Four Dwarf Adventurers for Torchbearer (conclusion)

Just a brief few months ago, I released the four Elf Ranger characters at level 1, level 4, and level 9 including the downloadable character sheets (preface | conclusion). Certainly, if you are interested, please look back at the process and creative fiction surrounding that project. 

During the past week, I released the four Dwarf Adventurer characters at level 1, level 4, and level 9 including the downloadable character sheets. Read the preface post for the opening comments; this post contains my final comments on the process and some lessons learned. I have some ideas about my frustrations with the constraints of Stock and Class.

I anticipate my comments will age poorly once the 2nd edition rules are fully published. 

Arvind Jeulmeinger - the swordsmith

level 1 | level 4 | level 9 

Building the concept went well, and I feel this is a good route for a Dwarf Adventurer just in respect to the basic initial concept. Armorer is included in the Class package; (nearly) all weapons and armor are available from the start. It is not hard to build this concept. I actually strayed from purely building a swordsmith by adding capacity for typical Burglar, Thief, Ranger, and Warrior roles where Haggler, Scavenger, Criminal, Survivalist, and Cartographer might reasonably lie; this can serve as an assistant for fellows or as a replacement for gaps in the team. However, it does not feel the concept matured well over the levels, and I don’t see much diversity in existing cultural archetypes and stereotypes of dwarves being applicable in all TB games. I feel that the Stock and Class lore is too strictly defined and too tightly constrained. 

Some of the above concerns about diversity occur in having only one combo of Stock and Class for a dwarf. If there are players with interests outside this warrior-armorer gestalt, there is not another class to open those ideas without using Iconoclasts recommendations from the Mordite Press (https://www.mordite.press/iconoclasts). I am happy to use that and would allow it at the table, but I do not see something available in the rules-as-written. The level benefits seem similarly constrained to a specific lens and filter where much of the diversity of contemporary stories with dwarves remain outside the framing.

As for a role in the Camp and Town phases, I especially see the armorer crafting as a support chore that is in high demand for repairing and fabricating armor or weapons, and possibly bits of kit sometimes. I selected Cartographer as a camp or town activity also. I also opened and raised Survivalist specifically to assist in making camp. Of course, Haggler was raised repeatedly to build capacity for a good town visit. All of those Skills are useful for handling chores of camp and town, but I felt there was very little to develop from level benefits specifically. For example, with respect to the Elf Ranger, taking spell slots instead of level benefits allows for a Mentor during a Town Phase to gain from narrative traction, and events with a Mentor can gain some dramatic friction. Until Cousin and Secret Destiny for a Dwarf Adventurer, there is much less to engage in camp and town. 

I feel this fits the TB archetype for a Dwarf Adventurer. It lines up with the text of becoming a warrior or greed-mad, so I think it resonates with the design. However, it lacks appeal. 

Personally, my effort on this build did not give me any greater attraction to playing a Dwarf Adventurer. I came away feeling the story and the challenges of building a character were constrained too closely to the stereotypes with which I’m most familiar. I would probably enjoy running a game for a player that truly likes Arvind and his build. I think it would create enthusiastic gameplay.

Orlind Jeulmeinger - the stonemason

level 1 | level 4 | level 9 

Just dealing with the basic concept, I felt this build went better. Orlind has an upward spiral compared to Arvind’s downward spiral. In this sense alone, I felt the build aligning better with the concept and feeling more appealing as a character. I do wish I could have dropped Armorer and begun with Stonemason, to make the theme a little more entrenched. I felt the effort to add assistance for a Cleric, Paladin, Ranger, Warrior, Ranger, Burglar, or Thief were well-spent to create the balanced team supporter and underground guide. I still cannot say I felt the options for diversity, but I was able to open up the build with some investments. 

The level benefits were nearly the same as Arvind initially for Orlind, and the choices in the higher-level build were much different. I did still feel the constraints of a specific framing, but I didn’t feel quite as bad about it. I was open to Orlind having several stereotypical dwarf attributes. I was disappointed taking Hardy Stock only for the reason that I did not want to take Greed. It is not a bad level benefit, but it wasn’t thrilling to take it as default for bypassing the opposite choice. 

As for camp and town, I do not see the stonemason as a critical chore, so that will probably fall to the wayside. Having invested so much into that skill for each level build, I reflected it would not have happened in play to that degree without a specific campaign inclusion of stonework hazards. In many respects, the level benefits were similar enough to Arvind that I think an echo of the above comments is appropriate here. 

I feel Orlind meets many stereotypes and begins to walk a line resonant with the TB archetype. I do feel more attracted to play Orlind than Arvind. I feel both played in the same party would be fascinating. 

However, I do not feel I would want to play Orlind enough to truly attempt. I would like to see Orlind played in a few sessions. I think he presents a good build of character attributes.

