Origin Stories: Dorn, part 2: mechanics

Last week I discussed the backstory of Dorn, a Neutral Good Oath of the Ancients Paladin for D&D. This week I’ll go over how I created the character.

Dorn was a lot of fun for me. My group was rebooting with new characters, and I wanted to play a paladin. But I was excited to try out some of the new paladin options in the 5e PHB, and settled on the Oath of the Ancients paladin. This is kind of a Green Knight paladin, a mix of the regular paladin and druid, and seemed interesting.

Dorn is an example of the stats driving character backstory, rather than the other way around, so may be an interesting model for players who are struggling to come up with a good character concept.

For this character, I tried rolling the stats instead of using the fixed numbers—you roll six sets of four six-sided dice, drop the lowest for each, add each remaining set of three up and and then assign them. This can give you great stats if you roll three sixes, but also pretty mediocre ones. I ended up with some good stats, but also a pretty low one (a 6).

As he’s a front-line fighter, I prioritized Strength, and also had a high Charisma (as this is the most important stat for a Paladin). My lowest stat was intelligence, as I didn’t think I would be using it much.

I then thought about the kind of character with these stats. He’d be a powerful personality and strong, but not incredibly smart. The default background choice for paladin—noble—didn’t really fit here, so I went with folk hero. This is a villager who does some great deed, like saving his village or overthrowing a tyrant, before going out adventuring. I thought a well-meaning but simple villager sounded right for Dorn.

For race, I chose variant human—which gets two bonus points for stats, an extra skill, and a feat. I knew I wanted him to be a human, and it’s hard to turn down that feat. For the feat, I chose charger; this cool-sounding feat gives you an attack bonus when you charge an enemy. Since I envisioned him as an attack-first-ask-questions-later kind of guy, charging into battle seemed appropriate. For skills, I mixed regular paladin ones—medicine, athletics, perception—with some outdoorsy one from his folk hero background, specifically survival and animal handling.

Finally, I had to choose spells. I picked a few of the standard paladin ones—cure wound, sheild of faith, protection from evil, and aid. But I wanted to make use of the extra nature-themed spells that come with the Oath of the Ancients build, so I used things like speak with animals (which sounds cool, but I never used it), misty step (which lets you basically teleport through mist), and moonbeam, a kind of laserbeam that shoots down from the sky.

So you can kind of see how I put Dorn’s backstory together. I knew I wanted an Oath of the Ancients Paladin as a front-line fighter, and when I rolled the stats I had a powerful but dumb fighter. So I came up with the idea of a simple folk hero. One of the options for his defining moment is defeating  a monster, which inspired me to think of the goddess granting him her favor when he stood against the destroyer of nature.

Even though I didn’t go in with a fully-fleshed out character, I made sure to come up with a three-dimensional background for Dorn as I created him, which made him a lot of fun to play.

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?

Origin Story: Badger, part 1

This is another in my “Origin Story” series of posts, which I started with an earlier one on Randulf, a Lovecraftian warlock. These posts talk about the backstory of a character I created, as well as the mechanics of how I translated that backstory into a 5e D&D character.

This time, I’m talking about Badger, a forest gnome druid I created as a sort of sidekick to Randulf. Hope you enjoy it:

Alvyn “Badger” Folkor was a forest gnome living in a gnome village deep in the Cloakwood. His parents were rangers, protecting the village from wild beasts and invaders, and Badger trained to follow in their footsteps. He spent much time by himself in the wilderness, chatting with small animals for information, tracking outsiders to ensure they didn’t bother his village, and living off the land. But he was always rather free-spirited, and chafed at the restrictions his parents and village placed on him. When he wasn’t exploring the wilderness, Badger found it difficult to stay out of trouble. He would frequently “borrow” items from other villagers, get drunk and pass out in the village square, and embarrass himself in other ways. The growing frustration with Badger came to a head when he attempted to sample the latest gin produced by the village distillery and accidentally caused the still to explode.

The village elders asked Badger if he would be happier wandering free to explore the Cloakwood and the world beyond. Badger sensed they were trying to get rid of him, but was excited at the thought of no longer having to sit through his father’s lessons on dendrology. So he set out, leaving behind a very relieved village of forest gnomes.

Badger made his way first to Beregost, where he found the locals easily angered with his “borrowings” and “accidental” property destruction. He drew on his forestry skills to elude capture by the sheriff, and headed north. At each village, town or city he stopped in, the story was the same; he walked off with some food or goods, got drunk and tried to pick fights, or knocked over statues and mills. The local authorities came after him, and he disappeared back into the wilderness.

He eventually became quite the thief, although he never thought of himself as a rogue. Badger lived comfortably travelling up and down the Sword Coast, pilfering food and supplies and entertaining himself by running away from the powers that be. Eventually he made a mistake, however, and attempted to pick-pocket two travelers deep in the Mere of Dead Men outside Neverwinter. They caught him, and ignored his protestations that he had accidentally pulled their coinpurses from their pockets.

The men were impressed with Badger’s skill, however, and recognized his good nature. They revealed themselves as Harpers, and gave Badger the choice between joining them or going to jail. Naturally, he became a Harper.

