As I copy-pasted from my last post, I kind of like the idea of making a sort of meta-aware True Neutral character that realizes they can’t affect the world. Join the Harpers and treat it like the Circle of Eight. The Circle of Eight are 9 powerful wizards from the Greyhawk campaign setting. They are the narrative backstop of the setting. They actively keep any one faction from growing too powerful and in doing so preserve the Greyhawk setting as ideal fodder for adventurers. They keep the dungeons stocked with treasure, the white dragons on ice, and the orcs are always chaotic evil.
Consider this. Tando the Playtest Rogue. Back in that day rogues had “Schemes” instead of archetypes. I actually made a custom one for him called “The Chessmaster.” But who is AL Tando and more importantly, how can I use him to express my own mental issues, biases, and shortcomings?
Tando was my response to 4th Edition. Every rogue in 4E had their daggers and did shit loads of damage because they were strikers. And when the new playtest came out and the Rogue mechanics where basically, “hey you’re really good at a couple skills” I wanted to be a rogue that wasn’t out there slitting throats. I liked that silver-tongued non magical archetype but in 4E it was, “Sure be a Face, but also you deal 20 ongoing damage.” From the lowliest clerk to the greatest thief, a Rogue in the 4E universe was a throat-slitter. And that rubbed me the wrong way. So when the chance came to do something else I took it.
I was dismayed with the three available rogue options when the 5E rulebook came out. Both the Thief and Assassin felt like someone else’s very specific idea of a thief and an assassin. James Bond is one type of assassin, Ezio Auditore is another. And everything the general population feels about the Mastermind I seem to feel about the Arcane Trickster. The Pathfinder Rogue does what D&D did during the playtest. Your rogue has a menu of options to choose from and then after level 10 you get a menu of improved options to choose from. I wish the 5E Rogue had been like that. At levels 3, 9, 13, and 17 choose from one of six options. Do you want Assassinate or Master of Tactics? Not every person with Assassinate should have “Infiltration Expertise” and not every thief can climb stuff real well. But we are where we are.
So, I’ve stated that I envision Tando as a Rogue Mastermind with one level of cleric. Probably knowledge cleric. What is the story behind this character? Playtest Tando was based on Littlefinger from Song of Ice & Fire. And I envisioned him as a tax collector or minor court functionary adventuring to bring himself some fortune and glory. Who is the Tando of the Forgotten Realms?
A few times on twitter I have wondered aloud at the current mental state of the “person on the street” in a city on the Sword Coast of the Forgotten Realms. Dragon Cults, Elemental Cults, Demons, Giants. Their lives must be experiencing some upheaval. Doesn’t anyone want to move to Eastern Faerun or Calimsham where this shit doesn’t seem to happen? I picture Tando as a minor bureaucrat in the engine of the Sword Coast government. Probably Neverwinter. He moved their as a clerk in the service of Lord Dagult Neverember, the former Open Lord of Waterdeep. And for the past several years Tando has been working tirelessly “behind the screen” as it were to keep things moving. This is also how I can finally spend my accumulated XP from DMing D&D Epics for the past year.
After the Spellplague he moved into Neverwinter to aid with the rebuilding effort. Then Dragons rampage across the Sword Coast. So he aided in that relief. He kept a lid on elemental cults running roughshod through the Dessarin Valley. He helped restore trade with Menzobarrazen. Not sure what happened there but shit went bad under the earth. Then Giants started attacking the Sword Coast and Tando saw to the hiring of adventurers to bring down the notorious Iron Baron and bring in the Ark of the Mountains, a powerful Dwarven built airship. Whatever happened to the Ark of the Mountains after that adventure? Tando didn’t go on that adventure, but he knows where the Indiana Jones style warehouse is where that thing is kept. And he hired more adventurers to recover Dwarven artifacts from a Duergar warlord in the Ruins of Khandrukar.
Tando keeps managing the hiring of adventurers and shit never seems to stay fixed. Every six months around here some goddamn calamity almost destroys the world. And Tando is a tired burned out civil servant. Finally, The Death Curse enveloped the world. I can picture him in a gutter in the Protector’s Enclave of Neverwinter. He just left work, he’s going to get blackout drunk, he’s wondering what this is all for, and he thinks it’s time to end it all. Why can’t things stay fixed? Why do things have to go so bad with such alarming regularity? Then Tando hears a voice.
