While I strive to play the game as close to core as I can, one of my greatest pleasures is pushing the boundaries of what was intended. One of the best ways to do this is, again, through alignment.
You take a character or NPC which is normally always associated with one idea, and you reverse it. This is a common tool which writers use in an attempt to freshen up and revitalize old ideas, and it works! Well, sometimes it works, nothing is fool-proof.
Lets take a Necromancer, as an example. When you think of necromancer you always think of a old man with a beard who is chaotic evil and 20th level. They live in black castles out in the middle of noplace and . . . well, do I really need to go on? I’m sure that everybody gets the idea. There is nothing wrong with this description! Things should be as one expects them to be, that is a good formula and players absolutely love the scenario! It is fun! But what about this, instead of an old man, we’ll make him a young man, and instead of 20th level, we’ll make him 1st or 2nd level; and instead of him being Chaotic Evil, we’ll make this specialist Chaotic Good.
The boy dresses in black, he is extremely focused, his family was slain by an evil Necromancer and he plans on taking the evil-doers powers and using them against him. He constantly fights evil, choosing to fight fire with fire. If he can resist the ever-present draw of evil, he will grow to be one of the most powerful forces of good in the world. We can either create this guy as a PC or keep him as an NPC. The problem with him is that at low levels he is extremely weak, he is more of a liability to a party then a benefit. I think that I would keep him an NPC that travels with the party, agreeing to aid them if he can, and instead of them paying him, he’ll pay them. He’ll seek knowledge and experience, he is a minor character who will, hopefully, if he is protected, turn into a major one.
The Con of having him in your party is that you must keep him alive and protect him. The Benefit is that he’s smart, he knows much of the occult and you can use him to pass along myths and legends which the party wouldn’t normally be privy too. He’ll also have access to institutions of higher learning, and be seen as an authority figure on the subject. He is a specialist in all things undead. He will be opinionated, and it is his opinions which will bring the party into trouble from time to time as the wrong people will use his opinions to hide themselves, aiming him at the wrong target which he will attack with zeal only to find out that he has been tricked and maybe he done the wrong thing. He is walking a thin line, a line of evil and his judgment will be foggy at times because of this.
He won’t raise his own dead, he knows that this is wrong, but he will steal the undead from others and then use them until he feels that it is time to return them to their graves. The trick here, is of course to keep the game in balance, from time to time he can fuel an adventure, but we don’t want to turn the game on him, it should be more about the PCs then some NPC and we don’t want to put too much value in him early on, because if he dies then it shouldn’t be that big of a deal. This is a risky campaign idea that in the hands of a weak DM can easily turn into a Railroading situation where the DM will take over the game with his own PC which takes all of the glory. I know that it sounds like I’m making this guy out to be a hero character of the DM but I’m not. This character is essentially broken, it can take a party places where they normally wouldn’t go because they have more common sense then that. A Necromancer is pretty pointless until 6th level, then he can start doing some damage, but until that time he must be babied which I don’t think would be much fun for a full time PC.
Another thing that I like to do is remind folks that not all monsters are monstrous. Well, some are, but sometimes I’ll throw in a curveball. A horde of goblins is seen outside of town, and the public officials want these things killed. The trick is that even low level adventurers can easily wipe them out, they are pacifists who have been banished from the goblin kingdom for weakness. They just want to be left alone and the real goal of the adventure is to see how long it takes before the party figures it out. Then they have to relocate the goblins to a place where they will do some good, perhaps they have a magic item which they worship, and believe that their job is to cultivate a forest (which farmers wouldn’t like) in another part of the area lays a dead ranger, killed by a troll invasion and the forest has darkened and is dying. The trolls must be exterminated and the goblins moved in to restore the balance as the forest guardians.
Of course the trick to this type of adventure is to avoid being to preachy, whatever happens happens, right? But someday down the road perhaps the goblins will form their own little community which can spawn further adventures, and perhaps become a testing ground to see if this new race would make a good stock for PC characters to come from.
I think that that is my beef with the Humanoids Handbook, none of that stuff is play tested well, and dropping the wrong creature into a campaign can destroy it quickly. I believe in slow experimentation. When introducing a new race or class I think that it should be eased in, and I let the PC playing it know that I can pull it back out at any time. I also try to make the PCs as responsible for the world as possible. If the players play this scenario successfully, then they can earn the right to create Goblin characters, but if they fail at the goal, then this goblin stock will be lost forever. I don’t see why anyone would just drop something into their campaign for the hell of it! I have played by share of humanoid creatures, the most powerful being a Wolfwere, but the difficulty of the game was equal to the power. The DM also trusted me not to destroy the game with it, I was hiding in a human setting, and if I were to be discovered for what I really was I’d be killed. It takes the right kind of player to playtest a new race, preferably one who is interested in roleplaying and has experience DMing so that he knows how to be agreeable and not take this advantage to try and beat the system.
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