Paul Kidd is an Australian fantasy author who took up writing novels after serving as a lead designer on the 1993 SNES videogame tie-in for Shadowrun. His /tg/-relevant titles consist of a number of Dungeons & Dragons: The Council of Blades (Book 5 of the Forgotten Realms: The Nobles), three books in the Greyhawk Classics line, and Red Sails in the Fallout: A Gamma World Novel. Also, he wrote two short stories for Dragon Magazine, and the official Strategy Guide for the Discworld point-n-click adventure game "Discworld II: Missing Presumed..."
His novels do a good job of capturing the feel of a genuine adventuring party, by which we mean a bunch of squabbling misfit friends, only some of whom are bothering to roleplay a character or take the situation seriously, having conversations as much about adventures in general as the actual situation they find themselves in.
The Greyhawk Gang
When tasked with the Greyhawk Classics line, Paul Kidd needed to provide what, otherwise, the players would provide: character, and interpersonal interaction. Kidd here delivered, with a strong level of humor and charm - not hurt that he could develop his avatars over three books as components in a serial (and, yeah - the latter two were from linked modules originally).
The unconventional adventure party Kidd created was so well-received that they ended up starring three times in the pages of Dragon Magazine; the short story "By the Job" in issue #271 is a prequel to the trilogy depicting the Justicar's forming his unusual bond with Cinders the hellhound, whilst #278's "Keoland Blues" depicts the group on a minor dungeon crawl after the events of White Plume Mountain, but before Descent into the Depths of the Earth. Finally, issue #290 featured official 3.0 stats for the whole party, at least as they stood post-Descent and pre-Demonweb Pits, and a new Prestige Class, the Justicar, based on the main lead himself. And there's a reason his were the only Greyhawk Classics novels to get sequels.
So, who are these characters? Well...
|This article contains spoilers! You have been warned.|
Firstly, there's The Justicar; a huge, shaven-headed, brooding human man, a grim, justice-obsessed warrior who spent years training in a ridiculously broad array of fighting and tracking disciplines, then fought as a guerilla during the Iuz Wars under his elven swordmaster's son, Recca, and since then has become a Justicar - a wandering justice-seeker, kind of a cross between a nomadic frontier sheriff and a bounty hunter. Character-wise, he's an almost Discworldian example of the idea that "Good doesn't mean Nice". A stoic, serious, stick-in-the-mud, the Justicar only cares about tracking down criminals and monsters and beating them to death - true injustice infuriates him, and he has spent his life since the Iuz Wars wandering the ravaged regions and seeking to protect the little people. He cares little for wealth, and keeps only what he needs to fuel his endless crusade. Totally contemptuous of gods and religions, which he views as powerful parasites, he's also a realist and a ruthless pragmatist. His three maxims of adventuring are: always anticipate problems in advance, always strike from an unexpected angle, and attack with unremitting fury. He's a master of stealth and the quickdraw, and almost as dangerous unarmed as with his huge wolf-skull-pommel sword. All in all, he's a standard total grim, stoic badass... if only he weren't roped into this motley band of misfits. Wields first his master's black scimitar, then a sentient "holy" sword (whom we'll get to) after Escalla's carelessness and arrogance gets it eaten by Rust Monsters; implicitly this is possible because she's from Positive Material, not from an Outer Plane. Notably, while he takes himself very seriously, the books aren't afraid to occasionally make his angsty edgelord persona the butt of the odd joke, and he does occasionally get a few laughs in himself to show that he's still human under it all. Also, his real name is Evelyn.
Escalla is a female "faerie" (Pixie) Evoker, a princess from an unknown extraplanar fey court who left her life behind in search of escape and adventure, since she never really fit in to their nihilistic backstabbing. Though only 18 inches tall, she's a bundle of restless energy, clad in the most shameless, barely-there clothing she can get her hands on and constantly bragging about her looks. She and the Justicar are like fire and ice, and ironically it's bred a strong attraction to each other between the two. Despite her magical prowess, character-wise, she's more or less a stereotypical rogue mixed with a primadonna: sly, charismatic, happy, enthusiastic, absurdly vain, utterly irrepressible, she always has a sly comment or an off-color joke to share. Escalla is a fluent and constant liar, delights in tricking the dimwitted (which she views as almost everyone, having a rather overinflated opinion of her own smarts), abuses her magical and innate abilities to run scams, and revels in fast-talking her way past guards, confusing the opposition, and creating natty little diversions and traps. This roguish behavior is a constant irritation to the Justicar, who is at his wit's end trying to keep her honest and reign in her greed and her self-destructive need to do something to show off how clever she is even when it's paradoxically quite foolish to do so. She often befriends or bemuses monsters rather than fighting them, but she shows a distinct nasty streak; in addition to being dedicated to protecting her friends, and eager to show off just how evilly inventive she is, she has temper issues, and when riled tends to just impulsively blast at things. When it turned out her evil (and bustier) sister was collaborating with the drow to free an ancient faerie queen of air and darkness her family was responsible for containing and had framed her for the crime, she didn't kill her... but she did cast flesh to stone, stone to mud, and stone to flesh in that order, reducing her to a living puddle. She wields magic with a distinctive "bee" theme (her magic missiles and other force constructs typically take the form of bees), and seems to get on well with giant bugs in general - so long as they aren't spiders. Her favorite treasure is "the cool stuff"; magic, jewelry, and scrolls. As of Queen of the Demonweb Pits, she always carries a few Potions of Giant Growth that she will not part with unless she must; this is explicitly how she and the Justicar carry on a physical relationship once they get to that point.
