Character Workshop: Council of Thieves

Having jumped back into Play-by-Post as a writing/creativity enhancer, I’m on the paper chase for a couple of games. My goal is to keep things locked down to no more than two, ideally in different systems. I’m also keeping my applications along the way locked at two, meaning some games may fill up while I’m waiting for others to close the app process. The idea of needing to even wait for approval is surreal, but I’ve been away for a long time and have actively avoided just knocking on the doors of my traditional gaming partners and looking for a spot. Doing so would feel like Andy Cramed asking Cy to “get somethin’ goin’” in Deadwood; which is a scene I’ve had a wretched time finding a clip of! One game I have my eye on involves the Council of Thieves adventure path for Pathfinder. I think that I’ve looked into playing this before, but if so it would have been a long, long time ago. I never re-use characters, precisely, but I do have a basket of character concepts that I occasionally trot out when new tools are presented. In this case, I’m looking at running a new iteration of Mr. Downs, a character I created in conjunction with an old writing partner for the Realms of Evil forums.

I enjoy the incredible depth of the Pathfinder world, and in the case of this character I’m finding myself most taken by the Divs and the Kyton. I’ve never really looked at either race before, and I love what each of them offers. I appreciate the sheer bloody-minded spite of the Divs, their desire to tear down edifice. It’s not the mindless destruction that Demons fall to in so many campaign worlds. Instead, it’s something directed—the distinction between striking a wall with a pick versus the flat of a show shovel. The focus gives them a greater capacity for terror, if not outright efficacy. Their visuals aren’t constrained to just horns and veined wings, either. One of them just has a giant eye in the center of its face, surrounded by teeth.

As for the Kytons…wow. For a campaign set in—and rebelling against—Cheliax, I’m particularly excited to pursue the Kytons. I’ve done myself a terrible disservice by not looking into them sooner, though I know I looked into Zon-Kuthon before and am thus surprised the Kyton’s didn’t come up there. An entire Hellraiser/Slaanesh species of infernal beings hiding in the setting?! One that focuses on the whole concept of transcendence rather than getting bogged down in pierced nipples and bondage?! Amazing stuff.

They even managed a little Phantasm!

By aligning my character with the Kytons, I can create someone whose political and philosophical motivations are in direct opposition with the current Chelish school of “power at any cost,” while still proselytizing to a people who were willing to accept that approach.

Mechanically, all of the hybrid classes are new since the last time I built a Pathfinder character, and I love playing with new things. I’ve also yet to play a Summoner, which is a class concept I appreciate as someone who likes to play with a posse and loves customizing characters. I’m currently drawn to:

  • Skald: This is exactly the kind of Bard I like. Bards in every edition seem to have to leap at providing a more combat-capable option; one of my weekly players runs the “Battle College” 5e Bard variant, and typing that out feels like I’m describing either a Pokemon or some sort of collector’s item comic book. What I appreciate more about the Skald, though, is the vast reduction in bardic music options. I don’t find most of the bardic performance options fascinating or engaging, but know I’m “paying” for them in terms of other class abilities. That the Skald’s particular options are (mostly) useful is something I also appreciate. Song of Strength is the only one I see as a miss, but that’s fine. I love Pathfinder’s Rage Powers, too, and Skald would let me dip my toes into that pool; my Inquisitor/Barbarian took an archetype that kept the rage powers down the line in exchange for an animal companion. Also, I wrote him a fightin’ song in the style of a pirate shanty or labor protest’s rallying cry.
  • Brawler: Brawlers are also great. They manage to feel like a moderately tougher, less subtle Monk without skimping on the actual capacity to fight bare-handed. It’s that latter point that makes me question why anyone would ever select the Unarmed Fighter archetype for Fighters. That archetype has its DPS nerfed through the floor in exchange for some grappling options. I love grappling, so having an option focused on that is great. However, I think the title’s misleading given how ineffective the character would actually be in unarmed combat. Plus, the character can’t actually do much damage in a grapple without boosted unarmed strike damage, so you’re left holding someone down and stabbing them with a dagger. The Brawler, by contrast, gets in with his knees and his fists and his forehead. I appreciate the Martial Flexibility rule, which lets you swing into a fancy pose and adopt a combat feat (or multiple feats, at higher levels). The archetype I’ve been looking at, however, would swap that out for Alchemist Mutagens. I love the Mutagen power, and the one Alchemist I played had a heavily-modified version due to his archetype(s). I didn’t get any of the stat juice, and instead it made Ablaxus a better hunter. Given the character concept I’m looking at resurrecting, Mutagen is a great fit. If I do go Brawler, half-orc becomes a very appealing race due to the boosted unarmed damage favored class bonus, which leads to a two step jump every four levels. I also just plain like characters with low item-dependency, which Brawler provides.
  • Bloodrager: I want to love the Bloodrager more, but it feels like one of the kludgiest of classes. Barbarian and Sorcerer together is a unique combination, certainly, but I also find it a fairly counterintuitive one. Part of that are the stat demands; medium armor lets you skimp on Dex, but you’re still providing Str, Con, and Cha. You need the Str for melee, Con for health and to sustain your Bloodrage, and Cha for all your spell-related purposes. I suppose you could focus on Dex over Str and select a natural-weapon-granting Bloodline, then just use finesse. Still, the character I have in mind has significant strength, so that won’t work for me. Unlike most of the Hybrid classes, I feel that Bloodrager screams “I should just be multiclassed!” The late spell progression is a part of that; other classes get their spells late, but generally don’t have an ability from level one that specifically interacts with those spells. A Bloodrager, however, can cast spells during her rage. Instead of feeling like a value-add, then, Bloodrage feels neutered until you have spells to sling in it. Also, despite my enjoyment of Kytons and desire to align my character with them, I don’t think the Kyton bloodline fits my vision. It’s both too defensive and too reactive. I generally love getting a free armor bonus, which Armor of Chains provides. However, I would have preferred barbed claws to the Painful Strike at lvl 1. I don’t tend to put much faith in criticals (though my weekly players did just eat a string of them two weeks ago, with a low-level handful of bugbears critting maybe five times in a short fight). Like potions or wands, being crit-reliant makes me uncomfortable because it feels like leaving myself bereft of agency. The primary benefit I draw from the Bloodrager is the ability to have claws, which may not do any more damage than just Brawling, but have a more visceral visual appeal. Plus, they fit earlier iterations of this particular character concept. Even as I type that, though, I have to acknowledge that the BAB and hit points are also nice (though Brawler offers both), and this may be a case where my “taste” just isn’t aligning with something, but if I power through I’ll get what I want out of it. I also do like the Spelleater archetype, because I’m a sucker for innate and passive healing. The fact that the Spelleater can swap spells out for more heals (which a Circle of the Moon Druid can do in 5e, though I feel that capability get slept on) is also very nice.
  • Summoner: Finally, there’s the Summoner. I love the idea of Summoners, particularly being able to get my knuckles into a creature and build it so it fits my characters theme and mechanical needs. Plus, I love casting Summon Monster spells. Plus-Plus, the Synthesist provides most of the same options as the 3.x Psychic Warrior, which was the last way I built this particular character concept into a fully-fleshed tabletop (well, PbP) entity. I could get claws, ablative wounds, and even maintain the base character as a much more urbane, charming individual without being overtly physical. However, that last point is A- apparently why the Synthesist is banned in organized play; and B- not necessarily in the spirit of the character. I want him to be charming, yes, but also carry a bit of constant menace. There was always something quintessentially British (as viewed by this American) about the character; he’s very Lenny McLean from Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels.
    Mr. Downs Smiling
    Even smiling, dude is terrifying. RIP.

