Dvati is a race option for twins as a D&D character. We cover 20 years of D&D history with the original Dvati designer, the 5th edition homebrewer, and maybe the only person to ever play Dvati twins in a long-running campaign.
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Lucas: Hello, and welcome to Making a Monster. This week is an extra special, extra long bonus episode and it is two and a half years in the making. From the very beginning, I most enjoyed role-playing games when I could somehow flip the script, subvert the rules a little bit. For example, what if the hoard of goblins are somehow all the same goblin? Or what if the tiny microbots aren’t a self-replicating nightmare catastrophe, but a troop of fun-loving pranksters? Or what if I want to play not just one, but two characters in my next campaign? In 2018, I started playing Dungeons and dragons with a character option called the Dvati that let me do just that.
It’s a truly unique character option that was updated from an older edition of the game. And it was the first time I started thinking about how creatures and characters must have changed over the years from edition to edition. So I reached out to the people who made both editions of the Dvati that I had found, and I was surprised to find them both willing to chat with me. It was really the earliest version of the Making a Monster podcast, though I clearly didn’t know it at the time.
Meeting Your TTPRG Heroes
Talon Dunning: Hello!
Mike Holik: Thank you for having me.
Talon Dunning: Yes, thank you.
Lucas: Talon, this is Mike. Mike, this is Talon.
Talon Dunning: Hello, Mike!
Mike Holik: Hi. Nice to meet you. I, I’m genuinely thrilled to meet you. I have so many questions. I’m going to, I’m going to board you in the audience with,
Talon Dunning: Oh my God. Okay.
Lucas: Talon, would you go ahead and remind the listener, what you designed that brought you on this particular interview?
Well, okay, well, first off, if nobody’s heard of me and my name is Talon Dunning, and I am a, an illustrator and in the RPG business, but I also do a little development writing on the side and way back when guy, you know, I don’t even remember, remember the date and I was like 99 or somewhere in the late, very, very late nineties TSR, little, little company.
No one’s ever heard of them had a, had a contest in Dragon Magazine. And it was a design a monster. So, you know, we go back even further. And when I was in college at Auburn University and in the nineties, I had developed a, a, a race mostly for Planescape, cause that was my game back in the day. And it was called the Dvatiand which was a, these they’re basically twins.
They had like the, the, the entire premise was that they have one soul, but the soul is too powerful to be housed in one body. So it’s, it’s separated into, into two, two beings. So every Dvatiis born an identical twin. And they sort of share their lives together. And they’re almost, it’s almost this concept that I think a lot of twins, real twins probably find insulting, which is, which is that they literally the same person, but kind of just divided up. So it’s, it’s, it’s sort of this very fantasy idealized sort of version of what twins are.
Lucas: And mechanically, this is a race option that allows one character, one player to play two characters. Is that right?
Talon Dunning: And that’s not how I originally designed it. I had in mind that they would be played by, by two different people, mostly because the, the idea of playing them as one character never occurred to me. That was actually what Paizo did. That was, that was their brilliance of taking what I did and sort of running with it for the Dragon Magazine.
Lucas: Let me, let me bring Mike into the call. Mike, in 2016, you pick up the story. So tell everybody who you are and how you got involved.
Mike Holik: Hi, I’m Mike Holik, editor in chief of Mage Hand Press. Around 2016, D&D fifth edition was coming out and it’s a really beautiful system and we absolutely fell in love with it. But coming off the heels of 3.5 and Pathfinder, which were just a menagerie of really interesting options, I decided to start a little blog with one of my friends to try to just add some more options principally for my own players.
But I suppose it was a public space. So it got a lot of attention eventually. And we wanted to bring some of those options from earlier additions into fifth edition. So we, you know, had more back to that kind of zoo, that menagerie of fun stuff. And chief among that in 3.5 was a book called Dragon Compendium, which had all that stuff from Dragon Mag. And they were some of the most wild stuff. Sometimes the least balanced, but almost always the most interesting. And that’s where I first stumbled across it. And I, I fell in love with the Dvati I’m a twin and
Talon Dunning: Oh, awesome.
Mike Holik: Yeah. It’s one of the reasons, I guess it resonates with me. It’s extremely interesting to kind of imagine this kind of fantasy take on it and yeah, I fell in love with it. And one of the first things I adapted and weirdly I’m one of the few people to have adapted it, probably because it’s. It’s mechanically a challenging thing to do, but it’s a super interesting challenge to write something that lets you play two characters at one time without, without breaking everything. And so I’ve adapted that to fifth edition along with just a mountain of other things. And I’ve written a ton of my own content and that’s a whole other story.
Lucas: Yeah. And this episode will come out shortly after the episode that Mike and I recorded about the Wizmos. So I guess I can say, if you haven’t heard that go back and check the feed and it’ll, it’ll be great.
How I come in in 2018 summer, 2018, I found Mike’s conversion for fifth edition and I thought it was just the most extra thing I had ever seen. And I was about to start playing with some friends who had been, uh, I would have been in a very long running campaign and I really wanted to wow them with my character concept.
So I went to the dungeon master and I said, “Hey, what about this?” And I will forever love him for saying, “Yeah, sure, let’s do it.” And I’ve been playing a set of Dvati twins ever since. So that’s kind of the whole story of how we all three got on the call and that’s all of the formal stuff that I think we need to cover. I’m going to take the brakes off you guys, but let’s get to know each other for a little while.
When D&D designers get excited about each other’s work
Talon Dunning: Well, first I’ll say Mike, I am somewhat familiar with your, with your work. I was a backer on Dark Matter.
