New PC's With A Twist


Let's be honest. D&D is a game within which you can become an amalgamation of your fantasies: a bold, daring brute of a Fighter, a brilliant and savvy Sorcerer, or a clever and stealthy Rogue. You can be practically anything you like - your alter ego, your antithesis, your fantasy of how success would appear.

Let's be honest. D&D is a game within which you can become an amalgamation of your fantasies: a bold, daring brute of a Fighter, a brilliant and savvy Sorcerer, or a clever and stealthy Rogue. You can be practically anything you like - your alter ego, your antithesis, your fantasy of how success would appear.

Why, then, are so many players' characters the same? Game after game, campaign after campaign, you see it all the time.

This said, here is my new dwarven fighter:

Str: 17, Con: 16, Dex: 8
Chain mail, battle axe and shield. His skills are Listen, Climb, Search and Hide. He is from a mountain, seeks revenge for his father's death, and he hates goblins. His name is Karnak. Or it's Fidik. Or Brodrik. Or whatever.

Sound familiar? There are a hundred dwarves just like this born every day, every game. So, how do you break out of the mold? What are some ways to come up with truly different characters with unique styles and personalities? Here are a few ideas, and we'll get back to our "new dwarf" later!

First and easiest, let's address race and class. You probably have some solid idea of your character's place in a game's setting of society. Or it's history. Or do you? I'm assuming you have read the Player's Handbook. You know the races and classes of characters available. Talk to the Dungeon Master to find out what would fit in his world.

What does he need? What would he like to see more of? Is there a particular niche to be filled in some capacity to enhance the plot or campaign? Gleaning this information from him, your flame of creativity is more likely to be ignited! You may choose to play a combination of race and class which you've never tried or seen played before. A lot of D&D periodicals, web sites, and clubs are always springing new, bizarre, race/class combinations onto the scene. For example, a Dwelf Paladin/Monk may be intriguing but unnecessary. The current race/class choices offer a multitude of opportunity for creative combinations as they stand. Investigate.

Core abilities come next. There are multitudes of ways to generate the dice rolls which determine abilities, and there are, of course, minimum ability requirements for certain classes. Mixing up the norm, however, can produce an interesting character in itself. Why not have an elf with the constitution of a dwarf? Or, why not have a dwarf with the dexterity of an elf? It's different, and could definitely add some spice to game play. The unexpected is always interesting.

Your character's name and background (history) is of particular importance within the game itself, mainly because it affects the character's interaction and communication with the other players more than you might think. Again, your Dungeon Master's world should provide you with the information you need to design a character's background so the role played fits well into the scheme of things. Even in a generic world, dwarves don't have to come from the mountains and elves don't have to come from the forest. Once again, mix it up. With this background and history, make your character's story believable. I won't go into names here any further. See Paula Kisselmen's excellent article "The Name Game" and Kate Morris's "What's In A Name?", both available on Gamegrene.

Now we come to choosing skills and feats. I want to emphasize choosing skills here primarily. Dragon #299 has an excellent article on feats and characterizing of those feats. The list of skills is on page 59 of the Player's Handbook, and I would be willing to swear you'll only see only a dozen or so of those skills regularly utilized. Sit down and carefully read about the skills, paying extra attention to each, keeping in mind it may be a combination of skills which might be your ticket to effective play. Think about picking Alchemy, Appraise, Reading Lips, or Sense Motive. These are unusual skills that, while may not be used as much as Listen and Hide, can present some very interesting opportunities. You might ask how to determine which of these unusual skills would be desirable. For example, a dwarf whose background is from a mining clan and son of a blacksmith probably spent more time judging the worthiness of tools than he did hiding in a cavern; therefore, he could choose Appraise instead of Move Silent. Some skills are simply implied with the history of a character. Don't be afraid to make some basic assumptions or be insecure with your established history. Remember also the other three guys you are playing with probably chose Listen as a skill, so leave that to them while you use your Appraise to determine the origin of the orcish sword the Party just found. Sometimes it's a matter of filling in with some missing skills in order to provide a canvas for effective teamwork with your fellow players.

