Depression sucks. But I’ve found that the quickest way to make myself feel better is to do something with other people. It doesn’t last but it works. D&D and tabletop RPGs are the easiest thing to come by. So I joined a couple different random online campaigns on Roll20. This got me thinking about some of the other characters I’ve made in the past.
I am usually the DM at the table so I haven’t really gotten many chances to play these past few years. In terms of Robin Laws’s player types would say I am mostly a mix of Storyteller and Specialist. I am a specialist in that I tend to play similar characters. I don’t play a ninja every time but a lot of these characters are “Strikers with Charisma” to put a label on them. Having said that, I try to be an ally to the DM. I want to play a character with things the DM can use to build the game world and keep the story moving along. I would definitely not call myself a Power Gamer or Tactician. It’s not that I’m anti-combat, I definitely love the catharsis that comes with beating the Christ out of some smug bandits. But how many games have you played where you’re in a fight and you don’t understand what’s at stake or what the point is? With that in mind, here are the characters from recent memory.
Tethrades the Defiler
Tethrades is probably the most mechanics oriented character I’ve ever built. The 4E character builder made it easy to tinker with many PCs that would never see the light of day and this Dark Sun Warlock is one of them. I got big into Dark Sun when it was released for 4th Edition. I dig the post-apocalyptic setting and the bizarre varied nature of the city-states and Sorcerer Kings. I don’t think I’d ever DM 4th edition again because it felt like a chore to run. But I would do Dark Sun again.
Around this time the 4E Warlock was getting a lot of love. A number of feats were released to pimp your Warlock’s Curse which added a few d6s to your damage. Paired with this, I really dug the Dark Sun Paragon Path “Master Defiler” and Epic Destiny “Dragon King.” There’s a line in the 4E Dark Sun book that a Dragon King might, “topple the petty sorcerer kings.” Something about that idea of becoming one of these godlike entities in Dark Sun is just appealing to me. So I wrote up this Human Warlock that made the most of some of the Warlock feats coming out around this time.
To be honest I don’t remember much about this character’s backstory largely because I never got to actually play this character. He was probably a Tyrian Templar who fled the city after the fall of the Sorcerer King Kalak. Is there a way to play a defiler without being an evil bastard that causes inter-party drama? I’m not sure but I’d be willing to find out. The name I stole from the wonderful Dark Sun adventure “Merchant House of Amketch” where Tethrades is the Big Bad of the adventure.
Deshil the Dark Sun Fighter
While there haven’t been canon rules for running Dark Sun in 5E the homebrew community (myself included) is not waiting. A campaign I joined recently is using the link below to homebrew up a fresh batch of Dark Sun. My big issue with this campaign is the amount of Homebrew. For my own Dark Sun Game I tried to change as little as possible. Mostly out of laziness but also a fear that I would not have design chops and didn’t want to fuck up the elegant design of 5E.
To add on to this, the DM is also putting in a bunch of homebrew and DMG variant rules. Normally I’d pick a rogue and move on but this DM ruled that Rogues would get a bluff for advantage type power to replace Cunning Action, Sneak Attack requires Advantage rather than an ally, and Rogues get an extra skill and an extra expertise. It might work at the table, but I lack the enthusiasm to try it. This is also a side game for me. As you might gather from my previous posts, I’m currently running a Curse of Strahd campaign for a great group of people. I’m not interested in learning how to play a homebrew psion. I’m looking for something simple. To that end, I’ve decided to make a Champion Fighter. I can hear you now, that’s boring! Well, I’m not looking for flash or mechanical complexity or something I need to fiddle with between games.