Mike Holik: Holy cow.
Talon Dunning: Yeah, a guy I know online, I actually just started a game. It’s his own setting, but he’s using Dark Matter as his, as his base. And he’s the one who sort of introduced me to it. And I was like, Oh, okay, this is cool. So I liked it enough. And I was like, yeah, I’m going to back this. This is, this is very awesome. So, yeah, I’m, I’m, I’m, I’m currently playing in a Dark Matter game.
Mike Holik: That’s amazing!
Talon Dunning: Okay. And that last interview, that, that Lucas mentioned was when the, your version of the Dvati was brought to my attention. I didn’t know about it then. And I was, I was very excited to see that, that somebody had, had kind of picked it up and run with it. And I, and I like what you did with it. It’s, it’s, it’s simple and playable.
Mike Holik: Yeah, thank you. It was, if you, if you kind of hold them up side by side, like you can tell, I was absolutely going through and kind of trying to tick all of the boxes that were handled in the, the, the implementation, the 3.5 implementation. There’s a lot to talk about in order to handle it correctly. And I think the only real innovation I, I really had to add to it was as headers.
Put some real subheaders in there places as you can, and it might be easier to chew on and, you know, mechanically, it ends up being very much in the same spirit and play pretty well. I think how much, so how much writing did you end up doing on the original besides the name and the concept? You mentioned Paizo had some, some part of that. I wonder. Yeah. Tell me about that.
Dvati in Second Edition D&D
Talon Dunning: Well, my contribution to it was for two E and for that Dragon Magazine contest and they, they took what I did and it was a little bit long, so they kind of edited it down so it would all fit on one page. But for the most part, the article that appears in that Dragon Magazine issue, which I’m afraid, I do not remember the number of it.
I’ve got several copies, but I can’t remember now I’ll check. Yeah, cause that might be, people might want to look that up. I actually won second place or honorable mention or something like that was the, my, my, my prize was a copy of a monstrous compendium, number four or something like that. It’s a book.
It was like a $20 value, but it was really excited. It was the first thing I ever had published. I mean, it was the very first time that my name appeared in. And in print for writing, you know, I had, I did a few arts projects done at that time and was just starting my career. But that was the first time I’d ever written anything and had my so, but yeah, what, what appears in that Dragon Magazine article is, is, is pretty much word for word what I wrote, just edited down the Dragon Compendium. They rewrote it and redid it, and then that was all them, but it still had my name on it. That was another one where they did not inform me that it was happening.
I didn’t know that was in existence until somebody sent me an email and was like, “Hey, there’s a discussion about your race online. Would you be interested in, in throwing in your 2 cents?” And I’m like, ah, okay. So I went and looked at the, at the, at the Pathfinder at the Paizo forums and there was this huge conversation about this compendium book. And I’m like, wait, what?
Mike Holik: That was where I first heard about it was the forums, because, you know, a 3.5 was such a big space. There are power builds and fun meme stuff you could do with the, the, the bills. There was, there was a lot of freedom for that sort of lonely fun that we love about D and D right, where you can ways and do it on your own. And the dvati always came up as one of those super wild, like crazy builds. And I, and when I ran it, I just fell in love with the concept.
Talon Dunning: They did a fantastic job re-interpreting what I had done. Of course it was, it was overly complicated. And the hit point thing was, it made them almost unplayable, which was what the entire conversation on online was about.
Two characters with the same pool of hit points
Mike Holik: That was the first problem I had to solve.
Talon Dunning: Yeah. And it’s, it’s, uh, it’s, it’s a difficult problem to solve. I’m actually currently working with someone to work up a Pathfinder version, a new Pathfinder version. And we have encountered a lot of the same problems that I’m sure you did, Mike. And re-looking at yours having, having been working on it for awhile.
And, and, and I just reviewed yours today. We took very similar approaches to a lot of the same problems. Which I liked to see. I was like, yeah, because this, this shows that we’re sort of working in the same direction and that sort of thing. I’ll say that the version we’re working on now, which I, I, I can’t publish it because I don’t own the rights anymore.
I gave that up with the, with the contest, but I’m going to publish it for free, you know, it’s, it’s, it’s fan created, uh, stuff. But the, the, the hip point issue, I actually sort of just took a step back from it and said, the problem is everybody keeps saying, well, you got one pool that you’re splitting between two bodies.
I’m like, no, it’s one character. You have to approach it as if it were one character, a single character has a single pool of hit points, period. There’s, there’s no splitting. There’s no, you know, Oh, well one’s only got half the hit points and he goes, no, you got hit points. Just like anybody else. And if, if you’re, if you lose your hip and you go to zero, your character goes unconscious.
Both of them because they’re the same person. Certainly once I, once I, I kind of landed on that point and I stopped trying to make them two separate people. The, the, the writing of this new version has become a lot easier. And I think really that’s the solution to the point. Problem is just, they have a pool of hit points, period, just like everybody else.
Mike Holik: It’s certainly the way we handle the action economy for them. We say, yeah, you basically have the extra economy of one character. You’re just, you know, some of these actions will be taken over here. Something can be taken over there and that’s, that’s the big problem. To maybe elucidate the problem a little bit, you don’t want to create something that feels like you’re twice as strong as any other person around the table, because everyone else will be angry with you. But if you take half the damage of anyone else, and then you go down because half of your hip points are in each body, then you’re so fragile as to be made of glass, right. I think in my version, you ended up having around a 150% of the total hip point split across two characters. So you’re a little more fragile, but you can tank a little more if you’re extremely balanced in how you tank it. So, you know, there’s ways you can make it work. Yeah.
