Every character stems from somewhere: a person riding on the bus, an unsuspected shop owner, a friend, a family member, or that bully in high school who became your main villain. Subconsciously, I think, we are paying debts. We are giving back to those people, immortalizing their heritage, their character, and their souls in our worlds forever. Sometimes, that is the bully you make a vampire so your friends can slay it over and over again.
More often, they are the people who inspire and care for us, who make us laugh and deepen our perspective, and who spark something in our hearts.
This is the story of Grandma Tiaba and her mortal counterpart, Penny Blake.
Penny Blake – The Inspiration
I met Penny in a demi-plane called Twitter.
As a TTRPG creator, I was seeking others to connect with, share ideas and views, learn new ones, and show my creations to the broad world. Little did I know that I had entered a river with hundreds of thousands of boats, all sailing in the same direction but at a different pace and angle.
At first, it was a conglomerate of words and pictures. People were shouting, giving orders to their crew, calling attention to their banner, praising others, and helping them navigate. They would enter each other’s boats, help with maintenance, and fight when pirates attacked—brutes who showed no kindness or solidarity.
It was and still is a chaotic yet delicate dance that goes on incessantly; there is no day or night in this corner of the world. The river forever flows.
And there I was, a single captain with no crew, raising my banner, meeting others, and asking what their vessel was made of. What maps do they use for the course? How often do they shout at the stars?
Then a big galley would pass by, followed by engulfing waves that would swallow you whole if you were careless. Mostly, there was no ill intent; that is only the weight of theirs and their people. The waves would split the river, and after a brief silence, boats would converge again and continue their voyage. Day after day, I was tossing my ropes, tightening the sail, and spinning the rudder—I was learning the dance.
One time, in the distance, I saw a caravel. On it, there was a single captain holding a warm lantern. A green banner fluttered in the wind with the words “Love all the monsters”, and she was surrounded by a myriad of others.
It was Penny.
In the following months, I learned a lot from Penny. She is the kind of person who makes you embrace life just by living her own. At least, that is my experience. A Twitter experience, mind you, so you can imagine the strength of it when it transcends the internet.
On a dreary Monday, she would open the windows wide and yell:
“Good morning lovelies! A beautiful week is coming! Do you need encouragement with anything? We can do this.”
And every Monday people would surround her. One person would ask a question, another would seek refuge, and the third wanted to talk about games. One by one, they were all listened to and understood, given a safe port. Not out of the act of self-sacrifice, or a false curiosity, but a real, pure interest in the lives of others.
And somewhere in there, she would share her day.
Like all of us, it’s the whole spectrum of weather. It is filled with highs and lows, whirlpools and storms, sunshine, and happiness. What struck me was her unyielding perseverance, armed with compassion and optimism and fortified with gracious gallantry.
A mote of sunshine.
A fierce captain looking ahead.
A bold dragon facing the world.
One time she filmed herself laughing at a misfortunate health issue, asking the most important question: will this occurrence prevent her from running games?
She would give us good and bad news as they came and make us laugh with an anecdote. She reviews our creations and gives opinions. She always finds your strength and holds a mirror so you can see it.
There’s beauty in everything, she says.
I learned from Penny.
The visible, such as the Twitter dance, and the invisible, such as the blooming of flowers that were my creations. How to sprawl roots beneath me to hold me in the storm.
Sometimes that manifests as a late-night rush of resolve. It occurs while I look at my prose like it has a terminal disease.
‘I tarnished it’, I think to myself, ‘suffocated it with needless paragraphs and complex metaphors’.
But then I sit back, put on the glasses, and cut my words until they heal.
Because deep down, I know that some Penny, some few people will read them. And they, too, probably have sleepless nights, yet they go out there and sail the mighty river and hoist the sails.
Write. Create. Battle the life.
It’s the camaraderie between a few of us that I’m lucky to have met who are sitting around Penny’s warm lantern, talking and laughing into the night.
And the storm clouds roar and the rain pours, but the earth is soft, smelling of lavender.
And I close my eyes and let serenity wash over me.
Grandma Tiaba – DnD Character/NPC
The first thing you need to know about Tiaba is that once she was a tiny, regular Tortle.
Like most tortles born in the Chergus Archipelago, her parents lead a peaceful life. Her father was a weedweaver, and her mother a respectable cook.
Unlike most Tortles, little Tia had an unyielding adventuring urge.
From Ganpar Attol all the way to the Far Water, there isn’t an island, a cave, a lagoon, or a creek Tia hasn’t experienced. She raced across Saltfields, peaked into Zatak’Am volcano, and clashed with pirates at the Sunken Reef. By adulthood, she was known as Tia MIA, or Tia Missing in Adventure.
In her late 20s, she built a transoceanic boat, aiming for the world.
And after many tears, weedbaskets, and promises of keeping in touch, Tia embarked on the most important journey of her life—to discover the cold and harsh lands of Fjordruun.
Naturally, the voyage had setbacks.
The greatest of them came in a mighty galley as Clipped Hunters, a ruthless organization known for their black market of exotic creatures. They had been scouting the Abysall Ocean, following a baby dragon turtle for weeks. Spotting a lone keelboat and a young, strong Tortle made them readjust the course. See, the exotic creature definition in their books is… open to interpretation. Tortle shells pay hefty prices, and the crew was bored.
A short chase ensued, but a single mast could not outwind the mighty triplets. Hooks pierced the keelboat, and it stopped. A few hunters boarded her vessel, and Tia tried to calm them. Confused, she even offered the valuable Saltfield spices she had brought. Deaf to her plea, they raised their sabers, eyes all gleaming, like a dragon in a treasury.
