D&D Corner: Assassins, Violence and Ashley Tisdale

Hey everyone! This week I’m going to be taking a break from talking about video games to share with you a little something from my other geeky hobby: Dungeons & Dragons. Previously in the D&D Corner I’ve shared the background of one of my own characters (a lovably little Pixie Rogue named Dewdrop); but this week I’d like to talk about something a little different, and yes it has to do with Ashley Tisdale

Now I’m sure many of you are not avid D&D players, so I’ll try to keep this “un-geeky” for those of you who aren’t familiar with the ins and outs of table top gaming. Simply put, in D&D a player can play as just about any kind of character they want. A big dude in armor with a sword, an elf maiden with a bow, a sickly old wizard dude with a pet rat… if you can thing of it there is probably a way to do it (within reason). Well one of the “classes” in the game (classes being a broad term for types of characters) is a Rogue. Rogues are often sneaky, sly, and capable of doing lots of damage when they get to backstab or sneak attack someone. There are, of course, many different types of Rogues that a player could be. Maybe you want to be a swashbuckling pirate like Jack Sparrow. Or perhaps a brutal cut-throat and sell-sword like Bronn from Game of Thrones. All of those characters would more than likely be Rogues by D&D standards. For the sake of this post though, I’d like to talk about another character from a different series… Sharpay Evans from High School Musical.

“Now hold up…” you might be saying. “Why are we talking about High School Musical all of a sudden? I thought this was about D&D?” Trust me, I’m going somewhere with this…

Sharpay is known for being quite fabulous.

Sharpay Evans serves as the main antagonist throughout the High School Musical movies, and is played so very very well by the lovely and talented Ashley Tisdale. Tisdale, who was previously known for playing softer spoken and kind characters, was apparently almost turned away form the role because they didn’t think she could play a “mean girl” (or so says the internet). In truth though, it was the kindness and humanity that Ashley brought to the roll that turned what could have been a two-dimensional villain into the kind of character that eventually got her own spin-off movie. Anyway, how does this all relate to D&D? Well I’ll tell you.

A few years back I was participating in an online-run campaign of D&D and was finally getting a chance to play a Rogue, something I’d never gotten a chance to do myself as I was often the one running the D&D games me and my friends played. My Assassin, Pher, was a Changeling; a race of creatures that could change their shape and sex at the drop of a hat, and could like like anyone they wanted. (And while Pher was technically part of the “Assassin” class, he very much fit within the “Rogue archetype I talked about earlier.) Anyway, I was having a lot of fun with Pher but kept feeling there was more I could do to really bring the whole “shape changer” aspect to the fore front. I had been watching the High School Musical movies around that time, and that’s when it hit me; Sharpay would be the perfect persona for an assassin.

A Changeling in its natural form.

It was perfect! While most Rogues or Assassins spend all their time sneaking around or disguising themselves to infiltrate a keep, someone like Sharpay could just walk up and demand to be let in. I mean the rich and noble get to have all the fun, and never have to sneak into a fancy party or secure noble’s mansion. They have famous faces and names after all! Everybody knows them! (Or at least wishes they did.) It was sort of a Clark Kent/Superman scenario. Only instead of being a super powerful alien pretending to be a weak human, my Assassin would be a deadly and silent killing machine pretending to be an overconfident, and boisterous young noble. People would want to be close to him/her, or conversely be glad to see his/her arrogant ass leave the room. The key was to be a social force that could command the situation, not just try to tip-toe around the sides of it.

So I embraced the idea, and crafted the persona of Sharpay Evanson, daughter and heir to a rich trade enterprise (original, I know). But I loved it, and I loved role playing it. Perhaps one of the greatest moments in my D&D career happened when Pher, disguised as Sharpay, blundered (alone) into a tavern full of murderous mutants that had been waiting to spring a trap on him and his party. There was no way Pher could have beaten them in a fight, and I’m not even sure he’d have survived it if he’d tried to run. Fight or flight, I’d have probably ended up dead. So what did I do? I just rolled with it…

The “usual” approach.

I hopped up onto the tavern’s bar and immediately started ordering the mutants around like I belonged there. When they questioned his authority, Pher just changed his shape a bit to match theirs and spun them a lie about being “blessed” with a special mutation. He then asked them what they had planned before commandeering their little operation and convincing them he had a better plan; which was really just a ploy to turn their trap against them and shift the upcoming battle into Pher and his party’s favor.

In the end it didn’t work out that way, as Pher accidentally blew the whole tavern up by messing around with a magic stone he didn’t understand… but that’s neither here nor there. The fact of the matter was that he was able to walk into an enemy’s trap, alone mind you, and not only circumvent and survive it but turn it around to work in his favor.

So often in gaming violence is the go to answer for everything, and there is good reason for that; violence and aggression provide the easiest way for game creators to visualize the players agency over their environment. If you sit a child in front of a stack of blocks, what will the child do? Knock it down. Sure he’ll probably build it back up again, but that’s often just so they can knock it down again. Physically testing our boundaries and enacting our will upon the environment are simply part of human nature, and there is nothing wrong with that! Whether it’s Mario jumping up and breaking a block or a soldier shooting his attacker in COD, video games allow us to test and experiment in virtual environments with things that we wouldn’t be able to do in real life.

Your typical Rogue-ish type.
Your typical Rogue-ish type.

But the one thing I think we could use more of in the gaming world is the “Sharpay” character. A character who uses their words as weapons and seeks not just to defeat their enemy, but to out-wit and out-maneuver them socially. I’d love to see a game where you, the player, where the one weaving the web of intrigue behind the scenes for your enemies to fall into. You’d be the one setting traps, planting clues and misleading the authorities as you navigate a social maze to out-pace your enemy. Such a video game would be horribly complex though, and I’m just not sure we have the technology or know-how to make one right now.

Regardless though, I’m still going to dream of a day when quick reflexes and stat points aren’t the most important thing to achieving victory. Where a character can use their weakness to goad an enemy into making mistakes, or use psychology to plan five steps ahead of their opponent. Sometimes violence is the right answer; but it would be nice to have some options.

So for the time being I’ll just have to stick to table top games like Dungeons & Dragons to get my fix, where the mixture of “game” and “story” sometimes manages to hit that sweet spot that can give birth to some of the most unique and memorable experiences for its players. Which is an experience video games just haven’t managed to capture quite yet. Someday though… Hopefully.

One thought on “D&D Corner: Assassins, Violence and Ashley Tisdale

  1. Second blog in a week talking about D&D. really makes me wish I had the chance to play more than two games. I love your main point about manipulating the world and turning the tide by the sheer force of personality; it’s one major aspect where table top games win out massively over video games. And I played a rogue thief. It was fun, but I kept messing up throws to steal and attack. The one thing I did manage to get amazing throws on was hiding. It resulted in me being in the middle of a fight in a circular tower, and hiding…behind some odd sheet or something I pulled out of nowhere, simply because the roll plus my stats came out so high the DM had to come up with something unbelievable just to cover it. Great post.

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