Friday, January 11, 2019

Any Class Can Be A Knight (More Thoughts on Outside-The-Box Character Presentation)

Something I've repeated time and time again on this blog is that your character class is just a word that describes a certain package of skills your character possesses. Those skills and abilities are neutral regarding your story, provided your story in no way goes against the description of your skills.

What does that mean in plain English? Well, just because your character is a monk, that doesn't mean you are required to play a fantasy Shaolin monk, or even have studied at a monastery. You could just as easily be a member of an elite group of soldiers rigorously trained in secret fighting techniques. You could be a defender of nature, tapping into the flow of the green's energy all around you to accomplish superhuman tasks by borrowing the powers of dangerous beasts (the self-healing of a lizard, the leap of a monkey, the stunning speed of a viper, etc., etc.). Hell, you could just be a back-alley bruiser who, through a lifetime of breaking bones and busting heads, has stumbled upon a kind of strange, violent zen that makes you more dangerous than any berserker.

None of this is new from me, and if you read my old piece What's In A Name? How Your Character's Class is Limiting Your Creativity, you've probably heard this song before. And if you've seen my article 5 Tips For Playing Better Monks, then you might not be surprised by my example paragraph. However, there is a question I see time and time again on the groups I hang out on that I want to talk about. Something that I think could yield some truly legendary characters if we stopped and gave it some thought.

"What's the best character class for a knight?"

Depends... what do you want to play?
My answer to this question, and one that's gotten both push back and enthusiasm in almost equal measure, is simple; any class.

Have You Read Any Arthurian Lore?

As has been pointed out by memes no-doubt created by literature majors, the Knights of The Round Table were more than just a group of men trained to the sword and the lance. They were, in short, the front line of one of the most batshit anime teams you've ever seen.

We all know Lancelot, and the fact that as long as he kept his vows that he had the strength of ten men. That isn't an exaggeration, either; we're talking some Samson level destructive capacity, here. But what about some of the others?

Seriously, we NEED a series (or at least a comic) about this nonsense.
Take Sir Kay, for instance. You might remember him as Arthur's foster brother, and all-around bully in The Sword in The Stone. While later legends stated he was a braggart and occasional fool, Kay also possessed a heart of ice that made him immune to fear. He could go nine days and nine nights without the need to eat, drink, sleep, or breathe, and at will he could grow to the height of the tallest tree. Or what about his companion, Sir Bedivere? A man who was perfectly handsome but for his one missing hand, who killed men by the hundreds, and who was Arthur's butler and the steward of the royal court? Two lesser-known knights, Sir Marrok and Sir Gorlagon were both goddamn werewolves!

The list goes on and on.

But That's Not What I Meant!

One of the most common responses from the push back side of this conversation is that these players or DMs have a specific, unspoken set of skills their knight concept must possess. They're looking for a mounted warrior capable of using a wide variety of weapons, and moving about freely in heavy armor.

However, that isn't necessarily a knight. Ringo Starr is a knight, for god's sake.

Just in case you thought I was leaving the bards out of this.
You don't have to be a particular character class to be a knight, anymore than you need to be a specific class to be a priest, or a noble. Hell, the Blackbriar and Stonejaw families in my Baker's Dozen of Noble Families have just as many barbarians and druids in them as they do any other character class.

The reason why is simple; the words we're using to describe these concepts are not directly connected to the skill list of a character class. Anyone can be born into a noble family, or raised to noble status by a monarch. Anyone, once ordained, can be a priest regardless of any connection (or lack thereof) to the divine. Anyone can be a knight, as long as they're tapped on the shoulder and given their honor.

Because sure, a canny fighter who comported themselves with honor on the battlefield might be knighted. A squire might be raised to the position of knight after years of training and hard-fought battles... but why would a kingdom in a fantasy world not have evokers who were knights? Or warrior monks whose intense regimen and training made them ideal bodyguards in a room where no weapons were permitted? Or even warlocks or magi, who blend steel and sorcery into a single, deadly art form?

There's no doubt that, "Figure on horse in heavy armor with socketed lance," is definitely a (and I hate this term) realistic description of a historical knight. But our history is kind of irrelevant if we're playing in a fantasy realm that is not, and has never been, Earth.

So the next time you sit down to make a knight, you can make the stereotypical elite warrior who also acts as a lord and defender of the realm. But you're making a character in a fantasy world... why wouldn't that world embrace other options? Even if it's just a side step into playing a barbarian knight whose strength doubles when battle is joined, roaring so loudly they cow their opponents and growing thrice their normal size?

Because that kind of character also has their roots in the traditional myths that we're playing with. But if you want the best class options for a mounted warrior, or a melee specialist who wears heavy armor, then that is what you should ask for advice about. Because those things, at least, are directly connected to a class's skill set.

That's all for this week's Fluff installment. Hopefully it got some creative wheels out there turning!

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  1. It never occurred to me that a knight had to be a fighter type. A knight could be anyone sworn to a lord who defended his realm and could count on protection. Knighthood implies a relationship rather than a class.

  2. Love this article. My nobleman druid was just going to be part of his family's winery/fey pacts business but now... need to figure out a way to make a Knight of Ng.

  3. I think that you are going a step to far here. This is great advice for stretching your mind for developing your own character concepts, but if you are talking to someone else, the word 'knight' has connotations. If you are ambiguous about what it means in the context of the specific conversation you are having, then you should clear that up directly (knight as social class, knight as title-holder, or knight as battlefield role). Anything else is simply malicious compliance.
    At its simplest, if your child said that they wanted to 'be a knight' for Halloween, and you went out and bought a Sir Ringo Starr costume, what do you think their reaction would be to your lawyerly cleverness?

  4. It occurs to me that one of the 12 Peers of Charlemagne was Malagigi the wizard, who consulted his book of spells to deal with problems.

  5. I would point people to Rokugan and the Legend of the 5 rings where warriors, spellcasters, bards, merchants and even some ninja are all Samurai. This is because Samurai is the noble social class and it encompasses many roles.

  6. I made a Bard who is not interested in songs and ballades at all, well, not completely. I made him a scholar who happened to pick up some magic in his studies to help him on the field (spellcasting), who gives advises on weak spots he noticed or heard about in books (bardic inspiration), and knows some rudimentary first aid (song of rest). This article is very interesting and this concept should be more known, yes you could see classes as they are, but with a fresh coat of paint, classes could become something else entirely in Description, while being the same mechanically.