Origin Stories: Roland, mechanics

Last time I presented the backstory of Roland, an Aasimar paladin. This time I’ll discuss how I created this character. This was kind of a case of group need driving character creation, although I had an archetype in mind for the character I’d use.

Our group seemed like it could use a tank and a healer, so paladin seemed appropriate here. I was intrigued by the Aasimar race since it appeared in the Volo’s Guide book; I played an Aasimar Paladin in Neverwinter Nights 2, and thought it was an interesting idea. So I thought I’d go that route here as well.

There are three Aasimar sub-races, the protector, the scourge and the fallen. All Aasimar get a Charisma bonus, but they get a second bonus (and additional powers) by sub-race. The protector fit the initial idea of my character, but it received a Wisdom bonus, which was not very useful. I went with the scourge Aasimar instead, which got a helpful strength bonus.  Scourge Aasimar are consumed by their celestial nature and desire to defeat evil, and can use their power to cause an explosion of searing radiant light that harms themselves and nearby enemies.

The choice of this sub-race influenced my decisions for focusing the paladin class. Paladins get a choice of “oaths” at 3rd level, which give them standards for behavior and a variety of powers. The Oath of Devotion is closest to the classic LG Paladin we all love. Then there is the Oath of the Ancients, which one of my friends describe as a green knight; a holy protector of the wilds. I played this sort of character in the past. Then there is the Oath of Vengeance, a paladin focused more on defeating evil than spreading righteousness. (There are additional oaths in the supplements as well if people are interested).

I was leaning towards oath of Devotion, but the scourge Aasimar fit with the idea of an Oath of Vengeance Paladin. So I decided to create the character with that eventual path in mind. This didn’t have any effect on creation at first level, but it did affect my backstory (as I will discuss in a bit).

For stats, I rolled them instead of taking the pre-set values. I thought I’d go for a little randomness, in the hopes of getting a powerful character. I ended up with a 16 and two 14s, along with some more mediocre rolls. So, not great but not bad either. I put the 16 in strength, which ended up as a 17 with the sub-race bonus. And one of the 14s went into Charisma, which increased to 16 with my bonus. I then put the second 14 into Constitution. So I had a starting character with pretty good stats for the most useful attributes (Strength for fighting, Charisma for spells and social interaction), and respectable Constitution for hit points.

I turned to the Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide for my background. One of the new backgrounds  in this supplement is “Knight of the Order.” I chose the Knights of the Gilded Eye, an order dedicated to Helm. I thought it made sense for an Aasimar to have been taken in by a knightly order, and I’d been interested in trying one of the new backgrounds for awhile.

I could now work out my skills. I took Athletics and Religion for my Paladin; Athletics is always useful, and while knowledge skills are often under-used I liked proficiency in Religion for role-playing reasons. Then for my background, I took Persuasion and Insight. Both of these should come in handy. I really wanted Intimidation, which fit with the backstory I was developing as I finished character creation (again, see below) but I thought that would be redundant. My background gives me persuasion, so I felt like it would be a waste to also use Intimidation. I later realized that both would have been useful, so that’s worth remembering for the future; go with your gut.

For alignment, I went with Lawful Good. There is some debate about the appropriate alignment for Oath of Vengeance Paladins, with some suggesting they be Lawful Neutral and others Chaotic Good. I don’t think ruthlessness particularly corresponds to any one alignment (with the exception of certain behaviors like killing prisoners). Helm is Lawful Neutral, but Aasimar are Good; Lawful Good is the obvious mix of the two. I don’t think alignment necessarily determines personality, it just sets parameters for behavior. So Lawful Good behavior guidelines combined with my personality traits seems like it would produce my character. There will be some tensions, especially when dealing with evildoers who don’t cooperate, but that could make for a good character, as I’ve discussed. (At some point I’ll write about alignment, which I really think we under-utilize, but that’s another post).

