“So, what happens when we find what’s-his-name?” Ember asked, chomping into the bowl of gems, careful not to eat the spoon in the process. “I mean, we defeat him, sure, but then what? Force him to submit? Make him a vassal? Kill him?”
“Ember, darling, you’re still looking at it from a completely wrong perspective.” Rarity chuckled. “Starlight, could you pass the sugar, please?” She took a small bite of her cake, then wiped her lips with a napkin just as Starlight levitated the sugar bowl to her. “Thank you ever so much.” Rarity levitated two sugar cubes into her cocoa. “Don’t keep thinking this as an enemy to defeat. Think of it as someone we must reform.” She took a sip. “We could track down Grizwald, defeat all his minions, pass through his traps—” Rarity levitated a third sugarcube from the bowl “—and kill him.” The sugarcube snapped in two above her drink, making Spike wince at the thought. “Or we could help the poor unfortunate soul by showing him the error of his ways and make him our devoted friend and servant.”
Spike cringed. At the moment, he couldn’t tell which was worse. The mental image of the evil end-boss running around after them like a clumsy servant seemed terribly wrong. Then again, it was something he could see Rarity going for.
“Well, it’ll be mighty tricky to get that rotten apple to reform,” Applejack after taking a bite of her apple fritter. “With all them towns he’s enslaved and adventurers hurt, I don’t reckon if them critters will be happy to see him again.”
“Nonsense, darling!” Rarity took another sip. “Once we find the prince, everything will turn out splendidly. Then we show the villain the error of his ways, by defeating and publicly humiliating him, after which he will beg to be reformed.”
“Snrk.” Starlight snickered. “If only It were that easy.”
“Why not, darling?” Rarity glanced at her in the mist innocent fashion. “It wouldn’t be the first time someone who nearly destroyed Equestria redeemed herself.”
“Yeah...” Starlight narrowed her eyes. “Thank you for reminding me.”
“My pleasure, darling.”
“You ponies are weird.” Ember shook her head then threw another few gems in her mouth. “So, what do we do when we wake up? I want to find a shop and get—”
“Ahem!” Applejack cleared her throat.
“And buy some new armor and weapons. These hoofblade things look nice, and Starlight told me I have a thingy that lets me use them thanks to Weapon Finesse.”
Of course she would. Spike pushed away his bowl of gems. His appetite had just vanished. If he could think of an excuse to have everyone redo there characters he would, yet that would cause chaos. Besides, all Rarity had to do was ask that she keep her current character and he would capitulate.
Come to think of it. A sly grin appeared on his face. Maybe there was a way for him to achieve that without taking any risks.
“Umm, girls?” Spike started in his most casual fashion. “I was just wondering. What are your backstories? I mean it isn’t a big deal, but—”
“Back what now?” Applejack arched a brow. “Are you talking about that character memory stuff? I told you my character is a hard working Druid that used to grow herbs and—”
“Yep, you definitely did.” Several times. “But I can’t seem to remember anything else.” Spike looked at his claws. “Like your name, your parents, and stuff.”
“Oh, shucks, I didn’t know you were interested in all that.” Applejack blushed slightly. “When I asked Big Mac, he told me you didn’t like characters with long histories.”
“He did?” Spike stiffened. Traitor! You can forget about getting good loot the next five sessions! “Well, err...” Droplets of sweat covered his face. It didn’t help that everyone was looking at him, silently waiting for him to finish his phrase. “I mean, surely your backstory is far more interesting than his.”
“Aww, how sweet of you, Spikey-Wikey,” Rarity giggled. “Well, I have some experience in creating interesting characters. If the fashion muse hadn’t grabbed me, I could have had a fabulous future in theatre.”
“Begging your pardon, Rarity, but I think Spike was talking about my character,” Applejack said with a slight snort.
“Yes, of course, darling.” Rarity waved a dismissive hoof. “The backstory I wrote for your character, I meant.”
