If you look back at my third post, I said I was going to talk about the development of a character, and I was going to do it in the order that people are created moreso than the way we build characters. Frequently enough, we build our characters around their class instead of anything else. Sometimes we elect to build around a weapon or capability, but there are times when we’re just stumped.
What Class Should I Play?
When I ask a DM to tell me what kind of character the party needs, I’m often confronted with the response: “Don’t worry about that. You just play whatever you want.” Which works fine for me, until I want to play a psion (see “The Power Within”).
So we have to get down to the crunchy goodness, and this is where I deviate from the notion of Core Classes, Base Classes or anything else. My classes are listed as follows: Urgthunk, Breauxs, MacGyvers, and Nukes.
Urgthunks are weapon swingers. They’ll include barbarians, fighters, monks, paladins, rangers, and just about anyone else who works fairly well at the front lines (samurai, kshatriya, etc). This is where their strength is going to be, and they need to be kind of tough. While they might be good at getting into the faces of their enemies, there are others who do more damage and are substantially more useful in non-combat environments. For the purposes of this article, I’m not including soldiers for a reason. Soldiers, especially at the technological level we’re usually talking about (pre-gunpowder weapons), didn’t learn quite as many weapons as a fighter. Pikemen didn’t learn how to use swords, archers didn’t learn to use bows, and fighters can pick up almost any weapon available, minus the exotics. The biggest benefit to an Urgthunk is simplicity. If there’s a spellcasting component to the character class, it’s beneficial, but it won’t be the primary function of the character. My personal favorite was a mercurial greatsword-wielding fighter who was designed for inflicting critical hits and breaking his enemies’ stuff. Yes, that did devalue some of the loot, but it was fun and simple.
It might look like I don’t like support classes, but it really isn’t true. Bards, druids (sometimes), rangers (sometimes), and clerics are fantastic additions to a party. The reason I call them Breauxs is because they’re the ones you want to show up to the party. They’ll make you stronger, faster, more agile, wiser, smarter, better looking, help you find stuff, heal you, and all kinds of nifty stuff. Provided your Breauxs can work out a way to synchronize their efforts, a single really important skill check can get enough bonuses to make failure impossible (unless your DM plays with the ‘1 counts as an automatic failure/20 counts as automatic success’ rule, which is a topic I’ll cover in a later post). Playing a Breaux really requires a player to focus on how many different ways he can help the party, which by proxy, helps him achieve his or her goals. Often enough, Breauxs are also pretty handy when it comes to gathering information, knowing obscure crap (“Why no, that’s not a floating disk of Mortense! That would be copyright infringement. It’s just a floating disk without any pesky intellectual property issues.”), and having some of the bigger personality quirks out there. After all, Roscoe the Bard might make the rest of the party look heroic when he composes his epic poem, but the whole thing is skewed to make Roscoe look like the glue that kept the party together, even if he would run away from combat, and witheld buffs at key moments because X-Wing the Rogue (why yes, his last name is @aliciousness. How did you know?) was allowed to sleep while Roscoe had to stand watch. However, that’s actually a reflection of the downside of being a Breaux. Breauxs are generally under-appreciated (minus clerics) because in combat, they aren’t as effective as Urgthunks, their skills don’t quite allow them to measure up like a McGyver, and their spells don’t do as much damage as Nukes. The Breauxs’ real strength is in making small adjustments to the party’s advantages and the enemy’s disadvantages. However, a skillful Breaux player will have the party wondering why they’d ever operate without one.
If you thought for a moment that I’d include a photo of anything besides one Angus MacGyver for this section, you need to ask your mom why it is that she let you eat lead paint chips as a child. Anyway, MacGyvers are just about awesome for everything that isn’t necessarily combat. Rogues, monks, rangers, soulknives (yes, I’m still pushing psionics), bards, and a variety of other character classes make MacGyvers exactly the right people to have when you need to do anything that isn’t roasting bad guys alive or cleaving your enemies in twain. These cats are all about skills, and they surely know how to use them. Rogues are great for this because so many of their skills rely on Dexterity. Apparently, if you’re really good at tumbling, then you should also be really good at picking locks (and pockets) or disarming traps (I love that Disable Device is an all-encompassing skill for the traps and locks). Trapped in a round room with no apparent doors or windows? Call a MacGyver. He’ll find you a secret door in no time. Need to get through the door without having the giant spiked log crush you into goo? Call a MacGyver, he’ll rig it to squish the guys who set the trap in the first place. Need to get some information out of the town of tight-lipped and taciturn dwarves? Call a MacGyver, and he’ll have them telling ALL of the family’s dirty secrets. MacGyvers can hijack magic devices, learn stuff nobody’s supposed to know, traipse across the planes, steal your underwear while you’re wearing it, and convince you they are your best friends (I swear I’m going to run a con man one of these days). Often enough, the damage they can do on the battlefield isn’t too bad either. While they tend to avoid heavy armor and big weapons, the amount of damage they do by sneaking up on people or hitting them a bunch of times can be quite useful.