Finally, I just took the basic starting equipment. For my weapon I chose a war hammer instead of the default longsword. It had the same stats, but I wanted to try something different. I also kind of liked the idea of my scourage Aasimar resembling Thor at times in combat…

So by this point you may have figured out where my backstory came from. A scourge Aasimar spends much of his life in hiding due to his obvious celestial nature; many reject or expect too much of them, while evildoers want to kill these celestial representatives. Meanwhile, an Oath of Vengeance Paladin has a Batman-esque need to defeat evil everywhere. Where would this come from? And why would a new member of a Knightly Order be travelling on his own?

I tied this all together with last week’s backstory. Roland was sent to the knightly order by his mother to keep him safe. But his unit was ambushed and wiped out, which explains why Roland was on his own and driven by a desire for vengeance. Based on this backstory, I chose his personality traits (drawn from the soldier background); he obeys authority and is polite, but is haunted by the death of his comrades, for which he feels responsible.

So that’s how I developed Roland. The party had a hole to fill, but I was able to use the basic archetype–tanking paladin–to come up with a unique and fun character. Since I am currently using Roland in a campaign, I’ll have a post up in a few weeks on how I leveled him up through the first few levels, and how I’ve been roleplaying him.

 

 

 

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Origin Stories: Roland, backstory

As I’ve discussed on Twitter, I’ve started a new 5e D&D campaign as a player (the first time I’ve been a player in a few years). We’re running through the Sunless Citadel adventure in Tales from the Yawning Portal, before starting Tomb of Annihilation. I thought I’d start a new Origin Stories post–my series on the background and mechanics of characters I’ve played–for my character in this campaign.

I’ll add posts as he levels up, which may be useful for players looking for info on how to advance their characters. As always, part 1 is the backstory, and part 2 is the actual mechanics of character creation.

My character is Roland Arkbury, an Aasimar Paladin (aasimars are human touched by celestial blood, kind of like a good version of tieflings).

Roland was born in Mulhorand, among a surge of Aasimar births in that war-torn land [as discussed in the Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide and online]. Roland’s mother fled with him when he was young (he never knew his father) . They settled in Neverwinter, where his mother worked odd jobs. Roland’s celestial nature became apparent as he neared puberty, however, so his mother sent him to a local Knightly Lodge–of the Knights of the Gilded Eye–to properly train him.

The Knights trained and supported Roland well, and he became devoted to the worship of Helm. After graduating from squiredom, he joined his unit on their first patrol through the Mere of Dead Mean. Unfortunately, they were being followed…

A group of cultists of Orcus had become aware of the Aasimar in Neverwinter and desired him for their rituals. They followed the knights deep into the swamp, surrounded them and attacked.

Realizing what the cultists were after, Roland’s commander ordered him to fall back behind the more experienced knights. The knights fought bravely, slaying many cultists, but they were outnumbered and outmatched by the evil cleric of Orcus who led the cultists.

As the last of his brothers in arms fell before the onslaught, Roland drew his warhammer and threw back his hood. His glowing eyes flared in rage and he called out a challenge to the cultists. He knew he would probably not win, but he would avenge as many of his friends as he could.

Suddenly, a flurry of arrows shot out of the darkness. Seizing the confusion, Roland charged and, combined with his mysterious savior, killed the remaining cultists.

As the last of them fell, a man stepped out of the shadows. He introduced himself as Evan. His village had been destroyed by the undead, so he now ranged the wilds, hunting them whenever he could find them. Roland thanked him for his aid, and asked if he would help him bury the knights.

After they finished, Evan mentioned he had heard that a wealthy woman in the village of Oakhurst was looking for heroes, to help find some missing relatives. He suggested they join up to check out the situation. Roland agreed, and secretly vowed to never rest in his struggle against evil, and to never forget how he had led his brothers into death…

Next week I’ll present the character creation mechanics for Roland.

Why don’t I play wizards in CRPGs?

I know it’s kind of weird to write a blog post asking my readers a question about myself. But it’s a question I’ve been pondering recently.

I started re-playing the expansions for Neverwinter Nights. The two expansions—Shadows of Undrendtide and Hordes of the Underdark—actually form a series separate from the main Neverwinter Nights campaign. It takes your character from level 1 to epic levels, and is a lot of fun.