“Yeah...” Applejack glanced at the sheets of paper in front of her, all written in Rarity’s particularly curved penmanship. “I’m thankful to you, but I have a story of my own.”
Ember dropped her bowl and stared at Applejack with the same astonished look as everyone else. So far, they had been playing for several hours and not once had Applejack referenced her character’s past in any specific fashion. The detailed—and overly tragico-romantic—version Rarity had written during character creation had remained unused. Spike, along with everyone, had assumed that Applejack wasn’t one for roleplay, focusing on crafting instead.
Spike shuffled from foot to foot. This wasn’t what he had expected. There were dozens of reasons for him to change the subject, or drop the matter altogether. However, he couldn’t.
“So?” The purple dragon swallowed. “What is your—”
“Hey, are you going to finish those?” Ember interrupted, pointing at his bowl.
“Umm, go ahead.” Spike pushed it towards her.
“Now, this is my first character story, so don’t be too harsh, y’all.” A slight blush appeared on Applejack’s cheeks. “But don’t go sparing me. If you think it’s lipstick on a swine, y’all better tell me straight!”
“But of course, darling!” Rarity said loudly, just as she gave Spike a warning look. If you make any mean comments, I’ll be very disappointed, her glance said, making the dragon gulp and nod. “Please, let us hear your chef d'oeuvre.”
Near perfect silence filled the room, broken only by Ember’s munching. Applejack took a deep breath, glanced at the character sheet in front of her, then pushed it to the side.
“Applemoon was born in a small village farm during the great winter in the year of the leaf,” she began. “Her parents, being simple folk, lived according to them old druid rules passed down from mother to daughter. They always respected the land, taking only as much as they needed and giving everything else back, like proper druids.”
Year of the leaf? Spike discreetly took reached for his campaign manual. He couldn’t remember there being any year of the leaf, but he also couldn’t be sure there wasn’t. It would put him in a bad spot if it turned out that players knew more about the lore than him. Was it the Savage Gardens line? Or maybe Pirate Seas?
“Now, the day that Applemoon was born was mighty special. It was told by the olden ponies that only once every hundred years would a bright red moon fill the sky.” Applejack’s voice became slightly softer. “On that night—the most special of all nights—everything would grow ten times faster than it would. And all critters would forget any thoughts of evil and—”
Definitely Savage Gardens! I remember the red moon ritual. Spike flipped the pages.
“And should someone be born at that there night, they would—”
“Umm, not to trouble you darling, but I promised to help Sweetie Belle with her homework,” Rarity interrupted. “I very much admire your artistic flare and attention to detail, but if you don’t go a teensy bit faster, we’ll sitting here until dusk.”
Applejack paused, glared at the unicorn, then cleared her throat.
“Since the filly was born on that there night, her parents chose to give her a name that would remind everyone she was special,” Applejack continued. “And since they were simple folk that had an orchard, they named—”
“Hold on!” Starlight said. “Where did the orchard come from? Didn’t you say they were druids?”
“They always had an orchard! Been in the family for generations! Ever since them early days,” Applejack explained, a hint of annoyance in her voice. “And as I said, they just followed them druid doodads.”
“So your parents were druid farmers?” Starlight scratched her chin.
“Darling, you look at things so literally.” Rarity smiled. “What Applejack is trying to say, and which is very important, I might add, is that she was born in a humble family of farmers that respected the druidic ways.”
“Hmm. I guess that makes sense...”
“That’s what I’ve been trying to tell y’all!” Applejack grumbled. “Humble farmers. Decent folk. And they gave her the name because of the great red moon that appeared in apple season.”
“When did it become apple season?” Starlight blinked.
“Applemoon,” Applejack said through her teeth, “grew a simple life. As the oldest of seven, and the only mare, it became her task to take care of the farm and all them chores.”
“Seven?!” Starlight’s ears perked up.
“Mhm.” Marble nodded.
“She’s in a family of seven?” Starlight turned to the grey earth pony.
“Mhm.” Marble smiled.
“I must have missed that...” Starlight scratched her horn, confused.