After a few trial missions, they assigned him to his partner, a dour, half-mad warlock named Randulf Cardr. Both Badger and Randulf were mystified by this pairing, but the Harper leadership hoped Randulf could discipline Badger’s penchant for crime, while Badger’s well-meaning chaos would uplift Randulf’s sagging spirits. The jury is still out…

Origin Story: Randulf, part 2

In last week’s post, I presented the backstory for Randulf, a Lovecraftian warlock in Dungeons and Dragons 5th edition. This is part of a series of blog posts I’m calling “Origin Stories,” in which I’ll present the lore and mechanics behind characters in D&D and other RPG systems. This post will be part 2 of the piece on Randulf, in which I  discuss how I translated that backstory into a D&D character

The idea for Randulf came from H.P. Lovecraft, the influential early 20th-century author of “weird fiction.” Lovecraft wrote of ancient alien beings that still threatened and were worshiped by humans. I saw similarities between some of Lovecraft’s cultists and D&D’s warlock; indeed, the PHB’s entry on warlocks even gives Cthulhu (a powerful being Lovecraft created) as an example of a warlock patron. The name Randulf Cardr comes from Randolph Carter, a recurring Lovecraft character who is constantly seeking forbidden knowledge.

Most warlocks are played as fiends or charlatans (charlatan is actually the recommended background for warlock in the PHB). I wanted to play a warlock as a reluctant servant of a powerful being, which was the basis for my character. I thought he could be a bored noble who sought forbidden knowledge and ended up being bound to a Lovecraftian Great Old One. I used this starting point to flesh out Randulf’s backstory, as described in the last post.

Warlocks are kind of a mix of a wizard and a fighter. They have magical powers in the form of pact spells and evocations; the former are chosen from the spell list while the latter are magical effects that can take a variety of forms, such as added damage for spells or the ability to see in the dark. But they also have some fighting ability through armor and weapon proficiencies.

Warlocks are also very customizable thanks to the choice of patron and pacts. Patrons are the powerful beings the warlock is tied to—a fiend, an archfey, or a Great Old One. And pacts are the type of connection one has—Chain (use a familiar), Blade (summon a magical weapon), and Book, which I will discuss below.

I initially wanted to make Randulf bookish, using the Pact of the Book feature. In this customization option, the character gets a book from his patron that grants forbidden knowledge; in gameplay, the character gains several extra cantrips and has the option of transcribing ritual spells using an evocation. This fit my idea of a character who was constantly seeking out lore he should have avoided. But the group needed a front-line fighter, so I tweaked things a bit. I went with the Pact of the Blade. This gave my character a lot of flexibility in front-line fighting, as I could summon any weapon needed and gain proficiency with it. For example, I decided to prepare the stats for a spear, maul (a giant club), and long sword, depending on the situation I encountered.

I decided to be a human, to fit the backstory of a Baldur’s Gate noble. But I chose the “variant human” option, which gives a character boosts to two stats, an extra skill, and a free feat. Feats are customization options that give character special bonuses or powers. And of course I chose the Noble background; this doesn’t give many useful traits for a Warlock, but I liked the flavor. Moreover, as Randulf was trying to be good, but struggled against the chains of his family obligations and was under the spell of a dark power, I thought Chaotic Good would be most appropriate for an alignment.

For stats, I needed a powerful Warlock who would also be good at front-line fighting. So I prioritized Charisma (the warlock class stat, which affects spell attacks), strength and constitution; the last two would help me out as a front-line fighter. And I used my variant human feat to gain moderate armor proficiency and boost dexterity. My lowest stat was Wisdom; while Wisdom is pretty useful, I thought this fit with my backstory of a dissolute noble youth.

For skills, I tried to think of ones that Randulf would have gained through his noble youth and his time with the Harpers. Randulf has skills in Arcana, History, and Investigation; I thought this made sense for someone who spent most of his time searching for lost knowledge. He is also skilled in Persuasion from his noble upbringing, and Intimidation, due to the dark powers he was aligned with. Finally, Randulf is proficient in stealth from his Harper training (unlike the other skills, this is not an option from the Warlock class or Noble background, it is the extra skill gained as a variant human).

For spells, I tried to pick ones that fit with his backstory. I chose Eldritch Blast, basically a missile of arcane force; it’s kind of required for all Warlocks (see this post from the great Harbinger of Doom blog for a criticism of this aspect of warlock design). The rest of my spells were part of a theme of using my mystical powers to manipulate minds and matter. The second cantrip I chose was mage hand, which can be used to move things around or lift them up. I picked a few spells made available by the Great Old One pact that involved mind manipulation: dissonant whispers (which causes the target to take psychic damage and run away), detect thoughts and mirror image (which creates illusory copies of the character to confused attacks). Finally, I chose arms of Hadar, which causes tentacles to appear and attack all close to me; I thought this made sense in terms of extra-dimensional beings breaking into our reality. Finally, for the evocations, I picked agonizing blast—increasing the damage of Eldritch blast—and fiendish vigor, which increases hit points temporarily, making me a better front-line fighter.

