The Origin of PCs

Please forgive me stealing the title of this from Order of the Stick.

I was giving some more thought to PCs.  I’ve been a player in hardcover adventure playing group for over a year now.  I seem to have a bad habit of playing the PC I should have played in the last adventure.  Or I just pick the wrong PC.  This kind of made me think of old adventures and what PCs I shoulda coulda played.  For example, in Dragon Heist, which goes up to level 5, Knowledge Cleric kind of sucks at low level.  And if you need to be a Bard, Lore Bard is just straight better before level 6 when Valor Bards get extra attack.  There are these mechanical considerations but also story to consider.  Savitri, my Aasimar Cleric, didn’t really have a strong motivation to own a tavern or seek out large piles of gold which made them a bad choice for Dragon Heist.

A better choice for Dragon Heist would have been Tando Tossbottle, my halfling rogue.  I’ve spoken of Tando before.  Tando is My Character.  He is the character I would like to play in preference to all others.  His origin is back in the 5E playtest days.  I wanted to make a rogue in contrast with the 4E Striker Rogues that dealt shitloads of damage.  Every rogue played like Ezio Auditore from Assassin’s Creed, I wanted to play a rogue like Varys (look this was a long time ago).  So I made Tando.  I pictured him as a courtier, a functionary, a tax collector, and he’s out adventuring to get noticed, get wealthy, and find a comfortable place in some lord’s court.

Unfortunately and maybe a bit ironically I keep bringing Tando along for adventures he’s not really suited to.  His first adventure in the playtest was the Caves of Chaos, a dungeon crawl.  And I really wanted to try him out in my first foray into playing rather than DMing 5E so I brought him along to Tomb of Annihilation.  It actually works out to be very funny in a kind of Fish Out Of Water Sam Gamgee way.  Tando was also not mechanically suited to ToA because the Mastermind’s core ability, granting an ally advantage on an attack, was completely wasted on a group of spellcasters who didn’t make attack rolls.

I have no idea what I “should” have played in Tomb of Annihilation because as smarter people like Mike Shea have pointed out, ToA is not one adventure.  You start in Port Nyanzaru which is a cool city made for bopping around, having fun.  Then you have the Hex Crawl exploring the jungle looking for treasure, exploring ruins, ending with puzzles and the fight with the Yuan-Ti.  Then you have The Tomb Itself which is extremely deadly and difficult.  That’s more like three different adventures and you stand a good chance of not surviving.  Tando made it out less a few teeth but a lot of the time he couldn’t contribute because he was not a spellcaster.

Tando would have been well suited to Dragon Heist, despite the “canon” Tando being Level 12 after Tomb of Annihilation.  But someone else wanted to play The Rogue after ToA and I wanted to play The Healer.  I also could’ve been Blackwood Heckman, Tiefling Lawyer, who is also a Mastermind Rogue but with a few levels of Bard for healing and inspiration.  I would’ve also liked to play Tando in the Tyranny of Dragons adventures, Hoard of the Dragon Queen and Rise of Tiamat.  In my headcanon, the Forgotten Realms version of Tando used to work for Dagult Neverember in Neverwinter to hire adventurers while the city was being rebuilt.  Neverember is a big NPC in both Tyranny and Dragon Heist.

I’ve already said that for Descent into Avernus, if I don’t DM it, my eye is really on a Tiefling Bard-barian based on Dragon Age’s Iron Bull.  He’s a blood soaked reaver in the war between Demons and Devils but he’s also a spy.  I think it’s a good idea.  In Dragon Age, Iron Bull’s real name is “Hissrad” which means “Liar” in his culture.  I kind of like the name Khadab which is Arabic for “Liar.”  Then maybe some kind of pastiche name of Iron Bull like…Steel Ox or something less of a ripoff.

Hidden names are a concept I’ve also brought to my Triton PCs.  I’ve played two, one was a Barbarian for Cloud Giant’s Bargain, a one-shot adventure from a few years back.  The other is my current Valor Bard character I’m playing for Dungeon of the Mad Mage.  I think naming your character is an important step in making them that people overlook.  It also advertises what kind of player you are.  If you choose something difficult to say, maybe don’t do that because it says that you might be difficult to work with.  If you choose some common American name like “Jim” maybe you’re not taking the story seriously.