As I was making my character, I realized I tend to play melee characters in computer-based role playing games (CRPGs). My first game ever—Baldur’s Gate—used a paladin, and I repeated that in its sequels. Other times I’ve played a ranger or a melee-focused rogue, but that’s as far as I stray.

That’s not the case with pen and paper RPGs, like D&D 5th edition. While I have played paladins here, I’ve also played clerics, warlocks and wizards. My favorite so far was a wizard (Fonken, who I’ll discuss here at some point). So I thought I’d try a wizard in my latest play-through of Neverwinter Nights. But after about halfway through Shadows of Undrentide, I stopped.

Why? Part of it is the nature of that game; your choice of henchman disadvantages non-frontline characters. But it was also the gameplay. I found myself spamming the same set of attack spells in each combat. And if the enemy broke through my outer defenses, I had to reload the last save. Ultimately, it proved one-dimensional and both tough and boring at the same time. So now I’m playing as a ranger.

But obviously some people play CRPGs as a wizard, and have a lot of fun. So the problem must not be in a design flaw, but some difference between tabletop and computer-based Dungeons and Dragons games.

Indeed, the tabletop experience as a wizard is a lot different than in a computer game. Some people do just spam magic missile, and have a great time. But there is a lot of opportunity to use attack spells that disadvantage enemies, giving your melee companions a chance to attack. And all the non-combat encounters provide an opportunity to use utility spells in a manner that really makes your party’s lives easier. I tend to follow this guide’s approach to wizard, which de-emphasizes damage per second (dps) and focuses more on controlling the environment.

A lot of this doesn’t translate into computer games. There are many spells I prepare as a wizard that I never use, as the situation doesn’t arise or there are other easier means. For example, in Shadows of Undrentide, I had knock prepared, but my panther familiar ended up just breaking down locked doors. So as a wizard you tend to gravitate towards spells that cause a lot of damage or that summon allies.

As a result, wizards just become dps machines. This is the role they play in World of Warcraft. That might be fine if you have a large party to control—as in Baldur’s Gate—but when you control just yourself and a henchman (like in Neverwinter Nights) it can be limiting.

More importantly, it’s not what draws people to play a wizard. Wizards are smart and inquisitive. They’re masters of lore and problem solvers. None of that comes across if you just cast attack spells over and over. I guess you could still add in some role-playing elements, but it’s rarely directly connected to the story.

Unfortunately, I’m not sure if there is a way around this. Games like the Elder Scrolls—in which there is a lot more freedom to interact with the environment—are more fun to play as a wizard. You can use your spells in creative ways to avoid combat if needed. But ultimately, a lot of the non-combat encounters from D&D would be difficult to pull off in a video game (although if someone has a good example, please let me know).

Overall, this may be a good case of how tabletop gaming does not translate well into computer games. They’re both good, but are not exactly the same experience. Are there other areas where we lose something important if players only know D&D through computers? Am I being unfair to “support” characters in computer games?

Origin Stories: Dain, character mechanics

Last week I presented the backstory of Dain, a D&D 5e dwarf cleric, as part of my ongoing Origin Stories series. This week I’ll discuss how I actually created him.

Just like Badger, Dain was inspired by the Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide. As I read through the list of deities, I was struck by the Red Knight, Lawful Neutral Goddess of Strategy. I had been interested in playing a lawful neutral character for some time, and thought that a Red Knight cleric might be a lot of fun. I initially thought of using a soldier background—a former soldier who joins the priesthood—but was intrigued by the Adventurer’s Guide “Faction Agent” background. Also, my group needed a heavy-hitting tank, so I decided to play a dwarf.

I chose a sun dwarf (the Sword Coast version of the generic hill dwarf) as the wisdom boost would help with a cleric. And I chose the War domain for the cleric, as this covers the Red Knight. I prioritized Wisdom and Constitution (Wisdom is the dominant stat for clerics, and Constitution would help absorb damage), while having Charisma as my lowest stat, as a Lawful Neutral former bureaucrat would probably not be very charismatic.

