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Friday, August 24, 2012

NPC Hooks For Your Sandbox: Wanderin' Tom

This will be the first in a series of articles concerning strange and   intriguing NPCs       that can be dropped into nearly any fantasy campaign. 

Wanderin' Tom

The character presented here is based upon Thomas the Rhymer as he appears in the traditional folk ballad.     


At the beginning of the tale of Thomas the Rhymer, he is a young dreamer and poet  lounging about  when he sees the Queen of Faery out riding.  The queen whisks Tom away to become her lover, and seals his fate with a kiss.  This is, of course, conditional as is any boon from the realm of Faery.  Along the way to Faeryland Thomas grows weary and hungry.  They stop, but the queen forbids the mortal man from eating anything other than food and drink that she offers him.  She then reveals to Thomas that they journey to her court in Faery, by showing him three paths that are before them.  One path is narrow, filled with thorns and difficult to traverse.  This is the path of righteousness, or the way to heaven.  The next path he is shown is fair, easy and very pleasurable.  This is the path of wickedness or the way to hell.  The third is the path that they shall take.  It is the green path and leads to the queen's realm.  As they are to enter the realm the queen asks that Thomas not speak for the seven years he is to be in her realm, then gives him the gifts of fae made clothing and the speech and sight of a prophet.  This tale can be seen in it's original form in this ballad:

1 True Thomas lay oer yond grassy bank,
 And he beheld a ladie gay,
 A ladie that was brisk and bold,
 Come riding oer the fernie brae.

2 Her skirt was of the grass-green silk,
 Her mantel of the velvet fine,
 At ilka tett of her horse’s mane
 Hung fifty silver bells and nine.

3 True Thomas he took off his hat,
 And bowed him low down till his knee:
 ‘All hail, thou mighty Queen of Heaven!
 For your peer on earth I never did see.’
4 ‘O no, O no, True Thomas,’ she says,
 ‘That name does not belong to me;
 I am but the queen of fair Elfland,
 And I’m come here for to visit thee.

5 ‘But ye maun go wi me now, Thomas,
 True Thomas, ye maun go wi me,
 For ye maun serve me seven years,
 Thro weel or wae as may chance to be.’

6 She turned about her milk-white steed,
 And took True Thomas up behind,
 And aye wheneer her bridle rang,
 The steed flew swifter than the wind.

7 For forty days and forty nights
 He wade thro red blude to the knee,
 And he saw neither sun nor moon,
 But heard the roaring of the sea.

8 O they rade on, and further on,
 Until they came to a garden green:
 ‘Light down, light down, ye ladie free,
 Some of that fruit let me pull to thee.’

9 ‘O no, O no, True Thomas,’ she says,
 ‘That fruit maun not be touched by thee,
 For a’ the plagues that are in hell
 Light on the fruit of this countrie.

10 ‘But I have a loaf here in my lap,
 Likewise a bottle of claret wine,
 And now ere we go farther on,
 We’ll rest a while, and ye may dine.’

11 When he had eaten and drunk his fill,
 ‘Lay down your head upon my knee,’
 The lady sayd,  re we climb yon hill,
 And I will show you fairlies three.

12 ‘O see not ye yon narrow road,
 So thick beset wi thorns and briers?
 That is the path of righteousness,
 Tho after it but few enquires.

13 ‘And see not ye that braid braid road,
 That lies across yon lillie leven?
 That is the path of wickedness,
 Tho some call it the road to heaven.

14 ‘And see not ye that bonny road,
 Which winds about the fernie brae?
 That is the road to fair Elfland,
 Where you and I this night maun gae.

15 ‘But Thomas, ye maun hold your tongue,
 Whatever you may hear or see,
 For gin ae word you should chance to speak,
 You will neer get back to your ain countrie.’

16 He has gotten a coat of the even cloth,
 And a pair of shoes of velvet green,
 And till seven years were past and gone
 True Thomas on earth was never seen.

Game Info:

Wanderin' Tom is, of course, Thomas the Rhymer as presented in the ballad. The continuation of the story,  should place his trip to Faery in the distant past, this could be several generations, or over one thousand years.  At least long enough that he has become a legend in several regions of the world because of his exploits.  In fact, if PC's are attempting to deal Wanderin' Tom, a bard, on a successful check may even have access to the ballad and a bit of the lore surrounding him.  During his prolonged stay among the fey, and the eating an drinking of their food, Thomas was changed.  His wisdom and knowledge of the world grew, and his outlook was altered as well. After his return to the mortal realm, Tom no longer viewed the world with the eyes of a man, nor was he fey either.  True Thomas became something in between the two, a man, with the longevity of the faery folk and a mind that is not quite like any other.  With his changed mind also came the gift of prophecy.  Thomas is still a poet and musician, but it is not often that his songs and poems fall on the ears of mortals.  The Rhymer can no longer relate to the mortal world.  He now wanders the wilds of the world trying to find balance within his mortal mind and fey empowerment.  

PC's might seek out Wanderin' Tom for many reasons, presuming that they have any knowledge of his existence and rumored abilities.  They may need his knowledge of the wilds to find their objective, they may need a prophecy or they could even require an ambassador to the Faery Realm.  Whatever the reason, the PC's should not have an easy time of finding him.  

If PC's ever do encounter the Rhymer, he should not act entirely human.  His nature should be fairly chaotic, like that of the fey, but a certain melancholy should be apparent if any of the PC's happen to be human.  Depending upon his mood and the actions of the PC's, Tom may be willing to help them.  Due to his half-fey nature this may come with a price, or he may offer up his services for free.  This should be determined by a random roll. Remember that Tom's heart is fickle, like that of a faery, much of the time.  A roll for Tom's current mood should be made when he is encountered.  The following table gauges Tom's mood from the  positive to negative.  The stronger his mood to the positive, the more likely he is to help out.  Note, that the roll for Tom's initial emotional state may be affected up or down by any number of things, from the amount of humans in the party, to the state of the weather, to whether he has been met naturally or forcibly summoned via a ritual.

Wanderin' Tom's Temperament  (roll 1D

1.   Blissful 
2.   Ecstatic
3.   Happy
4.   Cheerful
5.   Chipper
6.   Helpful
7.   Enthusiastic
8.   Friendly
9.   Interested
10. Calm
11. Content
12. Peaceful
13. Optimistic
14. Complacent 
15. Bland
16. Tired
17. Bored
18. Apathetic
19. Melancholic
20. Pessimistic
21. Discontent
22. Cautious 
23. Anxious 
24. Grumpy
25. Annoyed
26. Mischievous 
27. Angry
28. Infuriated
29. Predatory
30. Malevolent 

The PCs, if in need of Wanderin' Tom, can quest for him (using various clues, rumors etc. to find his current whereabouts or else summon him.  As he had spent much time on another plane and eaten the food of the fey, he is somewhat spirit now, and can be summoned as such.  However, he can only be summoned by a bard, singing his song beneath the Eildon Tree under which he had his first encounter with the queen of the fey, and finding this, of course, is no easy task.