Talon Dunning: Yeah. So we’re, we’re still working on the Pathfinder version. Of course, Pathfinder is a more complicated system than, than Five E by its nature. It’s a lot more crunchy, which some people love, some people hate. So ours is a little bit more in depth. than than than the five E version. But I think yours really captures the 5E spirit really well. And it makes them very playable. So I was, I was happy with it. I’d like to try it one day.
Mike Holik: That is extremely high praise. Thank you.
Talon Dunning: Okay. Well, yeah. Thank you.
Dvati in Dragon Magazine
Lucas: It was Dragon Magazine number 271, in May of 2000.
Talon Dunning: Okay. So it was about 1999 then, that I entered the contest
Lucas: on page 81. I know this because I printed out page 81 behind my character sheet have for the last two years, haven’t referenced it at all.
Mike Holik: it’s so fascinating. It’s so fascinating to learn that this originally came out of a contest because I didn’t know that. I assumed you had, you had gotten a small writing gig with Wizards of the Coast at some point
Talon Dunning: I did some illustrations for the star Wars role-playing game online. They put out a series of articles on their website back when they had Star Wars. And they hired me to do some portraits for them. That is old. The only time I’ve ever gotten a paycheck from them. But yeah, it was, it was a contest and it was, you know, it was something I had lying around. I had, I had created them a long time ago and still, I think never really played them. I think I played around with some character concepts once, but that’s it.
Dvati in Planescape games
Lucas: what was the game like as you were playing it, when, you know, back in those old Planescape games, when the Dvati first came to be?
Talon Dunning: I had a really interesting time, because I was in college, as I said, And, uh, we had a group that was almost all dungeon masters.
So we had like eight or nine different games going at once and we would just, everybody would just show up at my house after, after classes and say, well, what are we going to play tonight? If everybody was in the mood for D and D, it was either one guy running Dark Sun, or one guy running, Forgotten Realms, you know, that sort of thing. And, and Planescape was my world. That was the, you know, everybody said let’s play Planescape , but then I was the guy to run it. So it was, we were real, you know, we didn’t do like, like have a night where we would say, okay, this is our game night. And we’re all gonna gather. No, it was literally every night.
What are we going to do tonight? I don’t know. What do you feel like playing? I don’t know. What do you feel like? And we would induct landing on something and playing for five or six hours and then, you know, and it was, it was very freeform. There were no miniatures, it was all just theater of the mind, but it was, it was good times.
And I think a friend of mine and I made up a pair of Dvati and maybe played them two or three times. And then of course, as I said, at the time that was supposed to be separated. That was the idea. You played two separate characters. I mean, they could, they could be anything, you know, they weren’t really the whole, the same person.
They were just more or less traditional twins. Man. It worked okay. It was, you know, it was fun, but so we w we moved on, we had so many different other games. Somebody has a different other character concepts that we didn’t play that, that, that set for very long, you know.
Playing Two Characters at Once with Dvati Twins
Mike Holik: it’s funny that that concept of just play two characters is so strong. I’ve tried to revisit it. Like after discovering the Dvati in 3.5 and then redoing them for fifth edition, I kind of stumbled on the idea that like, this is a lot for just a race, like complete, you know, in terms of complexity. So I took that play two characters idea, and I poured it into a whole class. And it’s something that is extremely compelling and always really challenging to pull off and like find ways to feel, feel appropriate to do that because it’s, it’s, it’s both mechanically very powerful and really like, uh, Fascinating place to take the storytelling, you know, being able to play, not just yourself, but also one NPC.
Like it, it really brings some DM-ing into your hands and that’s kind of neat.
Talon Dunning: Yeah, it will, you know, and it’s, it’s interesting. Cause a lot of people have kind of argued this back and forth. It was like, Oh, it’s not fair. If you get to play two characters and I only get to play one and I’m like, well, it’s just another character. It’s like, who cares who’s playing it? You know, you need five people in the party. I mean, I’ve had DMS go. We don’t have enough players. We will, you play two characters. And I’m like, you know, I mean just to get the party up, you know, it’s like we, everybody wants to play, but Darren we’re, we, we don’t have enough players.
Everybody played two characters. Now we have. You know, it’s, it’s, it’s, it’s not a contest to me. It’s it’s, you know, it’s, you’re not trying to be better than the guy next to you. You’re you’re trying to help that guy. So play two characters. It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t, it doesn’t affect the game. You know, that at least that’s the kind of approach I tend to take with things like that.
Mike Holik: That’s such a fascinating approach.
Talon Dunning: Yeah. But that all being said, I really love the idea of the one character split into two bodies and how that changes the dynamic of people.
Playtesting the Dvati for D&D 5E
Lucas: Yeah. Let’s come to that, Mike. I wonder when you were putting your conversion together, did you do any play testing with this?
Mike Holik: Only a little bit, we got out one or two sessions. I don’t, which is actually funny because a lot of the stuff I’d put out that is not a full base class or, you know, a big printed supplement. It doesn’t often get a lot of play testing. It gets a lot of theory crafting and that kind of comes down to actually my philosophy on play testing, which is it’s not actually there to identify mechanical issues.
You should be able to do that with math and spreadsheets and, and hard work. You have to wait until someone rolls the dice for this, to realize that something’s broken, you’ve done something wrong. Playtesting is in order to identify if the alchemy of fun has happened.
Talon Dunning: Hmm. I like that term.