For skills, I went with the most obvious ones for a cleric—history, insight, medicine and perception. And I took advantage of dwarven weapon proficiencies, to give Dain a Warhammer and shield, with a mace backup. Finally, I chose the usual spells for a cleric. Sacred flame, magical weapon and spiritual weapon gave some offensive abilities. Spare the Dying, Healing Word, and Prayer of Healing took care of healing. And Resistance, Divine Favor, Shield Faith, Bless, Protection from Evil, Warding Bond and Aid allowed me to buff myself and others.

Overall, I really liked this character. In one sense it’s pretty generic—a lawful neutral dwarven cleric is about as pre-gen-y as it gets. But the full backstory I gave him made me excited to try him out. That’s one important point on character creation. Don’t feel the need to come up with archetype-busting characters all the time–sometimes a predictable character with a fully-fleshed out backstory can be just as compelling.

Origin Stories: Dain, character background

My Origin Stories series of posts presents interesting characters I’ve created for a variety of games. When I put characters together, I often had more backstory and thoughts on its creation than DMs needed. So I thought it may be a useful exercise to write it out for this blog, and hopefully other players can gain some inspiration from these posts. Previous posts include: Dorn, a D&D 5e Oath of the Ancients Paladin; Badger, a D&D forest gnome rogue; and Arkdo, a Duro archeologist from Star Wars: Edge of the Empire.

This post is about Dain, a gold dwarf priest of the Red Knight, for D&D 5e Forgotten Realms.

Dain is from the gold dwarf lands far to the south of the Sword Coast. He was a bureaucrat in a bustling trade center, where he lived a comfortable, but boring life. One day, a wandering knight from the north arrived in town. Dain struck up a conversation with the outsider at the tavern, and learned she worshipped the Red Knight, goddess of strategy. Dain was entranced by her stories of the intrigue and adventure among the powerful city-states on the Sword Coast, as well as her teachings of the Red Knight. This goddess supported warplanners and strategists, and her priests were in high demand among many of the lords of the north.

Dain, far from impulsive—even by the standards of dwarves—decided he had enough of shuffling papers around and wanted an adventure. He spent the next few weeks preparing for his trip (he was, after all, still a dwarven bureaucrat, and could not avoid planning), then set out in the middle of the night. He sought out news and followers of the Red Knight on his way north, connecting with a group of wandering monks in her service in Athkatla. They pointed him to Baldurs Gate, site of one of her greatest temples.

In Baldurs Gate, Dain studied under the Red Knight’s highest clerics. He found his time as a bureaucrat served him well in his studies, as it gave him a love for planning, order and strategizing. Dain breezed through his clerical training and was ordained as a priest of the Red Knight. He chose to be an itinerant cleric, travelling through the Sword Coast and spreading her teachings.

Eventually, Dain made his way to Daggerford, a smaller member of the Lords Alliance. While drinking in the tavern, he heard two councilors for the town’s ruler—Lady Morwen Daggerford—debating the proper way to press a claim for greater trade revenue from the Lords Alliance. Dain introduced himself, and gave them some advice, combining his bureaucratic skills with the teachings of the Red Knight. The men were sufficiently impressed to introduce Dain to Lady Morwen. She convinced him to join her court as an adviser, tasking him with advancing her interests among the Lords Alliance. Dain did a good enough job that the Lords Alliance voted to make him one of the faction’s agents, sending him abroad to aid their endeavors.

Origin Stories: Arkdo

My gaming group just finished their latest session of D&Ds’ Out of the Abyss (see latest walkthrough here). They made it to Blingdenstone, and discovered even in this relatively safe city, threats still abounded…I’ll have it up soon. But first…

In this installment in my ongoing Origin Stories series, I want to discuss a character I made for a non-D&D game. As I’ve mentioned, I played Fantasy Flight’s Star Wars RPGs with an old group. These are really fun games that capture a lot of the flavor of Star Wars. This character was for Edge of the Empire, a game setting focusing on the seedier side of the Star Wars Universe (see my walkthrough of an adventure I wrote here). Other settings include Force and Destiny (focusing on force-users, as I’ve discussed) and Age of Rebellion (where you play as part of the Rebel Alliance).

