Friday, October 9, 2015

The Chaplain (A Badass Bard You Might Mistake For A Cleric)

We, as RPG lovers, have a habit of putting our characters in rigidly defined boxes when we don't actually have to. I've talked about this before in What's In A Name: How Your Character's Class is Ruining Your Creativity, and this week I'd like to point out something that might spark a big idea in some players' minds.

That idea is that, just because someone is a priest, that doesn't mean the character has to be a cleric.

Though some, obviously, still are.

What Are You Talking About?

You know how in every low-level game the party runs to the nearest church of a good-aligned deity to seek help when they've been cursed or crippled? How many times has the DM shaken his head, and informed you that despite the attendance of several members of the holy order, none of them has the power to invoke the divine (read: they all have NPC classes, and there is no one in the church with cleric levels). The implication, of course, is that while there are a lot of faithful conducting services, ministering to the community, and helping to spread the word of the divine, characters with the skills and powers of PC clerics are relatively few and far between. Not only that, but if one possesses that dedication to magic and holy obedience, they're likely to move up the ranks quite quickly, making them more likely to be found in capital cities instead of border towns beset by goblins.

Put another way, a major religion has a lot of different people who are serving a god or goddess in a unique way, using the skills they have. Fighters may be swords of the faith, as I mentioned in 10 Backgrounds For Your Martial Characters, while rangers could act as pilgrimage guides, and monks would make ideal keepers of the faith's libraries and lore. Religion is an institution, and there are a lot of different jobs that need to be done.

The Chaplain

Chaplains are priests who are attached to any private entity, but they're mostly thought of as priests who minister to soldiers. They provide spiritual guidance, perform important rites, and they fulfill a necessary role in any army who has them. A chaplain with a commanding presence, whose sermons demand attention, and whose knowledge of the divine is great enough to answer even difficult questions, would be a boon to any church reaching out to the warriors of the world. A chaplain whose booming battle cries could drive warriors on into the breach, removing fear and strengthening their sword arms, and whose magic can heal his allies while wrecking havoc on his foes, is the sort of priest no army would want to be without.

Also, a strategic application of Use Magic Device.
So what's the point of the concept? To defy expectations, of course!

Picture the introduction at the table. The party sees a broad-shouldered half-orc with a commanding presence, a prominently displayed holy symbol, light armor, and a military bearing. He introduces himself as Chaplain Grimm, and when pressed about his experience and allegiances refers to himself as a servant of a god of nobility, battle and war. Maybe some players assume that means he's a cleric. Maybe they don't. However, the point is that creating someone who is affiliated with a religion, but who has a different role than other players assume, is a good way to stop people from thinking they know what you can and can't do. At the very least, you have brought a badass bard to the table, and your role as encyclopedia and party-booster is not going to be any less valued than it would normally be. However, by not presenting with what most players assume to be typical bardic trappings, you're going to make them actually react to your character, rather than their perceptions of your mechanics.

Also, recommendations. Perform (Oratory) is a great way to bring your boosts to the battlefield. This is especially true if you want to literally shout down an enemy spellcaster like some kind of crazed exorcist/drill sergeant when you use countersong. You may also want to consider increasing your ability to help the party by boosting your aid another bonus. For help on that, check out Aid Another in Pathfinder is More Powerful Than You Think.

Additionally, you should check out 5 Tips For Playing Better Bards if you're looking for inspiration!

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. Thank you. Sometimes it's lonely out here in concept world. While you certainly want to build a powerful hero, and should really for the benefit of the whole party, character concept gets left behind as being constricting or too roleplaying a focus.

    I have over the years, 3.5 at least, attempted to build an Elven Paladin archer. After all what's more elven than longbow and fighting for a cause?

    It's always been an interesting exercise. Often not leading anywhere powerful, but certainly interesting.

    I have often wondered about the ancient Skjald. Their songs and stories were just as often mixed with the gods and spirits as they were with heroes and kings.

    Thus a true believer bard is something I have wondered about.

    Sadly 3.5 almost forces you to wait 15-20 levels before you can express the varied aspects of your concept. Instead they should have created a system of low powered variety that still offered tantalizing goals to obtain along the way.

    Anywats, thanks for the encouraging read.

  2. Did something like this in D&D Next actually - built a rock gnome fighter (eldritch knight path) whose traits, racial abilities, vocal mannerisms and proficiencies make him seem like almost anything but than a warrior. Actually had another player flat out ask (out of character) what class I was playing because they 'couldn't get a read off the guy'. This amused me no small amount [and proved I was playing him pretty much exactly how I'd wanted in terms of how he comes across - the concept is actually more like an alchemist experimenting on himself (as ultimately the only morally acceptable test subject for such procedures, after all) and his surroundings (via his tinkering).]

  3. On more than one occasion, a party member had asked my Barbarian for a heal and wonder why I don't reach for the d8 when I say "Certainly, Lady luck is with us tonight!"
    I love playing a class as 'another class' Then again, my mind refuses to be restrained by mechanics.