And that’s Randulf. I started with my initial idea—a Lovecraftian reluctant warlock—and crafted him according to that backstory and my group’s needs. He was a fun character to play, as I added in occasional touches of madness in role-playing and the flavor of his powers was interesting.

Origin Story: Randulf, part 1

This is a type of post I’ll do occasionally in which I discuss characters I’ve created. I’ve had fun coming up with backstories and translating them into game mechanics, so I thought others may be interested to read them. Each of these will have two parts: the first is the backstory and the second is the actual way I created the character.

The first one deals with Randulf Cardr, a warlock I created for D&D. The backstory of the warlock class comes from both the PHB and the Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide.

Here we go:

Randulf Cardr was the youngest of five sons of Elstran Cardr, a lesser noble of Baldur’s Gate. There is little for even the eldest son of a lesser noble to do in that city, let alone the youngest, and Randulf soon lost interest in his obligatory military training. So, of course, Randulf occupied his time with the pursuits of the idle rich; drunken revelry, dangerous pursuits and the occult.  After nights out on the town, Randulf and his friends—also bored noble youth—would stay up late in the night, collecting information and discussing dark, forgotten secrets.

These pursuits led them to the study of the Great Old Ones, powerful beings dwelling beyond the bounds of time and space. Randulf and his friends collected any information they could find—ritualistic materials from cults dedicated to these beings, ancient blasphemous texts, and even hints of their worship in Baldur’s Gate. During an exploration in the Undercity for rumored evidence of Great Old One worship, Randulf stumbled upon a makeshift shrine in an old, crumbling temple. Much of the material in the shrine was worthless or ruined, but he did find a notebook full of mad scribblings. Taking it back with him to the surface, Randulf and his friends discovered it contained a madman’s notes on his search for Zargon, one of the Great Old Ones, and rituals he believed would put a mortal in touch with the dangerous being.

On All Hallows’ Eve, Randulf and his friends gathered in the basement of one of his father’s warehouses, dressed in black robes (there was no indication this is what Zargon prefers, but they thought it looked neat) and conducted the ritual. As it completed, they were shocked to find it worked. A hole opened in the air, a sickly yellow light flooded out along with a booming, devastating voice. All of Randulf’s friends were driven mad, nearly comatose with their horror. For some reason—maybe because he discovered the ritual, maybe because he was slightly smarter and stronger than his friends—Randulf was spared. But Zargon did bind Randulf permanently to him, making him an unwitting servant of the great tyrant.

When his father’s guards stormed in, worried the noise and screaming indicated a riot or fight in the warehouse, they found Randulf wandering around dazed in a now-sickly grey robe and his friends on the ground. His father moved to silence any news of this event, as did the families of the other youths, as they hoped to avoid bringing shame on their houses. Randuf was now the shameful youngest son of a minor Baldur’s Gate noble, and faced even bleaker prospects for a fulfilling life.

But something else had changed. Randulf found himself inexplicably producing magical effects—hearing the thoughts of those around him, blowing open doors with an eldritch force from his hands, imposing hallucinatory sights and noises affecting others. Returning to his studies, he realized his bond with Zargon allowed him to tap into that being’s endless power. With practice he was able to craft more powerful effects, creating illusory images of himself that followed him around and even summoning an apparently real weapon that he could change at will. But this came at a price, as whenever he tapped into Zargon’s power he also made contact with the Great Old One, resulting in lingering effects—the temperature would suddenly drop, mad laughter or threatening whispers would manifest themselves. These images, and the fear of their occurrence, gnawed at Randulf till he often muttered to himself or listened wide-eyed for phantom noises.

His father, ever charitable, attempted to help Randulf. He arranged for a priest of Lathander to meet with the young man. Randulf found solace in the Morning Lord’s teachings, and even began to pray to him, but this only accentuated the constant darkness following him and the growing guilt he felt at what happened to his friends.

Randulf soon decided he needed to leave Baldur’s Gate, to hopefully escape his demons and redeem himself. He wandered throughout the Sword Coast, helping villagers threatened by ruffians or merchants waylaid by bandits. He perfected the power he could draw from Zargon—he sculpted the eldritch force into powerful bolts of energy capable of felling enemies, he twisted his breath into whispers that drove his target mad. But he still felt restless and guilty, unable to find his place in the world.

That changed one day when Randulf was travelling through a forest near Neverwinter. He came upon two travelers who had been set upon by a group of hobgoblin bandits. Drawing on his ever-growing power, Randulf came to their aid. He summoned the illusory multiple copies of himself to distract the hobgoblins’ blows and made one of the bandits run, screaming in pain, from a spell. He summoned a wicked-looking trident, fired a few blasts of his eldritch force, and charged. The hobgoblins were soon dispersed.

The grateful travelers turned out to be Harpers, members of that secretive organization dedicated to defending the innocent and fighting tyranny throughout the Sword Coast. They were impressed by his selflessness and power, and offered him a position with their organization. Randulf, wandering and lost for so long, had finally found where he belonged. But deep in the back of his mind were mad whispers and haunting laughter, constant reminders that the price of drawing on Zargon’s power is often madness.