If i’m honest, the death of my first solitaire RPG character, Jindra, was rather deflating. She wasn’t min-max, and she didn’t make it too terribly far into the Lost Mine of Phandelver, but it was still disappointing and left me wondering what i should have done differently.
“Play with a full group!”
Yeah, yeah, i know.
A couple of things in the intervening time made the character death easier to swallow. For one, it’s a made-up character in a fantasy scenario in my imagination. So there’s that.
Further, i hadn’t gotten too attached to the doughty dwarf, and besides, if i wanted i could just fudge things, continue on and gloss over her unfortunate demise.
It was while listening to the Mines of Madness podcast that i got past the inertia and settled on rolling up a new character. In that recorded play session, one of the PCs bit the dust within about 15 minutes, to be replaced by the sudden arrival of a new character to the team out of nowhere. This practice continued throughout the game sessions, as the brutal encounters felled several adventurers along the way.
It occurred to me then that, of course, there’s no limitations on how to run a D&D game. Unlike a video game that’s constrained by its programming, in a tabletop game even the rules as given aren’t really holding anyone back from doing whatever they want. So, yes, i could simply continue on with Jindra. Or, i could insert the sudden arrival of an ally to revive her and keep going, or rescue her, or replay the entire encounter, or a million other permutations.
But, i also really enjoy the narrative of games, regardless of genre or format, and so i settled on continuing the quest, with a new character, but picking up where i’d left off more or less.
My first inclination was to min-max a new character. After all, wouldn’t it be prudent to reduce weaknesses as much as possible while exploiting strengths? Players do this all the time, even in group settings where the other party members are meant to compliment each other and win the day through teamwork.
Some sort of spellcaster was my initial plan. Clerics seemed like a good choice. They’ve got decent combat abilities, armor and weapon proficiencies, and magic that included healing. With the right domain option, too, they’re pretty customizable.
Wizards, on the other hand, have immense variety through their arcane magic. Single-target and AOE spells would definitely come in handy, as well as the wide array of utility spells that can provide crowd control or, hopefully, avoid combat altogether. Because let’s face it – wizards are squishy and a single solid hit from an enemy could fell one, especially at low levels.
Warlocks are a solid option. Decent hit dice, a really strong, reliable damage cantrip in Eldritch Blast, and in general they’re just a cool class that i’ve always enjoyed.
A strong case can be made for druids as well, with their early access to wild shape giving them a ton of options for scouting, avoiding combat and, if need be, becoming a powerhouse like a bear.
Sorcerer didn’t really cross my mind. I’ve never really liked them all that much. To me they seem too focused on elemental damage spellcasting. In a group, they always come across one-dimensional to me and, in a solo situation, they’d lean too heavily towards magical glass cannons for my purposes.
A jack of all trades, and master of none, is oft-times better than master of one.
A strong case can (and has) been made for bards as a single-player option, which is kind of weird since they’re also the ultimate support class. While they do exemplify one of my favorite sayings, and i’ve played many a bard with immense fun, this option wasn’t clicking with me.
Then we’ve got the martial-minded classes.
Paladins are really strong. As a big fan of this class, it was a really strong contender. Paladins have a ton of great abilities, and as a roleplaying option made a good bit of sense. A single paladin on a quest, relying on their divine connection to see them through danger is not difficult to imagine.
In a similar vein, the ranger is not only a classic loner and a perennial favorite class even in editions where their power isn’t so great, but also a really solid combatant with nice utility spells and decent skill capabilities. Despite 5th editions relatively weak beastmaster archetype, in a solo situation that could be incredibly useful.
In the end, despite all the pros and cons or the core classes that i considered, i went in a wholly different direction.
Although in development as a playtest version only, Unearthed Arcana’s Awakened Mystic class struck me as a fun alternative to the core classes. Currently only scaled up to level 10, and not an official release, it looked like a fun possibility to try out. For one thing, they have several interesting abilities that seem like they could really come in handy. Most notably, Conquering Mind feels like it could really help in a large variety of situations.
Another change to my approach at solo play was realizing that i wasn’t attempting to playtest the game or the particular adventure – i was simply trying to have fun rolling dice and coming up with my own narrative along the way. There’s nothing holding me back from altering the content, taking the story in different directions or injecting some of my real-world sensibilities into the plot or characters.
With all that being said, a very unusual character came into existence to replace Jindra in the Lost Mine of Phandelver.
As-yet unnamed, the character is a human with the sage background. Since psionics are far from prevalent, the sage background felt like a good choice to represent the character’s research into the power of the mind. As such, he is a discredited academic researcher. The way i saw it, more conventional magicians and scholars discounted his work as fruitless, and basically ruined his reputation in academic circles. The image of this character that was emerging went down a dark path, and i decided that he would not be a good-aligned person.
Taking inspiration from some of my favorite television shows, i concluded this character would operate much like Dexter Morgan, or Hannibal Lecter (the TV version).
Polite, well-kept and classy, this mental mastermind in everyday life was a regular fellow, a normal member of society under the guise of a scholar. He would enjoy speaking in layered truths that only he understood, and beneath it all would be a coldly logical, emotionless person whose only pursuit was becoming his perfect self.
As to what he might one day evolve into, i gave him a motivation of being compelled to kill those who had discredited him and leaving tableaus behind with subtle clues. In essence, a serial killed (but without the cannibalism). As such, the character’s bond was easy to choose: don’t get caught.
Going with the sinister scholar theme, for his human bonus feat, i chose Keen Mind. This feat has absolutely no combat application, but from a roleplaying perspective it stood out as very useful (which would come into play almost immediately during my first session with the character).
As to how that first session went, that’s the focus for another post. But as a prelude to it, i needed a reason to involve this character in the goings-on with the Lost Mine of Phandelver. After all, it was a simple caravan guard job that hooks characters initially, and that was over and done with.
What would bring a sinister psionic scholar to Phandalin?
Since Jindra was killed assaulting the Redbrand hideout, i used the gang of ruffians themselves to hook this character into the quest. It seems that Iarno Albrek was one of the magical colleagues who’d had a hand in discrediting my anti-hero’s research into psychic power.
After tracking him down to Phandalin and learning of his masquerade as the Redbrand leader Glasstaff, whose gang had amongst other crimes started a slave trade, the character got himself captured by slavers and taken to their base to await sale. What the slavers didn’t know, however, was that he’d used his Blade Meld power to conceal a weapon by dissolving it into his body.
As for what happened next, that’s a tale to be told another day.
In the meantime, how do you decide what sorts of RPG characters to play? Do you like to come up with a concept and background first? And how do you react to character deaths? Do you look forward to rolling replacements? Did you ever play a game with lots of character deaths? How did that go? Let me know in the comments below.