It turns out, if you have artist friends, you can pay them to make art and then they’ll make art for you.
A while back, I commissioned an artist I know, Jenn St-Onge, to create a grand tableau for me: nine of my past Dungeons and Dragons characters, sampled from across the decades that I’ve been a tabletop RPG player, filling seats in a tavern. Like every trans person who has played D&D, the characters I’ve created over the years have reflected aspects of myself and shifted as my self-concept evolved, and etching that evolution across a shared, warmly lit scene sounded wonderful.
And it is wonderful. Gaze upon the magnificence that the lady St-Onge created for me, or as much of it as this site’s image compression permits. Take in the sheer opulent massiveness of the new 90-cm-wide digital painting on my wall. Behold.
But who are these nine stars of so many of my free hours? Let’s meet the cast of my grandest art acquisition yet, starting counterclockwise from top right.
Raised in a monastery and schooled in unarmed combat, this lizardfolk monk lost his home in a gnoll attack shortly after he found out he was a prophesied champion. The prophecy didn’t amount to much in his life, but seeing the world took him far indeed. Principled and courageous, he never did get the hang of his rather more freewheeling adventuring companions. Laertes was my first serious “DMPC,” created to help fill in a too-small party the first time I served as a long-term Dungeon Master for my high-school D&D group.
An odd addition to a low-magic campaign loosely themed on The Lord of the Rings, Laotzuas was a half-troglodyte ninja, using racial traits I created myself and a class from a third-party handbook. Laotzuas grew up among his reptilian kin and left them as an adult to find out more about his human heritage. Before long, he reunited with his father and joined his father’s ninja clan, the Order of the Serpent. The biggest impression he made on the wider world was his habit of collecting and preserving the heads of interesting adversaries. Laotzuas was a connoisseur of poisons, a dirty fighter, and generally not a nice person, but he was the right addition to a team of fighters who needed all the stealthy help they could get. This character served me during a time when my high-school D&D group had five different campaigns running at once, switching between them depending on which player (if any) couldn’t make it that Saturday.
Arduis was my first character, a half-elf fighter with improbably good stats, big armor, and a huge scythe. He drank hard, he fought hard, and he was fond of spinning attacks that made the whole area around him a killing field. Roleplay was not yet a skill I had cultivated and Arduis’s personality was not well developed, but he took on the mantle of the war god’s favorite with steadily increasing aplomb and remains a pleasant memory.
Becksorack of the Mammoth Clan
Created in part to take advantage of a generous reading of several rule interactions, Becksorack of the Mammoth Clan was a human raised by Neanderthals who learned to channel his barbarian rage into the ability to take the form of a dire wolverine, in honor of his primal patron spirit. Confused and unimpressed with the trappings of urban life, he tore through his foes like a hot wolverine through a bear’s better judgement and needed to be told multiple times to not let his pet wolf hunt stray pets within city limits. I used this character for a friend’s first time in the DM seat and I cannot for the life of me remember who the rest of his team was. The big man of the Mammoth Clan, it seems, was larger than life.
Cochikuka kha Wiki’i
Created for a short campaign focused on Lovecraftian threats, Cochikuka was a variant goblin druid who left his desert village to advance his healing arts and defeat alien threats. Kind, peaceful, and a skilled summoner, his true goal was to become a skilled enough healer to restore the hands of his love, Namatagi’na, which were mangled in a monster attack, to enable her to paint again. He never did get that far, as the campaign did not last long, but his healing skills were much appreciated by his new friends. Cochikuka was one of the last characters I played with my first Dungeon Master, and likely the most different from the others.
During my bachelor’s degree, I ended up playing with a mostly new group, and I took on the mantle of Dungeon Master in an early test run of a campaign setting I was writing. The group was, once more, too small, so my DMPC was Torklirlia, a small humanoid with long tentacle arms called a choker. (Cue post-hoc transfeminine giggling.) Torklirlia trained as a specialist in grappling and proved very good at it, but what he is most remembered for is how he contracted a mutagenic fungal infection that caused his eyes to skin over. Once a faithful, lovelorn servant of the Queen of the Chokers, Torklirlia began to reevaluate his life when he realized that his choker society was in thrall to mind flayers and his queen’s mind had been replaced with one of their creation. Originally tasked with helping his adventuring party fulfill the Queen’s goals, he ended up part of the team that slew her and, eventually, saved the cosmos.
A more recent character, Avanthika is the first in this crowd created with the current fifth-edition Dungeons and Dragons rules and devotes herself to a strange insect-like being with the oaths of a warlock and paladin. A seeker of knowledge and defender of those who seek and spread it, Avanthika wears a lab coat, fights with a halberd made of giant insect parts, and transforms her clothing, weapons, and armor into her “guardian form” when danger is afoot. Avanthika has had appearances in two different abortive campaigns and remains a concept I enjoyed crafting.
By far my most outgoing and madcap character, Rokaru is a giant anthropomorphic parrot with the power to create orbs of psychic force, accompanied by a spidery levitating crystal and carrying a club studded with shark’s teeth. He is deeply claustrophobic, more than a little insane, and prone to fits of suicidal bravery, including a time when he took an exploding cannonball to the face for no good reason and his remains had to be retrieved from all over the city. Rokaru was a lot of fun to roleplay.
Awkward, naïve, and all-around excited to be here, Anastrianna Wrenfoot is a half-elf wizard whose wizardly specialty is catching the magical beasts she encounters and turning them into her summoned allies. Yes, I homebrewed a wizard specialty themed on Pokémon, and I enjoyed the fruits of that effort. Anastrianna never met a meeting she couldn’t start by asking whether the host had put a kettle on and never met a lie she couldn’t improve by claiming to be the local “rat inspector.” Pet black caiman by her side, menagerie on her belt, she was ready for anything, and made a good impression on the team of wizards she was helping explore the southern end of a tidally locked planet. Perhaps someday her griffon egg will hatch.
Since I commissioned this piece, I’ve added one more character to my roster, but this scene was full with its existing nine and adding another would have required redoing most of it, so that was a nonstarter. Maybe I’ll arrange another painting after I accumulate another nine noteworthy characters, set up to be a commentary on this one in some way. I’ve been playing a lot of Lancer lately, though, and mixing mecha pilots with fantasy RPG heroes in the same art presents, shall we say, a challenge of scale.
Mostly, though, I want you all gushing at this art with me. I’m so pleased.