The backstory I came up with for Deshil the Human Fighter is that he was a slave in the city-state of Balic. His master is one of the patrons to Balic’s chapter of the Veiled Alliance. The Alliance is a resistance group that promotes responsible magic use and the downfall of the evil Sorcerer-Kings. Per the “Veiled Alliance” book (also wonderful), Balic’s chapter is powerful and successful and finds its strongest supporters among the city’s thriving theater and arts scene. Naturally this chapter would have wealthy patrons who would probably own slaves if only to keep up appearances. Deshil was a bodyguard to this master but he was also inducted into the alliance and trained to slay the evil mages that plague Dark Sun. A rival noble however brought his master low and Deshil was sold to a merchant house. He later escaped and finds himself as a wandering mercenary at the start of the campaign next week.
In this character I see my tendency to pick what I want to play and then write my way to it. For Deshil, I wanted to play the Champion Fighter for its reputation of being easy to play. I’m not a fan of Generic McMercenary PCs so I thought “The Mage Killer” was an interesting way to go with it and it was similar in lore to the Veiled Guardian Paragon Path in 4E. The Veiled Alliance is made up of mages but naturally they have need for sneaks and guards, such as the Veiled Guardian. Since the campaign is starting out in the wastes I made him a runaway slave that once traveled with a merchant caravan to explain why he was ok surviving on his own. Also, the idea of a rival back in Balic gives the DM something to work with as well as a reason he can’t go back there yet. I also notice this character seems to have a lot in common with Mad Max so that’s going to inform my roleplaying of him. He’s trying to survive but will put himself at significant hardship to protect and help others.
The Eberron Gnome Journalist
Someday Curse of Strahd is going to end. My group is going to reach the end of the book. And I’ve already started thinking about what we might do next. Eberron seems attractive because someone in the group already scoffed at the notion of going there and now I’m determined to show him it can be good. I can also connect the Dark Powers to the Mournland in the event they want to play the same characters they have now.
Two of the must-include items on my Eberron brainstorm list are the gnome nation of Zilargo and the great Library of Korranberg. This also got me thinking that I wanted to be a gnome journalist if I found an Eberron game to join on Roll20. In part this is because what I’m in the market for right now are casual D&D games. A news reporter PC sounds attractive because he’s a supporting character tagging along with the main characters. It doesn’t require an exhaustive backstory. But you might ask, why a gnome?
Gnomes are kind of lost in D&D’s recent history. This was pointed out in the 4E Preview Book, Races and Classes, where the writer says that they’re kind of a mixture between elves, dwarves, and halflings. The D&D Gnome is an illusionist prankster, the pop culture World of Warcraft gnome has all sorts of steampunk technology. This sort of wishy-washy identity led to gnomes being shelved for a year from 4E in favor of races with clearer physical identities and lore such as Dragonborn and Tieflings. The Eberron campaign setting however gave gnomes a clear place in the world. Chris “I wrote Curse of Strahd” Perkins even said that Eberron gnomes were his favorite depiction of Gnomes.
Eberron makes Gnomes Great Again. Very quickly and oversimplified, Eberron’s world is sort of like a fantasy version of post-World War I Europe complete with modern nation-states as opposed to Dark Sun city-states or Forgotten Realms’s benign anarchy. The Gnomes in Eberron have their own nation called Zilargo. They are a nation founded on cunning and charisma. A national saying is “Five Words Can Defeat a Thousand Swords.” It is kind of like an entire race of Varys’s from Game of Thrones. To prevent this from devolving into self-destruction they have a Secret Police called The Trust. It’s difficult to get into briefly. Sorry I’m going into so much detail on gnomes. If I tell you I’m Bob the Human Fighter you can be reasonably expected to understand that. Gnomes are more obscure. Read these if you want to know the lore.
As far as mechanics go since I had no idea. But I knew the guys from Total Party Thrill love Eberron and character building so I tweeted to them asking how they’d build this character. They replied and actually just put this one in their latest episode. They made a Svirfneblin Rogue/Wizard with the Swashbuckler and Conjurer specializations. As a habit, I don’t like to multiclass but I can’t deny that guy would be an awesome fantasy journalist.
