flames)
Ice creatures watery, wet
Incorporeal creatures (e.g., ghosts) misty
Insects, demons, and devils ichory
Oozes, water creatures low viscosity

The Egyptian Pantheon for 4th Edition D&D

Until gets its wiki back up, I’m reposting my stat blocks for the Egyptian gods here. I’ve also reposted my stat blocks for the Central American gods, too. For both pantheons, I’ve based the stat blocks on a combination of ancient legends and their treatment in the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Deities & Demigods reference. Accordingly, my treatment might differ with your understanding of the legends associated with the gods. In fact, that might even be the case if I had relied 100% on the ancient legends, as those stories changed dramatically over time. Politics, a changing social dynamic, and the unreliability of oral tradition all caused major changes to those legends. In any case, these stat blocks should work for you, and customizing what I give you is what RPG gaming is all about, so do with them what you will.

Geb, the Egyptian god of giagantism.

Horus, the Egyptian God of kicking ass and taking names. Seriously, his legends could be used as inspiration to pornographers everywhere.

Isis, the Egyptian God of being loved by everyone.

Osiris, the Egyptian god of getting a raw deal. I can’t think of another god of the underworld that was considered “good” by his people.

Ptah, the Egyptian god of giving you the heeby-geebies. He was a freaky-looking dude.

Ra, the Egyptian god of being in charge … until real-world politics change the legends.

Set, the Egyptian god of doing unspeakably horrible things to your nephew. He was a real freak.

Sobek, the Egyptian god of not judging a book by its cover.

Thoth, the Egyptian god of being a nerd, something to which all gamers can relate.