They’re dandies in fine clothing, carrying the obligatory lute, and always ready to give a chipper song. Sure, they’ve not made their way in with 4th Edition, but word on the street has them coming in the PHB II. That’s right folks, I’m talking about the good old bard, one of the most maligned classes in all of D&D. However, bards are incredibly useful and don’t have to suck quite as badly as people think!
Of course, the first thing you need to do before playing a bard is make sure there’s plenty of role play opportunity for your character. Bards tend not to excel in combat, and players get bored inspiring their companions alone, so if you’re playing a hack & slash type campaign, take my advice. Play a rogue instead.
However, if you’re fortunate enough to have a heavy role play campaign, the bard can be a very useful class. With the typically high charisma, they make great diplomats. The 3rd Edition bards had healing spells that could serve a party well also. Bards aren’t completely useless in combat either, though to say their useful is a bit of a stretch.
Yep, but bard is a pretty cool class when played to it’s potential. But the stereotype is that of a performer who seems to want to play his lute more than anything else. So, how do you stay true to what a bard is good with, without playing the stereotype up to the hilt? Easy. Storyteller.
Most of the bards abilities are based on CHA. By making him a storyteller, you eradicate the dreaded instrument they typically lug around. He also has more chance to interact with people, possibly encouraging a DM to give them a plus to his bardic knowledge check. In addition to that, he may get synergistic bonuses to diplomacy, bluff, and intimidate! In short, the bard can be the “mouth” of the party! He’s definitely better suited to it than the arrogant wizard who thinks that everyone should kiss his feet anyways, right?
His dress can be muted, and he can carry a typical adventurers equipment. Perhaps he has multiclassed as a fighter or something, and therefore has some skill with a sword that even the average bard doesn’t have. So, what people would see is a man in regular clothes, carrying a sword and regular gear. Maybe some leather armor. NPCs would think “low level fighter” (if the DM wants them to anyways). Or, if dressed in finer clothing of a non-bard nature, perhaps a lower noble traveling through. Either way, nothing necessarily screams “bard” to anyone.
The bard, to break the stereotype, must be played against the stereotype. Most of what makes the bard unique is in 3.5 class abilities. As we still don’t know what they look like in 4th edition, no one can really speak of how that all will work, but I suspect they’ll be powers instead. Same difference really, as far as playing a bard. Those powers/abilities are necessary since they are what makes a bard!
However, the crunch doesn’t dictate how you play them. In truth, it’s trickier to play a bard against stereotype because the crunch doesn’t make it easy. However, if it were easy, the stereotypes would have been crushed long, long ago 😉
Through gaming, I’ve visited ancient tombs, ruins of great civilizations. I’ve hacked my way through jungle, slogged through swamp, and nearly died in the desert. I’ve ridden horses across the plains, and sailed across the oceans. My characters seem like they’ve done it all, and are still ready for more.
But theres one trick I personally don’t see used enough. It’s a little late for the current campaign I’m playing in to try it, but it’s something I may keep in mind for the next campaign I run. Why don’t more adventuring parties have rival parties? Not necessarily enemies mind you, but straight rivals? Here’s how I see it shaping up.
First, the party would have to be similar in make up to the PCs. Otherwise, and advantages the new group would have would be discounted to that difference alone. That would be bad. PCs need to understand that these guys are just good. Nothing more, nothing less. If there isn’t a PC rogue, then the rivals shouldn’t have one either.
Make them arrogant, loud, obnoxious, whatever you have to do to make sure the players don’t like the rivals. Friendly rivals is fine, but to really have fun with it, you need someone they hate. Remember, they don’t have to be evil, just annoying competition. Once you’ve done that, they’re ready to go.
Now, how you deploy them is really fun. Let’s say the PCs are dragging their butts getting to the Liches lair. NPCs keep advising them that they need to hurry, he’s almost done with the ritual, but they’ve been saying it for days (in-game time…but out of game time is possible to with some groups I’ve played with ;)). No matter what, they still keep dragging their butts. They know that the DM won’t let the Mondo-Bad-Thing-Monster-Beasty out into their precious homebrew world, so they’re not sweating it one bit.