Kip Seamus Kramand - the cook

level 1 | level 4 | level 9 

Kip Seamus makes an interesting and appealing Dwarf Adventurer. I feel the concept resonates. I do wish I could replace the Armorer with Cook to better entrench that conceptual skill right from the start. I feel he can become a warrior even while providing a good support character with underground expertise, outdoor expertise, and assisting a team where a Warrior, Burglar, Thief, Ranger, or Magician might need assistance or replacement. I liked the eccentricity of gaining mastery over Cook, Mentor, Scout, Hunter, Scavenger, Scholar, and Survivalist. Those are good contributions to society and to an adventuring band, but stretch Kip Seamus outside the stereotypes for dwarves. 

The level benefits were well-fit for the concept and gave a full richness to a path less traveled. I particularly like taking Hardy Stock to reflect on a dwarf accustomed to eating anything at least once. Taking the Transformed: Boasting to replace Avenging a Grudge could only be improved by allowing that at an earlier level, like level 1. I truly wanted Kip Seamus to seem most of all like humans rather than like dwarves. So I was sad it came as the final sugar icing, but I certainly feel it completed the concept overall.

For camp and town phases, Kip Seamus eased off growing Haggler, but his Cook was intended as camp expertise. Having a developed Survivalist, Hunter, and Scavenger are entirely based on camp chores. If there were a means of gaining Fresh from great camping, that would have been a target for Kip Seamus.

This build probably does not resonate with archetypes and stereotypes for Dwarf Adventurer, but I like him all the more for that. I’m happier that he seems eccentric and capable. This is the sort of character I would enjoy playing. 

So, I would like to try playing Kip Seamus in a game. I feel he needs a campaign with openings for town phases running kitchens, restaurants, culinary shops, or something like that. I would want adventures that open archives of old and ancient recipes. I would want adventure hunting beasts for food. He fits a specific campaign, but I’d like to play those stories. 

Fin Reagan Durmand - the pilgrim

level 1 | level 4 | level 9 

The initial concept felt fulfilled quite early, so it grew to more rich expression. As I worked up the level 9 build I realized how much like the Elf Ranger he had become. I was very pleased with that, and I saw how the effort spent on Kip Seamus had prepared me for Fin Reagan. Coming from a remote village, he has a desire to get away, and once I began to invest in the skills outside the class package, he truly did get away. In this build, I did not mind having Armorer in the initial package, but I certainly might have liked having Carpenter as an option.

Gaining Peasant, Steward, Pathfinder, Survivalist, Scavenger, Hunter, and taking up both Rough Hands and Steady Hands made an overall powerhouse as a character. The sense of capacity for accomplishment and long-term impact on the setting seeped into the build. I chose to slip in Greed for a little darkness to his manner. The final Transformed: Ruling was the completion of a masterpiece. He filled a rich concept and expanded beyond the initial imagining of his path. 

As for camp and town phases, he is built to assist in many camp chores, and not too much built to handle town any better than other phases. Similar to Kip Seamus, if there were a means of gaining Fresh from camp, Fin Reagan would target that.

I would love to play Fin Reagan. I think he can fit more routine campaigns just fine. He is built for a specific path in life, but it begins with a combat-oriented character, so just about any campaign will have some room for Fin Reagan to settle in as a supporting cast member. For the higher-level build, a more specific campaign seeking land to take as an estate would be somewhat more aligned to his story, but not required to build the richness.

Final Comments

This project overall forced me out of my bias against non-magic-user dwarves and forced consideration of the existing stories where dwarves feature. Regardless, I have some gripes. 

The following comments were opined under a misperception in hateful and wrong-minded discrimination against dwarven culture. I have been more properly informed on the formal nature of declaring a grudge, of having it judged by one's betters or peers, of carrying out actions that define the retribution, of receiving acknowledgment of the fulfillment of the retribution, and of recording the grudge in dwarven chronicles. Humbled by the increased vision into the culture and lore of dwarves, I must repent and beg forgiveness for my misperceptions. 

The Avenging a Grudge descriptor is shit. I hate it. I hate the story it tells and the openings it offers for a GM and the roadblocks it represents for a player. For me, who would never really enjoy that story of avenging a grudge or holding a grudge, it robs me of a third descriptor for something more appealing and more frequently enjoyed in a game. And, for what? For someone else’s strongly-held opinions of what makes the Dwarf Adventurer worthy of inclusion? I don’t buy it. I think Avenging a Grudge is shit and it robs the player of something better. 

I submit, having gained a most illuminating perspective on the nature descriptor, the requirement of a test to declare, a goal to complete, and actions to fulfill the retribution described, I was wrong. It is not shit. It is gold. 

So, how?! For a player-side perspective, I suggest this is gold the following reasons:

  • the player decides when, how, and if an insult merits a grudge--not a GM
  • the player must test Orator to declare and define the grudge and retribution
  • the player realizes there is a required Goal to be written which must take precedence over all other pursuits until fulfillment; the player writes the Goal
  • the player can then use Nature to further empower their vengeance

At this point, from a player, this is all empowered by choice, not by lore-as-rules. The player makes choices and must test with consequences appended. It is clearly indicated that actions pursuing the vengeance are legal, so this helps avoid the idea that misanthropic behaviors in a party would be acceptable. This is directed outward, not inward. 