Mike Holik: Yeah. Well, yeah. Fun is an alchemy. It’s not science. You can make something that is perfectly balanced and is really cool. And then just, isn’t fun to play and sometimes you can put something together. That’s kind of simple, kind of straightforward and is a blast because of one little thing you added in there. And I have so many stories about that from, from my.
You know, admittedly not huge career, you know, I’ve been designing for five years now, but you know, it it’s an alchemy. So that’s what, that’s what the play testing is for in one side is, you know, discover like, Oh yeah, this is fun. After a couple of the one shots, you know, we moved on and kept playtesting other stuff.
Talon Dunning: Yeah. I was going to say you, you, you sorta write from a, from a DM’s point of view.
Mike Holik: Although I think we playtested it in Planescape.
Talon Dunning: Oh, nice.
Placing the Dvati in Planescape’s Outlands
Mike Holik: I’m almost certain we did it with my buddy’s Planescape campaign, the one where he, uh, went to the outlands and eventually the, the first two circles of hell. So,
Talon Dunning: well, that’s fantastic.
Mike Holik: Yeah. What a wild coincidence?
Talon Dunning: Well, you know, what’s interesting is that my original design I’ve been literally see original idea. I didn’t have Planescape in mind specifically, but that’s just what we were playing a lot of at the time. And then when it came down to, you know, the, the, the contest. And I was like, well, I gotta make them from somewhere. I’ll just make them from the outlands, you know? And I kind of thought about it. What if this is sort of the, one of the dominant races on the outlands, this is a mortal race that lives in planes for no apparent reason, you know? And I kind of liked that idea. So I just sort of ran with it.
Mike Holik: I think I just envisioned mine when I went back to the writing on it, I wanted to simplify it out and I just said, Yeah. They’re like twins. There’s like special twins. Cause there’s fraternal twins, which are more common than identical twins and there’s Dvati which are more common than identical twins are more uncommon. And I thought, you know, to me, that that really spoke to just, you know what it’s like to be a twin. You just gotta born that way. It’s just part of your family.
Lucas: Yeah. I’m glad we got to this. Cause I’m looking at this art from Dragon Magazine and this is, this is bonkers.
Talon Dunning: I did not draw that by the way.
Lucas: Yeah. Wash your hands of this. I’m just going to quote from this cause why not?
Talon Dunning: Okay. Go for it.
“Dvati appear elven due to their slight build, but the resemblance ends there. They have snow white skin thick black hair that is rather difficult to cut and solid blue eyes that seem to lack irises or peoples their noses are almost, non-existent having only a pair of small slid nostrils that protrude slightly from the face they’re shapely and graceful hands have been three fingers and the thumb.”
-Dragon Magazine #271, May 2000
Talon Dunning: Yup.
Mike Holik: That’s pretty wild, huh?
Mike Holik: I don’t know how to like grapple with that. When the, when the appeal is clearly twins, play two characters. And in that way, if you want that appeal to land, make it relatable, make it human.
Defining the look of the Dvati
Talon Dunning: Well, I will tell you the, where, where the, the inspiration for their look came from. Are any of you familiar with an artist named Patrick Nagel?
Lucas: Not off the top of my head.
Talon Dunning: I guarantee you’ve seen his work. He more or less defined the design aesthetic of the eighties, the 1980s. He did the cover for Duran Duran’s Rio album, he did a lot of work for Playboy, a real popular in the nineties at poster stores where you would have these, the, these rather, you know, beautiful women with just flat white like snow, white skin and very, very flat dark hair. That’s that was the inspiration. I was a big fan of Nagle’s work. I had his, his art book that came out in the late eighties, unfortunately, after, after his death. And I have several of his posters still hanging up today,
Mike Holik: I can absolutely see, I can absolutely see why this is an appeal for a fantasy race, like 100%. I see what you’re doing. That’s that’s actually really cool. Now that I see where that came from.
Talon Dunning: And it was, it was two different ideas. It was like, I want to, I want to make a fantasy race that looks like a Patrick Nagel, a drawing. And I had this idea for twins. So I just combined them.
Mike Holik: It absolutely works for that concept too, because you know, these two, a lot of his works when you drain them of all of that, a lot of the, the tertiary details and re render them a pale white, they all kind of look like they could be the same person.
Talon Dunning: Yeah. Yeah. And they’re, they’re, it’s, it’s almost a generic sort of face that, that he draws. And that was, that was part of the appeal, you know, and, and a lot of times we would like, like the, the no nose thing when they, when, when he would draw them straight on and it was almost very little detail. So it was just like a couple of little nostrils and that’s it. So I just kind of ran with that and use that as my inspiration.
Mike Holik: Yeah. And it’s so fascinating seeing the different ways that’s been.
Talon Dunning: Wow. Yeah. Matter of fact, when I, I did a search tonight for years, I noticed there was another home brew version on there with their own art, which they made them look almost like halflings, but they still had kind of the white, you know, that, that, that snow white skin and the super dark hair. And I was like, well, at least they, they, they kept the visual concept.
Visual concepts persist through different editions of D&D
Mike Holik: Fascinating. It’s really, it’s really interesting cause I am not at all an artist. Right. I work with a lot of artists and I, you know, have to kind of make sure that, you know, they’re making cool stuff, but I actually give them a lot of free reign on, on, you know, the way their art ends up developing with designs, they end up picking.
So it’s really interesting for me to see both what your original inspiration was for that and the way other people who have never. You know, had contact with you and, you know, just through the, the different places that there’s, this, this racist shown up, like interpret, interpreted it. It’s, you know, this conversation is really interesting cause it’s taking place across 30 years of D and D and we’re on opposite ends.
Talon Dunning: Ugh, yeah.