Then, finally they decide to enter the Liches lair. They’ve buffed up, readied a plan, and bust through the door…
…only to find their rivals have already dispatched the Lich and are looting the room. Perhaps they make some quip about the PCs being late to the party, or even thanking them for clearing the way to the Lich, but leaving the fun stuff for them.
Now, in future games, the PCs will have the idea that time really is important because otherwise the rivals will get the XP and loot. Even the metagamers in the group will start acting with some haste now. After all, now there’s something they can’t account for, either in game or out of game.
The most important thing a DM must understand is how rarely to use this tool. Frankly, using it will piss off the players if you use them in the way described above. That should really be the “nuclear option” as a DM, so keep it in reserve for only the most dire of times. Either that, or it’s a hook for something else. Other ways the rivals can be used, and will make sure the rivals are kept in the PCs minds is:
- PC mistakes are retold as stories in taverns all over the lands, making them look bad.
- PCs often have to make moral choices. The rival group can take the path the PCs don’t, then make them look bad by not taking that path.
- The rivals can convince the local ruler that the PCs are evil adventurers looking to overthrow their rule.
Those are just a few. The possibilities are endless. They can provide a foil for the PCs that they can’t just outright kill (unless they want to deal with the results of such an act). Even creating a situation where the PCs need the help of the rivals can be a blast as well. Just don’t over use the rivals, or else the players will resent the hell out of them and you.
So, if your group is one that could benefit from this idea, give it a try. It could be just what the Doctor (Jones) ordered 😉
Yesterday, while talking about the future of gaming, the question was asked by Ravyn if all the technology I mentioned was really necessary. Obviously, the answer is “no, it’s not needed at all.” However, that got me to thinking, which is always a scary thing. What do we need to role play?
Role play is quite possibly the oldest form of play in our lives, if not in history. Early role playing games for many of us were the classics: Cops & Robbers, Cowboys & Indians, etc. Rules consistent of nothing. The arguement we all heard started with “Bang! You’re dead!” And was followed with the inevitable “No I’m not” response. The typically female equivelant was playing mother to their dolls (even then, girls were ahead of the curve! They played with miniatures while us boys were LARPing ;)). Even with the freeform nature of what we were doing, we loved it in spite of the arguments.
All we needed was a rain-free day, some friends, and plenty of time before the street lights came on. We might have props (toy gun for example), but we adapted well enough without it (fingers make good enough guns after all). Rule disputes were handled simply by letting it go. We could do anything we wanted to so long as the laws of physics were obeyed. After all, 8 year old kids tend to not defy gravity very often.
With the lack of crunch, we all enjoyed ourselves. It was the purest form of role play, and it planted the seed that lead many of us to take up role playing as a hobby. We didn’t need dice to tell us if we shot the bad guy, we just shot him. We needed need a DM to determine if we could do something, we just did it (or said we did it). We needed need to reference books to see what spells we could cast, we just cast them.
Amid all the edition wars, both on this blog and others (and I’m just as responsible as anyone else), I think we’ve lost sight of the simple fact that we play a game. Nothing else matters so long as we have fun and don’t ruin anyone else’s fun along the way. So long as we do that, we’ll be in good shape. Not just for today, but for ages to come.
“So, tell me about your character,” the GM says to Bob.
Bob stares back blankly. “Well, he’s an elven wizard.”
Politely, the GM smiles and says, “No, tell me about him. Give me his background.”
“Background?” mutters Bob. “I didn’t know anything about a background.”
Have you ever been in this position? I have, a long time ago, and frankly I’m glad I do this well before the game now. It gives me more time to answer the questions I tend to ask myself when forming a character of any type, for any purpose. The question some may be asking is, why bother?
Well, for one thing, I personally like to have a typewritten back story in the GM’s hands so they know the plan for the character. It lets them figure out hooks for my character’s story, and if enough others submit their backgrounds similarly, the GM can find connections between the stories that make forming a group so much simpler.