Private Henry is a lanky human man in late adolescence, a former militiaman who became part of the group after being accidentally sucked along for their battles against the drow and tagging along because he got a taste for it. Helpful but inexperienced, he's smart enough to know how ignorant he is, and so he's eagerly cottoned onto the Justicar as his mentor, a role that the Justicar is actually quite happy to fill. The only member of the party too naive to spot or call out Escalla's bullshit. He gets on well with the entire company, but is described as "a clear soulmate for Enid," before Queen of the Demonweb Pits made it explicit. He favors the use of an enchanted automatic crossbow, looted off a dead svirfneblin prisoner during a battle with the kuo-toa, working in tandem with Enid to take down more minor foes or harry dangerous ones with automatic fire, but he can hold his own with his sword if he's in a corner.
Enid is a gynosphinx who was originally compelled to serve as a guardian in White Plume Mountain (apparently her older sister was the original gynosphinx from that adventure), but offered useful intelligence once Escalla treated her like a person instead of a dungeon obstacle with an obvious riddle, and stuck around once they'd slaughtered the evil masters of the dungeon since Escalla played on her love of books and knowledge and how adventuring would serve her well in gathering such things. Polite and calm, she is far more reasonable and rational than her best friend Escalla, and despite their closeness she tries to serve the hyperactive faerie as her common sense. Despite her formidable appearance, fighting skills, and powerful magic (Stun Symbols are her specialty, and she's the party's designated scroll-bot), she's polite, calm, genial, curious, well-mannered, a tad innocent, sweet natured and a little shy. She spends much of her time with Private Henry, and the two particularly pair up during fights. Her human part is repeatedly described as looking like a cute freckled girl-next-door rather than a sensuous beauty.
Then... there's Polk. A motor-mouthed wagoneer who decided he was destined to fill the role of the Justicar's "adventuring travel consultant," a role at which he is absolutely terrible since he's an idealist whose entire worldview of adventurers can be basically summed up as "knights in shining armor out of little kids stories." Prone to long-winded rambling diatribes, often ending up oblivious to what's going on around him, he is far less informed than he thinks he is. He also has an immense appetite for alcohol and his "prose" goes far beyond the realms of "purple" and into something more like "fantasy genre paisley". He is an obsessive collector of adventuring equipment, which to its credit tends to be of more use than one would think, to the point that they lament in Queen of the Demonweb Pits that he stopped doing it to spare himself everyone else's scorn. Also, he is surprisingly brave in a fight, and even if he's no good at fighting he can still, say, make shove attempts when spindly enemy wizards are standing over conveniently-placed magma pits, or keep feeding Henry's automatic crossbow without weeping and shitting himself. And he is bizarrely indestructible, repeatedly getting out of seemingly-lethal situations without a scratch on him so many times in White Plume Mountain that it becomes a running gag. After the events of Descent, he is also a talking bipedal badger, as a result of the faeries using reincarnation over raise dead to bring him back to life when the one time he actually got hurt proved to also be the one time he got killed. This shockingly makes him more useful (and more annoying) than ever in Queen of the Demonweb Pits.
The final two characters are technically equipment.
Cinders is a redeemed (Chaotic Neutral) hellhound... who was murdered by a Lawful Stupid paladin who payed a tanner to keep it alive after flaying it as a trophy before the Justicar took issue with that shit. Its consciousness exists as a still-sapient enchanted cloak that the Justicar wears. He has the personality of a small child crossed with a talking dog... albeit one obsessed with burning things. As he can still spew fire several times per day, and the Justicar being a big believer in permanently solving the problem of evil, he gets his wish, though Jus generally has to push back to stop Cinders from trying to solve all their problems by setting things on fire. He also retains his immunity to fire, and confers it on his wearer, though the text usually describes it as resistance instead, with the Justicar holding Cinders bodily in the way of flaming attacks and sometimes still being singed. Mostly immobile, but he can twitch his ears, consume coal to refuel his burning powers and sustain himself, and communicate telepathically with those around him.
Benelux is an enchanted bastard sword (+5 Intelligent Holy Bastard Sword of Disruption) with the personality of a fussy, irritating, prim, prissy schoolmarm. Fashioned from material taken from the Positive Energy Plane, hence the Disruption, which means she shreds through undead unless the plot requires her not to. Benelux has much overlap with Polt, but unlike him she's a bloodthirsty battle maniac, which means she revels in serving as the Justicar's primary weapon and slaughtering evil, even if she wasn't crazy about having her pommel cracked off from being used to bludgeon an enemy and having it replaced with his original weapon's giant decorative wolf skull. Unfortunately, she also despises Escalla, who she views as unfit to be the Justicar's traveling companion, and the proud faerie naturally takes offense to this, resulting in constant bickering between them.