This post is a bit shorter, so I’ll include it all as one post, instead of putting it up over two weeks.

The character I created was Arkdo, the Duro archeologist.

Arkdo grew up on Dantooine; his parents, originally from Duros, fled when the Empire took over and made their way to the Outer Rim. His parents were pilots, helping move cargo through the system and nearby systems and shuttling passengers around. Arkdo helped them out, learning how to fly and astrogate, but he spent most of his time exploring the Jedi ruins on Dantoiine.

During one exploration, he met an old man, who befriended him and taught him much about the ancient Jedi. The man turned out to be a Jedi in hiding, which Arkdo learned when a bounty hunter hired by the Empire found him and killed him. Arkdo then decided to strike out on his own. Getting his parent’s blessing and the meager inheritance they had set aside for him, he set out to make his way in the Outer Rim.

His talents at astrogation and piloting, as well as the skills he gained in Old Republic lore, exploration and archeology, helped him get steady work with the salvagers and treasure hunters who exist at the edge of the Empire [see what I did there?]. Arkdo eventually joined a steady crew hunting for ancient relics to sell to wealthy buyers. On one expedition beyond Subterrell, they found a long-lost Jedi outpost. Among the relics were data on other Outer Rim outposts, which the crew realized would lead them to vast stores of treasure. The crew’s commander knew the Empire had begun collecting all remaining Jedi relics, and thought they could sell this information to the Empire for a lot of money.

Arkdo decided then he would rather be principled than rich. Remembering his Jedi mentor, he resolved to never let this information or the Jedi relics fall into the Empire’s hands. He stole the information and crippled his crew’s ship, before escaping by offering his astrogation services to a smuggler who had landed on the planet. He disappeared into the Outer Rim, his forbidden knowledge guarded carefully, constantly looking over his back for the crew he had betrayed…

Character Creation: Arkdo

This character came about through some good interactions with my GM. When we started playing EOTE, I created a Scout character from the base EOTE rulebook. After playing a session, the GM thought I was going more the route of an archeologist, a character from one of the EOTE expansion books. I checked it out, noticed the illustration was a Duros, and decided I’d play a Duros archeologist.

Character creation is a little complicated in EOTE. It’s a mix of Shadowrun or Firefly/Serenity—when you have a number of points you can use to create customized characters—and D&D, with its set character classes. You start with a career and specialization, like Bounty Hunter-Assassin or Explorer-Scout. Then the race you choose starts off with beginning characteristics (for example, Wookies have high Brawn), and a set number of XP. You choose these XP to build your character through characteristics, skills and equipment.

For Arkdo, as I mentioned I wanted him to be a Duros, and used the Archeologist specialization for the Explorer career (which is part of an expansion pack). I knew I wanted him to be smart and cunning, and also able to use a weapon, so I bumped up his agility (which is used for ranged attacks), intellect and cunning. Most of his skills would go towards his knowledge of lore and the Outer Rim, as well as perception (useful for finding ruins and relics) and survival, for exploring. I gave him a few skill ranks in ranged-light (for things like blasters) as he likely had to defend himself a lot while exploring. Finally, after buying his weapons, I got him equipment appropriate for an archeologist, like macrobinoculars and scanners.

The other cool thing about EOTE character creation is the obligation mechanic. The idea is that everyone exploring the edges of the Empire has some complications in their past. It could be a family they left behind, a debt to a crimelord, or a cause they’re devoted to. These give characters resources, but also lead to complications. At creation, characters choose an obligation, and can add to their obligation value in order to gain more XP or credits to buy equipment. But at the start of every session, the GM rolls dice based on the party’s total obligation value; if the roll comes up right everyone faces some adverse consequences. It’s a cool way to introduce risk into the creation process.

I chose the betrayal obligation, and bumped it up a bit for more equipment. As I was creating Arkdo, I was thinking of his backstory, and the betrayal option inspired me to come up with his introduction to adventuring I discussed in the previous post.