My Triton Bard is probably the most difficult name I’ve done before because it has kind of a specific non-intuitive pronunciation.  I went with Saaragar, with “Saara” as a nickname (Pronounced Sare-Ah).  I based it on Saagar, the Hindi word for Ocean.  Mechanically, I brought them to this adventure for the sake of playing The Healer.  I kind of wish that I had played “None,” The Warforged War Cleric instead.  The Valor Bard feels a bit underpowered in this adventure, I think the War Cleric packs a bit more offense, defense, and healing into the package.

My other Triton, the Barbarian, I named Nymeros after Prince Namor and Oberyn Nymeros Martell.  I would’ve gone by Nym for short.  I played them in Cloud Giant’s Bargain but I would’ve liked playing that character for the rest of Storm King’s Thunder too.  I originally envisioned them as being captured and shrunken by the Xanathar as a fishbowl decoration or gladiator but SKT’s general “Shit is Going Down In The Ocean With King Hekaton” also fits well.  As an AL character they were also rocking a Giant Slayer Greatsword which is coloring my opinion a bit.

I think Saaragar the Bard would’ve worked nicely for Princes of the Apocalypse.  I think Princes is the most underrated of the 5E Hardcover adventures to date.  From one perspective, it is, like Mad Mage, a series of dungeon crawls.  There are 13 dungeons, each of them is geared towards a specific level, and each one is one level of experience.  My least favorite part of it is that the PCs are meant to be able to tackle these in any order when they’re supposed to go Air, Earth, Water, Fire in that order through the entire book.  But I respect the tightness of the design.  This is one level and the content on this level equals one experience level.  What I remember now years later are the NPC Cult Leaders.  I really liked the story behind those villains.  Vanifer and Gar Shatterkeel especially.  I want to use them in a different adventure.  Princes has very good bones to build on for a new campaign.

I’ve been playing with idea of a Rogue Scout for a little while now.  I’m playing one in a 5E PBP game and this is all based on Elhar, my Dragon Age Elf Rogue whose life was cut sadly short by the end of a campaign.  The folks at Total Party Thrill put out a build for a character that combines the Rogue, Fighter, and Cleric classes for a kind of ranger Without Ranger but for Drow Specifically there is the idea of using the Hexblade and Gloom Stalker Ranger from Xanathar’s Guide to make the kind of ultimate Underdark Ranger.  I would love to play this kind of character in Out of The Abyss.  I read a couple Drizzt books and didn’t really care for them but I wish I could play a kind of Lolth Loyalist character.  This character is a cousin to the Iron Bull type character.  Both of them are loyal servants to an evil or at best highly authoritarian state but they’re not in that state right now.  At his core, Drow Elhar knows his ass belongs to the priestesses of Lolth and boy he’d like to kill some surface elves but he’s not in Menzoberranzan (which I just spelled correctly without looking first, Nerd Alert) right now.  He’s evil but bordering on a heel-face turn.

This leaves us with Curse of Strahd.  This is the only one of the hardcovers I’ve had the good fortune to DM and numerous sites consider it the best of all the 5E hardcovers to date.  My group for this one all had characters “from” Ravenloft, we were not a group of Forgotten Realms characters trapped there.  I haven’t the faintest clue what PC I would like to play in this one.  The group I DMed could have used a martial character like a Valor Bard, Barbarian, or War Cleric as they were mostly spellcasters.

But that gets to the core of a playstyle I think and its that I tend to want to fill missing slots in a pre-existing group.  My first choice is the Rogue but not if someone else wants it.  I brought one to Tomb of Annihilation because no one else had one.  I went with a healer for the Waterdeep adventures because no one else wanted to be The Healer and with new players in the group it’s not fair to force that role on them.  I am really looking forward to Descent into Avernus, as a player or DM.  I feel this hunger for a narrative and right now treading over PC backstories in the only place I can find it.  I had someone tell me that they miss doing AL stuff in the game because it gave them something mechanical to tinker with outside the game.  I wish for something similar but for a story to plan and plot and sink my teeth into.