Saturday, April 2, 2011

B is for: BARBARIAN!

I like barbarians - in the literary, cinematic, and RPG sense. After reading Lord of the Rings in elementary school, I found the Ace edition Conan books in the local library while I was in Junior High and started reading them. It's an understatement to say they had an impact and I think to this day they are required reading for anyone who wants to talk about fantasy writing and lit or who is interested in the origins of D&D.

When it comes to RPG's I really haven't played many barbarian type characters, so it's a little funny that my last 3rd Edition D&D character was a barbarian and was in fact the first one I played in that version of the game. Part of it was that I was joining an existing group and a head-bashing tough guy was a good fit, and part of it was that my mood at the time I made him really fit that type as well. It was a weeknight game and I really wasn't interested in the finer points of spellcasting or buffing other players - I wanted to bash the $!%$##@! out of something and I picked the class best able to do that.

Note: In contrast to yesterday's post I have no nifty computer-generated pictures of a barbarian to throw in here.  I do have a picture of the miniature I used:

Doh! Now I can't find my actual painted miniature so there's a picture of the unpainted version as a placeholder. I picked one up in the 90's somewhere as I really liked this mini. The sculptor is Kev Adams who did the "Happy Orcs" for Games Workshop in the late 80's and early to mid 90's which are some of my favorites. I liked this mini so much I picked up a second one years later which is still in the package waiting for that magical combination of inspiration + time. My original is black-haired so he may be a blonde. Or he may get some streaks of gray and a fancier sword as an older version of Finboch.

Yes, the character's name was Finboch Canlar. I poked around on some Celtic name website and strung it together with a strong dose of "what sounds good". The game was set in the Forgotten Realms so he was from Rashemen which is a big barbarian area to the east of the most-played areas. They are traditional enemies of Thay, the land of evil wizards, so it's a vary traditional-Conan-esque barbarian place to be from. My short background was that he came west looking for gold and loot and maybe a wife with the long-term plan of either heading back home and showing up his rivals or becoming a minor lord somewhere in a border region where he could rule and fight in equal amounts. As it turns out, we only played about 5 sessions together, so long-term plans didn't matter so much. Here's his character sheet:

That's right, no pre-made computer-generated character sheets here! Old-school hand-drawn notebook paper for this guy! Here's the back:

Mechanically my idea was that way too many barbarians run around in almost no armor and wield some giant two-hander weapon. Fin was smarter than that. He was going to use a shield and beyond that, he was going to use it offensively as well as defensively. There are some feats in the 3E PHB2 that really make this viable so I went nuts with it - all 4 of his feats are tied into shields & shield-bashing. In short his shield gave him better protection than a normal person but he could throw two attacks per round with his weapon and then throw in one more from his shield without losing anything from his defenses - he was a lot of fun. This also freed him from being overly specialized in his "regular" weapon. Much like Conan he could pick up anything and be very good at bashing people with it. He started off with a masterwork longsword and in the last session he was using a +2 Morningstar taken from some bugbear chieftain. Versatility is good, and he was quite versatile when it came to offense.

But maybe you're too old-school for 3E D&D. Maybe you remember when Barbarians were first discussed in Dragon #63. If so then fresh from the 1980's, here is Arakhan, the First Edition Barbarian!

I had to adjust the coloring a bit as the sheet is pencil on notebook paper and there's not as much contrast as there used to be. It's a lot more impressive if you imagine that big stain to be blood (Crom's Devils! THUNK!) but in fact I believe it to be Dr. Pepper, with some of those smaller dots consisting of Domino's Pizza* splatters. There's about 25 years between these two hand-drawn sheets and I am clearly a lot less concerned about neatness nowadays than I was back then, barring the odd spill.

Arakhan was a frost/ice/snow barbarian from Greyhawk, but since this was before a lot of Greyhawk deity information was published he just worshipped Thor. You can see a lot of the early to mid-80's Dragon influences here with his Harpoon and his social level of Lower Middle Class. His standard approach to combat was to chuck some throwing axes (later a harpoon) on the way in and then go with either two-handed sword or broadsword and shield depending on the opposition. These 1E barbarians had all kinds of ridiculous  side skills and special abilities and a d12 for hit points and special rolling methods for stats and all of that was theoretically balanced out by massive XP requirements for leveling and a hatred of magic items. You can see from the sheet - 5th level and no magic items, unheard of with normal D&D characters. yet he still manages to achieve AC 0 wearing only leather and is still going to do massive damage to large targets especially, with that two-hander hitting for 3-18 +5. I won't comment on the amazing ability scores and hit points- some of that comes from the special class rules and some of that comes from making a character when you're 13.

Arakhan spent most of his time running around in a two-man party with a friend who was running "Thag" the Half-Ogre. There were two Thags at different times, one was a fighter and one was a barbarian. Half-Ogres were another Dragon enhancement that we thought were a lot of fun to play. In some ways they were crippled by a low level-cap but being able to wield a two-handed sword in one hand and being almost guaranteed of an 18 strength made up for a lot. We had a lot of fun with low-level adventuring, bashing our way through dungeons (literally - no knock spells or lockpicking skills here) and getting into bar fights in town.  Arakhan had animal handling ability with dogs so he usually travelled with at least a pair of war dogs. Normal tactics was Arakhan and Thag throw weapons as the dogs charge in, then the two big guys charge and the monsters die quickly. It didn't always work, but it almost always worked and that was good enough for us.

Tomorrow: The letter C

*our summer and weekend lunch of choice as we could not yet drive

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