Saturday, November 25, 2017

The Big Name

The inn was full of hushed tension. The brigands had kicked down the front door, and spread around the room. Their leader, a huge man with black snake brands along his muscular arms, surveyed the room. Only one man remained calm. He was seated at a table in the center of the room, a mug of ale in one hand. His eyes were half-closed, like a lazy cat sunning itself on a windowsill.

"And who are you, sitting pretty when the Bloody Banners come to call?" the leader growled, advancing on the man.

The man sipped his drink, and set his mug on the tabletop. He brought his free hand out from beneath the table, and set a coil of silk rope next to it.

"They call me the Hangman," he said. His voice echoed in the sudden stillness, and every set of eyes above its red mask went wide. "There's a big, strong tree out front. No reason it should grow such early, ugly fruit... is there?"

Together or separate, it makes no difference to me.

The Power of a Big Name

A lot of the time, when someone has a big reputation, they have the goods to back it up. The last ten men who've pulled steel on Duncan Greenwell were all dead in seconds, their throats sliced clean through. Folks step small around Allie Mae Arenwell, as the swamp witch's enemies all seem to die under mysterious circumstances. And Cranken "Bulger" Hatworth may be old, but that right hook can send a man to the floor in a single swing.

Other times, though, it's all an illusion. Maybe the guy got lucky, and played it off like that once-in-a-lifetime shot the whole town saw was something he did all the time. Perhaps he's built up his reputation by stoking the rumor mill, talking himself up while in disguise, or paying storytellers to follow the "official" version of his deeds. It's even possible that it all started as a joke, but now it's spiraled out of control.

If you've ever heard Bert Kreischer's story about how he earned a reputation as The Machine with the Russian mob while he was just a college kid who drank too much vodka, well, that's sort of what we're talking about. If you haven't seen that, seriously, check it out. The inspiration there is rich, and deep.

Building A Big Name

A Big Name is going to be a character who can, at least, talk a good game. As such, they tend to have pretty high Charisma scores. A social trait like Signature Moves, which gives you a masterwork piece of equipment unique to you that grants a +1 bonus on Bluff and Intimidate while it's wielded, is a good place to start. Feats like the Dazzling Display tree, which allow you to Intimidate large groups of enemies (and eventually leave them flat-footed, or make them cowed into submission) are a solid follow-up. Even utilizing Disguise or Diplomacy to seed rumors of what you did, or Bluff to outright lie, can bolster your legend.

But what's the point of the Big Name? Well, to turn that reputation into a blunt instrument, of course.

Ever seen Road to Perdition? There's a particular scene where our main character, a feared enforcer, walks up on a speakeasy. The doorman is cracking his knuckles, and playing the tough guy, until he our lead tells him who he is. As soon as the muscle hears the name Mike Sullivan, he immediately slumps his shoulders, and becomes a non-threatening, ingratiating helper. That's the sort of thing you do with a Big Name. The idea behind their name is deterrence, and to make intelligent creatures take their hands off their hilts and walk away, rather than risk finding out if the legends are true.

And when combat starts, they use Intimidate to cow their enemies. Because even if the other members of the party have more muscle, or more magic, it's the Big Name the bad guys will talk about when they run. Which will, of course, only make that name slightly bigger.

That's all for this installment of Unusual Character Concepts. Hope it got the gears turning for some folks out there. If you're interested in even more gaming content from yours truly, check out my Gamers archive, or take a listen to Dungeon Keeper Radio where I and fellow gamers bring the world of Evora to life. If you want to keep up-to-date on all my releases, then follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. Lastly, if you want to help support Improved Initiative, consider heading over to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to become a patron. All it takes is $1 a month to make a big difference, and to get some sweet gaming swag.

1 comment:

  1. This one feels a little short, but it's well thought out. Most of this seemed to be background rather than concept. Having played a Big Name before (a phony), I found it better to go the non-lethal route to make any enemies wonder if they will actually wake up the next morning or if they are as good as dead. Keep up the good work!