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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:



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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What it really comes down to is how much of a liability you are, and what do you bring to the table.   If you require constant protection, have no magic and the only useful skill you have is trading then your character is going to be a drag on the party.  On the other hand if you can have some defensive capability, have lots of utility spells and a ton of useful skills you are probably ok.  


For example, if I had a thief character with an 18 DEX, 18 INT, 5 DCV, 3 SPD, 5 PD & ED.  Then give that character Acrobatics, Breakfall, Climbing, Concealment, Lockpicking, Security Systems, Stealth and Streetwise and 1 Overall level.  For talents I have Combat Luck, Danger Sense and Lighsleep.  He can also cast an a few spells say Invisibility, Nightvision and Shapeshift.  Does this character seem like he would be useful in the game?  He has no real offensive power but can probably survive combat by hiding or avoiding it.  

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I think what assult is referring to is that character in a series or novel or manga or..... that has no real use in combat and has no real skill out of combat.  What they are is a walking library.  They explain what the history/ politics/ lore/ .... of the world is like to other less educated characters.  


In Fantasy Hero they are those people with the skill enhancers and a lot of skill.  

They can speak/ read / write four languages idiomatically and another five fluently.

They know the layout of every major town in the area, as well as the particular customs in each one (KS city, KS customs) We'll go with five.

They know how to do at least three trades Ex jeweler/ whitesmith/ carving

Scholar with cramming again five.  


Can they fight?  Does hiding in a corner count?  At best they can use a club.  

But when the party comes to a new town, they know all about it.  


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  • 3 months later...

So much of this depends on as-yet-unstated-in-the-thread expectations about what the table play actually is going to be like.  If 3+ hours of every 4 at the table is spent in combat, then yeah, characters all need to be combat gods and noncombat skills are wasted character points.  If there's actually a story plot that players can sculpt if they think about it, and where intrigue in court can accomplish the players' ends, then a character's ability to do something something beyond swinging a sword might actually matter.  Discussion of this meta-structure for the game needs to be open and frank before character construction begins.

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On 9/19/2023 at 10:12 AM, Alcamtar said:

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.

That's the normal style of gameplay for Atlas Game's Ars Magica, albeit with the VIP character being a PC (notably, a magus) and the other PCs being very talented companions who act as skilled advisors, apprentices, bodyguards, negotiators, scouts that support the often rather un-worldly spellcaster in their travels and travails.  The sidekicks ("grogs" in game terms) are a pool of lesser servants - cooks, valets, porters, common sellswords, etc. - that are run by any of the PCs when their main character is absent from a situation.  The norm is for each PC to have a wizard and  a companion ready for use, and for the wizard (sometimes two or even three of them in a big group) in use to rotate around every few sessions, either as story arcs end or as simultaneous expeditions from the same covenant of wizards take place.


It's a fascinating style of RPG play and enormous amounts of fun if you can a get full table invested in the game, with the whole cast of PCs involved in different aspects of making their shared community grow over time.  Well worth a look if the basic idea of not being tied to playing the same character all the time works for you.

On 9/25/2023 at 5:19 AM, Ninja-Bear said:

how about Friar Tuck? Depending how he is portrayed, he’s a non-adventurer type. 

I've never heard an even vaguely faithful take on Robin Hood treat him as non-adventurer.  The guy's a badass in the original stories, and had a trump for everything Robin tried when they first met, including literally whistling up a huge pack of warhounds when Robin tries to end the swordfight he's losing by tooting for help from the Merry Men.  Even Little John didn't do as well in his "recruitment contest" story - and like John, Tuck dunked Robin but good, in part by using the power of baldness.


Unless you're in a parody or a kids' adaptation, do not mess with the little fat friar.  He will wreck you.

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