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Non-"Adventurer" skill sets


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Lately I've been reading/re-reading some of Lin Carter's Thongor books. (They're fun but not very good.)

Anyway, they include Sumia, Thongor's romantic interest, who is a stereotypical Dejah Thoris type Princess. She wanders around like a Fantasy Hero DNPC, without doing much that is useful. This makes her an exception to a group of people (Thongor and his friends) that tends to include various warriors, and even a wizard. She is the only female member of the group. 🙄

I started thinking: how could you make such a character a PC? She has a legitimate background - Exiled Princess (technically Usurped Empress). She's not a Warrior or a Wizard, but something else.

Thinking further, I concluded that there was a whole set of possible characters of the type - ones who don't easily fit into the usual adventurer archetypes, but wind up on adventures anyway.

Some examples: non-warrior aristocrats/royalty, scholars, merchants, Hobbit landowners...

Presumably, they should have some adventure relevant skills - basic combat abilities, and perhaps some magic, but generally speaking their abilities aren't concentrated in these areas. They are certainly overshadowed by specialists in these.

And yet, to be viable PCs, they still need to be able to pull their weight.

Their viability would be determined in part by the adventures they go on. If it's all fight, fight, fight, or magic, magic, magic, they aren't going to be much use. Unless, of course, all the PCs are of this type.

At one level they're not hard to build - shift their characteristics around, and, say, replace all or most of the skill levels you would give a warrior with non-combat skills or Perks. But still a bit tricky.

Has anyone done this? Successful examples? Unsuccessful ones? Warnings, obviously. (Don't do it! These characters suck and are boring! Etc.)

It seems to me that this is a case where Hero would be better than, say, D&D, where character classes are clearly geared towards adventurers, and zero to hero level progression will tend to drive characters into "standard" adventurer roles. The exiled Empress will tend to become just another high level whatever...

 

 

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After more consideration, and study of Burroughs (Edgar Rice), I'm an idiot, since one of the few tropes Carter didn't steal from Burroughs was that Barsoomian women were all trained to survive in a hostile world. Of course Burroughs himself didn't follow this, which is why the incomparable Dejah Thoris became such an archetypal Damsel in Distress.

 

The Princess is, by default, a trained warrior, even if she concentrates on doing other things. That doesn't mean she has to be Joan Carter, but it does mean she isn't some feeble perpetual Damsel in Distress. (Don't get into a fight with La of Opar!)

 

There are good examples in Aaron Allston's Lands of Mystery. I ignored it at first, but as usual I was wrong.

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I don't know I don't think she has to be trained. I mean if you're doing the Burroughs thing maybe, but it seems to me it should be possible to have an interesting character without that.

 

What you describe is in the lines of a trope that I've long found interesting and thought could be a fun role in an RPG, but rarely is it ever realized in a game mostly because players want to be the Big Damn Hero. Personally I'm an enthusiastic GM but indifferent player and so find myself gravitating to this sort of role: one were I can play but not have to stand in the spotlight, really just be content to tag along and occasionally do something interesting (but not powerful or critically important).

 

There's actually a range of characters along this line that can be broadly grouped as sidekicks. They range from the helpless princess to normal man types (the hobbits from lotr) to junior heroes (Robin boy wonder, the minstrel that follows the Witcher around) to legit heros who are still overshadowed by their companions (Moonglum, Rackhir the red Archer, Tonto, etc). There's a lot of these kind of characters and my brain is fuzzy and I can't really think of too many right now.

 

Oddly, often times even powerful characters like Conan are The Witcher end up pawns or temporary sidekicks of some NPC sorcerer that is even more powerful.

 

I've even thought it would be really interesting to have an adventuring party where the one really important and powerful characters is an NPC, and all the PCS are companions and sidekicks. (Literally embracing the Mary Sue except not as GM aggrandizement, but as the simulation of so much heroic fiction. Elminster, Gandalf, etc.) It puts all the PCs on an equal footing, gives the GM a mouthpiece and leader, but also gives everyone something to do.

