Things seem to be getting a little better. The world’s still fucked but I mean my own tabletop RPG play. The unique cocktail from a few months ago of Staff Cuts+Increased Workload+Descent Being Tough to Run+World Overwhelming that led to me thinking, “man I’m never playing D&D again” is fading a bit. I still think I have the mental energy to run one game which right now is my Sunday Dragon Age game. But I’m feeling open again to the possibility of being a player in a game.
Fortunately, a friend is running Curse of Strahd. We can debate if Strahd’s a great module or the greatest module among 5e’s hardcover adventures. It is the only one I’ve run aside from the first half of Descent. This seems like a quality opportunity to re-acclimate to this group and being a 5e player. First things first, I need to wrap my Saturday Dragon Age game. It’s been going for just over two years at this point and I feel out of creative gas. I love love the characters and the world but I’m not sure where else to go. Time to save the world and bring things to a close. Again, the overall strategy here is to run just one game. Reduce the overall level of social commitments and responsibility.
This puts my joining for Curse of Strahd towards end of October. I’m kind of hoping to join at or just after Vallaki when the adventure really opens up and there’s a diminished chance of being murdered by Night Hags. It’d also be a slightly higher level, man do I not want to do low level 5e. Joining a campaign already in progress goes with my existing tendency to want to fill roles in a group. I am the kind of player who asks, “what is everyone else playing?” I want to find a story that excites me that no one else is doing. The existing group seems to have a Fighter, a Cleric, and a Melee Rogue and is human/half-elf centric.
I gave it some thought and I think I want to be a Kenku reskinned as a Wereraven. I imagine a Wereraven, a member of the Keepers of the Feather, the Wereraven underground of Barovia set on resisting Strahd. Although I don’t know exactly how their resistance functions. The adventure is short on details and I can’t really blame them. Resisting an all powerful all seeing god-emperor vampire in a small prison seems like a loser of a project. The Keepers seem to be based around the Winery and the Vallaki tavern where Wereraven NPCs can be found. This is why I would go with the Smuggler background from Ghosts of Saltmarsh. The background feature provides for Safe Houses for the player and party. Safe houses in every village seems to make the most sense and be useful when compared to other background features. For a motivation I think all this character wants to do is get back their ability to fly. This fits nicely with the Kenku canon
Kenku are a weird race to play in 5e. Their stats make them prime candidates to be Rogues. They get extra skills and advantage with forgeries. Not that anyone cares what you put stat bumps into anymore but in canon they’re +2 Dex, +1 Wis in Volo’s Guide. But they have two big drawbacks. Three if you count them being bird people. First, they can’t speak. They speak by mimicking sounds they’ve heard whether those are things in the world or words they’ve heard spoken. Second, is that they can’t create new things. They don’t imagine or plan, they replicate. The first thing is a specific rule while the second is mentioned as part of their potential lore.
For a reskinned Wereraven I might throw the second thing about imagination out the window although it can be fun to play that kind of inhuman mindset. To address the other point about speech, I imagine that this Wereraven is cursed with more than just lycanthropy. What if they got captured by Baba Lysaga? Lysaga is a Hag-Coded spellcaster in Barovia with what I think is a very cool backstory. What if she cursed this wereraven removing their wings, speech, and ability to transform? Sure, that’s a lot to frontload but it’s also easily explained. “Why are you not like the other wereravens? Cursed by a witch, got it.” I suppose I could’ve just played an Aarakocra but that seems a little dull compared to the Kenku. And I don’t want to inflict a PC with permanent flight on the DM. Skill bonuses! Mimickry! Exciting shit!
For class I initially veered towards Ranger. The party already has a Rogue and I don’t really want to play a primary spellcaster. I’ve never played a Monk before but it doesn’t seem in keeping with Curse of Strahd’s Slavic aesthetic. Some kind of archery focused Ranger seemed appropriate. Then I broke out the PHB. Oh God. Better people than me have expressed dismay at the 5e Ranger. Check out Total Party Thrill’s ‘Ranger Danger’ episode for more information. The 5e Ranger is a lot like the 4e Wizard in that the design intent doesn’t really thrive in the current mechanics. To sidestep a long discussion let’s leave it at ‘Anything the Ranger Can Do, The Rogue or Druid Can Do Better, They Can Do Everything Better Than The Ranger.’ Even Morgan Webb, in the Acq Inc live show, at least once she played The Revised Ranger, which is kind of a piece of vaporware in 5E.
Rather than just play the Straight Ranger I am thinking I will multiclass into the Scout Rogue. The Scout Rogue is basically a Ranger with the serial numbers filed off. If the 5e Ranger Class winds up dead in a ditch, the Scout Rogue did it. Total Party Thrill actually had a build for a class called “The Rangerer” which is a Samurai Fighter/Scout Rogue/Knowledge Cleric that does The Ranger Stuff better. For my purposes, Curse of Strahd is a level 1-10 adventure. It’s not going to last forever. I think that Ranger 5, Rogue 5 is a winning combo that functions at low levels. Take Rogue 1, then Ranger to 5 for extra attack. Finish out Rogue for the rest of the book. No one ever plays to level 20 but we all imagine level 20 characters. I envision this as Rogue 13/Ranger 7 in that fictional 1-20 campaign.
The first level of Rogue starts a character off with the most skill proficiencies in 5e. The cost of this is delaying Extra Attack by one level. Going up to Rogue 3 or Rogue 4 might be good but I don’t want to compete overmuch with the other Rogue in the party. In general the goal is to downplay the Rogue-ness. The 3rd Level Scout Rogue gets the Nature and Survival skills with Expertise. This where the Rogue really takes the Ranger’s lunch money. With Curse of Strahd this would be hitting near the end of the module so it’s not going to be much of a factor.
Most of the Ranger features aren’t great. The Favored Enemy, Primeval Awareness, and Natural Explorer traits are kind of garbage although Favored Enemy does give bonuses languages. That appeals to me and no one else, I get that. I have no idea what languages to take since the biggest enemies in Barovia are undoubtedly Undead and Humans. Probably Infernal and Abyssal. I highly doubt any of the other features here would be relevant. Curse of Strahd has the great fortune to take place almost entirely along the very navigable Old Svalich Road.
For good Ranger stuff, you have the fighting style. Archery is the obvious choice with its +2 to hit bonus. The Ranger doesn’t get many spells especially with multiclassing. Most of these go towards Hunter’s Mark, which kind of sucks. It really oughta be a class feature rather than a concentration spell. If you’re a two weapon fighter it’s a bonus action spell which seems punishing because then you need to choose between Bonus Action uses. The real benefit here is your specialization as a Ranger. I took one look at Hunter and said, “That’s it?” Gloom Stalker on the other hand brings something to the table. It combines the traits of Colossus Slayer and Horde Breaker albeit only during the first round of combat with an extra attack that deals +1d8 damage. You also get Darkvision which Kenku doesn’t get but you’re also invisible to other creatures’ Darkvision. Find me now Strahd!
It might be more powerful to go straight Rogue or Fighter/Rogue but I told the DM I was bringing a Ranger, there’s already a Fighter and a Rogue, and I like the Ranger/Rogue’s grab bag of non-combat features. They probably won’t be useful but I like them. For a character name I’m going with Ivarius, Ivar for short. After the violin maker. Because it s Curse of Strahd.
And to think I usually hate puns.