“And then—” Applejack darted a disapproving glare at the pair “—after defeating the stick witch and restoring the forest, the order of Moon Druids reckoned she’d be mighty useful to the world, and took her in to teach her their ways. There, Applemoon spent seven long years, learning about herbs and critters until the day came for her to go into the world.”
Applejack exhaled heavily, wiped the sweat off her forehead with a hoof and looked around. Spike stared back, his mouth wide open.
“Thanks, AJ. That was...” Terrible! Like, really, really awful! Just as bad as Big Mac! The only time his characters had any good story was when he asked Applebloom to write it for him! “That was very...”
“Heartfelt, darling.” Rarity came to the rescue. “I honestly could feel everything going through the character’s mind, as if I were there.”
“Well, I think it needs more fighting.” Ember grabbed the last gems from Spike’s bowl. “Those seven years with the druids, did she fight any monsters? The stick witch is a nice touch, but it’s just one.”
“Oh, there were many Timberwolves that got a beating.” Applejack beamed. “And werebears. I told Marble the entire story while we were coming here. Ain’t that right, Marble?”
“Well, I think it was a magnificent attempt, darling.” Rarity clopped her hooves. “There’s a lot of potential. You just need to take some time and iron out a few details and it would be a most magnificent character story.”
“Aww, shucks.” Applejack’s cheeks turned bright red. “You reckon?”
“Oh, absolutely, darling. Just remember, put in as much effort as you do on your farm. It takes a lot to fix every small thing, but it will definitely be worth it.”
“I’m so lost,” Starlight sighed. “Maybe I’m just not into the roleplay aspect of the game yet...”
“There, there, darling. Not everypony is a natural. You just need a few sessions to get into it.”
A few sessions? Spikes heart skipped a beat. The idea of starting a second group—this group—tempted and terrified him at the same time. On the one hand, it was a dream come true: Rarity was here, along with several other ponies he really liked. On the other, the chaos their lack of experience and system abuse created was... Think of the positives, think of the positives! Spike shook his head violently. All new groups are like that. Even Discord was meh when he first joined. In truth, Discord had gotten into the spirit of things quite faster.
“So... shall we continue?” Spike put the campaign manual away, pulling up his OM screen.
“Almost ready.” Rarity took another sip of her tea. “It is uncouth to rush. Not to mention, it will diminish the roleplay experience.”
“I still think we should beat up the evil end villain.” Ember slammed her fists on the map, making the entire table tremble. “Afterwards we can make him our slave.”
“Reform him, darling,” Rarity corrected.
“Yeah, that!” The blue dragon nodded. “Do we do the same with the prince?”
“Huh? Why would we be beat up the prince?” Applejack blinked. “That’s not very neighborly.”
“Not beat up.” Ember laughed. “Will we make him our slave? That’s what they are for, right? Or is it different for ponies?”
“Ember, you are a riot.” Starlight chuckled behind her hoof. “We don’t do that anymore. He’ll just marry one of us and live happily ever after. That’s what usually happens in stories.”
“Umm, which one of us?” A timid voice asked.
This was the first time Marble had composed a full sentence of her own free will, and it gathered everyone’s attention. However, Spike could also sense that the owner of the question wasn’t the only thing that stood out. After a few hours of play, the group had now reached the expected, if unfortunate, moment of loot squabbling. Sooner or later every party got there—usually upon discovering their first non-class-specific unique item. Spike had witnessed horrors with his usual group. One time Big Mac and Discord stopped talking to each other for a week, because they couldn’t decide who should get the Horseshoe of Swiftness that the quest had awarded the party. Things had gotten so bad that Spike had been forced to duplicate the item and let each of them have it. And that was just a horseshoe!
“Anyway,” the purple dragon quickly said. “You have to find and defeat Grizwald first. And that’s not an easy task, for he has armies of spies and minions ready to stop any adventurer sent his way.”
“Hmm.” Rarity mused, hoof on her chin. “Yes, there is that. Good thinking, Spikey-Wikey.”
