Happy Friday, adventurers! Today’s edition of Tabletop Tuesday is a special one, brought to you by none other than Luna over at Gamers United. Luna and I are collaborating together as part of my Charming and Open community event, where each blogger asks the other a question and we share our answers as full-length blog posts. The concept of Charming and Open was actually inspired by a tabletop RPG, so it feels good to be talking tabletops in today’s event. Luna’s question to me was this:
“In a tabletop RPG, which character do you like playing the most (type and favorite character)?”
This is a fun question because while I figured an article about my favorite characters I have played is something I would have already written after three years of blogging, I somehow never got around to it. It’s an obvious gap in my portfolio and luckily Luna has given me the opportunity to fill it in. I chose to organize this post as a top five because I realized that once you discount one-shots, I’ve only played five original characters during my history with tabletops. I GM way more often than I play as a character, and each character I have played falls into a different category as far as character class/type. Since I’ve only played each type once, I can line up the characters I have played with the classes that the represent in a convenient fashion.
I’ll be counting down from my least favorite character I have played to my favorite. With each one I’ll include one or more of the visual references I used to inspire the character’s look, as well as sharing a bit of their backstory, a favorite moment from the campaign, and why I did (or didn’t) enjoy playing as that particular character class. We’ve got a lot to cover today, so let’s jump right in!
#5: DURANDARTE (WIZARD – DUNGEONS AND DRAGONS 3.5)
When I was in college, my regular RPG group had an extended universe for our tabletop campaigns. It began with the first ever game I played in, and then when I took up the reigns as the game master I started the trend of setting other campaigns in that same world. This world was an alternate history in which superpowered humans called “adepts” influenced the outcome of the first World War, and society had to learn how to deal with their continued presence after the war was over. The villain of this world in the first campaign that I ran was presidential candidate Robert M. La Follette, better known among my players by his supervillain alias, Durandarte.
Now we originally played these campaigns in the superhero RPG Mutants and Masterminds, but one semester a friend decided he wanted to return to his roots and run a D&D 3.5 campaign. His vision was to connect the campaign to our extended universe by creating a situation in which our characters were sucked into an alternate dimension by magical forces. I waffled back and forth on whether I wanted to use my player character from M&M, or one of the villains I had created. I ultimately settled on a villain and decided to transition Durandarte into the rules of D&D. This seemed like it would be an easy task because Durandarte’s superpowers were already based on wizardry, but it didn’t take long for me to learn why D&D is my least favorite tabletop I have ever played.
To be fair, I think a lot of the complaints I have about my D&D experience are limited to 3.5 – 5th edition has likely eliminated a lot of the archaic problems with older editions. But from character creation through to the end of the campaign, D&D struck me as a game that severely limits creative potential. Outside of his magical powers, Durandarte’s main jam was the ability to manipulate people – deception and persuasion were high skills for him in M&M, and I wanted that to transfer to D&D. The thing is, the wizard can’t have those as class skills, which meant that Durandarte would always be operating at a handicap when it came to social power. It felt frustrating to lose skills that were important to my vision of the character for arbitrarily-decided limitations on the character classes.
D&D continued to frustrate me as I started to actually play the game. When I picture a wizard, I imagine a glass cannon, a frail but powerful combatant whose magical blasts deal serious damage to opponents. But the way the spell mechanisms worked, I had to successfully pass a number of dice tests in order to cast a spell effectively. If I didn’t miss the spellcasting roll, I’d roll low on damage – Durandarte constantly felt useless to the party because his spells had to get through multiple waves of RNG to be effective. And whether or not a spell was successful, it was gone until I could rest – this led me to spend most sessions in the background, unable to contribute to combat due to poor spells and useless in social situations because of pointless skill limitations.
Of the five types of character I have played, wizards have easily been my least favorite because of this experience. Magical characters should feel potent, but my experience with a D&D wizard was the exact opposite. Durandarte, a character who in our other campaigns could accomplish anything he could imagine with his ritual spells, was reduced to a doddering old man who almost never successfully contributed to the action of the game.
Unfortunately because I wasn’t having fun with the character, I don’t have many fond memories of this campaign. I do remember one session where I actually managed to cast some spells successfully – there was an archery competition and two of our party members were competing against each other. I don’t remember the exact circumstances but in character, Durandarte wanted the underdog of the two to win the contest. I was able to use a couple of incidental spells to change the wind direction, move the targets, and adjust the circumstances so that the character with the cruddiest archery bonus actually managed to win the contest. It was a fun moment of laughs – and the last time Durandarte accomplished anything during the whole campaign.
#4: ALEC (FIGHTER – POKEMON TABLETOP ADVENTURES)
The Pokemon tabletop games are an interesting phenomenon – they often emphasize you as the trainer just as much as the Pokemon you’re training, which is a bit different from the expectations laid out by the games. In my case, I played an Ace Trainer, a character with a focus on training Pokemon that ultimately manifests kind of like a fighter in more traditional fantasy RPGs – you level up faster and get better stat bonuses, so your Pokemon are more combat-focused.
