Friday, 25 January 2013

Kalgar Drakeswynd: Fleshing out his character...

Dallas Kasaboski

What started out as a one-shot session for a friend's birthday, has now turned into a campaign, with regularly scheduled sessions and everything. Since then, we have not only learned more about the campaign and the setting, but about our characters as well.

From last time, I talked about our party of three players. Alvyn the Wizard, Tong the Monk, and Kalgar the Paladin. I used the players' names last time; these are the character's names. So far, the story has been rich, focused, and magnificent. Even if I didn't know the DM very well, it would be very clear how much depth of detail and history has been put into this campaign. This is a DM, and a world, ready to be challenged, and ready to challenge us with secrets and intrigue.

As we've been playing, all three players have been working on their characters, of course. Since I haven't had much of a chance to converse with them directly about it, and since they could possibly write an article themselves (hint hint), I will talk about my character, Kalgar Drakeswynd, the Paladin.

I mentioned before that the first theme upon which I built this character was in doing something different. I played a sword and board Fighter for 2 years and would like to claim to be an expert on the class. At the very least, I know every feat and power a Fighter could take between levels 1-16 and have ample experience setting the tone and flavouring my actions for such a character. So, I wanted to do something different, still a defender but different. As you may recall, I ended up going with a Dragonborn Paladin, who wields a khopesh, a boarding axe, and occasionally a javelin.

Upon reading the history of the world, the idea of playing a sea-faring Paladin really stuck with me. It was new, it was exciting, and yes, it was different. I thought how neat would it be to play someone whose devotion has been instilled from an early age. Where Church and State were one, as it were.

I didn't really make up too much of a backstory, simply that I had been raised on ships, and had spent my whole life living, fighting, and working for the navy of the country of Aes. Since the main adventuring party consisted of members of a secret society called the Doomguard, who tried to keep the world's weapons of mass destruction in check, the DM and I thought that a fitting way to fit into the game would be that upon witnessing such a weapon, I began to doubt my own people. One night, as Alvyn sneaked aboard the ship to steal said weapon, I decided to join him.

So, we have the themes of abandonment, moral ambiguity, the virtue of power/strength, lots to deal with. This is good. This is how I work, by having a backstory which gets me to the present, and by having themes upon which to draw out the emotions and motives of my character, I can get into the mindset of my character.

The last session we had was interesting, but didn't offer a lot in terms of character development. To be honest, I'm glad, as I had hit a bit of a roadblock. Something was missing, something wasn't fitting right. Knowing that it was still early, I focused on the task at hand and still had an awesome time. After escaping the labyrinth, which you can now read about and download from here, we were asked to seek out and stop a young white dragon which had been terrorizing villages elsewhere in the country. We knew also that the dragon was being followed by a zealot group of kobold cultists so we spent the session learning more and warning a village of the kobolds' arrival.

After the session, a couple of things were made clear to me. The first is that I had to learn how to take a hit better, or rather, how to not almost die every encounter. The second, was that I had no real depth to my character yet and anytime I felt the need to add flavour or depth, I was coming up empty.

Well, neither would do. I mean, yes, I took almost every attack of our last encounter, our Monk only being attacked as he provoked opportunity attacks and our Wizard being attacked once, maybe twice, but I almost dropped unconscious. Now, this doesn't sound like too big of a deal; I was doing my job as defender and unconsciousness isn't death, after all. Except that we have no leader and except for a single healing potion in the Wizard's pocket, and our Second Winds, I have the only method of healing in the party, with my Lay on Hands.

One thing I kept the same with this defender was make him a healing defender. My last defender, Mark the Fighter, had many ways he could heal other characters, including two magic items and a magical suit of armour which could remove conditions from players. So, since I have most of the healing, if I drop, it's a bigger deal than normal.

Now, one problem I have is that I refuse to give my character plate mail and I refuse to give him a shield. If I give him a shield, old habits will kick in and that won't be fair to my other character, or this one. Plus, it doesn't make any sense that my character would be wielding a big heavy shield OR plate mail because he was raised on ships. You wear plate mail, you drown, end of story. So, there's a self-imposed -3 to my AC, as in my AC is 3 points lower than it could be. That sucks.

So, I looked at feats, and I looked at equipment. I'm still working on this, but I've decided to take a feat (once I can get one), to allow me to have proficiency with a parrying dagger. I've been enjoying the image of Kalgar having a khopesh in one hand and a boarding axe in the other, so I will flavour the parrying dagger, which gives me a +1 to AC for wearing it, and just say it's my boarding axe. Sure, it would reduce its damage, but that's not a big deal. As we level up, I'm going to be looking for other options, powers, utility powers, and feats to help, but I like sacrificing power-gaming for character development as long as I can justify it and as long as I don't reduce my character's effectiveness too much.