Mike Holik: Not to make you feel old.
Lucas: It’s fascinating to me, that’s one of the things that, that drove me to make this particular podcast. And one of the reasons that I thought dvait, who are monsters in the sense that Dungeons & Dragons uses the term monster, but it would be really important to have this conversation. Rarely do I get the chance to talk about monsters across editions with the people who’ve made them and always, always little things like this are coded into the monster. And then we play a game of telephone with it down through the editions or the generations of players. Some stuff sticks, some stuff doesn’t.
Talon Dunning: Well, you know, you, you create certain themes. And as long as those themes are kept, Then I think you, you, you keep the creature in, in focus. I guess you, you, you keep it cohesive. It’s the same creature. Even if the details are different, even if the systems are different, as long as you, you keep that theme to it, then it it’s it’s close enough that it still feels like the same thing.
Themes coded into Dvati characters
Mike Holik: What do you think are the most important themes for this one?
Talon Dunning: Oh, certainly the, the whole soul thing to me, that’s the heart of it. The fact that they are literally one soul differ. That’s what differentiates them between a set of human twins, human twins, or, you know, presumably two different souls. And, and that makes them each an individual.
Whereas this is literally a single person that has been divided into two people to two entities, which is a very difficult concept for us to wrap our heads around because, you know, we’re, we’re such individuals that, you know, I mean, I’m sure Mike, as a twin, you can, you can tell me that there are you, do you are a separate person.
Mike Holik: I mean, absolutely. You know, me and my brother also couldn’t be any more different if we tried but it’s just interesting, you know? Cause that idea absolutely resonates with me. Right? I, I think you, you, if you are a twin, you grow up a lot thinking about, you know, kind of what that means as far as individuality goes and, and, you know, You don’t think about like all of the little things that go into being a twin, like, Oh, we’re not just the same age and grow up with the same house and have the same birthday, but we’re also often in the same classroom sitting next to each other next to a person for a long time.
And who probably got the same haircut and is wearing clothes that are brought from the same store. You end up, you grapple with identity, the winter growing up and. when I was, you know, in college and out on my own and everything, but these ideas still echo around. And I mean, it’s a powerful idea. It’s why I grappled onto, and someone is probably going to glom onto this in the future whenever sixth and seventh additions come out. Right. It’s a, yeah. It’s inevitable.
Talon Dunning: Well, you know, and, and that’s, that is very interesting because the, I think some of my motivation for, for creating them was an interest in. What it would be like to be a twin as a visual, as an artist.
I’m a very, very visual person. Right. And I tend to think with my eyes, which is stupid thing to say, but, you know, it’s, it’s what things look like is, is kind of the first thing I go to. And when I have been confronted with, with sets of twins over, over my, my life and not very often, they are pretty, pretty rare, but you know, it, my brain has trouble accepting that they are different people.
Especially when they’re kids and they dress alike. You know, I went to a, I went to private school. We all had to wear uniforms and there was a set of girls, sisters at twin sisters that were a grade below me. So I didn’t, I didn’t personally know them, but I saw them in the hallway. And because we all had to wear the same uniform, they had to style their hair differently so people could tell them apart and like one would wear a ponytail on the right one would wear a ponytail on the left. And it was up to you to remember which was which, and my brain just, I could not wrap my head around that. It just like every time I saw them, I was like, it’s the same person. No, it was not.
But that was what kind of stuck with me. And, and, and I think that’s where the sort of diva T germinated was that idea was that, you know, what, if they weren’t different people, what if they really weren’t the same shows? Yeah. It shows like Orphan Black. Great show loved that show because it dealt with so a lot of those same ideas, you know, they’re clones, it’s the same, the same actress playing the same part.
They look the same. They act a little bit the same, but they’re all slightly different and different in very dramatic ways. And I, I really liked that.
D&D’s revolutionary idea among war games: you play one character
Mike Holik: One of the strongest things that the class approach is talking about is also the nature of how you play Dungeons & Dragons. Like everyone knows. I shouldn’t say everyone, but most people know about the origin of Dungeons & Dragons is split off for more games in which you play, you know, you move around entire squads or you play as an entire squad.
And then D&D’s radical move was saying, each of you plays one character. And, and the Dvati almost feel like a part of our reflexive urge to, to challenge that, to say, okay, but what if, what if I do play multiple characters? How does that start changing the dynamic? It’s always going to be there because it’s something that’s, that’s an inherent challenge to, to something that’s fundamental to the system that we’re playing.
It. It’s extremely interesting. I, that’s why I think it’s going to be around for a long time, but that’s one of the things that grabbed me about it. And it’ll probably. It’ll be interesting to see if Wizards of the Coast remembers this specific incarnation for that or if they try something else.
How Dvati were lost in the 4E/Pathfinder conflict
Talon Dunning: Right. You know, a number of years ago, I think when fourth edition was out, I was, I was interested in, in, in developing a, an official version for Pathfinder.
So I, I sent them an email and was like, you know, I’m the guy who originally wrote it. And I would, I would very much like to be interested in, in buying the rights back or. You know, licensing the rights from you to create a Pathfinder version. Would you guys be interested? And they came back and said, Nope, no, we’re not, it’s not for sale.
As we would say, it’s not for licensing, you can’t have it. And I understood. I’m like, okay, that’s fine. It occurred to me later. It was like, I probably shouldn’t have mentioned Pathfinder because Pathfinder was really big at the time was their biggest competition and they weren’t doing so great with fourth edition. That was probably my mistake right there. It’s wizards. Oh yeah. Okay. Yeah. Cause that was, that was part of the fine print of the contest. Anything that you submitted to them as part of the contest became their intellectual property. Whether you won or not.