Everyone nodded in agreement.
Phew. That was close. Spike let out a sigh of relief. Although, it did give him an idea. Heh, heh, heh. I think it’s time for hidden messages.
“So, what’s your background?” Ember turned to Starlight.
“Oh, nothing much.” The purple unicorn, levitated her sheet to the dragon. “I usually base it on the skill I have chosen for my character. That way there’s a logical explanation for why I know what I know.”
“That’s actually quite smart,” Spike said. It sounded like something Twilight would do. Like teacher, like student, it seemed.
“And I also get an additional plus two bonus on rolls, since my skills are also considered trained.”
“I should have known,” Spike grumbled, tapping his claws on the table.
“Hardly an elegant way to make a background, darling.” Rarity scuffed. “It’s the background that determines what skills you have, not the other way around. Why, that would be like saying that I only got my cutie mark because I wanted to enter the world of fashion.”
“Technically, Rarity, you did get your cutie mark because you were interested in fashion,” Starlight noted. “If you weren’t, you would have received a different cutie mark, so in the end it’s all the same. Since my character has the skills that she does, it’s normal for her to have been developing them since birth, because it was her destiny to have them in the present even if she consciously didn’t know it at the time.”
“Say what now?” Applejack arched a brow.
“Let me try to explain.” Starlight levitated several dice in front of her. “Everypony’s cutie mark determines what a pony is good at.” The unicorn cleared a space on the table and put a six-sided die there. “That is determined at birth, even if the pony doesn’t know it yet. As she grows older, she excels in that, because it’s one of the things she loves doing.” She placed another die on top. “And because she loves doing it, she does it a lot.” Another six sided die was put on the tower. “And a lot.” A fourth one was added. “Until one day, she discovers that it’s her calling.” Starlight placed a four sided die on the top. “And she earns her cutie mark. Now, you can say that she started doing what she liked because her cutie mark told her so, or that she got her cutie mark in what she loved to do. Both things are equally true.”
Utter silence filled the room. The explanation made just enough sense that keep the conscious mind from outright rejecting it, yet not enough to render it understandable. As a result, it stirred about in a state of mental limbo, until finally fading away to the “that happened” area of the brain.
“If I make a backstory it will be epic with lots of fighting,” Ember said after a while. “Lots of looting, pillaging, a few duels and mortal enemies...” she started enumerating.
“Ember, darling, we’re supposed to be the good ones?” Rarity reminded.
“So?” Ember stares at her. “I’ll only loot and pillage bad guys. Like what’s-his-name. Before we reform him, we’ll beat up his minions and get his treasure, right?”
“Mhm.” Marble nodded.
“Well, I suppose we can make some use of the treasure,” Rarity hesitantly agreed.
“We’ll be returning it to the folk that thieving villain stole it from!” Applejack stomped on the floor. “Maybe use some to repair a few villages and get them farms fixed up.”
“Possibly save a bit for culture, darling. After we defeat Grizwald, someone will have to replace his atrocious fashion sense with something more heroic and becoming.”
“Marble, does your character have a backstory?” Starlight wondered.
“Mhm,” the grey mare nodded.
“Well, I’m hoarding my share of the treasure.” Ember crossed her arms. “And that’s final! You can—” she stopped, briskly turning towards Marble. “Wait, what? You have a backstory?” She flapped her wings. “Tell!”
“Nuh uh!” Marble hid behind her hooves.
“Huh?” Ember blinked. “Is that a pony thing?”
“Mighty sorry there, Ember, but Marble ain’t all too comfortable talking with ponies, or dragons, she’s seen for the first time,” Applejack said tapping Marble on the shoulder. “It’s pretty impressive that she’s opened so much to y’all so fast.”
“Well, I am quite impressive.” The blue dragon extended her wings, nearly knocking several of Spike’s treasured miniatures off the table, forcing him to leap on the floor, just in case one of them fell. “What about you, Spike?” Ember then looked down at him, as if nothing had happened. “What’s your backstory?”