    Or Mr. Graves from Malifaux.

    Mr. Graves
    Not smiling, still scary. Love that the kit gives you the option for a hittin’ plank.

    Hell, his name is Mr. Downs, and I came up with that shit over a decade ago. So while I love a Summoner in concept, and would still really enjoy playing one, I don’t know that it’s the path for this. I could still stat it out, though, and see how resilient I could make the non-Eidolon portion of the character without feeling as though I’m wasting the points.

Typing all that out…helped without actually giving me any direction. I started to type “…leads me to think Bloodrager’s the best choice,” but when I composed the rest of that sentence in my head it led to a list of qualities that all of the classes provide. So now I’ll proffer another list! The things I want to get out of this character are:

  • Capacity for actively participating in intrigue, primarily through a few menacing suggestions and a canny appraisal of his marks. Many of my characters could be described this way. That’s because, frankly, it’s something I like and find engaging to play.
  • Physical prowess, particularly in an up-close sort of way. I’m not looking to make a character who swings an axe or *choke* hides behind a bow. I want to see him breaking bodies from inches away. Whether he does it with fists or claws isn’t necessarily critical, but see the next point.
  • Something about the character is morphic, particularly in a way that reveals a horrible inner truth. This links to the Kytons, but also works for Div or—as he was originally conceived—Slaad. I love having a smooth, featureless character who serves as a sort of lockbox for a bunch of bad things. This paired particularly well with Mr. Burns (just like Mr. Graves pairs with Mr. Tannen, but I swear we did this years ago) in that Burns was arguably more outwardly menacing, with sharp teeth and the like. Graves held the dark elements in but could seamlessly pop out some claws or grow fangs. That change appeals to me, and the prevalence of werewolves (Teen Wolf Season 5, Woo!) and even the tendency for vampires of the last 20 years to undergo physical alterations before feeding, suggests I’m not alone.
  • Extra-Normal toughness. This features into the above, obviously, but I’m not looking for Mr. Downs to necessarily extrude armor plates or scales. Instead, I like his skin just being impenetrable; the Terminator’s implacability without revealing the endoskeleton. I like the idea of him being rather goopy, all things considered, because the sheen of some sort of mucous against his pale skin and black suit—particularly if it never actually gets on the suit—is visually appealing.

That’s the big list. There are already two pre-accepted players for the campaign, one with a Summoner actually, and based on what they’re providing I’m not as concerned about creating a party-buffer or even a face. I’m focused, instead, on creating a character I’m excited to play and interested in watching develop. There’s also the “am proud enough of to submit” thing, but I always bring that to the table. Working this through in a blog post has helped organize my thoughts, at the least, plus I now have a great gallery of McLean photos to use for Mr. Downs’ various emotional states.

Mr. Downs Pointing
Believe it!

3 thoughts on “Character Workshop: Council of Thieves

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