Now we equip your character. Nearly without exception there are standard expectations for each type of class and race. Most dwarven fighters will choose an axe for their main weapon. Most humans pick a sword. The elf will pick a bow. As long as you can still inflict the same damage, get creative here, too. Use the exotic weapons as well as the more traditional, because it can add flair and to your character. A ranger I came across recently chose a falchion (2d4 damage, better than a 1d8 longsword) as his melee weapon. The blade was engraved with a dolphin which represented his homeland's flag. The curve of the falchion mimicked the silhouette of the dolphin arching out of the sea, and this shape lent the character memorable flair and idenity. In other words, you want to be noticed and remembered. Oh, and name your weapon something besides "Widowmaker", "Bonecrusher", "Bloodletter" and so forth. Be original. And don't forget to scrutinize the available equipment list and spend that last bit of gold on some details! For instance, a steel mirror can be used for signaling, for eyes in the back of your head, or for peering around corners in dungeons. Think practically as well. As Sam Gamgee said, "If you don't have your rope, you'll be wanting for it."

These are some ideas, not so much to decide for you your preferences, but to enhance your imaginative play and build a character who is better than just predictable. Remember our dwarven fighter? Let's reassign him abilities, skills, and equipment:

Str: 15, Con: 14, Dex: 17, Cha: 15

He comes from a sea port and a shipbuilding family line. His skills are Appraise, Balance, Intimidate, and Use Rope. His weapon of choice is a trident, and he wears leather armor. His name is Balboa, and he hates stereotypes.

He's not that strong for a fighter, and yes, he will suffer a little for starting off with just 10 hit points. His Dexterity makes up for his light leather armor, and our sailing dwarf is a nimble and assertive information gatherer, important not only for his effectiveness, but because of his sheer unexpected qualities. There is more value here than meets the eye, especially at first glance. This guy will be fun to play. With a twist. Gotcha!

The frightening part is that I've seen that first dwarf. Our DM informed the player, after a few rounds of this, that his next character WOULD be a half-elven bard. The poor powergamer started to object, and was told "Quiet, or it's a pixie!"

Yeah well your second character has had great stats to start with.
15 for STR, 12+2 (14) for Con, 17 fo CHA and 17 for DEX.
With these stats you have the luxury of making a anti-munchkin character 15 STR and 14 CON are still fairly good. If you use the throw 4d6 keep the 3 best 6 times method, you're unlikely to get the results you show (well you'll get them once in a while).

Furthermore, I really don't think that the "Gestapo" solution to the problem is viable. I mean, some of my friend aren't comfortable playing bards, who am I as a DM to force them to play such a character.
I don't know, maybe strongly encourage the player to play a fighter sub-class like paladin, ranger or barbarian would have seemed less drastic.

Tell me if I'm wrong Bob, but if the player you mentionned didn't quit the table (which I would probably have done in his/her place) did s/he do a good job at playing a bard?
I would guess s/he did not, why? Because that person wanted to play a tough, direct and strong PC, not a suave, courtly and articulate glass-jawed rogue...

And then, there's putting races in *classes* you wouldn't expect to find them in.... Most people running Elves would have them either Bards, Wizards, or Rangers, with the occasional fighter or rogue mixed in. I looked at the D&D elf, felt cheated because they're so *short*, had already wanted a barbarian character..... Now, in some brains elf+barbarian=impossible... to my brain, elf+barbarian=something along the lines of the WolfRiders from the inimical ElfQuest comic series. Can't accuse *them* of being civilized.... I added a twist, namely making my barbarian elf a girl, and.... Megil was born.
STR: 17 DEX: 13 CON: 15 INT: 11 WIS: 15 CHA: 12
She comes from a tribe of savage, tree-dwelling hunter Sylvan Elves from a jungle far to the south. Her skills are Balance, Climb, Intimidate, and Jump. Her weapon of choice is a short spear and she wears studded leather armor. Her name is Megil and she hates city living.

So, instead of a cool, detached Wizard (the stereotype for female Elves in D&D), we have a savage, feral tree-jumping hunter who isn't all that bright (by Elven standards.... in human terms, she's on the dim side of average) but has moments of needle-sharp insight, can tend to be a bully, and is abrasive, tough as old shoe leather, and mean as a hornet if provoked.