Some GMs seem to prefer the background info come up in a group session, while others want the character to do it on their own and pass it along. There’s no wrong way for the GM to do this, so don’t sweat it either way. However, here are the questions I tend to ask myself when starting a new character.
What were his birth circumstances? For example, was there something that can be used by the GM to use the old “Chosen One” trope on your character? Perhaps you’re playing a 4e warlock and a wolf howls just as the character is born, foreshadowing his few pact later in life. In contrast, there doesn’t have to be anything. Not every character has some unusual circumstance at birth. Birth circumstance could be something pretty mundane, but tragic like mother’s death at birth, etc.
What was his childhood like? Was he a popular kid, talented musician, a bit of a bully, what? Our adult personalities are formed in childhood, so why would your character be any different? Just remember how you want to play the character and make the childhood fit.
Why is he adventuring? Since most RPGs assume some level of adventuring of some sort, there has to be a reason. It could be anything from poverty leading someone to seek fame and fortune to revenge. The important thing is to have a reason that makes sense. A cleric seeking to spread the word of their God makes sense. A cleric seeking fame, fortune, and a kingdom to rule doesn’t.
What I like to do is try and type up the answers to these in a story format, usually running from 4-5 pages double spaced to make it an easier read. Of course, it can easily be shorter, especially if you don’t try to flesh out the character more with details like hobbies, love life, enemies, or anything else. A finely crafted back story contains a great deal more information that those three questions can possibly answer, so go ahead and ask your own questions.
Once you’ve written up the back story, let your GM read it. Make sure they understand that you’re willing to revise to fit into their story/world better. Flexibility is the key here, because you’re asking the GM to read your writings and plug them into their story. That’s not easy at all, so be prepared to revise the heck out of your back story so that it will fit!
Obviously, there are other questions to be asked out there, and other approaches to a well crafted back story. I look forward to hearing some of those! Just write it up and let’s see what happens!
I’m going to take a moment and ponder the future. Where will role play go, and what form will it take when it gets there? What will influence the future generation of gamers? Let’s face it, even if you play your first session ever this week…of any game…in a few years you’ll start to experience some of what I have in the last 15 years. You’ll experience the hobby change.
Change is inevitable. It’s just going to happen. However, I’m not talking about a switch from D&D 3.5 to 4e. That change is inevitable as well, but D&D doesn’t shape the entire hobby by any stretch. While it is probably the largest and most played role playing game in the world, there are tons of others that owe little homage to Wizards of the Coasts offering. So what all will be happening.
First, where will future gamers come from? After all, publishing role playing games is a business, so they want to get new players as they’re able to. The thoughts seem to be to get MMORPG players to convert over to tabletop RPGs, thereby bringing new blood into the role playing fold. 4th Edition seems to be well suited to ease this transition over for this group, but in time that field will dry up as well.
For my money, I see the future gamers of the world all the time. Every time I go see a Narnia, or Lord of the Rings, or Harry Potter, or any other fantasy-type movie in the theater. Our future players are cutting their teeth on some of the same works of fiction we did, only in a film format. People who don’t necessarily enjoy reading still make these movies hits, and the numbers that flocked to Lord of the Rings is indicative of the fact that no matter what, the hobby is still going strong.
The biggest phenomenon in literature in the last 50 years or so has to be Harry Potter, and so I figure it’s just a matter of time before someone convinces J.K. Rowling to license her beloved wizards to some game company and we’ll have Harry Potter: Role Playing Game. I can hear some of you cringing right now, but I really think that it’s inevitable. In fact, without having even done a Google search at this point, I still can’t help think there’s probably a couple of home brews floating around out there right now.
Technology is another new area that I see changing the shape of things to come. Despites Wizards of the Coasts lackluster performance, computer technology will take on a more active role in even table top games, and here’s the example I envision.