And Tando thinks, “great, now I’m hearing things.” Then the voice says, “no no it’s cool. I saw you were in a gutter screaming why God why and I thought you could use some help.” And the Goddess Waukeen (I went with Waukeen because Tymora would be too Acq Inc) showed Tando a miracle. Without Tando’s presence, somehow the magic bureaucomancy managed to get the adventurers where they needed to be without his direct intervention. People got paid, people hauled away loot, somehow this stuff just worked out while things continued to go wrong. And Waukeen said that while divine power would keep the governments of the sword coast moving behind the screen she needed help. Tando replied, “why did you say behind the screen instead of behind the scene?” And Waukeen said, “don’t worry about it. The help I need is, and this is a biggie, I need you to stop really trying to save the world.”
Waukeen charged Tando with a holy quest. He was to do his utmost to ensure that the world stayed in a balance of Good, Evil, Law, and Chaos. Fortunately, the forces of Evil and Chaos tend to work overtime so most of his struggle would be against them. But don’t go overboard. Help people out. But you don’t have to swing into action like some damn Swashbuckler. Be subtle. And thus Tando decided he would take up the adventurer’s mantle, to bring his semi-useful skillset to the protection of the balance between good and evil. Using his contacts as an adventure recruiter he left Lord Neverember’s service and took up with the Harpers.
Some of this might be edited but I hope the humor comes across, at least to you readers out there. AL exists in this bizarre Greyhawk/World of Warcraft world where the players keep getting richer and more powerful but they don’t accomplish anything. The world is not reacting to those Tier 3 characters . And that has got to be very frustrating for someone out there who has to keep hiring these chuckleheads to save the world every six months. You hire a motherfucker to stop Tiamat and then six months later this asshole is back with his hand out because Imix the Fire Serpent is going to bring about the apocalypse. You get a warranty for a car; can you get one for world ending events? Can I put you on retainer to save the world or do I have to renegotiate this every goddamn time? I’m reminded of Spiderman Homecoming and Netflix’s Daredevil series which actually got into the private contractors who were hired to repair Manhattan after The Avengers. Companies owned by Wilson Fisk tried to steal as much of that money as possible and other companies got shut out by Tony Stark’s insistence on managing things himself. In fantasy, that shit never gets brought up except in the Song of Ice and Fire books. What if the gods are fixing it though?
There’s also me trying to deal with own issues. This time of year I’m working 12-13 hours a day at my already stressful job and I’m getting more responsibility every week. My eye doctor is telling me, “your eyes are not happy, try not to look at screens for 13 hours a day.” Great, I’ll go read and play videogames. Wait. I feel great DMing for my friends but I get less efficacy DMing for strangers. I go to PAX and I feel weak, unprepared, and confused. I need that God/AFK room to reach down and pick me back up. And I’m okay being a suboptimal character, shit I’m okay being a bad character making this obvious trap choice. In my experience the other tables have enough firepower so I’m not going to hold anyone back tagging along on their Mephisto runs. If I can throw out advantage, roll some dice, and speak six languages I’m okay with that. I don’t want to be The Cleric and carry the load of leading the team.
What else can I say about Tando the Halfling Rogue? I found a picture online of halfling art that seemed like a good fit for Tando. A lot of people complain about the 5E halfling art. In 3.5 and 4E Halflings were often depicted as just miniature humans. Sometimes with elf ears, a lot of times with bare hairy feet even though that’s Tolkien not D&D. I’m not crazy about the 5E art but I think complaints miss the intent. The intent of the halfling design was to convey that the person depicted was tiny without needing to show them next to something or someone. If you look at the 4th Edition PHB entry on Halflings, they’re just people. Without someone next to them, they look like normal people.
I’m a strong believer in paying it forward so I feel like if I’m playing 50-75% of the time at an FLGS I’ll feel okay DMing at Convention I otherwise might not go to because oh god too many strangers. Me and Tando go way back, we’re getting through this together, Waukeen be praised.