Alec was an ace trainer who dreamed of becoming the leader of his very own bug-type gym. Like the bug catcher trainer class in the Pokemon games, he only trained bug-type Pokemon, with his starter being a Spinarak that had been trained at the police academy in Catellia City. Spinarak turned out to be a pretty terrible starter choice, but once I started getting more capable bug Pokemon into my party Alec’s warrior ways became more effective.
The fighter class is a fun one to play if you’re into the combat scenes of an RPG and nothing else. Most games that have a character class that’s great at combat don’t give that class any secondary skills for social situations, investigating, or other significant activities. I certainly don’t remember Alec having the ability to do anything other than give his Pokemon orders to make them stronger, and it kept me kind of disengaged when we were roleplaying other scenes. Most of my contributions were jokes rather than meaningful actions.
Perhaps because of this, I’m having a difficult time recalling a favorite moment from this campaign. As I think more about it, I actually think I missed the final session of this game – I had a scheduling conflict that we simply could not get around, and scheduling the game so that I could come would have knocked even more people out of the finale. I guess that’s why this character fits at number four – not bad enough to have significant negative memories, but not good enough to have positive ones either!
#3: GUISCARD (SUPPORT – STAR WARS RPG)
Before Fantasy Flight Games released their Star Wars tabletop, another game existed which attempted to bring the film franchise to the RPG realm. Based heavily on D&D and influenced by Knights of the Old Republic, this game was my first entry into sci-fi roleplaying and the second campaign I ever played in. I decided to make a character very different from the first character I had ever played, moving away from a solo character with competent combat abilities to a team player focused on support. I didn’t want to create a typical Jedi healer, though – instead, I envisioned a character whose tactical prowess gave the party advantages and who could heal via vast scientific knowledge of medicine. Thus, Guiscard was born.
An old man among the Ithorian people, Guiscard was a decorated tactician for the republic military and had years of study under his belt. A veteran of the Mandalorian wars, Guiscard had two close comrades from the war still alive out there in the world, as well as a wife and child. This was another intentional choice – rather than the strategy of having no one living for my character to care about to avoid the GM messing with them, I wanted him to have as many people as possible to give Guiscard a hard time.
I enjoyed playing a support role as it gave me lots of different options no matter what situation I was in. This is a theme you’ll see throughout the rest of this list – I love to play characters who have versatile options. Guiscard had terrible physical stats but all of his mental abilities were through the roof, which made him excellent at social challenges, investigation, and providing various utility services like knowledge checks and healing. There was almost never a session where I felt like I wasn’t contributing to the game or that my actions didn’t matter. By playing a support character for the team, I’d made myself an integral part of why that team worked effectively.
I have lots of fond memories of playing Guiscard, whether it was starting every story with “back in the Mandolorian Wars” or the time I rolled a nat 20 to win a pie eating contest with my garbage Constitution stat. But easily the best memory of this campaign is the story of Axxila, an enemy base which our party thoroughly sabotaged. We reprogrammed their droids, poisoned their food and medicine, replaced all of their tactical manuals with poor advice, and tampered with their weapons and armor. So complete was our subtle undermining of Axxila’s military that they appeared in future sessions from time to time. Whenever the GM fumbled and the bad guys shot each other or their ammunition storage accidentally exploded and ruined the other supplies, we’d all laugh and say “guess those guys were from Axxila!”
#2: PASCAL (RANGER – DUNGEON WORLD)
A year or so ago, something quite special happened – I got to play Dungeon World as a player for the first time. I’d been the GM for three campaigns at that point in time, but I had never had the opportunity to experience the game from the player side. I was quite excited to finally try my hand at the game, and I decided that I wanted to experiment with a class that has always interested me but I’d never had the opportunity to play: the ranger. My vision for the character was a female archer whose animal companion was actually a magical creature, and I worked with my GM to find strength tags which justified the abilities that I wanted. Pascal the ranger and her blink dog companion Splice quickly jumped towards the top of my favorite character list.
In a world where gods and guilds reigned supreme, Pascal was guild-less and godless. She lived a humble existence by the woods where she helped local villagers to have safe travels from place to place. However, as a wicked prince executed a terrible coup, she realized she had to get involved to protect the innocent people of the realm from a greater threat than wild beasts. War changed Pascal, though – while she began her journey seeking to never take a human life, by the end she had learned the unfortunate necessity of killing on the battlefield. Her naive optimism had been replaced by a harsh practicality born from strife.
Of course, you can’t talk about a ranger without addressing the animal companion. Splice the blink dog was a fun element of the game to roleplay. We wrote some of my bonds as being bonds between Splice and other party members. Our fighter, for example, always seemed to get positive attention from Splice, so Pascal was a little more willing to trust him since her dog thought so highly of him. Since Splice’s visual displacement ability essentially worked as camouflage, I would often send him to do small tasks on stealth missions such as carrying a message to the other members of the party.