Spike blinked, then stood up and blinked some more.
“Umm, I don’t have a backstory.” Silly newbies. “Everyone knows that.” He smirked, climbing back into his seat.
“Why don’t you have a backstory?” Ember inquired further. “All of us have one, why not you?”
“Umm, because I’m the OM?” He offered a tense smile. “I don’t have a character, so I don’t have a backstory.”
“Aren’t you the prince?” A set of purple flames emerged from Ember’s nostrils.
“Umm... maybe?” Spike hesitated.
“Actually, Ember makes a good point,” Rarity chimed in. “What is the story of the prince we’re about to rescue, Spikey-Wikey?” She smiled, providing him with a false sense of security. “We do have to know that since we’re risking our lives to rescue him, after all. It’s only proper etiquette.”
“Umm...” Think, Spike, think!
There were a number of options available. Spike could do a mirror of Rarity’s character, but that might make things rather weird, especially since she would hear them. Another option was to go with the glass prince they had fought in that one sidequest last month. Technically, the prince was a villain who was set on destroying the party, but he was a prince.
Argh! The purple dragon grabbed his head. Neither of those would do! And he couldn’t pick a character from the campaign manual out of fear that Applejack might recognize it.
“Umm, the prince was an only child...” That’s usually a good start. “And very much beloved by his people... Umm...”
“Hold on!” Starlight raised her voice. “He was beloved since he was a foal?!”
“Whelp,” Spike corrected. “Well, I mean, yes. He was beloved by all because he was an only child.”
“Heh, just like me,” Ember said. “And I bet his parents never let him do anything or go anywhere, right? Always sheltering him, constantly going on and on, who important he is for the kingdom, and how he’s too small and fragile, even if he practically defeated all the other dragons his age and secretly flew into the badlands every evening to toughen up even more, night after night—” she waved her hands about “—just so as he could prove that he’s not as feeble as they think. I bet that’s how what’s-his-name got him, right?!” Ember grabbed Spike, lifting him in the air. “He secretly went to to face his father’s ancient enemy just to prove himself, and got caught. Right?”
“Umm... yes?” Spike whispered.
The moment he did, he was let go to fall back on the floor.
“I knew it!” Ember slammed the table with her fist, making all the dice jump up, then fall back down. All but three had rolled ones. “And I’m sure the kids and queen now are all ‘Ooh, our precious little prince! We must send someone to save him from the clutches of the evil villain!’ And he’s probably mad at himself for failing because now he’ll never be able to prove how tough he really was and would keep being shielded until someone comes along and marries him, at which point...” Noting how everyone was staring at her, Ember stopped. “What?”
“Absolutely nothing, darling. We were just quite admiring the story you had come up with,” Rarity said. “Absolutely fabulous, and so very real. Why, I almost feel I know the prince.”
“Umm... Yeah.” Spike said from the ground, “That’s exactly what the prince’s backstory is.”
“Hmm, I don’t know.” Starlight winced. “Sounds a bit too convenient, if you ask me. I mean if he was so strong, who did he let himself get captured in the first place? Unless he just ran away to begin with?”
“Hey now! Don’t be bad mouthing the prince,” Applejack snorted. “Everypony makes mistakes when they are young. Why, I did some mighty stupid things as a filly. Almost ran away to live in Manehattan once.”
“I’m not bad mouthing him.” Starlight frowned. “I’m just pointing out some inconsistencies. And yes, it’s likely he’s done some stupid things in his youth, but... oh, never mind.” She levitated a few dice in the air. “I guess there’s one way to find out. Bardic knowledge!” She rolled.
“Nope!” Spike almost shouted. I’m not having you use bardic knowledge this time! The dice fell on four and seven. “Just as you’re about to see the answer of your question in your dream, you all suddenly wake up. The forest around you has disappeared! You’re in a vast ice plane, surrounded by cold mist. The camp and all your equipment is gone. You’re lucky to have your clothes! What do you do?”
Heh heh heh. Spike rubbed his hands. Let me see you now.