Here’s a joke I’ve been working on. A fighter walks into a bar, claiming that he can slay more people in one shot than anyone else in the bar. A little old man walks up to him and says “I’ve got five gold that says I can kill more people than you in one shot.” The fighter laughs condescendingly and sets up five dummies in a row, hefts his mighty blade, and in one swing, cleaves all five dummies in twain. The little old man walks out of the bar, mumbles a few words, and a fireball burns the bar down, killing everyone inside. The old man’s familiar says: “You really need to get the guy outside if you expect to collect.” Get it? Wizards, sorcerers, theurges, psions, warlocks, magi, summoners, alchemists, etc. all fall into the Nuke category. Why are they Nukes? Well, there are a couple of reasons for this. First, they are capable of doing obscene amounts of massive damage without breaking a sweat. Second, they’re usually really smart. Intelligent smart. Like knowing all of the secrets of the universe smart. Not necessarily wise, just smart. Scary smart. Nikola Tesla “I’m going to blow up the Earth with my death ray” smart. People that smart are usually involved with nuclear power if they’re in the U.S. Navy, and those people are also called “nukes.” Why is it fun to be a Nuke? SUPREME COSMIC POWER! Why does it suck to be a Nuke? Keeping track of everything. Wizards, for example, are prepared spellcasters. Barring certain feats which allow for elemental substitutions or replacing one spell for another, wizards have to decide which spells they are going to use that day. In other words, if Mohenjus the Wizard is expecting to travel all day, he’s going to use most of the space in his memory for spells which might aid him in his travels, vice preparing for battle. However, if the 10,000 orcs which are headed for everyone’s favorite dark elf makes a detour to Mohenjus, he may be summarily boned. Maybe Mohenjus prepared for a few random encounters, but preparation is key. This is where manifesters and spontaneous casters have a decided advantage, but even then, there is a limit to how much maximum damage these squishy Nukes can inflict. Then the bang becomes a little bit smaller, and then a little bit smaller, and then, eventually, nothing. Granted, none of this accounts for wands and scrolls, but you get my point. At some point, the artillery runs out of ammunition. Urgthunks get to keep swinging as long as the melee weapon is still intact. Nukes run out of magic and then they have to contend with angry Urgthunks and anyone else who’s left alive. However, Nukes can come in a variety of flavors. One can specialize in creating minion Urgthunks to fight the enemy, or even simply protect the Nuke. With enough power, some nukes can even summon celestial or infernal Urgthunks to do combat. In other words, it’s not all fireballs and chain lightning. Being a Nuke can include some very creative opportunities.
This particular topic could very well make for its own post. A player who chooses to multiclass may very well want to:
A) Retain the advantages of two (or more) classes in exchange for having a greater degree of ability in any single class.
B) Provide a certain amount of coverage for the holes in a preferred class.
C) Not have to make up his mind between two classes.
D) Needs the abilities offered from multiple classes to take a desired prestige class.
E) Demonstrate that the DM is a moron who will let him create an overpowered character like Superman. (No, really. Superman is WAY overpowered. If he went rogue, the only person who’d stand a chance of stopping him is Batman, and that’s only if Supes wanted to play fair. What’s the range on heat vision?) I’m not saying multiclassing is a bad thing, but it is difficult for anyone to serve two masters.
One of the bits you have to accept as a multiclassing character is that you will never be as good at what you do as someone who specializes in one of classes you’ve decided to combine. Are you considering a combo between Urgthunk and MacGyver? The Urgthunk will always have a better bonus to hit while the MacGyver will always have a more skillful skillyness.
However, there are advantages to this practice. Otherwise, why would anyone do it? Take for example the combination of Urgthunk and Urg/Gyver classes (fighter/monk). Just one level of monk buys the fighter a couple of advantages. First, there’s no need to burn a feat for Improved Unarmed Combat. Second, it provides access to armor, weapons, skills and feats/class features which were previously inaccessible to either class. If the character is primarily a fighter, then we’re talking about access to Unarmed Strike, Flurry of Blows and Stunning Fist. Then there’s the opportunity to take three skill ranks in Escape Artist. For all of that, the fighter gives up +1 to BAB and maybe a feat. Doesn’t seem like too bad of a trade to me. Put that in reverse, and the monk acquires access to all martial weapons, a definite +1 to BAB, a feat, a better hit die, and access to light armor. That last might be a hindrance at later levels, but it could be an advantage for less experienced monks.
Conclusion (because this article is taking WAY too long)
A character isn’t just an extension of a player’s personality, but an extension of his or her imagination. Generalize too much, and the character runs the risk of being generally ineffective. Specialize too much, and the character becomes a one-trick pony who waits for the chance to do that one trick. In either case, think about what you want to do and how you want to do it. Do you really need an amalgam class to get the right results? Is it necessary to multiclass, or is it possible to get similar results from properly employing feats and buying magical items?
Spoken ex cathedra from the perineum of the West.