Friday, December 21, 2018

The Reluctant Barbarian

"Look, fellas, is this really necessary?" Lunk asked, holding his big hands out to show they were empty. "I get you're mad, but we're grown men. Let's just pull a few pints, and see if we can figure this out. My treat, what do you say?"

"I'll tell you what I say," Crandle snarled, snatching his dagger off of his belt. "I say the time for talk is past."

Crandle strode across the room, his face twisted in fury, but Lunk didn't seem to notice. A shiver went through him, and a low moan like a child afraid of punishment slipped out of his mouth. When Crandle swung his blade, though, Lunk caught his hand. Crandle grunted, then screamed as his knuckles cracked like walnuts in the iron grip. The dagger fell to the floor, and a hammer blow drove Crandle to the ground after it. Teeth bounced along the boards, and blood pooled on the wood.

The eyes that looked up at the others were the same blue as Lunk's, but they were colder. Harder. He bared his teeth, and stepped over Crandle's body. He balled his hands into fists, the heavy cords of muscle straining in his forearms.

"I tried," Lunk said, his voice straining like he was losing a battle against the tide. "But you just... wouldn't... listen."

There were no more words after that. Only shouts of pain, and the sounds of broken bones.


Don't poke the bear. He might poke back.


The Reluctant Barbarian


When most people think of barbarians, they probably think of iconic examples like Conan, or even Kull. Characters who are decisive, and who pit themselves against their opponents with everything they have. However, there are some barbarians who may try to avoid conflict. Who try to keep the whirling frenzy of their Rage buried, only tapping into it as a last resort, or letting it free when they cannot contain it any longer.

That's how you wind up with a reluctant barbarian.

The key to this character is to decide what form their Rage takes, and to then ask what alternatives to their Rage they try first. For example, your barbarian might be a stealthy hunter, trying to sneak past foes, or to take them unawares hoping that striking the first blow might mean combat is over too quickly to awaken the beast within. Alternatively, your barbarian might rely on diplomacy to try to find mutual ground with their foes, settling differences through talking over a beer. Or they might use intimidation to frighten opponents into backing down so it's not even necessary to draw a weapon.

However, sooner or later, the cage is going to open up. That's the whole point of this concept, after all; what fun is Jekyll if Hyde doesn't put in at least a few appearances? That's why you need to ask why your barbarian is reluctant, and what they're trying to hold back.

As a for instance, was your barbarian raised in a cult, their body and soul offered to a grotesque demon lord to use as a vessel so that, when they Rage, they grow horns, thick skin, and spines, becoming an avatar of that monster? Was your barbarian a real hellraiser in their youth, and now they're horrified by the person they used to be, so they're reluctant to give into those instincts that let them write their reputation in blood? Or did they make a deal with something, and while that something kept them alive, it still wants to come out to play when the steel rings, and their blood pounds?

What form your Rage takes (if you're looking for examples, check out my 50 Shades of Rage post) is one of the biggest factors in who your barbarian is. But why they would try to keep it hidden, or tightly controlled, also says a lot about them. So keep that in mind, and ask how it's going to create a more unique story.

And remember, the goal is not to never use your Rage. That's no fun. But it's to save it so that when the eyes go green and the music starts playing, we all know that the Other Guy is about to wreck the house.

For more handy tips, don't forget to check out 5 Tips For Playing Better Barbarians!

That's all for this installment of Unusual Character Concepts. Hopefully folks enjoyed it! For more of my work, check out my Vocal archive, or just head over to my Gamers page for my tabletop stuff. Also, stop by the YouTube channel Dungeon Keeper Radio, where I get together with other gamers to make videos for DMs and players alike!

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1 comment:

  1. Never played Barbarian, but I played bloodrager. My magic comes from draconic while my rage comes from Azura. They act as frost and flame, dragon and snake, constantly pushing each others back. But when the moment comes, they work together and achieve a new height in power. Then there is his subconscious, the centipede from the shadow, trying to avoid killing and fighting. As the world pushes him around, he will have no choice but the move forward. I like rage to be something one can control, that should be the different between rage users and normal people. They can control and manifest their rage into powers. So they should be calm as their raging feelings goes into their blade and their body instead.

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