The next thing I'm looking to do is to use my Divine Challenge and Divine Sanction more intelligently. I had used them a few times and they did a very good job of engaging the enemy, and drawing their attention to me, but they worked too well in that regard. As for the damage which an enemy would get from failing to attack me, well, I have only had the privilege of dealing that out once. I realized that I need to work on that, perhaps engage enemies from a distance, so as to use and deal that damage. The best defense is a good offense, it is said. This works out well as I had already chosen javelins as a range weapon, and they are heavy thrown so I don't need to worry about having a good Dexterity modifier. So, now, I'll just have to learn to divinely challenge some foes from a distance, and have the Monk distract them. We'll see how it works out.

The next thing I needed to do was flesh out more ideas concerning my character's goals and motivations. D&D is an ever-growing experience, which forces us to adapt and build, but if we don't have a solid foundation, it's hard to be consistent. Who was my character? What did he want? What did he not want? How would he feel about certain situations?

To answer these questions, I looked at three places specifically: the section of the Player's Handbook which describes Paladins, the section which describes gods (specifically Kord, god of Storms and Battle), and The Art of War.

The first two references were obvious. I needed to know more about a Paladin's role and I needed to know more about Kord. After a lot of thought, I decided that my character's knowledge and appreciation of Kord comes mostly from the training he received in the navy. I thought that while everything would be done in Kord's name, really it was for the State that things were done. In this way, the people of Aes, especially the military, are more devoted and almost all like paladins in their own way. I worked it out with the DM that my character had started noticing some differences between theory and practice, and that some of the actions taken by the military went too far.

How did I judge what was too far? Well, I really had to look into Kord's teachings. The Player's Handbook specifically describes the teachings of Kord to boil down to: bravery, glory, strength, and battle above all else. Kord appreciates battle and believes it is the only place we can really know, challenge, and grow. Sometimes, He is good, sometimes, He is bad, but really, the love of battle is what drives Him.

So, he's a Klingon, I got it. Fair enough.

One thing made clear is that strength is praised but it is not to be used for wanton destruction. I decided that this was the line that Kalgar's people had started to cross. With the use of super-weapons, the Aesian navy would be able to win battles before the enemy had even known there was one. An interesting twist is that I'm choosing to focus Kalgar's attention to the fairness and virtue of battle itself, not to the morality of killing. Kalgar grew up in the military; he sees dying as a part of life. As such, I thought an interesting perspective on this is that Kalgar questioned his homeland's use of these weapons not because they would kill a lot of innocent people, but more so because the fight would not pit strength against strength and thus would be hollow. A one-sided battle proves nothing, and doesn't allow one to grow, as Kord might believe.

To further build upon this, I reread The Art of War, to see if there were any lessons to be pulled from there. In the end, I wrote up a set of beliefs and tactics held to the utmost degree by Kalgar. These beliefs are the core of his being and his reasoning for abandoning his old life, for living his current life, and for any actions/choices to be made.

I have included Kalgar's history and tenets but essentially, it comes down to this simple statement: Strength must be checked, and Weakness is its own punishment.

Took me a while to come up with that, and I must say that I am proud of the depth of it. The way I will be playing it, and the way Kalgar sees it, is that his goal in life is to grow, to challenge himself, to expand his own limits. To do so, he will engage in battle. At the same time, strength must be challenged, checked, pitted against equal and opposing strength or else it will be used for mindless destruction. Plus, if one's strength is never tested, it is never confirmed. Finally, by saying that weakness is its own punishment, it puts a moral edge to things and means that Kalgar's actions will consider others in a way slightly different than a typical hero. He chooses to be with the Doomguard, and to fight the dragon, not because lives are at stake, but because he must test his own limits by fighting the dragon, because the dragon must meet a real challenge so the real victor can continue to  work in Kord's name, and Kalgar must act as a representative, fighting for the weak because they are unable to.

So now that I have this core, I can build from there. I am looking forward to growing as the story unfolds, and to learning to be comfortable enough to add embellishments over time. Because Kalgar lives for battle, he will be most present, most alive, in combat. As such, I think I'll have him be vocal, challenging opponents, not resorting to stealth, and chastising enemies on their technique or even praising it if it's good. While Tong is playing a bit mysteriously, (his sordid past is not exactly known to the other characters), and Alvyn is a stealthy gnome Wizard, Kalgar prefers to fight in the open, with a Malcolm Reynolds kind of attitude. Kalgar's approach to things is a lot more open than Tong's and especially Alvyn's, but after giving it a lot of thought, I think Kalgar won't be as opposed to stealthy courses of action, he'll just prefer being the one in the open. Which, I'm sure, the stealthy characters will be able to use to their advantage.

I'm looking forward to out next adventure together, and let's hope I don't fall unconscious in the middle of the fight this time!

Thanks for reading!

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