A group sits around the table, all with laptops open and running. They’re not connected to the net, just each other. The DM has access to all character sheets, so no more asking “what’s your AC?” Instead, he just looks at your sheet. Firewalls prevent anyone else from seeing your sheet though…that’s only between you and the DM after all. He can also deduct gold after dealing with a merchant automatically, making it one less thing a player can forget about. Dice are still rolled as usual, but the computer can calculate all the buffs and such a player might have (who knows what future editions will have as far as buffs go), so all a player has to do is roll and enter their roll (or an alternate setting as the DM do is to prevent cheating). When the DM has a note to pass along, it takes the form of an instant message to the player instead of physically passing a note, creating suspense among the players.
I don’t know if any of this will happen, but it’s just one thought I’ve had. Since I wasn’t sleeping well anyways, why not dream a bit while I’m awake?
The brilliant Ravyn has gotten my wheels turning yet again. Over on her blog, Exchange of Realities, she has an interesting article called How They Say It about how characters recount a deed. Like many of Ravyn’s posts, it got me thinking. I’ve been pretty fortunate to have met some real bad asses in my lifetime, ones that help me shape how I play those same types of character. Having been raised by a cop, served in the military, shooting pistol and rifle competitions, backpacking, and a whole host of activities have shown me plenty of real life bad asses to use as examples.
Unfortunately, I’ve met far to many blowhards in my life as well. You know them too, though you may not realize you know them. They portray themselves as bad asses. They tell you how good they are at something, and often see no reason to back up all their talk. They talk like they’re a computer hacker, but in reality they’re not sure how to attach something in an email. If you think about it, you’ve encountered at least one in your life.
We portray heroes within the context of the game, but what are heroic characters like in real life. Well, take a look at combat veterans. Many will quietly hide medals, choosing not to talk about what they did to get them. They are humble about their actions. After all, they just did a job, nothing more. The heroes are the ones who died. They, they’ll argue, aren’t heroes.
The real bad asses I know are all like this. They don’t talk about how bad ass they are, but they don’t take on false humility either. They’re good and they know it, but why talk smack about how bad they are. They don’t need to prove it here and now, they’ll prove it later if necessary. However, they’ll help you become more of a bad ass if you want. In my experience, they’re the first to share information and make you better. The thinking seems to be, the badder you are, the better for everyone. Again, they’re confident without a hint of false humility.
Here’s the thing to keep in mind. The blowhard often has so much crap going on that they can’t possibly be good at everything (well…unless you’re playing a 3.5 rogue who has a billion skill points, but I digress) but they’ll tell you they are. I had a boss who I mentioned in a comment on Ravyn’s blog. To go into more detail about him, there was nothing any of us tried that he wasn’t more skilled and more proficient in. I was planning a canoe trip down the local river, from end to end? Oh, he even had a story to relate to that one (luckily, that story was tame…just tubing down a river for the afternoon).
Allegedly, he had been an MP in the Air Force, worked with SAC (Strategic Air Command), had shot pistol competition in the Air Force, had been a private detective (with a whole host of stories that made him sound like Mike Hammer or Thomas Magnum), owned a forestry company, worked air conditioner and refrigeration, and been a cattle rancher. The thing was, none of the dates worked out. Blow hards tend to fall into this trap. Things don’t seem to quite fit.
Meanwhile, the guys who’ve done all that won’t feel the need to flaunt it. I’ve known Navy SEALs who don’t talk smack, but instead they give off an air that they can handle themselves. One of the biggest bad asses I know in real life is about my height (I’ve 5’8″), maybe a little taller. He’s heavier than I am (I’m 230 lbs) and just seeing him walk up, you wouldn’t think a thing. However, he’s lightning quick and a damn good shot. He’s spent a lifetime acquring skills that could keep him alive. He’s a small town cop but trains more than most NYPD officers from what I understand. He does it by choice because it may keep him alive.
I think it’s important to remember that the bad ass walks the walk, while the blowhard talks the talk. Keep that in mind for your next game. Both can be good role playing points, but really shouldn’t be mixed together. In my experience, there just aren’t that many people who talk the talk but can actually walk the walk. Those who can do the walk, tend to keep quiet about it. Makes it harder for people to know they’re coming! 😉
They’re suave and sophisticated, able to woe any potential lover with just a look. However, they don’t want love, they want blood. And, frankly, by the time their done, their victim doesn’t even mind that much. The vampire is probably more a part of role playing than even the dwarf or elf. Not only does almost every fantasy system out there have them (usually as bad guys, but still), but White Wolf has a whole game of them! However, the stereotype is prevelant in this character type just as much as any other.
