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Ghost of Astariole’s Wife

Old school D&D story time:

During an attack on the Wizard’s Guild, Astariole’s wife was caught in the magical crossfire and killed. But Trey (Astariole’s player) decided not to raise her from the dead because she was Druidic and therefore all about reincarnation instead.*

It was really a “meh” decision for all of us, an opportunity to write-out an uninteresting character. Despite being introduced years before, when we were all just kids, she had never been fleshed out as a person — which, as the DM, was all my fault. I can’t even remember her name off the top of my head, which says a lot. Other characters had very interesting spouses with their own stories, etc, but Astariole’s wife was just filler. A meh character. In all those years she hardly ever appeared in play.

Part of the reason was that, originally, Astariole was not Trey’s main character, so he had less screen time. He was part of a “side roster” of characters at the Wizard’s Guild, not the main adventuring party in the Ashtal campaign, though later that all flipped around and Astariole became Trey’s main.

What happened after she died? Well I seized the day and had her appear a lot more often. Astariole would be getting ready to camp in some forest or looking up from a book in his library and his wife would quietly walk past the door or stand and watch him wistfully.

He guiltily realized he was being haunted by the wife he had left behind. Suddenly, the story of their meh marriage was entirely interesting.

And Then… Gone

What was Trey’s reaction to being haunted by his dead wife? He seemed into it. Because suddenly now there was some story there. It was an interesting relationship, even if not a good one.

In a way it was a do-over, a chance to re-examine their relationship. I started playing D&D when I was 11. Astariole’s wife was introduced probably when I was 13. We were adults now (read as 20ish) so dwelling on this overlooked character and this blank slate of a marriage was thought-provoking, even in just a series of silent cameos.

Months later, after a particularly bad fight, an ally cast a Heal spell on Astariole to fix his wounds. It’s a powerful level 5 spell, the same level as raising the dead, and it pretty much heals everything in one shot. The big gun for dire straits.

And just like that, his wife stopped appearing. Because she had never been haunting him in the first place.

Why? Before all this started, back in the infamous Citadel of the Deep, Astariole had been hit by a psionic blast from a mind flayer and failed his save. The damage? *roll roll roll*: Minor insanity. As a DM I looked at that and told the players nothing happened. But I thought hmmmmm and made a note. And then his wife started appearing.

The haunting had always been all in his mind, hallucinations that were the product of psionic damage and guilt, which the Heal spell unintentionally cured (the psionic damage, not the guilt)

The death of his wife and the self-examination that followed with “the haunting” was, I think, a subtle turning point for the character. It was a key part of shifting Astariole from a backup PC to Trey’s main character. A transition from a character from our childhood to a character played by an adult. It made Astariole feel like a complete person, flaws and all, and set the stage for a whole series of stories that followed.

* In AD&D aka first edition, clerics raised dead but druids could reincarnate you, putting your spirit in the body of a chipmunk or (if you were lucky) a centaur or something else with opposable thumbs. Deep cut for people who remember The Rogues Gallery supplement and the surprisingly high percentage of PCs who were reincarnated as lizard men and centaurs.

    Ben Robbins | November 28th, 2022 | , | leave a comment