Arkdo ended up being fun. He was not as cutthroat or mercenary as others in the party, since he saw himself as a noble figure trying to gain knowledge of the past. And he was obsessed for searching every market or ruin for relics of value. But his knowledge of ancient sites and Outer Rim societies and governments came in handy pretty frequently.

This was a good example of coming up with a general idea for a character, and then letting the mechanics flesh it out.

Controlled randomness as a tool in adventure/character creation

Last night, I was working on the first level of a multi-stage dungeon for an upcoming D&D 5e session I’m running (I’ll be sure to put up the walkthrough after it’s over). I realized I was turning to a tool I’ve often leveraged at other times I create adventures or characters in RPGs: controlled randomness. I thought it may be useful to have a post on this tool for others, and I apologize if this is incredibly obvious to everyone but me.

What is controlled randomness? It is the use of random decisions with a general pre-determined framework to add depth and flavor to a RPG creation. That sounds like a line from an academic article, but I think it gets the definition. In many RPGs there are tables of adventure elements, character backgrounds and the like, in which the player rolls a dice to determine what detail to use. Controlled randomness uses these, but re-rolls as needed to find something that generally fits with the pre-determined framework.

I first systematized this when my old group and I were creating characters for Star Wars: Edge of the Empire. This is a fun character creation process (which I’ve discussed before), and involves detailing the motivations and complications behind the character. I was creating Arkdo, a Duros explorer I’ll discuss in a future Origin Stories post. I rolled for his motivation, didn’t like the result, and re-rolled it. One of the fellow players teased me for doing this, so I explained my reasoning.

As I envisioned him, Arkdo was basically a good guy who ended up on the wrong side of the law because of his ideals. I wasn’t sure how to flesh that out, so I rolled on the tables until something useful came up: dedication to the Jedi. Now, Arkdo wasn’t a Jedi, but he did admire the order and attempted to preserve their memory.

Thanks to controlled randomness, I had a cool backstory for my character. I knew generally what I wanted, but if I had just picked the most obvious motivation I wouldn’t have gone with his dedication to the Jedi. By re-rolling on the table within a pre-set idea, I was able to add more layers to this character.

Another example was my creation of Fonken, a gnome wizard in D&D 5e (this will be another future Origin Stories post). I wanted a LG gnome with a sage background, but beyond that I didn’t have much. D&D 5e includes tables to rolls for different aspects of the character’s background, including bonds, motivations and flaws. For flaw, I rolled something about reacting to a horrible monster’s appearance by trying to study it. With this roll, the character clicked, and I envisioned him as a cross between Ray Stantz from Ghostbusters and Dale Cooper from Twin Peaks. He was a lot of fun to play, and I even revived an older Fonken for one of my own adventures I created.

This reveals another reason to value controlled randomness: adding flaws. Fonken’s inquisitiveness led him to take unwise risks. This added some complications to my group’s adventures, but overall made things more fun. I’ve talked before about the value of adding flaws to D&D characters, and this is one good way to do it.

Controlled randomness works for adventure creation as well. In The Shadow in the Woods–one of my home-brew adventures–I had a general sense for a dungeon the group would explore. It was the subterranean dwelling of a hag who had summoned a beast from the Shadowfell. But that was it. So I used the encounter and dungeon creation tables in the DMG. I rolled up a castle submerged in a swamp as the setting. This gave me a lot to play with, as the corridors and rooms twisted at odd angles thanks to the castle sinking at an odd angle. I also was able to use this to create a dramatic escape challenge at the end. And I used the random dungeon tables to create a confusing series of passages and rooms that, thanks to my pre-conceived idea, followed the basic form of a multi-level tower connected by oddly-angled corridors.

I used controlled randomness to even greater effect in the dungeon I’m currently finishing (I don’t want to give too many details in case any players read this blog…). In this case, I knew the first level of the dungeon would be the basement of a ruined wizard’s tower. I wanted it to feel like part of a ruined structure, so I planned out the corridors and rooms myself. I also came up with a general idea for what each section would be: a cluster of rooms to entertain guests, a cluster for research, machinery, etc. I also had an idea of the combat encounters, traps and hazards the group would face so I placed them accordingly.