When one becomes a vampire, certain supernatural powers are given that help to form that stereotype. Speed, strength, the ability to charm people, all contribute to that mythology. As such, breaking the stereotype sounds harder than it really has to be. After all, breaking stereotypes doesn’t just have to be in the crunch, now does it?
Last season, CBS has a pretty cool show called Moonlight about the cliche vampire private detective. Granted, it was pretty enjoyable as a show on it’s own, but one episode really showed me how they weren’t running with the typical vampire idea. In this episode, call girls were being killed by a vampire. The killer was a vampire who was turned as a teenager. As such, he still had acne and was socially awkward, just like many teenagers.
That episode broke the Count Dracula stereotype in almost every way, except the need for blood of course. So, let’s have some fun with vampires for a second. (who said I don’t write about anything but D&D anymore? ;))
First, why not rip off Moonlight and play the socially awkward vampire turned in his late teen years? Perhaps he was embraced because of his elite computer skills, desperately needed by his clan, or some other skill needed. Obviously, if he doesn’t fit in with the clan on other levels, you’ll need to talk to your GM. However, this can be fit in within the clan. For example, the Toreador are known for art, so why not have a hacker who is also a talented graphic artist?
Second, how about the vampire physician. You won’t treat humans…far to tasty. Instead, you specialize in vampire physiology and pathology. Sure, vampires are quick healers, which makes your choice the quirky one?
Obviously, there are far more ways to bust up the vampire stereotype than just these two, so play around with the system and see what you can do!
I’m sure I’m not the only person who’s found themselves in this position. You tell the GM you want to use a skill, say you’re going to hack into a computer. The GM says, “OK. How are you going to go about it?”
“Huh?” you swiftly and intelligently respond.
“How are you going to hack into the computer?” he repeats.
Well…now what are you going to do? Damned if I know, and you may not either. Our characters aren’t extensions of ourselves. Instead, they are unique individuals with expertise that we don’t have. I’ve made a few pieces of armor back in my SCA days, and I know a bit about how to swing a sword. As a backpacker, I’ve spent a good bit of time walking down the trail carrying everything I need in a pack on my back. Does that make me the equivelent of a D&D adventurer? Hell no!
So what do you do when your GM expects you to tell him/her what you’re going to be doing while using a skill…a skill that you personally don’t have a clue how to use? Well, at that point, you’re pretty well hosed. You’re only choice is to pull something out of your butt and hope it works. In this example say you’re going to use the most common passwords or something.
For me, it was always annoying when the GM expected me to possess knowledge that my character would have but I wouldn’t, sort of like reverse metagame thinking. However, some GMs will do that. With all that build-up, here’s how Uncle Tomcat would solve this problem.
First, talk to your GM before the first session. Find out how they handle skill usage. Many will give bonuses if you describe your actions, others will require you to do so, and still others won’t care either way. If you have a GM that wants bonuses, you may need to do a bit of research. You don’t have to be proficent with the skills in question, but know the basics of what they do to use that skill.
Also, for world basic knowledge, be prepared to ask your GM if your character would know something. After all, as I’ve already said, your character has knowledge that you don’t. However, often the GM will know what your character will know but hasn’t thought about it yet. A polite prompt may help them remember key information your character has that you need to deal with the situation properly.
The key thing is to talk to your GM about it, outside of the game if possible, and deal with it there. Some GMs may not be flexible. In those cases, my best advice is to find another game. Inflexible GMs are among the worst thing you can have!
They’re sneaky little bastards. They’ll rob you blind and still call you a friend. You just can’t trust them, regardless of their alignment. However, you need the little bastards because they can find and disarm any trap, pick any dungeon lock, and can be wicked in combat if used right. That’s right…the rogue. I was going to do this one next week, but a comment by Craig propted me to step up and do it now. After all, the rogue is a common character, and they’re played to the hilt within stereotype confines.