Mike Holik: Fascinating. Oh, wow. That, that feels very Wizards of the Coast. Yeah. One of the things I’m working on right now is just a massive kind of expansion book for DND fifth edition. We’ve got 10 base classes and 70 something subclasses in one book. That’s gotta be, I really want to push this thing as like a real. Like game-changer and everything has been kind of developed over the course of five years or so.
So it’s a lot of stuff and I’m finalizing the race list right now. And it’s really disappointing to know that I’d have to go, you know, beg with Wizards of the Coast to get the Dvati cause I actually do, you know, I I’d love to put out my version in it.
Talon Dunning: Yeah. I’d love to see that too.
Mike Holik: I have a couple of friends who work at Wizards of the Coast now, I could ask them.
Talon Dunning: Right. Absolutely. I would, I would love to see them out there. I was thinking about kind of reapproaching it myself and, and, and doing a fifth edition version after we see how popular the, the Pathfinders
Mike Holik: I’d love to see how your version differs from mine. I really would. That’d be extremely, that would be fascinating.
Talon Dunning: I’m working on it with a, with a guy named Walter Walter, a sham Shamu. Shammo Shammo I promised I wouldn’t call him shamu. I did anyway, but, but yeah, it was, and he was the one who originally developed it for, uh, for Pathfinder and put it on the snap piezos forums. They don’t have a forum anymore. I guess it might be under Giants in the Playground or somebody.
It’s one of those, one of those forms sites. And they’ve been talking about it back and forth for years and it finally, apparently just occurred to him to come to me, uh, with some questions and we just started talking back and forth over email. And I ended up sort of, kind of going, well, this is how I would do it.
We’ll know this is how I would do that. This is how I would do that. Let’s just develop a damn thing. Oh, you know, I, I recently put forth a based on our discussion, a draft and sent that to him. And he came back with a whole bunch of notes and I’ve yet to implement his notes into my draft, which is you. So we’re just kind of going back and forth on it.
I’m hoping maybe by summer I’ll have it. Actually ready with some new art. I’m going to publish it as if it were a commercial product, but just release it free. Um, yeah.
Mike Holik: That’s, that’s so cool. It’s gonna, it’s awesome to hear that you’re still, you’re still, you know, taking this and running with it. Right.
There’s so many of the things, you know, back from Dragon Magazine and that I could dig my fingers into and, you know, you know, really came away with something where it’s like, yeah, this was really cool. And they never. Did much with it, you know, I, I’m the only person to have really, you know, resurrected some of that stuff so that, you know, my players and, uh, you know, readers can enjoy it. So it’s, it’s, it’s really exciting to hear that you’re still like fiddling with these and, and trying to, trying to make sure they’re around.
Talon Dunning: I’m, I’m excited as hell that there are still people out there who remember it in. Love it. I mean, you know, this was one page in a Dragon magazine 20 some odd years ago. I never thought it would stick. I mean, I never thought people would still be talking about it all these years later. And I was absolutely blown over when Paizo included it in their compendium. I mean, they took 20 years of material themselves and picked their favorite things. And my thing which didn’t even win the contest.
This was one page in a Dragon magazine 20 some odd years ago. I never thought it would stick. I mean, I never thought people would still be talking about it all these years later.
It was second place, second place. And of course the creature that did win was absolutely freaking fantastic. I mean, I can’t believe no one’s done anything. Do you remember what it was? Uh, it was like a it’s on the, you got the Dragon Magazine in front of you. It was on the, it was on the, the, the page prior to it of racy sort of on dead thing.
I do not remember the details of it now. It’s been years since I looked at it, but I remember reading it. Okay. Yeah, this, I was like, I was like second place. Oh no, no, no, no, that’s good. But I was, I was flattered as hell, but it won second place back in the day. And I’m flattered as hell that Paizo chose it for their book. And I’m, I’m flattered as hell thatpeople are still talking about it all these years later and I’m flattered as hell to you. You made a version for it for 5E, and it’s, and I love it. It’s it’s it’s good. I mean, I was like, Oh God, this is going to be terrible. But no, it was great. And I’m like, Oh, Oh
Mike Holik: yeah. I try not to make terrible things.
Talon Dunning: Yeah. A little too much. Yeah. Yeah, no, the, the, I have to say the only issue I had with it was the art, which I was very good, but they were fraternal and I’m like, ah, I had
Mike Holik: no idea what to find. It was, it was like, you kind of dig back through the Pathfinder stuff. And I really wanted to, you know, and that wasn’t even like my first pick. And that was back when, you know, before I had a team of artists that I could work with and commission for everything, I found something to fit it. And it was, it was a tough fit. Cause I, in my, in my conception, I really wanted them to be more like humans. I think that. You know, it was a little bit more efficient in terms of driving at the point, because I figured some people want to play Dvati elves.
Some people wanna play Dvati dwarves. They really wanna, they want to really want to conceptualize them in different ways. So I just kind of said it as a clean human middle ground, let them mess with it, how they want. That sounds like the new direction. It couldn’t find art that fits that. So, yeah.
Talon Dunning: Well, that’s, that’s an interesting idea, which is something else I hadn’t had really considered is, is yeah. What if this was just a magical twin quote-unquote thing and not, not a specific race?
Mike Holik: surely there are twin dwarves too, like, yeah. Yeah.
Lucas: Yeah. That’s where I came in. I heard Brennan Lee Mulligan of Dimension 20 say something that I thought was really interesting. He said the only thing you’re beholden to in the game is the numbers. And anything else that you want it to decide to be is up to you. You can replace the flavor text any way you want. So I think that’s what you’re getting at with, with this, with this option.