Playing as a ranger was a blast. I stated with Guiscard that a big part of the appeal of a support character was versatility – rangers have versatility in droves. Pascal could sneak by enemies with her stealthy movements and natural camouflage, then knock them out with a well-placed arrow. Her high wisdom and the help of Splice made it so that she could effectively never fail a Discern Realities check, making her the perfect character to investigate an unfamiliar area. A common strategy for me was to move to high ground, check out the area for advantages, and then use the forward from Discern Realities to use those advantages against our opposition.
One thing I love about Dungeon World is the way in which its broad moves allow for so many clever actions in combat. In most RPGs I have played, combat actions are limited to specifically-defined moves that often get boring and lack the ingenuity of a desperate combatant. With Pascal I got to try all kinds of crazy techniques that wouldn’t have any mechanical effect in other games. This was no clearer than during the final boss battle, during which I tied a rope to an arrow, fired it into the villain’s chest, and then jumped off the balcony to drag him off of the building. Thanks to Splice, I had a safe way back up and took no harm, but the villain had to burn through one of his multiple forms to recover from the attack.
Pascal was a blast to play and I loved the different options given to me by the ranger class. But although I loved the feeling of firing arrows into bad guys from stealthy hiding places, there’s still one character that even better captured the kind of combat prowess I wanted in a tabletop game while still having the versatility to be helpful in out-of-combat scenarios too. That character, the one that is still most special to me after all of these years, is the first one that I ever created.
#1: TRUEBLADE (ASSASSIN – MUTANTS AND MASTERMINDS)
As a teenager and young adult, I was fascinated with the idea of tabletop RPGs. I wanted nothing more than to find a group of friends to play D&D with, but none of the folks I hung out with were interested in exploring that kind of game. My time finally came during my junior year of college, when my roommate invited me to join in a Mutants and Masterminds campaign that another friend was organizing. As everyone around the table discussed their characters, I listened to the kinds of superheroes that the other players were creating. All of them had fantastic powers, and with so many powers already grabbed I wasn’t sure what kind of character to make for myself. I decided to take the protagonist for a novel I had written a couple years before – my first ever OC – and reinterpret him for a modern superhero setting rather than a medieval fantasy one. Thus, Trueblade was reborn as a tabletop RPG hero.
This character fell into all of the traps of a typical RPG newcomer – tragic backstory, dead parents, edgy loner personality, the works. I wanted to tell a redemption story about a character who started out intolerable and changed his ways over the course of the campaign to be a better person (although still probably not a guy you’d want to grab drinks with). Because everyone else in the game had superpowers, I very specifically chose not to and designed a character with all of the power points invested into stats and skills. The result of this is that my character was actually quite powerful, with lots of valuable skills to contribute to the game.
I describe Trueblade as an assassin because he kind of fills the rolls of both a fighter and a rogue. While he couldn’t break stuff with his bare hands or power lift a car, in combat he was dealing just as much damage as anybody with super strength. Outside of battle, he could execute stealth missions, pick locks, eavesdrop, investigate crime scenes, operate vehicles – there was never a situation where I didn’t have something to do. Thief characters seem to operate this way in every tabletop I have played; as the sole utility class in the game, thieves have tons of skills that are considered to be absolutely necessary, and you’re rarely bored as a result. Add to that the satisfaction of getting off a successful sneak attack for maximum damage, and you’ve got a character type that delivers on every possible type of fun you might want to have during a campaign.
My favorite aspect of Trueblade in particular compared to other thief types was how Mutants and Masterminds allowed me to design him hook swords to utilize in combat. After first seeing hook swords in Avatar: The Last Airbender, they’ve been my favorites. Remember my love for versatility? These swords aren’t just lethal weapons – they can be used to trip opponents, snap their weapons, steal their stuff, or to swing on objects in the environment. This allowed me to describe Trueblade as constantly in motion during battle; swinging on lampposts to kick enemies aside, scooping someone up with the hooks and throwing them into their ally, and tricking enemies into attacking each other with his deft movements.
It was this that led to my favorite Trueblade moment, a battle in which a boss that we weren’t supposed to be able to defeat managed to mind control the entire party except for me. Rather than try to defeat my allies, I used Trueblade’s mobility to maneuver them into the boss, carefully dodging attacks to preserve myself while the other players flailed wildly at me. The boss finally got fed up and just mind-nuked all of us, but the fight leading up to that moment was a lot of fun and gave me a great chance to show off Trueblade’s speed and skill. It was in this moment that the assassin archetype – a character with a thief’s skills and a fighter’s combat prowess – became cemented as my favorite character to play.
So there you have it adventurers, my top five character types and the characters that made me love them (or not!). Now that you’ve read my post, I fully recommend that you head over to Gamers United and read Luna’s answer to my question as well as giving her a follow if you haven’t before. Luna is a strong writer who covers lots of topics on her blog, not just video games. She’s done some cool community projects and 30 day challenges, and her funny portrayals of established gaming personalities are so much fun to read. So go and check out her post and then stay to visit all of the cool things happening at Gamers United!