In his comment, Craig made some great suggestions. For example, he says he likes to play rogues who have never broken the law. Within the 3.5 system, it’s fully possible to create a rogue who can do a great many things without ever breaking the law. With the wide variety of skills available, you can create characters like Craig’s gnomish clockmaker, or his stage magician who uses slight of hand instead of actual magic. I remember a buddy made a rogue character with a high INT score and because a jack-of-all-trades…and master of most of them 😉
Of course, 4e doesn’t really stop a player from going this route either. Even without Craft and Profession skills, the Thievery skill doesn’t mean that it can be used only to steal. A locksmith can pick locks after all, and a trap maker can also disarm them. Creating the fluff to go with that skill is, and has always been, up to the player, so if he’s not a criminal then give a backstory that explains why he has those skills and it’s all good!
Another twist that’s been used, but not enough to be a stereotype, is the criminal gone good. Perhaps something made him change his wicked ways and now seeks to use his talents doing good works rather than just fattening up his own purse. This would create some great role play opportunities (perhaps he’s wanted in one town or another), while giving his companions the opportunity to trust him.
There are even more ways to play rogues other than as thieves. For example, the spy. The skill selection wouldn’t be unusual for a rogue, but the execution would be. Sure, he could pick locks and pockets, find and remove traps, and everything else, but his points would be geared more towards bluff, diplomacy, disguise, etc. Some cool equipment, and POOF! You’ve got a D&D version of James Bond!
Another route to go is as the military scout. In all honesty, the Scout class that I’m particularly enamoured with in 3.5 is really just a rogue with some modification. A rogue can move quietly, take out enemy guards without anyone knowing, hide indefinitely to make note of troop movements, everything a military force needs in order to plan an attack! Rogues, in games without the scout class, can do all of that better than anyone (scout’s advantage is really in more hit points should they find themselves in a fight).
In all honesty, rogues have so many ways to play them, that I couldn’t begin to go into them all. Regardless of what edition you play, they can still do a lot of the same things and be played a lot of the same ways, so have some fun! For versatility within the rules as written, it’s hard to beat a rogue!
For 4th Edition readers, remove elf and insert Eladrin, since they seem to fit this stereotype better than 4e elves do.
Aloof and often arrogant, the elves are one of the most played races in most fantasy games. Now, how do you break the monotony of your typical elf? I’ve seen them play almost every class, and use almost every skill. They’re the rare example of a race other than human who is good at almost everything. However, by breaking it down to the details, we can find plenty of places to have some fun busting the stereotype.
First, elves are graceful, right? So, why not give yourself a low DEX. Granted, I’d do this only if I were a fighter or some other armor wearing class, if nothing else for your own survival, but it would go a long way toward breaking the stereotype. “I fail my DEX roll.” “But you’re an ELF!” “Yeah, but I’m a clumsy one!” It would be hysterical. Almost as hysterical as an elf named Keebler 😉
Elves are also typically aloof, so why not role play him as a hothead or as someone who’s passionate about something even the human characters things is pointless, like tavern chairs. Elves are often seen as emotionless, not because they don’t have them, but because they don’t show them. Give them some flair and passion, make them like the artist from films who seems beauty and art in everything. Not necessarily flighty or flaky, necessarily (though those work too), but playing a fighter like a bard in role playing situations can be extremely fun.
Elves are also typically patient, so busting this one is easy. A tapping of the feet, a constant check on the son, the occasional question “are we there yet?” and POOF! Instantly busted stereotype. Elves are patient because of their long lives. They’re OK with the idea of thinking taking a while. But not all elves have to be that way. After all, if your elf character has something else he wants/needs to be doing, he can and should be impatient. That other thing could be world changing, or it could be trivial. It doesn’t really matter, so long as he’s impatient!
So there you go, a few ways to bust the elf (or eladrin) stereotype. I hope you try this and let me know how it goes!