They came up with their own backstory for the character. One idea was that she is paying off loans or is an agent of the Gnome Secret Police (The Trust). I brought up The Trust up to them because Gnome Secret Police would totally want this character on their team. It’s not a question of if the character is working for the Secret Police, more a question of when she started, before or after becoming a journalist? I’m not sure I would make the Secret Police a part of a PC’s backstory. I’d prefer to let the DM come to me with that after the game begins.
I should just do another article on Why The Trust is Cool.
Tyena – Dragon Age City Elf
I joined two campaigns on Roll20 recently. One is a 5E Dark Sun game. The other is using the Dragon Age system. Dragon Age is a series of videogames from Bioware set in a world called Thedas. The Tabletop RPG for this setting is published by Green Ronin. The campaign is set in a city called Kirkwall which was the setting for Dragon Age 2.
Again, this is a side game for me. So I’d like to pick a tropey broad strokes character and then drill down to make them unique. When I joined up with this game there were four other people, no one was playing a rogue and no one was playing a city elf. That’s why I chose this character. I named her Tyena because at the time I was rereading A Feast for Crows which has a character named Taena and I was also on a Warcraft 3 kick which has a character named Tyrande.
In this setting, the Elves lost a war to Humans a long time ago and lost their homeland in the process. Some became nomads and are your standard fantasy elves. Others were forcibly assimilated into human society where they work as laborers, servants, and are basically second class citizens. These are the city elves. In this campaign the characters are refugees fleeing a monstrous invasion in the south (aka the events of Dragon Age: Origins). I envisioned this character as a former pickpocket on the run from the Thieves’ Guild. The campaign is still young so right now I don’t really have more than that for backstory.
The Dragon Age rule system plays very similar to 5E where ability checks are the base of the system. With three classes and stats generated randomly in order the game is less making a character and more like being assigned a random person in the world. In addition to rolling your stats you’re also supposed to roll on a table based on your background for two bonuses. These are mostly all either +1 to an ability or +2 to a specific use of that ability. As a City Elf I got +1 Perception (Dragon Age has 8 abilities including Perception) and +2 Deception (which is a skill within the Communication ability). I want to start this character as low as possible on the socioeconomic ladder then see how high she can rise before dying or the campaign folds #Scarface.
Tando Tossbottle – The Chessmaster Rogue
Tando was my halfling rogue from the 5E playtest and I’ve used different versions of the same basic character in a few different games. You’ve heard me discuss this character before. After the tactical wargame that 4th Edition I wanted to be a rogue but I wanted to do something different. The playtest rogue had a robust array of non-combat and roleplaying skill tricks. It was possible to build a rogue during the playtest that had no sneak attack and played more like a silver tongued trickster.
Then the PHB came out and our choices were Thief or Assassin (or Arcane Trickster but whatever).
Thanks to the Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide we have more choices now despite the Mastermind being objectively worse than the other three archetypes. The Mastermind Rogue “ought” to be objectively worse at combat if he’s built done right. In a fight with a Mastermind, the threat is not the Mastermind, it’s the Fighter she just convinced to kick your ass.
I know, it’s a game and that character isn’t pulling his weight. I really do get the case that the Mastermind sucks. The only defense I can offer is that Tando was created during the playtest when it was possible to make a character that played more like a Mastermind while sucking less. Green Ronin Giveth us Dragon Age, but they also Giveth the Mastermind.
So who is this Tando person? Well, I envision him as using the courtier theme also found in Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide. He is a low level government functionary. Maybe for him, adventuring is the equivalent to being reassigned to Antarctica. Maybe he can’t wait to get out of this dungeon so he can go back to wearing fancy clothes. More backstory than that I think would depend on the government of the setting. One other thing I did was make Tando a Stout Halfling. As awesome as a charisma bonus, its very thematic to give this intrigue oriented character poison resistance. This sort of begs the question, why’d I make him a Halfling to begin with? Well, like Tyena, I started with a broad generalization. Tyena is a more archetypical guttersnipe street urchin thief. Tando is a Halfling Rogue. How can I make that tropey character special? Coming on the heels of 4th Edition, I wanted to make a Halfling Rogue that wasn’t just Dexterity and Damage out the ass. In a way, I wanted a Rogue that wasn’t trying to be a striker. Maybe I’m playing the game wrong but again, it was the playtest. I tested.