For a GM-side perspective, I suggest this is gold for the following reasons:

  • the GM need only respond proactively and reactively to a stated grudge and actions of vengeance
  • the GM is empowered to restrict testing Nature for actions not truly related to the declared grudge and description of vengeance

At this point for a GM, this is empowering to a group of players, but removes the burden and reduces lore-as-rules. A GM can use the declared grudge to constrain the use of Nature to empower tests; for those tests that fail to align with the declared grudge and written Goal, this potentially taxes Nature, just as acting outside Nature would do.

All that said, I plead that my name not be listed in the book of grudges, and the longbeards and matriarchs acknowledge my humble repentance.

Armorer as a rated skill in the Stock/Class package is shit! Look, I think there are two ways to handle this differently that resonate with the existing thematic affairs of dwarves, but also empower players to make choices. 

First is Dwarf Upbringing: modeling after Human Upbringing, there is a selection of Armorer, Carpenter, Cartographer, Cook, Stonemason, or Weaver rated at 3 following the Stock/Class package (which lacks assignment of a crafting skill--possibly replacing Armorer 2 with Mentor 2) that allows the player to choose what apprenticeship, family industry, or vocation the character had some exposure and experience prior to leaving as an adventurer. That gives choice, which leads to empowerment, which improves player buy-in, which dignifies player-written lore about dwarves in the campaign. Yet, it remains tied to the thematic lore that dwarves are an industrious people, upholding the sharing of crafts as a cultural value. 

Second is more potency behind the Crafting descriptor. I think this is an easier choice. Just as the rules text for GMs advises about using Boasting, Demanding, Merrymaking, Singing, etc. there ought to be advice about allowing and empowering players to use Crafting rather than gaining a rating in Armorer, Carpenter, Cartographer, Cook, Stonemason, or Weaver. They can test Nature rather than have a rating. And, they still have a choice to gain a rating, and have the chance to channel Nature with Persona adding potency to that rated talent without risk of tax; because crafting is in their nature. But, as that advice is not written into the rules, I can spout off about it, and that’s not going to get out to lots of GMs and normalize that treatment of the Crafting descriptor. It is already there, but there is not a hint of, “Use this instead of a rated skill.”

I personally hold that both options above could combine into more rich empowerment for players. 

I have a gripe about the concept. And, I think this gripe is more personal. I found Arvind and Orlind (my attempts at archetypical Dwarf Adventurer according to the lore-as-written) were not appealing. They are potent and interesting, but I didn’t feel much attraction to playing those two characters. With Kip and Fin, I actively pursued a concept outside the archetypical Dwarf Adventurer, and outside the lines of a stereotypical dwarf (as much as I’ve seen in popular portrayals). Having taken a path away from the typical, I found characters I truly felt enthusiasm and eager sentiment to play in a session. I feel this marks one of the frustrations with the constraints implied by the lore-as-written and reinforced by the rules-as-written. I see two ideas to breach that wall. 

One is to imagine additional classes that are representative of dwarves but illustrate the diversity within the culture. I don’t hate Adventurer, but it might be nice to include Journeyman, Pilgrim, some sort of magic-user, like Augur or Sage, and possibly some sort of theist. I do not think the Dwarf stock needs three Classes like Human stock, but even having two for choice could serve to diversify and indicate other cultural influences within the wider community. I know that with 2e, we are anticipating the removal of Adventurer and replacement with Outcast. I do not agree that the change of title is helpful. I feel it is a bit less helpful. It says, “You are specifically defined as being cast off or exiled from your people.” This is unlike the title given to Burglar, Magician, Theurge, Warrior, or Ranger. True, the text does indicate that adventurers are the lowest of society. But, of all others, that indication is not appended directly to that Stock/Class title. 

Ultimately, based on my project, Dwarf Adventurer is the worst Stock and Class combo available. It requires investment to gain versatility, and exchanges some measure of potency to arrive there. It delivers a team supporter but asks rather little of a player to flesh out the balance of a character. It feels more like a team mule. 

As I say this, I want to soften my final comments with the reminder that I feel there is a small gap to be bridged by which several items could be mitigated. Advise GMs to empower the Crafting descriptor bypassing a rated craft skill; [redacted]. Create one additional Dwarf Class that diversifies the cultural representation of the Dwarf Stock; revise the Class naming to remove any indication of being a pariah directly appended to the title itself (make it more neutral; Burglar needs it too, honestly)

Comment below with your suggestion!

My truly final comment is that I do enjoy this beastly project of a short few days of planning, writing, editing, and imagining. I will do this again in a few months. Maybe look for this to be done again in November (I'm not certain whether to do this again before Torchbearer 2nd edition is published). My next attempt will undertake a gathering of halflings.

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