Just a short time ago, I began releasing the four Elf Ranger characters at level 1, level 4, and level 9 including the downloadable character sheets. I want to make some 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 published.
Read the Preface post if you missed the description of how this began.
Aelar Elleid - the fire sorceress
Immediately while building Aelar I saw that a fire mage was barely possible without rewriting the flavor text of spells. That is about all I could consider doing to make her spells seem like fire-empowered magic. I find that disappointing. I think many players might feel a similar disappointment to see frost, fire, lightning, acid, poison, and water are not primary sources of magical spells nor damage type for spells. That lack of elemental theme is extraordinary in my mind as a gap between the diversity of fantasy stories and the possibilities in Torchbearer.
I used a few spells where I felt it would be easy to rewrite the narrative of the magical outcome, but I do wish there were more options for choosing the stereotypical elemental magic effects and more instruction on crafting spells that fit within the balance of 1st - 5th circles.
Aelar also grew in my mind as a functional town manipulator. I saw this as a means of growing influence outside delving and building a potent story about her exit from and return to a life of nobility. Her introduction spoke of the resentment from an upbringing emphasizing excellence in all endeavors, then grew her into a trained, disciplined, high-achieving sorceress. That was purposeful. But it is difficult to gauge how much town and city stuff will get into a campaign or a delve module.
I also tied her to the idea of vigilance against catastrophic magical phenomena. I saw this as a means of empowering a long-term campaign in which Aelar is finding related links to her personal objectives that also include adventuring companions and campaign factions. That was a little bit more happenstance, but once I caught hold of the idea, I felt it was a perfect role for Aelar to fill. Similarly, this might go against the agenda for a campaign or delve module.
As an Elf Ranger, I did not give especially high focus on level benefits, and I felt that created another facet of frustration with magic. Because the level benefits seemed lackluster for a fire mage, I skipped those in favor of spells. It was difficult to find spells that were attractive. So, Aelar was a difficult build in that sense. Instead of compelling, competing options, I felt there were unappealing, unengaging requirements. I did find the level 9 rendition had the best access to potential level benefits while the level 4 rendition had better access to potential spell benefits.
Ultimately, I do not think I would play Aelar in Torchbearer without some assurance that she gains center-stage for most of the modules and that stage emphasizes town manipulation and events, as well as being a campaign opposing some sort of large cultural group. I selected the cults of the Young Lords, but that could easily be replaced with just about anything and still create a path for Aelar to advance.
Indus Monette - the illusionist
I quickly saw the potential for Indus to function as an illusionist and manipulative sorcerer; the spells are there to create illusory images and sounds as well as spells for charming other characters. His spell-side build was terribly easy. But I also wanted to form a wilderness guide or support. In this case, I needed to balance his spell acquisition and level benefits. It simply slowed the pace of his growth in power and mastery. I think this is a fairly good idea in the right campaign.
I needed very few spells to build his magical talent, but I was disappointed at having fewer spell slots to memorize and use those spells. It would be frustrating in play to see that barrier to using the spells available. If Indus were only attempting illusion, that would probably work, or if he were only using charm it would work. The attempt to combine both was unbalanced. I needed the level benefits to fulfill the concept as a wilderness guide from a remote alpine region.
Indus grew in my mind as a potential cloaked rider or courier taking lonesome missions to defend or save remote places from being swallowed in darkness. For this vision, I had Indus learn Healer, Alchemist, and Scout then build Pathfinder, Survivalist, and Scavenger. I viewed those as requirements to handle such duties. I saw this as a means of growing him from an innocent rural herder's son into an aware, compassionate public servant. With that in mind, the purpose of illusion and charm solidified as a means to rouse spirits in remote villages and direct goodwill from town or city leadership toward residents. In other words, he would become a beneficent puppetmaster and jovial showman.
