In the previous post, I introduced the new campaign, Wander-Lost, being run for my regular RPG group. We play bi-weekly and fill the intermediate time with play-by-post and Slack chats.1 This will be only my second campaign as a player in this group and I’m hoping to play a lot better than I did in Mars 2076. So, today, I’ll introduce my new character, Chase Starryeyes.
For me, making a character is a careful balance between mechanics and role-playing. To enjoy a character, I need to be active and engaged in the story and the system. Mechanically, I tend to play either a gish, a rogue, or a mage.2 I really like versatility in mechanics, being able to contribute in multiple phases of the game. As the other players announced their intentions, I started off thinking about playing an Eldritch Knight, filling the melee tank role.
But then inspiration struck. A few years ago while playtesting D&D Next, one of the NPCs I introduced was a Halfling professor named Curiosity Bounceback who kept getting her assistants killed during her expeditions. I seized on the idea of a lucky and prepared Halfling who would always wonder why her traveling companions couldn’t keep up. With the core of a concept and some mechanics I wanted to target, a Battle Master/Swashbuckler build started to form. And then another bolt of inspiration, she would ride a mastiff into battle, use a whip to trip opponents and then fire her hand crossbow into their prone faces.3
With this in mind, the character’s history started to come into focus. She was a young professor at the nearby arcane college. But I needed to pull her into Oakheart and give her a few strong ties to the town. First up, her immediate family was there and they were dog breeders! This would give a good story reason for her mastiff companions, and why there would be a nearly unlimited stock available in case any of them died in the wilderness. Family is a great anchor but she was a successful professor in another city. What made her move to Oakheart?
A discovery in her field! Well, in her field of study but in her family’s fields. They found some sort of artifact and she relocated to study it and search for more. As an explorer, archaeology and history seem appropriate, but I wanted her to be a bit more focused. There’s the blight and the elves! In the Player’s Handbook there’s a small blurb on Halflings and how they view elves.
They’re so beautiful! Their faces, their music, their grace and all. It’s like they stepped out of a wonderful dream. But there’s no telling what’s going on behind their smiling faces— surely more than they ever let on.
So, elves and the blight. Perhaps the Elves know something about the cause? And then the idea of an academic rival formed. Chase would love the Elves, and so her rival would espouse that the Elves not only knew what caused the blight, but that the Elves were the perpetrators. So what did her family find in their fields, a mostly unintelligible text, likely an old journal in Elven. With her background settled, it was time to return to the mechanics of the character.
And this is where the frustration began. A Halfling riding a mastiff into battle is a rather evocative image. But Fifth Edition just doesn’t really support mounted combat. There is a single page of rules and a single feat. Only one class, the Ranger, has actual support for an animal companion. The Paladin has a spell, Find Steed, but the resulting mount isn’t particularly enhanced for combat, though it is at least re-summonable. Both of those options are viable, if not solid. But I’m already playing a Paladin regularly, and two of the other players are playing Rangers covering both types, Beast Master and Hunter.4
Nicole, our lovely DM, and I went back and forth for two weeks trying to find an acceptable compromise. In the end, we failed and I conceded the mastiffs.5 When I envision this character, she is an archaeologist, explorer and professor. The mastiffs were an interesting mechanic and provided additional characterization, but they did not make or break the character. With the mastiffs gone, I ended up moving back to an Eldritch Knight and Swashbuckler build. Like always, I build the class mix out to level 20 despite the very high probability that the campaign or the character won’t make it that high. She’s slated to be an Eldritch Knight 11/Swashbuckler 7, which leaves a couple levels to flex. Going deeper into EK I can get 3rd level spells. Deeper into Swashbuckler nabs a taunt like feature. Or with 13+ in Dex, Con, and Cha, I could flex out to a bunch of different classes. There’s that flexibility and versatility again.
Chase is not the only character going out into the wilderness, the rest of her companions are:
Our play-by-post threads are mostly conversational. I think we’ve only had a single thread that involved system mechanics.↩
Other than Chase, I’m playing Stefan (Rogue/Paladin) and Casavel (Wizard Bladesinger).↩
A Halfling on dog-back is very much inspired by the Eberron Halflings that ride dinosaurs across the Talenta Plains.↩
And then Wizards released an updated playtest Ranger which looks much better on the surface.↩
One day I’ll play a Halfling on the back of a mastiff. Future DMs beware.↩