This is where controlled randomness came in. For each cluster of rooms, I rolled on the DMG random dungeon tables to determine the specific nature of the room, re-rolling when the result didn’t fit. I also rolled on the table for the rooms’ current states. This added some nice randomness, as I pictured certain rooms crumbling or becoming overgrown with vines, while others were sealed up and lest in a pristine state. The DMG tricks and obstacles tables were also useful; I had a few rooms that would contain some non-combat encounter, and these tables helped me come up with surprising challenges for the players. In this way, controlled randomness gave me a fleshed out dungeon that still felt coherent.

So new players and DMs may find this tool, controlled randomness of use. Come up with a basic idea for a character or dungeon. Then roll on the appropriate table. Re-roll if the result makes no sense with your idea, but push yourself to keep results that are unexpected or complicate your plans. I’d love to hear from anyone who tries this.

 

Issues with Star Wars: Force and Destiny characters

This is a wonky post, but hopefully it illustrates a broader point about character design in games.

My former gaming group had for sometime alternated between D&D 5th edition and Fantasy Flight’s Star Wars: Edge of the Empire. Edge of the Empire focuses on the shadier side of Star Wars, with characters wo are smugglers, scoundrels and explorers. Recently, Fantasy Flight released Force and Destiny, which is focused on Jedi-esque characters using the force, which is only a minor part of Edge of the Empire.

Character creation in these games is rather different from D&D. Players start with a set amount of XP based on the race they chose. The player then chooses a career and specialization; a career is similar to a D&D class like paladin, while specialization is like the specific oaths that paladins can take. In Force and Destiny, for example, one career is Guardian; specializations include peacekeeper, protector and Soresu defender (a Jedi training).

After choosing race, career and specialization, a player must buy attributes and skills. This where the career and specialization come in. The specialization and career you choose gives you certain “career skills,” which a player can “buy” relatively cheaply with XP. Players can also buy “non-career skills”–other skills not included in their career–for more XP. And players can buy “talents”–specific upgradeable powers–that depend on their specialization.

Hopefully that’s kind of clear. Basically, the classes are very customizable, but career/specialization push you in certain directions.

Ok, now to the game. Force and Destiny (F&D) has an interesting set-up. You aren’t playing as parties of Jedi Knights, although this may be possible at higher levels. Instead, player characters are “force sensitives,” people with some affinity for force use. They have a variety of careers—pilots, scouts, warriors—and can add force powers and eventually Jedi-like lightsaber training as they gain XP.

So far so good. But as we were putting together a party we kept running into problems. None of us could find a character we were completely comfortable with. And we kept running into issues with party balance. We always tried to calibrate character creation so everyone’s PC has a unique role and nothing important is left out. But we kept struggling. No one was really specialized enough in information gathering. Those of us with combat-focused characters, like me, found ourselves with little to do outside of combat.

And this wasn’t just a rookie mistake. We’d all done this before, and we tried to work out a good party. It kind of felt like there was something with the character creation process that was causing complications.

So we looked into this, and found it. The characters were just a little off.

First, a lot of the career-specialization skills were either oddly mismatched or redundant. The Starfighter specialization had every piloting-related skill as career—piloting, of course, but also astrogation and gunnery. This makes sense if your PC is flying an X-wing, but that barely ever happens in the game. And when you’re on a freighter-type vessel—the usual way to get around space—one person has all the skills needed but can’t use all of them at once. So you either have redundancy—two astrogaters—or are missing important skills.

The Guardian specialization has career skills related to melee combat and medicine. This kind of made sense, but the attributes needed for melee and related skills (brawn, discipline) are not at all complementary with the skill for medicine, intellect. So you either have a character with weak stats in both or who isn’t making use of their character’s full potential.

One more example, the Peacekeeper. The Peacekeeper’s career skills make use of Brawn and Willpower attributes. But all the talents in the talent tree related to leadership checks, which depend on Presence. So again, characters will have trouble balancing this out.

