Mostly, I’m a GM; so when friends of mine said that he was setting up a group of campaigns and needed manpower, I thought he meant he needed extra GMs. But lo and behold, he needed a player! I was excited and awaited the details for the setting, which turned out to be little more than ‘basically D&D’, so I didn’t have too much setting to ground my character in. For many people, this is a boon! They have character ideas galore and settings only restrict them. After all, they want to play a character who does magic based on rituals, or based on some anime, or whatever, and the campaign just doesn’t fit that.
But for me, it’s the opposite. Given a lack of prompting, I feel unjustified with any details. I don’t have a character idea that I then fit into a campaign; I build an idea FROM the setting. Without a setting, I feel like I have no non-generic ideas.
And so when I started character creation, I was scared. And then I realized something. My fear made no sense. I was applying a standard from my old-school GMing (what if my characters don’t fit the setting) that didn’t even fit my new-school GMing style. I wanted to let players drive games, and yet here I was, a player, afraid to drive a game! I’d like to say that I overcame this fear right away and dove into character creation. But really, I didn’t until that fateful moment when the GM turned to me and said ‘so tell me about your character’. Until that moment, my character had just been a series of numbers, and character creation had been IMPOSSIBLE. But let’s back up a moment…
When I started character creation, I knew I had a barbarian (a wrestler), an urban ranger (a vigilante type character), a bard (a magical storyteller), and a sorcerer/rogue (a magical trickster) as the other four players’ characters. I’d intended to play one of my standard characters (as I simply had too much on my plate to think up a new character). But what are my standard characters?
The first is a sorcerer/swashbuckler who relies mostly on his wits, knowledge, and charisma than his swordplay or magic. But we had two of those. The second is basically a deliverer of justice (whether that justice be religious or not). But that’s got huge overlap with the ranger! I considered branching out briefly and playing an evil character; a warlock/swashbuckler would be enough different from a sorcerer/rogue or a bard while still adding to the party’s abilities, but then we’d have 3 hugely talky characters, and we’d step on each others roleplaying toes, hard. If this were a more party conflict-centric system, I’d have rolled with it; our personalities clashing would drive conflict. But D&D is typically more about the party vs some enemy/quest, not internal strife, so we’d basically all try to fill the same niche and end up feeling a bit useless. I rolled up my stat pool to try and help me decide:
18 – 16 – 15 – 12 – 12 – 5 (for those of you unfamiliar with D&D, 10 is average, although 12 is average for player characters)
I like stat lines like that because they give me something to work with; a glaring weakness. It also meant that my warlock/swashbuckler plan was definitely out; it’s just too hard to work around a stat deficit that huge: a swashbuckler want cha and dex and int and an ok con, and I’d end up dumping my 5 into strength or wisdom and either lose damage or always be caught unawares. So I looked to a new idea. First, I had to determine my 5 stat.
I have trouble abandoning Charisma and Intelligence as stats. I can abandon Strength and Constitution and Dexterity because I can imagine what it would be like to be weak or out of sickly or clumsy; I’ve been those things when sick. And I can easily play a low Wisdom character (as I’m very absent-minded), but I could also easily imagine playing a more methodical, careful character with some effort. But intelligence is crucial to who I am as a person; I can play a low-int character but it comes across more like a caricature. And while I’m never going to be a con-man or a politician, I also can’t really imagine what it’s like to stumble over my words, or to make enemies with each one.
So I decided that I’d go with a Wizard. Sure, from a balance perspective, I’d bring similar things as the sorcerer and bard. But as far as personality was concerned, I could go in a much different direction. What exactly differentiates Wizards and Sorcerers? Sorcerers are basically your innate talent magicians; your magic geniuses. They just get magic, but they slack off. So while they can do magic at will and with ease, seemingly whenever they want, they don’t learn as much. Wizards, on the other hand, learn magic through intense study; they know more spells, but they can’t cast as many per day, and they have to prepare a subset of them the night in advance (and can only cast those during the following day). Since we had 2 spellcasters who didn’t have to memorize spells in advance, I figured that we’d have a good base for general spellcasting, so I could specialize hard, and at least bring something new.
