Friday, May 22, 2015

The Android Barbarian

Typically on Table Talk I will share a story about something that I, or one of my generous readers, has done in game. Sometimes these table top tales serve as an object lesson, showing what can happen when either DMs or players make poor decisions. Sometimes they're just fun, sharing a touch of creativity and letting readers see what other players are up to. This week I'd like to try something different, though. I'd like to tell you, my readers, about a character concept I have not yet played (but would like to).

That concept, as you've likely guessed, is...

The Android Barbarian

Nuts and Bolts

Androids, along with other examples of highly advanced technology from Numeria, have gradually made their way into the Inner Sea region. Investigated by the Pathfinder Society, sought out by powerful wizards, and recruited by armies and adventuring parties alike, androids are regarded as curiosities by some, and dangerous war machines by others. These artificial creations may look like people, move like people, and even bleed like people, but they aren't human.

Androids, like any other race in Pathfinder, can choose any class. Being what they are androids are immune to sleep and paralysis effects, as well as to fatigue and exhaustion. They cannot receive morale bonuses either (unless you take the empathy feat from Pathfinder Player Companion: People of the Stars), which may make barbarian a strange choice. However, even if your DM bans you from taking empathy you still gain access to Rage powers, damage reduction, fast movement, uncanny dodge, and any archetype abilities, even if you wouldn't gain the bonus from the Rage itself. And, as the icing on the cake, you never get fatigued from your Rage.

It does not feel pain... or fear... or remorse... and it absolutely will not stop.
That's the mechanical side of the equation, and the idea certainly seems over-powered to many people. Fatigue is how you rein in low-level barbarians after all, even though at mid to high levels the number of rounds of Rage they have means their fury is going to last through even a drawn-out combat slog.

That's nowhere near the fight you'll get over the flavor side of this choice, though.

Heart and Soul

One of the arguments that crops up over and over again in fantasy RPGs is that this is a no sci-fi allowed club. So if we have to let android characters in, then they have to take roles that make sense for them. Fighter? Sure, that makes sense. Wizard? Of course, walking, talking computers should be masters of the arcane if that's how they're programmed. Rogue, alchemist, cavalier? Sure, no problems there.

As soon as you mention barbarians, though, DMs will start shouting about how you're not a person, and you don't have emotions. What would an android know about the fires that burn inside a barbarian, fueling their fury?

That isn't armor... that's actually an android.
I'd ask you to set that preconception aside for a moment, and to picture an android that looks like a fairly average human. He's strong, tireless, and has a curiosity that drives him toward the adventuring lifestyle. Perhaps he feels compelled to seek out dungeons, constantly examining ancient armors for reasons even he doesn't understand. Except for the bio-circuitry tattoos along his back and arms, and the sheen in his eyes at just the right angle, you'd never even know.

Until he glitches.

Fighting doesn't trouble him, and he is more than capable. Swords, axes, maces, they're all equally comfortable in his hands. But when the enemy poses a genuine threat to him, or to his allies, his eyes flicker, and the emotion drains from his face. His eyes snap open and glow red, and his empty voice echoes with three, blood-chilling words.

Omega Protocol Initiated

Once the Omega program comes online his tattoos glow, and he alters. His blows are brutal, terrible things, delivered with precision and power that leaves a trail of bloody bodies in his wake. He attacks without remorse, without hesitation, and without fear until all his enemies are dead. Then, once the threat is over, he twitches, blinks, and the emotion bleeds back into his face. He's confused, wondering what happened. The terrible strength he wielded, and the strange powers he displayed, gone as if they'd never been.

The Questions

This setup is interesting all by itself, but it asks a lot of questions. Was your android a war machine whose true programming is battle and destruction, and whose moments of compassion and sentience are actually the malfunction? Was the Omega Protocol simply programmed into him as a means of self defense, in the event he was threatened? How much of the person he thinks he is actually exists, and how much is just a product of what he was made to be?

I... am not... a gun...
The end result is that you have a character with a unique race, who can endure some hardcore adventuring, and who has a unique theme. Where you choose to go with the idea from here is up to you!

You might also want to check out 5 Tips For Playing Better Barbarians, as well as 50 Shades of Rage: Tips For Flavoring The Barbarian's Signature Power if you're looking for additional inspiration.

Thoughts, Feelings, Opinions?

So, what did you guys think of this feature? Would you like to see more unusual character concepts mixed in with gaming stories? Would you like to see this kind of post get its own section on the blog? Or should I stop doing this entirely and go back to what I've been doing? Leave a comment, or if you'd like email me your opinions on the topic.

That's all for this installment of Unusual Character Concepts. Hopefully this one gave you something to chew over, whether you're a player, or a dungeon master.

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  1. Well, if you think about the mechanical effects of a rage as increased deadliness in return for decreased defence...

    What about a variant on Asimov's laws of robotics? When facing non-human foes, they may be literally incapable of allowing their party-members to come to harm if they can help it; the Omega Protocol is pulling out all of the stops to prevent harm coming to their companions even at the cost of their own life because that was what they were invented for. Even with human foes, you might now have a hierarchy of humanity where human and demi-human allies are prioritised over foes; military programming would certainly have a few 'tweaks' to make them effective soldiers.

    But then again, they will never be the most hated; I still think most groups will see android barbarians long before the DM lets them play gunslingers...

  2. Absolutely grand. The idea that an android is confused because of some sort of hidden programming, or even a programmed self defense algorithm is a very cool idea. Why do WE act in a heroic manner? Is it programmed in US somehow? It's no different for androids, then, in all the ways that matter. It just seems so. This would make a great book, mainly because there is so much possibility for inner dialog and confusion after the fight.

  3. Wouldn't an Unchained Barbarian be able to benefit by a rage itself now as well? After all, the rage does no longer grant ability score changes.

    1. Unchained Barbarian attack/damage bonus is untyped, so yeah.

  4. Flashback: Star Trek: TNG.

    Data: "Stop it. Stop it! Stop it! [subdues rogue Borg, and then slams the Borg's head into wall for extra measure.]

  5. Well, once you throw in Empathy most of the objections go out the window....

    Heck, if one reads Iron Gods, you *meet* androids who're fanatical worshipers of a god, who know fear... AP 100 (with it's NPCs-for-previous-paths-roundup) tosses in one with fanatical obsessed hatred.

    And they literally live in barbarian country!

    So yea, Androids can rage.

  6. Im a little late... How about a concept that the android barbarians are truly glitches. While an android fighter or wizard would flawlessly commit themselves to those classes, an android barbarian questions it's programming and searches out on it's own path. Questioning ones self IS self discovery. It doesn't need a community but can function in one. The rage could be an anger at the world around them for creating them.