During the year, I’ve released four sample elves (preface | conclusion) and four sample dwarves (preface | conclusion). This project of three huldufolk of Middarmark may fall short of the inspiration; I know the artwork and conceptual stories are less-than-resonant with the content of the Middarmark Gazetteer. However, I am very pleased with the outcome.
I brought some additional focus into this project by placing emphasis on the Nature descriptors. Sneaking became a significant emblem of Ing Roan’s concept; he resembles a roguish brigand best of the three. Merrymaking became a central emblem of Lorelei’s concept; she resembles the carousing rogue best of the three. Riddling became a figurative emblem of Romilda’s concept as a psychic medium and fortune-teller; she resembles the conniving rogue best of all three. But, I also quickly saw paths away from the staid tropes toward interesting growth and valuable gains. Ingr became more anxious as he gained a companion and desire to leave the life of adventuring as a scoundrel and vagrant; I felt empathy as a father about his sense of the wayward living of the Doalrode and the uncertain delving. Lori provided a sense of being overtaken with the magic of an uncertain delve site at the fallen tower, Tarn Tanleth; I used that as a central opening for her shift to a patriotic renewal among the Gotts for conquering lands. Romi similarly felt deeply altered by a delve into the Sakki Downs and discovery of Sigrun’s Mirror; I used that as a catalyst for diverting her toward a tragic climax against the high queen. At least, I can say that’s how the stories progressed in my mind. Let’s look more deeply at each build.
Ing Roan Gamwich of Holmon - the bloodletter
I felt the concept was easy to build following the existing skills and adding only a few supplemental skills to illustrate the nature of itinerant caravan life of the Doalrode. I didn’t feel he needed much alteration to reflect the sneaking descriptor. I found the sense of extra points being available to open skills that may not have been needed to keep up the conceptual fit. So, as a Halfling Burglar, Ingr fit well; I started adding versatility for his Helper options to support other party members, but he remains closely focused on martial prowess.
If I were a player, this build would lose some appeal depending on the campaign; I don’t think I’d want to play Ingr. But, I would love to see Ingr in-play at the table. I think he has creative space to support fellow adventuring companions, serve as a key figure in combat, and pull out useful camp or town phase tests. I think he would do well in a low- to mid-grade risk story with space to embody the personal struggles of finding and attracting a committed partner while facing incredible threats, amazing delves, and surprising turns-of-fate.
Lorelei Fairbairn of Talbot - the merrymaker
I felt the concept was a challenge as I leaned heavily toward an accidental magic-user, so I think the concept could have gone better without that divergent branch early in the story. I can easily see her concept shine equally well or better without Arcanist and Lore Master; it would empower investment into other skills more closely aligned with her power-broker-future-self. That’s a good insight to consider in the future of character builds. But, as a Halfling Burglar, Lori fit well; I certainly invested in expanding the available skills more than growing existing skills. Lori can support fellow adventuring companions quite well and has many ways to share camp and town phase chores or tests. But, she lacks some high-rated skills to truly excel (which is something we see in Ingr’s Fighter and Criminal at level 9). That’s not a failure, but it shows how the package of class skills could be improved upon with another Halfling-linked class.
As a player, I would enjoy playing Lori, and I would particularly enjoy the investment in magical talent and knowledge. As I often enjoy playing magic-users of some sort, Lori was a pet to imagine and build. I’d love to see Lori at a table in play as the cheerful, upbeat party merrymaker! I think it would work well in just about any campaign to have a plucky and capable character serving as support and alternate for multiple skills or tests.
Romilda Jellesal of Orgulas - the soothsayer
I felt the concept was enriched most of all by imposing the imagined conflict between Romi as Sigrun Shieldbreaker’s avatar and the high queen of Bjornings. There was a tough little bit of brainstorming to get Romi out of Rimholm adventuring after initially describing her as a capable and manipulative estate steward. So, introducing the Sakki Downs, Sigrun’s Mirror, and the Shieldbreaker’s cult renewal became a focal point to advance an external plot in Romi’s life. But, this also led to a sense of her suffering from uncertainty while choices were driven by external events more than personal desires. Contrast that with Ingr and Lori who both follow personal paths with much more internal motivation and an internal locus of control (Ingr loses some of that internal locus of control once he gains a companion, but Lori maintains it throughout). As a Halfling Burglar, I feel Romi fits, but she strays most of all as I attempt to build some sort of gestalt between bardic skald, pious cleric, and conniving rogue. It was a lot of ideas to blend. She can certainly serve effectively as a support to fellow peers and as a leader for some tests, but the expanded range of skills does cost some measure of expertise and excellence.
As a player, I would love trying to run Romi in a campaign. I feel there is space in many sorts of campaigns, but I think a slice-of-life story would be more challenging than a high-adventure story. I’d love to see Romi played at the table; she has versatility and vibrance.