As an Elf Ranger, I think he hits it on the nail playing some magical contributions and having strong wilderness capabilities. Additionally, level benefits were more appropriate to his concept and less often overlooked in favor of spells. However, the spellbook rules would require carrying two books to contain the spells (I could have gone for fewer spells overall), and that's just something I have to gripe about. I truly like many areas of Torchbearer's encumbrance model and inventory constraints. But, I don't like the spell inventory constraints (as-is) nor the instance of being unable to wear armor, cloak, and backpack. In order to carry two spellbooks, Indus at level 9 gave up wearing leather armor (something I was loathes to do), then swapped from satchel to backpack, but gained rather little extra space from the change. It felt hurtful when considering it as a constraint for players.
After building these three renditions, I think I would enjoy playing Indus. It seems he is a good, slow-paced adventurer. I think he would be best in a campaign with journeys and expeditions rather than looting and killing. His selection could also be useful for a campaign of intrigue where his illusions and charms would be directly related to political upheaval and public unrest.
Nimbal Grosponte - the mage-knight
Wow, just Wow! I envisioned a character with similarities to paladins and fighters, and Wow did that ever translate well for Nimbal. Despite the archetypal ranger, the available spells and level benefits nailed it as a heavyweight mage-knight. I did not see a wilderness guide as an important role for Nimbal, and was not dedicated to a magical trickster, so I feel that helped create the balanced path forward that formed Nimbal. However, he needs just the right campaign and might find the build places him too often into deadly combat. It would be a matter of time before his own life is forfeit.
I needed a few spells to build the mage portion of the concept. I looked at all the published spells available and found that a few 1st circle spells would do the job well enough. Forgoing level benefits at the 2nd and 3rd levels ensured additional 1st circle spell slots. I certainly could have considered other spells of 2nd, 3rd, and 4th circle, but the level benefits were too attractive for his build. Sword mastery, Follower, Elven Steed, Shrug It Off, Grief?! I could not imagine a spell was better than those to create the mage-knight.
Nimbal grew in my mind from a seeking-fame-and-fortune knight to a protector-of-the-realm knight as I built the level 9 rendition giving him additional skills and gaining all the level benefits that shaped his full stature. It was not an impressive shift, but rather a gentle nudge to see the full potential.
As an Elf Ranger, I think the outcome is distant from the archetype or from many stereotypes. His wilderness skills are present but not highly developed. He is capable as a magician but does not have a varied repertoire of spells. With Aetherial Swarm and Wizard's Aegis, he can easily conduct Conflicts without drawing a sword. With Destiny of Heroes, he can give his companions and himself a chance to wallop opposition. It is a fascinating exercise; because his capabilities with martial prowess are also developed. Yet, while Nimbal does not look and act much like an archetypal or stereotypical ranger, I think he does present a character of duality. He is both magister and knight.
After the build process, I'm uncertain I would play Nimbal in Torchbearer unless something was done to diminish the lethality of combat and the Grind. It would also need to be a campaign in which there are assurances of fortress defenses and a commanding military presence. I know that death seems unlikely, but building a combat-focused character had me thinking, "just how many Kill Conflicts can you attempt before death is the outcome on the player side?!" I suspect you could not form a campaign from level 1 to level 9 without several character deaths along the way. If the idea is to build Nimbal as a potential future monarch, the risk of death (possibly in every delve) is too great. Something would be needed to reassure that the character isn't just a neat fantasy idea.
So, I guess a spell for Plot Armor would be needed.
Gabrielle Michelle - the warrior-sorceress
I'm pleased by the pattern of growth as a supporter for an adventuring band and possible replacement for a magician, but it is not a strong contender for a replacement that Gabrielle Michelle presents. She is underwhelming at magical capabilities and lacks the relationship connections which would improve her access to magical solutions. Both of those aspects can be corrected in play, so the as-written build is a poor representation for replacing a magician in the group. I like playing her, and I think part of that enjoyment comes from the frequent shifts in mental character between Gabbie, Mischa, and Ellie.
That is not to say she fails, but I mean to say she could not hold a candle against a magician at level 4 and level 9 with respect to magic capacity. The supporter portion of the concept fits well, and her warrior spirit is excellent in expression. But, she is not quite the sorceress I envisioned as a long-term concept.
