Iconics (Part 3)

In the past couple of posts, I’ve introduced you to Ez Shadowalker, the iconic rogue, and the Doomhammer sisters: Brumtha, the iconic warrior, and Doma, the iconic runepriest. Well that is three of the core four classes. So this week, we are going to meet the iconic wizard—Geldon Brightbow.

So, when I first started the sketch out the iconics, it all started with a chart. I had four core classes (priest, rogue, warrior, and wizard) and four core people (elves, dwarves, halflings, and humans). At the same time I knew I would need six iconics for convention play. I would have to double up on both classes and people. The one thing I knew, is that I would not double up on the halfling or the wizard. I don’t have anything against smaller races. I adore hobbits…er, I mean halflings…and gnomes, was totally flummoxed when my bosses decided that gnome was not going to be a playable race in D&D 4e and it was better to refocus them as monsters (even making a cartoon and a t-shirts to laud that change). They, of course, gnomes appeared later as a playable race. Short heroes are fun. They are often either comic relief or incarnations of the everyman. And its fun when they go against those tropes. Bad-ass halfling paladins are cool. Gnome barbarians are all sorts of chaos. But centered early on the dwarven sisters, and I knew I wanted two humans, so halflings and elves where my one-shot. At the same time, I think most parties have one wizard. There are exceptions, I know. Don’t feel like you have to prove me wrong by telling me your campaign story, but iconically, most parties have one wizard. It’s reinforced in fantasy literature, and there is something about the role that is typically one and done. Ez was my first iconic, I wanted to go with traditional roles for the dwarves, so warrior and priest were covered, so either the elf, halfling, or the second human iconic was going to be a wizard.

While admittedly entertaining to some degree, I do have to admit that the thought behind this 4e video really irritated me.

Elf was tempting. Elf seemed to be the obvious answer. I didn’t want it to be the elf. I wanted it to be more fun. Elven wizards always strike me as stuffy. That’s why I went for the halfling.

So let me talk a little bit into my thoughts on race/ancestry/people in games. Holy shit, there has been a lot of weirdness over the years. First races were classes, then races were people with strict rules on what classes they could take, then we wised up and opened that shit up. I have been in more meetings where someone uttered “no one every plays that race” or “that race is terrible” when we all knew for a fact that people do play a character of that race and have a great time doing it. In my mind, the more kinds of people you can play the better.

I noticed that Wizards of the Coast recently has decided to get rid of negative ability score modifiers for race/ancestries/people in the game, and I think that’s a strong move. I argued for something similar in Pathfinder Second Edition, and have done away with it in Delve. When picking the person you want to play, even if that person is of a different ancestry, you should focus on the strengths rather than any perceived weaknesses, IMO. My thoughts on this are akin to my opinion on point-buy ability systems and basic game functionality. I know they are controversial in some circles. Some folks like the random chance of rolling statistic, which I see as a strange derivative of the gambler’s fallacy. At the same time, having negative for specific ancestries makes sense to some people, but I would rather each player choose the strength and weaknesses of the players they choose to play. I think it makes for stronger character attachment and not being saddled with a bad choice. I want character choices to be good choices. I want folks to feel empowered and happy about their choices, not trapped by them.

Don’t despair that I only started with three types of people for Delve. I will blow that shit out at the first opportunity. You want to play a jinnborn, you got it. A catfolk, just wait. You want to play a gnoll, you will get your chance. Different people like different things. Now, I’ve often heard the argument that it creates a zoo of an adventuring company. So? If you want to limit your choices of people folks can play in your game, you’re welcome to do that. But as a game designer, I prefer to make and abundance of options—for both the players and the gamemasters. I’ve also heard that too much diversity puts strain on the gamemaster. She will never know what shows up at the table. My retort: she doesn’t really know now. If all the characters have similar set of variables, I think the gamemaster can grove to whatever rhythm pops up. Needless to say, Delve will expand out to many different types of people you can play, and guidelines for making your own for the game.

Anyhow, the wizard was going to be a halfling. I wanted to go a little bit against type. How about a halfling that’s a bit conceded, slightly grumpy, and just seems a bit exhausted with everything? Basically every philosophy student you’ve ever met at university (it comes with the territory), but who is really good at magic (count your blessings, people).

So, who are halflings in Delve? Well, they are an ancient human offshoot, basically another primate, very similar to the other related primates running about the Multiverse (I’m really considering making orcs a similar human-related primate). In the mind of the Empire of the Vold, they are Vold. On worlds out of touch with the Vold, sometimes they are considered equal. Sometimes they are enslaved. Sometimes they build their own settlements and kingdoms, other times they mix with the human society. On the Gray Coast, and the city of Nesserin, they are legally equal to and coexist with humans.

Ez and Geldon were my city kids, while all of my other iconics come from somewhere else—either the wilds of the Gray Coast or the dwarven lands to the south of that area. The rogue’s and the wizard’s backstories are intrenched with Nesserin. Ez and her faithful hound have been scraping out an existence, which has toughened their resolve and honed their wits. Geldon is a wizard of the Ebon Tower, a bit on the outs because of his arguments (and frankly his arrogance against) his superiors. In short, Ez has something to escape and Geldon has something to prove. In Geldon’s case, it’s his fascination with electricity magic. While the other wizards of the Ebon Tower dabble with such magic, especially in the goal of keeping up Master Negjor Delluth’s patchwork inevitable in operation (both Master Delluth and his patchwork inevitable are detailed in 5e form within the upcoming 5e Lost City of Gaxmoor by Troll Lord Games), none have the interest Geldon does in this form of magic. Most are concerned with the manipulation of people rather than energy. Geldon has his own way and that way is more suited to adventure than the manipulation of city politics. And quite frankly, his magical emphasis and his slight hubris make him a fun character to play, especially for a certain psychographic of players.

Do you like to play the smartest guy in the room? Geldon is for you. Enjoy the challenge of playing someone who needs to stay out of melee to be truly effective. Geldon’s your guy. Do you like to play the person who wonders, “how did I get into this shit?” It’s Geldon. Do you enjoy playing someone set on their own goals? Geldon again.

In the end, Geldon may not be the most heroic of the iconics to play, but he does have a chance to do some really fantastic things both in problem-solving encounters, and in the midst of combat. That and his crackling staff allows him to channel system shock, which in a pinch may just save a companions life, though it’s a gamble.

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