This project did not check all my boxes for character building despite the better outcome I felt for these three than I felt for the dwarves. I do not have an archive of halflings I’ve played or think of playing. I personally do not embrace the idea of halflings as a distinct stock from human women and men; in my custom settings, I simply blend the cultural ideas with humans as a subculture which happens to appeal more toward little folk than to big folk, yet the idea of being a separate species?! No.
And, this differs from elves and dwarves, who have a more deeply magical explanation for their existence.
I have not made a custom setting for Torchbearer with specifically custom stocks, but I would rewrite Elf, Dwarf, and Halfling as a blended stock of diminutive faerie folk. I would create a single stock with Nature crafting OR enchanting, merrymaking, riddling OR singing with a strong sense of luck or good fortune being intrinsic to their magical gifts. That’s a project for some future time, but I just mention it to highlight that I don’t find a place for Halfling as a stock in my stories.
Ultimately, my choice to rely on content from the Middarmark Gazetteer was shaped and driven by that lack of space. Having that body of content to form a coherent story of the huldufolk provided a stronger sentiment about a unique stock adapted to a lifestyle different from humans, elves, dwarves, or anything else.
Another aspect of the project was having only a single Stock-Class combo to select. I feel this is an unfortunate misstep here. The Hafling Thain available through a third-party release helps bridge the gap in stories from a Halfling culture; I wish Torchbearer presented a better expansion of additional Stock-Class combos or embraced and refined the 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 or preview content for 2e.
I feel the Riddling descriptor is a challenge. If the player does not have a list of riddles, can they calmly describe their character running through a few riddles in order to “Describe to Live,” or would a GM expect the player to bring a collection of riddles to narrate in-character? If the player is quite good at riddles, and ready with answers, does that fall entirely to “Good Idea,” and avoid a test of Nature? I feel it is a challenge and not so easily applied to as many scenarios for adventuring. I do not have an immediate suggestion for a change, but I do think this could be improved by replacement.
Having Cook as a starting skill in the Class package is a valuable skill, but it feels a bit on-the-nose. It doesn’t feel as forced as Armorer on Dwarf Adventurer, as it is easy to explain that cookery holds importance in any culture of the world, so this stock simply places so high a measure of cultural value that any individual likely has exposure to cooking. That’s easier than saying all dwarves value crafting, but specifically only start an adventuring life with the Armorer craft skill; like, there are other crafts to learn! So, with regard to Halfling culture, I feel it is easier to embrace this as a truthful element. I might like to see this permit Cook, Peasant, or Weaver for some added diversity in characters. It is a fairly small element, and much less dissonant than that issue with Armorer on Dwarf Adventurer.
Regarding Lori’s and Romi’s turn toward arcane or divine power, both faced or would face constraints of the mechanical structure of spells and prayers. I think with Lori taking up Arcanist there was a larger gap between learning Arcanist as a Halfling Burglar rather than Human Magician while Romi’s gap, were she to open Ritualist, would be less challenging. Already looking at 2e, the Urd and burden would serve as constraints for taking up prayers; I’ll have to leave that for another time. So, Lori taking up Arcanist does not grant spell slots (or the memory palace of 2e preview content), and this restricts her spellcasting to scrolls and whatever granted liberties with Arcanist-as-Helper or -as-spell-like-effects a game master offers. I would like to see a more comprehensive process for learning arcane or divine power--even over several levels--wherein a player can more easily extend character growth into those realms of practice and study. One format is granting spell slots based on skill rating rather than level, another format may be increased instruction on building ad-hoc spells or spell-like effects from Arcanist tests, but risking greater failures without a spell book and meticulous methods of casting a specified spell recipe. Both are challenges for a game designer to consider. I will leave the topic of prayers for another project.
I feel the Halfling Burglar is the most bland of all available choices. I think that is my greatest insight. I found it very easy to blend with expanded skills for an entirely alternative path of advancement, but that gives the core starting package a sense of being bland. Yet, it is a neutral choice that easily bends to player whim. It creates a good team supporter and empowers characters driven by strong forces, but I wonder if a character, driven by only meager forces, would simply continue to be bland. I suppose that’s just part of the riddling nature.
Comment below with your suggestion!
As a truly final comment, I do like these monstrously challenging projects of character planning, writing, editing, and imagining. I will not be doing this project again for human classes; my next undertaking will be for mixed teams rather than a few types of the same Stock-Class characters. I might not get another in the next few months; it may wait until the complete Torchbearer 2e content is fully published and delivered.
Thanks for reading these three projects of Elf Ranger, Dwarf Adventurer, and Hafling Burglar. It has been fun and it has been massive. I am happy to look forward to resting from this sort of project until later.