It must have been that shimmer, that insatiable greed known to all dracos, that had called upon the Dragon Turtle.
Moments before iron met Tia’s neck, the air roared, and the wood creaked and split, as the gargantuan guardian of the deep came to her aid.
“Be careful what you hunt, for perhaps you are the prey” is an old elven saying that was never truer.
I’ll give you a dwarven one also: “When hunting for a cub, always look for the mother”.
Cannons fired, and in retaliation, four hunters were swallowed and two were split in half. Special harpoons pierced Dragon Turtle’s scales, and in return, both ships were shredded to pieces. It all came suddenly, like a summer storm—strong and flashy and deafening, and then disappearing with the same haste.
Tia had been tossed overboard in a ruckus and watched the creature collapse on the few survivors.
Then it approached.
A huge snout almost touched her, two large eyes like coral gemstones. A motherly look, filled with anger and sorrow. Sometimes, words aren’t needed for understanding, and sometimes, the very monstrosities the civilization mocks see clearer than any divination wizard.
And the Turtle saw, and it nudged Tiaba ever so gently, and a wave of energy rippled the water. The arcane blood of the dragon turtle swirled around Tia, entering her nostrils, embracing her like a blanket of silk. Her eyes colored red, and she groaned in pain, for the change is always painful.
The water was crimson, then blue, then black as she lost consciousness.
• • •
Decades have passed since Tiaba washed up on the shores of Fjordruun. For me to tell you about all the things that had transpired, would require a long time and a couple of hundreds of scrolls. Instead, I’ll light a lantern in the dark, much like Tiaba does during her story nights. I’ll give you a bit, a piece, a character, and leave the rest up to your imagination.
Since her arrival, Tia hasn’t settled. Whenever she visited one of her many homes, she was often asked why. To this, she had always responded the same:
“Fjordruun is beautiful and in need of much warmth and love. It would be a pity to get stuck in a hut.”
The first couple of years she spent traversing the Eternal Highlands, a place where Dwarves dwell beneath the rock and Goliaths rule on their slopes. A place where the bones of both races remind us of their bloody histories. Oh yes, she even got caught up in one of their feuds but quickly made peace between the two clans. How, we are not certain, but to this day, two generations later, they are still strong allies.
She helped build Nenub, a town floating on one of the largest lakes in deadly Marshcross, a swampland dotted with ruin and disease. At first, it was a ramshackle shelter composed of army deserters who believed in peace. They gave her food and water in return for her healing magic. But then, in a span of a couple of years, the shelter grew into a town now inhabited by criminals, exiled farmers, lost adventurers, and even swamp beasts.
“Love all the monsters”, she would say in response to some folks nagging.
And they did, flourishing together under her guidance.
Adventurers would search the ruins for artifacts, which criminals sold on the black market in nearby towns. Farmers made a fresh start, growing nutritious algae instead of wheat. And beasts were eventually tamed and made guards.
Just as the town reached its peak, Mother Tiaba, as they called her, was gone.
She went off across the Mornset Valley, touching the lives of others. And wherever she walked, with whomever she spoke, she felt the presence of two coral gemstones watching her. She could dip into the arcana in her body.
In fact, in the faraway town of Balern, that very arcana helped her save the orphanage attacked by cursed werewolves—those incapable of reverting to their humanoid form.
The missing were going on for months, frightening people to their bones. The guards were looking the other way because who cares for those children?
Well, Tiaba did.
One night, after many tendays of waiting, she confronted the werewolves and tried soothing them. Unfortunately, she realized that although all monsters deserve a chance at love, not all are capable of accepting it. And when they threatened to take her life along with a dozen children, the crimson blood of the dragon turtle awoke and transformed her into the might she once saw.
All that was left were snapped spines and children’s stories.
She was on the road before dawn.
Often, yet carefully, she utilized her dragon blood in the pinch.
When she rescued the merchant’s daughter from the depths of the lake, the dragon’s form helped her push away the stones. When demons attacked a small village in the Sorweal forest, she stomped them with her giant foot. In the tundras of Odejord, the form helped her save scouts from a frostworm. And in Hodover Wilds, it allowed her to quickly snap the trees for the freezing village.
Fjordruun is beautiful and in need of much warmth and love, and Tiaba gave it all.
Those who saw her might and fury were awed by her power, but that is not what they remember.
It is the smell of cookies, words of encouragement, and endless patience. It is the acceptance, the honesty, the wisdom, and the stoic bravery.
It is the stories she tells and her inviting warmth that encourage others to do the same.
Humility and kindness.
Now, 150 years later, at the end of her magically prolonged life, Grandma Tia regrets only that she cannot travel anymore.
“Finally”, someone often jokes, “you’ve settled”.
And Grandma Tia would smile and shake her head. Maybe the body, but her heart is still out there.
She found peace in sharing her wisdom, and her days are filled with remembrance of the past. Her cookies are perfection but she always gives credit to her mother. Her baskets are strong and durable, and they remind her of Papa. It fills her with sadness that her parents have never met the grandchildren.
In all honesty, even if they were alive, there’s no chance they could find them all. They were scattered across the frigid land, now all grown up and once with many questions.
All accepted, all listened to, all given a safe port.
And deep inside the dragon’s blood still swirls, sleepy but alert. The years spent her, yet still, there was strength for one last dip. There are times when she almost indulges the urge. But she keeps it at bay, clad in composure. Even though she is part dragon, she isn’t ruled by it.
Her hoard isn’t gold and treasures, lost artifacts, or forbidden knowledge.
Just like her real-life counterpart, her hoard is the people for whom she cares, whom she loves,
and for whom she’d awaken once more.