Vaelis Suncedar – Half-Elf Warlock
I’m trying not to make Half-Elves anymore because everyone seems to be playing Half-Elves these days. The 5E Half Elf is really good. It’s not that I want to challenge myself by picking something sub-optimal, it’s that I don’t want to play the same thing as someone else. If the party has two half-elves already I’m not going to be the third. If someone calls the Rogue, I’ll pick something else. If someone shows up with a Rogue after I already called the Rogue, I’m inclined to change characters if they’re the same race, archetype, or background.
I was on a kick at this time reading about the medieval spice trade and joined a Forgotten Realms campaign on Roll20. I envisioned this character as a guild merchant, shipwrecked, forced to enter into his pact with a Sea Hag in return for his life. The game didn’t last long enough to run with it much but I really liked this character. It would’ve worked well with the Cult of the Crushing Wave from Princes of the Apocalypse. Now I’ve got a bunch of books about pepper trading and Warren Hastings to finish reading.
Guerney Cavendish – The Dwarf Swashbuckler
Yes this name is inspired by a character from Dune and a type of tobacco. Another game that didn’t last. Dwarves in this campaign setting had lost their ancestral home to monsters and horrors. It seemed like best plot in this world to go towards and there were no other dwarves in the party, definitely no swashbucklers.
I saw this character as a troubadour. A bard but not a Bard. He was gathering aid to one day reclaim these lost Dwarven lands. In the meantime he would keep the songs and tales alive. It seems like every damn bard wields a lute. I wanted to do something different so I did some research on Tibetan musical instruments. Turns out there is a Tibetan lute called a dramyin along with various drums and horns. Again, didn’t really matter because it only lasted a short time. One mechanical thing I did differently with this character is I made him a Strength Rogue. I liked the idea that he fought with and threw axes.
Vhaego – Tiefling Vampire
I loved the 4E Vampire. Part of this glee was playing one in defiance of the blanket statement in the 4E Optimization forums that proclaimed “this class sucks.” Good pun there.
“But it will never be as good as the ranger.” Yup.
“It can’t nova like my rogue daggerfucker build.” Guilty.
The Vampire was fun to play. Tiefling Vampire was more so. I would pickup 4E again for this class.
Vhaego was a spy in a foreign court until that place got taken over by evil undead people which naturally included some forced conversions to vampiric thralls. He was enslaved just long enough for his family to die/forget him and then somehow threw off the yoke. He has to throw off the yoke for his is a tale of vengeance. I invented the evil necromancer that turned him, known only by his greatsword, a Flamberge with a hilt that looked like a dragon was breathing out the blade. Cool huh?
I think of all the characters on this list Vhaego is the one I remember most fondly. It was because I brought this sub-par backstory heavy character to a party full charopper veterans. I feel kind of bad for the DM in hindsight. He had a series of combat encounters he wanted to guide us through. Meanwhile I wanted to talk to NPCs. I don’t think my fun was coming at the expense of anyone else. But it felt like I was maybe pushing him beyond his comfort zone. We got hired by a lord to clear out some bandits and I asked if he could send any guardsmen with us. The DM’s reply to this was, “If you get help from NPCs I’ll have to reduce the XP you get.”…I do not consider myself a method actor type player but I also don’t want to be a chump. There was no reason our characters would not ask for help he just wasn’t expecting that question and panicked. An unlike the other characters on this list, Vhaego got his vengeance. His quest was fulfilled. Valar Morghulis.