Talon Dunning: Yeah, yeah.
Support Making a Monster on Patreon
Lucas: Hey, if you’ve made it this far, thanks for listening. I just wanted to let you know the next 11 minutes or so of the podcast will be my campaign story from playing a pair of Dvati twins.
So that’s not your thing. Skip forward to hear how you can get more from my guests on the show. We’ll get into how game design is done and some of the most rewarding experiences that it can provide and how people can still surprise you with the things that they do with the things that you make. So if all of that is your thing, stick around and, uh, by the way, don’t forget to check out the shows Patreon page for awesome perks and early content at patreon.com/scintilla studio.
Playing dvati twins in a 5th Edition D&D game
Lucas: I think that’s the whole story. Do you guys want to hear how it went for me?
Talon Dunning: Sure, absolutely. Yeah. Cause I’ve, I’ve ever never actually interacted with people who have played any of my stuff before, so please lay it on me.
Lucas: Back in summer 2018. I started this, I started playing this game with these two twins and it was as far as character introductions go, I think it was, I think it was one of my favorites because they introduced them one at a time. And then it took, took the party awhile to get round to the fact that these were two of the same, like the same person.
Interesting. I cast them as the Bard college of swords. Which opened up a whole lot of flavor for me, as far as them being able to perform together in stage combat, as well as harmonizing with themselves. And in order to render that at the table, to be able to manage this as players, we had to decide like early on, how do I know which one I’m talking to? So I had a slightly different voice that I did for the one versus the other, but the best part about it was. I could, at any point, of course, I gave them alliterative names. So it was Mason and Mathis, the Windreaver twins. At any point in the game, I could say, Oh no, that’s Mathis. You got it wrong.
Talon Dunning: That is awesome.
Dvati features in 5th Edition
Lucas: But I built just looking at some of the things that I was given by, by Mike’s race options. Two of the things that stood out best for one was an empathic link. The idea that these two are not telepathic, they’re just nearly, so I think the way you wrote it, Mike was Dvait twins can communicate with half the words and twice the speed of other creatures, even in combat, which is, you know, it doesn’t come up much, but it was kind of a neat inversion of thieves’ cant where you take twice as much time to say half as many things but it’s completely incomprehensible. Yeah. The other thing that I used a lot was transference. This trait you wrote was that if one of your Dvati twins is affected by a curse or disease or is blinded, deafened, paralyzed, or poisoned, and the other is not, you can use your action to transfer that condition to the other twin.
So, if you have one on the front lines, as a Bard College of Swords might be and one in the back slinging your concentration spells, you could switch the blindness or the deafness forward or backward to one or the other.
Yeah. And that’s, that’s something that’s a little different, at least so far for the, with the Pathfinder version, because I’ve really embraced the they’re the one they’re one character sort of thing.
So what affects one affects the other.
Mike Holik: That was, that was tough for me too. That was tough for me to deal with because in my original conception, I was thinking about how that affects certain magical effects that are like, you know, a character being poisoned or something like that. Well, actually poisoned is one of the easy ones to talk about.
Talon Dunning: that’s true because they are physical.
Mike Holik: Right. There are certain conditions in the, in the game that it was harder for me to justify, which was, which was one of the driving aspects of, and this might be different in Pathfinder too. I don’t know that system as well as fifth edition, it was hard for me to justify those conditions, affecting two people when only one of them is.
You know, actively blinded by, you know, acid thrown on their face or something like that. But I, I, I, there were the, there were a couple of features from the original divided that I kind of had to get rid of just for space, because boy, this thing gets long things like echo attack and, uh, um, yeah. Um, and for those that’s good.
That’s fantastic. I, I, I just got to a point where I was like, okay, I can do some of these things, but I can’t do all of them. So I’m going to lock down some, some transference stuff and call it.
Talon Dunning: Yeah. Yeah. And that’s exactly where we are in the process is, you know, our version is way too long and complicated.
So we’re now, okay, what can we turn into a feat? What can we turn into an alternate ability? You know, that sort of thing. What, what is core to the race and what is extraneous to the race? And that was. I think that’s that’s you had to go through the same process. I’m sure
Mike Holik: it’s, it’s the hardest part of design. Absolutely. It’s the place where you take a knife to the thing that you love and start tapping it apart. And it’s, I mean, it’s, it’s the big, difficult thing about design it’s where you make your money.
Lucas: Well I’m glad you kept that one in, in the way that I had written the backstory for these twins, that was the ability that would first tell their family that there was something different about them that as spiteful children, they kept trading the same cold back and forth.
Mike Holik: That’s so good. That’s so much better than I that’s something I could have written.
How Dvati Twins Die
Lucas: I’ll tell you, I’ll save you the part in the middle, where of course they were extremely heroic and extremely flamboyant. And I got to do just every game breaking thing under the sun at the table, but the. There is an end to this story because I have been playing them for two years and it ends as most characters do with a dragon.
I thought that with my two still extremely fragile halves of my character that maybe the safest place for one of them was right on the Dragon’s back. And I pulled some shenanigans. Of course, we’re fighting in a volcano and of course, lava continues to be one of the most terrifying things in the game. Um,
Talon Dunning: As it should be.
Lucas: The College of Swords has an ability where if you hit with a weapon attack, you can push your target up to 15 feet away from you. No save necessary. The College of Swords gets only three fighter maneuvers basically, but they’re all a doozy. And that was the one using the, you know, the most power.