I had a character concept now; a magic nerd. For this, I saw two classes which were all about the hardcore study of magic: Ultimate Magus and Master Specialist. The former allows you to blend the abilities of sorcerer and wizard, ultimately allowing you to sacrifice your sorcerer spell slots to enhance your wizard spell; (or the reverse, but I’d decided that I was primarily a wizard). The latter disallowed you access (in combination with other choices I made) to a little under half of the world’s spells forever (although I foresee that I’ll pick up some of those spells as a sorcerer), while making a select few of them stronger, and letting you cast way more of them. Basically, if a wizard has a degree in liberal studies from a liberal arts college where he learned basket-weaving and aikido and played ultimate frisbee, my wizard got a Ph.D. in some esoteric sub-domain of physics. So he knows physics; just don’t ask him to weave a basket for you.
I decided that I was a grey elf, so + 2 to my Dexterity and Intelligence (I need to be genius caliber for this character), and -2 to my Constitution and Strength. This left me with the following stat line (we started at level 5; I put my level 4 point into Dex):
Dex: 18 (15+2 +1)
Con: 14 (16-2)
Int: 20 (18+2)
This left me with two 12s and a 5 (with a -2 in Str no matter what). If I dumped Cha, I couldn’t class into Sorcerer (plus nobody would like me), if I dumped Wis, I’d end up absent-minded and easily startled, and if I dumped Str, I’d be unable to carry almost anything. I realized I needed to know more about my character to go further.
First things first: a name. I’d decided that I was a very…unusual character. Early in character creation, I’d determined that my character was hunting a particular otherworldly being, and as such, I’d considered making my character completely insane, playing off of the trope ‘He Who Fights Monsters (becomes one)‘. I had toyed with multiclassing intensely (at one point considering sorcerer/wizard/warlock/swashbuckler), and givin my character multiple personalities), and while I had decided that my current character wasn’t strictly speaking crazy, I wanted to play up his otherness. As such, I named him Jackmerius (source), and named his weasel familiar Jacktheritrix.
Next: why the intense study of magic? I’d established that Jackmerius wasn’t naturally talented at it, so what motivated him? The likeliest answer? Parents/familial duty. His family were all sorcerers or warlocks, but he’d never felt the pull of magic, and as such his father had always favored his brothers D’Squarius, T’Variusness, and J’Dinkelage. So instead, he studied day and night through magic university. As such, he resents gnomes and sorcerers for their natural link to illusion magic and sorcery
According to most of his teachers, magic teaching progressed too slowly, warning against the dangers of progressing to harder magic before mastering easy magic. But Jackmerius wanted to cut corners, progress, and experiment. He soon found one professor who was willing to help him, Ibrahim Moizoos, who taught classes in Enchantment and Evocation. Ibrahim encouraged his rampant experimentation. Unfortunately, his quest for power would soon be halted. In an attempt to gain warlock-like powers, he requisitioned Ibrahim’s aid to alter a summoning ritual he discovered, Ibrahim objected at first, as he distrusted summoning magic, but once he saw that Jackmerius was committed to this course of action, he reluctantly agreed. Jackmerius altered the ritual to summon a demon, and Ibrahim died in the resulting carnage. Jackmerius fled the university, with crippling injuries that left him unable to left heavy objects (while still relatively dextrous and tough). His failure had only hardened his resolve; the rules of his university: learn spells from every school, progress slowly until mastery had been achieved, they had held him back. He had always despised Illusion, which came so easy to gnomes, and was so full of lies, but he ceased all studies of Necromancy and Conjuration as well, the disciplines Ibrahim had been reluctant to delve into. Instead, he focused on Abjuration (for protection), Evocation (for power), Transmutation (for self-improvement, and Enchantment (to weaken enemies). On top of that, his encounter with the demon had awakened abilities in him that he has only begun to explore, including at-will casting and eldritch blasts. At the moment, they remain weak as he probes the secrets of magic more deeply, but he is working hard to strengthen them.
He is currently living in Doran’s Port (the city the town starts in) taking odd jobs while he studies magic, trying to perfect the magical sciences while also trying to bring out newly discovered powers. As they grow, he doesn’t know whether he is hunting the demon to kill it, or to thank it, but he does know that doing so drives his every move.