Of course, the Star Wars RPGs’ process lets you customize your character. If you want piloting skills but that isn’t a career skill for your character, you can still take the skills, they just cost more. And you don’t necessarily need to make use of all the skills and talents for a specialization. So all these downsides could be overcome by spending XP for non-career skills or ignoring clashing elements of character design.

But that kind of defeats the purpose of the class system. If we can just have infinitely customizable classes, let’s use a system like Shadowrun’s or the Firefly/Serenity RPG’s. If there are classes, they should be playable. Star Wars character creation system is kind of halfway between D&Ds—with little customizability outside class options or multi-classing—and the games I just mentioned that are very customizable. Maybe in the end it’s an uneasy balance.

Origin Story: Dorn

In this Origin Stories series, I’ll be discussing Dorn. Dorn was my second character I created for 5e D&D. As the first was for a short-lived campaign, I consider him the beginning of my 5e adventures in a way. He was a Lawful Neutral Oath of the Ancients Paladin; nothing at all like I usually play, which was great.

As always, part 1 is the backstory, and part 2 (next week) is the character creation mechanics.

Dorn grew up in a small village near Neverwinter, deep in the Mere of Dead Men. He worked his uncle’s tavern, helped keep the drunks in line, and always dreamed of something bigger. Dorn was not very intelligent, but was strong and gregarious. Most people liked him, although some grew irritable with his lack of attention and shallow thinking. Dorn’s chance for greatness came when a fiend was reported to be rampaging through the forest nearby, heading to the village. Dorn joined the militia, and headed out to stop it.

Unsurprisingly, a spawn of hell proved more powerful than a village militia. Everyone fell except Dorn, who still stood against the fiend, clutching his dead father’s longsword. At this moment, Mielikki—the goddess of forests—noticed his stand in defense of her realm, and granted Dorn her favor. Suddenly infused with holy fey power, Dorn defeated the fiend.

He returned to his village a hero, and used his new powers to defend his village, all the while continuing to brew his famous ale. Eventually, Mielikki wanted to collect on her investment in Dorn, and sent one of her Shadoweirs—paladins sworn to serve her—to Dorn’s village to recruit him to her cause. Dorn jumped at the chance to leave his village on an adventure, and followed the Shadoweir. He was soon sent to join the Order of the Gauntlet, to help defend good in the world in line with Mielikki’s teaching…

Origin Story: Badger, part 2

Last week I discussed the backstory of Badger, a D&D 5e forest gnome rogue. This week, I’ll discuss the mechanics behind the character. This is in my Origin Stories series of posts, see here for an earlier one.

Badger was inspired by the Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide. This sourcebook included information on where each of the races in the PHB fit into the Sword Coast setting. It mentioned forest gnomes tend to live by themselves deep in the woods. That got me thinking about why a forest gnome would be adventuring. One possibility was a druid trying to fight off threats to the forest, but I was more intrigued by the idea of a well-meaning rogue cast out of his society.

This would be a pretty basic rogue, with most of the flavor going into the backstory. But the forest gnome race gives him a few extra skills, which I’ll discuss below.

He’s obviously a forest gnome, and I gave him the outlander background to fit his story. And chaotic good is the go-to choice for a good rogue.

For stats, I prioritized dexterity (a must for thieves, for which forest gnomes get a bonus), and constitution. He also received a boost for intelligence as a gnome, and I gave him respectable wisdom. I admit I struggled with this, since according to his backstory he should not be very wise, but wisdom ends up being really important for perception, which a forest gnome rogue should be good at.

For skills, he has the usual sneaky thief skills-stealth (with expertise), sleight of hand, perception and acrobatics. And his outlander upbringing gave him skills in athletics and survival.

He’s armed with a short sword, shortbow, and dagger. And Badger has darkvision, the minor illusion cantrip, and the ability to speak with small animals from his forest gnome race.

So for this, I tried to craft an outdoorsy rogue, who melts into the forest rather than the shadows. And as he’s a bit of a wanderer, I downplayed the social skills in favor of sneaking and exploring.

What do you think? Any other ways you would have crafted Badger?