I think I had this spell Shadow Blade active at the moment. Let’s be honest. I had Shadow Blade. I remember every detail of this fight. Um, I was like, all right, this is this big heckin’ sword, and I’m gonna, and I’m gonna roll a crit. I made a critical hit on this attack. I said, can I push it through the floor, down to the lava?
And my DM said, yes, do you have any way of getting off its back? And I said, no. And we went to a private chat. And we came back and we told the rest of the group that, yeah, you know, we, we did the whole, like 10, 15, 20 minutes of reading the rules about falling and trying to figure it out. And it became clear.
There was no way we could justify one of these twins, not going down with the ship, Mike, the way you wrote, what happens when this happens? When you know, one of the twins is reduced to zero hit points and begins to make death savings throws its other twin becomes incapacitated, able to move it. Only half speed.
If a Dvati twin dies, the other twin quickly begins to deteriorate and parishes 24 hours later if his partner does not return to life. Couple of things. One that a couple of things that lava takes away from you, one is death saving throws. The other is a body, which is, which is, which is kind of important for a lot of resurrections.
Mike Holik: I wrote this knowing how brutal it would be.
Lucas: Well I’ll tell you, I’ll give you this as a player. And as a designer, we thought it was fair. Like I had been, I had been in two places at once for years and it’s like, it’s bonkers. And we all like, well, this, if this is how it’s going to be, then this is the trade-off.
Mike Holik: Brutal that you have 24 hours in character to say your goodbyes and to go, and that’s hard. Like it’s one thing for somebody be, you know, you know, dropped in love at the climactic battle with the dragon. It’s another one to slowly say goodbye to her friend. And I, I wrote this, knowing that, knowing that that’s what it was, it’s still extremely painful.
Lucas: Well, maybe less so. Because I, I kind of cheated a little bit bards, have an ability called magical secrets that lets them take spells from anybody’s list that they want. It’s one of the many ways in which bards sort of extend a certain finger to the rest of the class schema. And I took Reincarnate. It was my rip cord for in if ever this race became too broken or too annoying or not fun. That was my concession to the DM. For years, I had a fifth-level spell slot that I did not use.
So instead of dying and instead of being incapacitated with, I mean, fully, fully through this, like debilitating mind-breaking, physically defeating loss with the help of extremely powerful spell casters that surrounded him, they performed this massive ritual that costs. A King’s ransom in spell components and reincarnated this massive two-person soul into one body reincarnate makes you roll for what you will be next. I ended up rolling as a high elf. It’s fitting. I thought so. Yeah. There are a couple of questions that, that gives me. One is that he now has a few more centuries to live than he would otherwise have. So what do you do with that time? The other thing is spell rot, though. It may be how does this one body hold a soul big enough for two people?
And what are the consequences there? And that’s where we are.
Talon Dunning: Reincarnation is a, yeah, that’s a, that’s a, uh, that’s an option I had not considered then. And that’s always going to happen when you’re, when you’re dealing with, with gaming, there’s always an option that somebody is going to come up with it. You didn’t consider that makes you kind of go up.
Mike Holik: That’s fantastic. Yeah. This is what I designed for. Like this is to see the stuff. Echo around and find more life and work creativity that I could have put it put into it. That’s that’s phenomenal.
Meet my guests, Talon Dunning and Mike Holik
Lucas: Before we go, uh, I would love to give you guys space to tell people how to follow you guys, the work that you’re doing, uh, and any projects that you might like them to be a part of going forward. So, uh, Mike,
Mike Holik: yeah, you can find me at Mage Hand Press.com. Where we publish stuff every week, we’ve got a Patreon and we’ll be running one or two Kickstarters this year for more 5E content and stuff. That’s not for the content, but we’ll keep secret for now. Yeah, that’s where you can find me.
Talon Dunning: Well, I’m, I’m mostly on Facebook and I have, I have a website it’s currently talonart.com. I’m also on Deviantart under the name Everwho. I also publish under the name fantastic gallery, which is on DriveThru RPG.
And then I’ve written a few of my own books. And so it’s all print on demand. It’s good times. Uh we’re we’re actually, I’ve been working on a modern version of Pathfinder for a long time, and we were just about finished with it before they announced second edition and sort of pulled the rug out from the whole thing. So, you know, I’ve been kind of sitting on it ever since waiting on the edition. It’s not an addition war. It’s more like, you know, where the is going to settle. And it seems to be just kind of 50, 50. So, I, I haven’t really decided how I want to proceed yet, but that’s a big project. That’s going to be my biggest book ever. Big, hard cover book. Great. If I can, if I can ever get that done.
Mike Holik: Have you ever made a big hardcover before?
Talon Dunning: This is, this is the first time I’ve ever written anything that big and yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. You guys are, you guys are kind of going through that right now. Aren’t you? Yeah, I’ve done a couple, but yeah, it’s a, it’s I’m really, really proud of what we did.
I think it’s safe. Really really great alternative Pathfinder system. And it’s, it’s going to be called a it’s the, the modern path 3.0. I actually got the rights from somebody else who had made versions one and two and he sold me the rights. So I’m making a third edition and it’s going to be awesome.
Lucas: If you want to help this podcast continue its “archaeological dig” for meaning in D&D’s publication history, you can support me on Patreon and get some pretty cool perks along the way like Mike Holik’s one-page RPG “Wizmo Havoc”:
From the Bard College of Silence by Kai Linder comes Vo the Voice Snatcher, an aberration capable of stealing the voice from your throat and adding it to its own. It’s a kind of creepy that stays with you long after the fight is over.