Looking at the idea for spells and level benefits, I see where there are troubles on the horizon. Without a mentor, she will have to take what she can get. That's not always going to shape the sort of character at level 4 and level 9 as I've designed. Otherwise, this is a balanced blend of spells and level benefits that create an interesting story of her role and growth away from home.
As Gabrielle Michelle grows from a clueless wanderer into a more developed team member, I noticed there were quirky little tidbits that crept in. She took up a sword by level 4, but returned to dagger by level 9 and claimed Master (Dagger) at level 5, so that seemed quirky. It is because disarming two foes with a dagger is more appealing than having double utility from a sword. Gaining Dweomercraft at level 7 is a chance to overcome the limitations of space (and having to carry two spellbooks as she gained spells is no good) as well as maintain the quirky absent-mindedness about having a properly equipped kit. Learning Haggler and Cook is likely unnecessary with a reasonably balanced team, so that allows her to offer Helper dice, but she might never become very good at those tasks.
In respect to spells and spellbooks, I was entirely frustrated at the number of good utilitarian spells to choose from, but the limitations of spellbook pages and spell slots created a needless false scarcity. I think there is a need for changes to the process of gaining spells, selecting spells for memorization, and maintaining available spells during delves.
Gabrielle Michelle has a good pattern of growth, and I was glad to add skills, traits, and spells through the process. I think having a mentor would be a better choice at level 1 than having the 2D coins. I should have been more attentive to that decision. I think there is a great opportunity to plan scrolls ahead of delving to increase spell options. I can see room for independent missions or delves with her collected skill set. She is not powerless.
Unfortunately, I do not see a strong future story for her. I noted with each of the other builds that future path, but I have less of a sense about her future path than the others. I suspect more following and supporting her companions will be included, but I'm uncertain whether she will begin to influence villages, towns, and cities, connect with merchants, join a cultural institution, gain roles of leadership or command, or even take up training. I think, considering her skills including Hunter, Pathfinder, Survivalist, Scavenger, and Lore Master, she is destined to follow her parents into hunting and slaying evil. It was not the intention I set out to create for her epilogue.
As an Elf Ranger, I think Gabrielle Michelle lands on both feet. She has the magical capability, wilderness capability, and martial prowess which meets the archetypal ranger and fits many stereotypes for elves and rangers. She is not absolutely a master in any realm but offers a balanced approach to each. She offers a supporting character to the team without being overshadowed. Having Dungeoneer helps get teammates in, out, and around the delve; it is a skill Warrior, Burglar, Cleric, and Magician lack; she sort of replaces a Dwarf Adventurer in that sense.
Of course, I've already mentioned I'm currently playing Gabrielle Michelle. She is at level 1. I regret taking Jaded and think taking Curious would do better for me. I like playing the mental game of which personality is expressing itself. I think a level 1 Elf Ranger feels underwhelming at magic, but as a warrior or wilderness guide, level 1 fits perfectly well.
It is a beastly project to output over 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 July or August (I'm not certain yet when, but I will do this again before Torchbearer 2nd edition is published). I think I might like to try four dwarven characters. I also might like to take a balanced team approach.
Comment below with your suggestion!
Looking at a comparison of Elf Ranger and Human Magician I see notable issues. I think magicians would be improved having level benefits to select from similar to rangers. Having the versatility to grow outside of spell slots and spells would help differentiate the growth pattern for magicians and improve their play. I totally hate 'Vancian' magic, so the constraints of spellbooks, memorized spells, and spell slots cause intense furious frustration for both magicians and rangers. I would prefer both classes to gain entirely different models for using magic as well as reduced constraints to learning spells, crafting spells, casting spells, and defining the outcome of spells.
I know Mordite Press has some excellent content about magic and magicians, so I do not want to reinvent or compete with custom content, but Torchbearer overall lacks clarity on how spells are invented, balanced, and set in circles. I think that is a realm I want to work on (to a small degree; because honestly, I have plenty on my agenda already for Prevail). So, maybe look for that in a stretch goal.
Ultimately, Elf Ranger is the best Stock and Class combo available. It is versatile and potent, yet requires a balance between competing concepts to fully flesh-out a great character.