 

What if the NPC was Conan and the PCs are all kozaki or barrachan pirates, the band he's leading? Even Conan needs backup so it's not like you're useless. Or you could be Conan's girlfriend who often is completely useless, but maybe a witty and sarcastic conversationalist, or have important knowledge, or maybe she's a princess that everyone else obeys, or a priestess (or faux goddess) with weird control over monsters and knowledge of the Temple. Maybe appearing helpless and being kidnapped is her superpower because it gets her behind the lines where she can work mischief, she is always underestimated and treated like a piece of luggage not a dangerous human being.

 

I have had a few rare PCs in my games that were like this; usually they're built the same way as all the other PCs but the way they're played puts them firmly in the everyman/sidekick role. In one fantasy hero game a PC was deliberately not optimized, I think he only carried a knife and was reluctant to use it. I remember at the time it frustrated me because he was noticeably less powerful and I didn't want to kill him and wasn't really sure what to do with him, but I think with that a stronger concept it might have worked. (The player was an actor and was trying to play a non-violent character, but I'm not sure he had a whole lot of concept beyond that.) Other PCS have been things like aging blacksmiths, that sort of thing; having some useful toughness or skills and plausible motives.

 

Lastly I'll note to that DCC-style funnels are completely built on this sort of character. Haven't played too many of these but usually the characters are ton of fun, not because they're powerful but exactly because they're not powerful, and instead they're quirky and cowardly and chock full of personality. I've started memorable d&d games this way (you are a zero level Normal Man, your mom packed you a sack lunch and you took a hatchet from the barn, and you are arriving in Shadizar the Wicked for the first time... alone.) And when D&D PCs die and have to return to the party I generally start them at first level, which, when everyone else is 5th to 9th level, means they'll be starting as a Nodwick level hireling and proving themselves for one adventure-- until you share enough party XP to catch up. (An intriguing design feature of old school d&d advancement)

Edited by Alcamtar
fixing typos on my phone
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It depends on the nature of the campaign.  I was in a campaign using the old danger international rules focusing on supernatural monsters and the occult investigation.  I wrote up a scientist character with almost no combat ability.  He had familiarity with small arms and 2 overall levels he could use in combat.  What he did have is skills to figure out what was going on.  His job was to figure out how to kill the monster, but it was up to the other players to actually kill them.  He did have a lot of technical skills so was often able to get the party in where then needed to be.  And he was had a very good paramedic roll, so often ended up keeping the other party member alieve.  Not sure how well that would work in Fantasy Hero.

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Killer Shrike has the following archetype I'd love to play:

 

Savant

4Quick Study: WF: Common Melee, Common Missile

20Puissant: +2 with Overall

6Talented: Pick any 2 Skill Enhancers: (Jack of All Trades, Linguist, Traveler, Scholar)

8Athletic: Combat Luck (6 PD/6 ED) (12 Active Points); Not While Wearing Armor (-1/2)

17Danger Sense (Function as a Sense, Intuitional, Sensitivity: Out of Combat) 11-

 

 

 

Keep the stats low like Dex 12 and Spd 2, Con 13, PD/ED 4.  And pack it with skills

 

The package cost 55 +6 - 2 +6 +2 +1 = 68.  Even in a 125 pt game, that is a lot of skills!

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I am perfectly fine with some characters being the victim, but they should shine in other ways.  OK Princess Dexina of Kraal is no good in a fight and gets captured easily, fine.  But she should be something more than that; maybe she's amazing with diplomacy, or politics, or languages.  Maybe she's charming and deft with her hands, so she picks locks and pockets well.  Maybe she's an incredible musician and artist.  Something.  Pulp was often better than many writing at the time with making women more than a victim but too often that's all they were and its kinda dull reading.

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I was always leery about allowing "Non-Danger-worthy" characters in Fantasy Hero games. There was a type of player we would run into in the Bay Area on occasion that would play a "wacky character"  as a way to grab attention, and would skew the tone of the game.  Some of those players would  moderate their behavior after the rest of the group objected to their previous antics.  Then they would play characters that were useful but weak, requiring security provided by the other characters (and therefore attention). It got to the point where I would reject "whimsical" characters out of hand. DNPC's were not "Adventurers" in my view. This did mean my FH games were a bit serious and grim, but they ran smoothly.

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