Monday, April 4, 2011

Building the Barbarian: Creating Complete Characters #1

Good evening, fellow gamers. Today is the day that Complete Characters finally comes back into view. It's an exciting day for me, as it always is when some of my work makes its way to the public. Briefly, what this retooling means is that the previous incarnation, with its full character description, custom illustration, and systemless stats, now includes stats for the d20 system. Not one set of stats, mind you, but three sets of stats, plus the full descriptions of the various Feats, Class Feats, Talents, Equipment, etc.

You'll get one updated Complete Character every day this week, totally for free, so be sure to go check it out. But before you do that, read on for some discussion into how this first character was created, and what decisions were made along the way. Can't wait, you can download Complete Characters #1: Hlifsteinn, Barbarian Witch-Hunter for free, right now.

So, continue below the fold for all there is to know about Hlifsteinn, the barbarian witch-hunter.

Getting real

I think we all like a good barbarian on some level, in the same way that we enjoy a good ninja or a pirate. They're these unique sorts of characters that are both fantastical and historical. When writing up this leader from the North, I wanted to do more than draw up a berserking kill-machine with anger issues. We've seen that before. Plus, as is so often the case, the truth behind such larger-than-life characters is always cooler than the fiction.

You see, the ancient cultures that we generalize as "barbarians" today were actually very complex and, in many ways, very advanced. That's too much to get into in a simple NPC, but it can be set with the tone. Hlifsteinn is a family man and tradesman. His tools, weapons, and armor are primitive, only including steel when such items can be traded for or taken by force. When things get tough, raiding increasingly supplements farming to support his family. Several generations of kin, ranging out to distant cousins and those included by marriage or old friendships, rely on one another in a clan society, and constantly compete with other family clans for the best land and resources, often coming to violence.

Religion, which in this usage is little more than assembled superstitions and mythologies, also plays a big role in the life of a barbarian. For the purposes of this character, that's where we encounter the fantastic elements wrapped up in all of this verisimilitude.

The struggle

A character that is completely "real" is not usually the most fun to play, so in writing Hlifsteinn I chose the element of religion to be the home for the fantastic within the Complete Character. While most of his worries are of this world, Hlifsteinn is also tied into a world of darkness and fear. For his people, the greatest threat isn't clan war or famine, but the influence of The Demon. This dark, nameless god torments the people of the North through his favored servants, the witches. By offering world wealth, strength, or power, The Demon tempts people of the North (both men and women) into his service, then uses them to spoil wells, burn crops, murder the faithful, and generally sow the seeds of evil.

Hlifsteinn leads a unique group of men, pulled from across all clans of the North. Called the Drepavandr, these warriors are consecrated by their people and trusted to seek out and destroy the witches that seek to undermine their daily lives. Witchcraft is a very real threat to these people, so there is no higher honor than to be called to police against their influence.

The stats

Hlifsteinn's basic class was easy enough to choose, seeing as he's a barbarian. However, I really didn't think that the stereotypical berserker was right for him. So, I removed the Class Feat of Rage and replaced it with the Ranger's Favored Enemy, selecting Witches, of course. I feel like this works well, not just for this character, but for this take on the normal D&D Barbarians as well.

Otherwise, he sees most of the sorts of Feats and Class Feats typical to the normal 3.5 Barbarian, plus skills that reflect both his fearsome and intimidating manner as well as his skill as a tradesman.

From Hlifsteinn's basic stats, it wouldn't be any big deal to generate the other members of the Drepavandr from their brief descriptions, given as Extras in the writeup. If anyone were to do that, I'd be curious how it turned out.

In conclusion

One down! Check back tomorrow for the newly updated cape-killing vigilante, Helot. In the meantime, go download Complete Characters #1: Hlifsteinn, Barbarian Witch-Hunter right now, for free at


A.L. said...

You have a flair for the story here. Have you ever considered going full bore at a novel?

Jason Richards said...

Like so many writers, I have a couple of half-started novels on my hard drive. :)

I do have one in particular that I'm definitely going to work up. It might just be a novella... I'm not sure how much is there, but it's something I'll tackle when I can clear my plate a little.

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