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The Art of the Small—Can you find the CruFluffnch?

Written by LanJemWezz - Published on February 10, 2012

Lo there, wanderer! Stay thine course and sit with me awhile. Let us plumb the depths of the D&D game as we take a 20 on a Search of the titles given the oft-crunch-filled characters we play.

Ye Olde Six Spote: “How do you say ‘classic portrayal’?”

Before, we looked at the game’s most recognized magic-users, but now we spy a glance at the game’s most skilled and talented, and a little more. Gather round now, there be fluff hidden hereabouts!

Feathers, sashes, and slippers—the art of the soft sell.

One of the most venerable and iconic classes in D&D, the bard is not only a class title but an honest to goodness in-world profession and one of the best slice of life examples the game has to offer. Bards make excellent court heralds, the mouth pieces of the rich, decked in gaudy finery and all the pomp and circumstance that go with being a “man of the state.” Bards too can play the role of the destitute, barefoot and penniless but right at home on the road, waving the banner of dissent against the establishment. With such a wide gamut of RP styles to choose from, what then lies at the heart of each? Yes, bards have a middling skill at defense and can be dangerous in a pinch, but they are not bred for the fight. Their class abilities and spells help them to worm their way out of combat, or at least navigate it with the least amount of discomfort for all involved. They are odd (or exceptional) not for the clothes they wear and the songs they sing, but because they stand in contrast to so many of the other classes which revel in the fight. This matches up with their historical counterparts who were often brought in to soothe and mediate. Does this make them a bad class for a game built around tactical combat? Not unless you disagree with the following. Bards option for the softer approach, whether it’s a set up to a dagger in the back of his enemies, or those same enemies made friends, and thus are given to the greatest variance of “RP cred” by virtue of the fact that they can complement or form a counterpoint to any other class’s social status in-game. Bards are the “peacemakers,” the “wordsmiths,” and/or the “charlatans” of D&D.

In the same way bards can travel among many different social circles (and enjoy greater potential for play from an RP standpoint), monks too can fit in wherever they go because they often don’t “look the part” of the average D&D character. Though the bard strives more to perfect those around him, the monk is more interested in perfecting the self. The bard is at his best when exercising the flexibility of his RP cred and his right to use the crunch he is given to achieve that somewhat fluffier goal. The monk is at her best when exercising the flexibility of her class features (crunch) against the varied dangers of the world, thus providing her with the spectacle of achievement (or failure, if unlucky) that would naturally stimulate others to engage her in RP. Where the monk takes it from there is up to the player. The bard lives by his words, whereas the monk lives by her deeds. Bards work well in groups by their very nature, and while monks are the ultimate in self-sufficiency, it is that very quality which makes them a valuable asset to any enterprising party of adventurers. What then does this say about the name “monk”? Not much in retrospect, but even that is informative. The D&D monk with her martial prowess invokes the idea of Shaolin Monks, or even a more westernized version, like Friar Tuck from the Robin Hood stories. Both of these examples hail from different schools of thought, so we would do well to keep the monk’s school or tradition at the forefront of our thoughts concerning in-game titles. Words like “monk” and “mystic” are unimportant among members of the cloister themselves. Within the cloister monks would have everyday chores, so consider this. One player says to another, “Are you what they call a monk?” After a brief pause, the other replies, “No. Just a simple a miller.” Such a simple line of dialogue, yet the character’s mystique remains intact opening a gateway to further RP.

Rogues, while not every edition has called them as such, are perhaps the most varied class of characters in D&D. 1st Edition progression tables used to list the changes to a rogue’s title as he advanced in level (e.g. “footpad,” “cutpurse,” “robber,” “burglar,” “filcher,” “sharper,” et al.), and while this is great for labeling all the ways a thief might manifest in the game world, it’s a bit too dictatorial to expect the class to inhabit and outgrow each of those titles in such rapid succession. Rogues can be of completely non-criminal backgrounds also, so what about them? Once again, it comes down to how the class manufactures its RP cred. No rogue likes to think the skills and traits he brings to the table can be duplicated by anyone else but him (whether or not this is actually true). The way a rogue promotes his daring-do (through bravado or quiet cunning, etc.) would be limited only by the depth of his skill set and the inventiveness with which he recreates himself. (Of course, having the best resources at hand helps, and if rogues are good at anything it’s resource acquisition.) The crunch tells us the rogue’s skill set is already deep, so all that remains is for us to provide the inventiveness. With that in mind, we can make the old 1st Edition level progression work for us today. Rather than definitively saying when and what a rogue becomes, each rogue would do well to have a set of fallback “professions” or covers to call upon depending on the job he is doing. One month he’s a corsair raiding ships, the next he’s a buccaneer press-ganging locals in coastal towns, and after that back to being a regular pirate. As DMs, we could encourage our players to group rogue skills according to profession, so as to better hone in on what they need for specifically-themed campaigns. (In keeping with the whole renaming theme, why not encourage them to rename certain skills, i.e. Stealth could become “Sneak” or “Footpadding,” putting a character’s own personal stamp on skill use in-game?)

And a little more…

Do you name your characters before rolling them up or after? How important is a character’s name? And if it is, how? All valid questions. I’ve done both in the past; naming characters before and after I’ve rolled them up. Naming them after is about finding the proper mold to suit the heap of flesh you’ve dreamed up. Naming them before is a want to fill the mold with parts of a worthy whole. My first D&D character was named Hudson. It’s an unmistakably masculine name, and at that time, no one in my mind named Hudson could be imagined without a thick red beard. The name was already informing me about the character, and this was all before I rolled even a single die. Hudson became a fighter; moreover, he became a gladiator because he had no last name. A character’s name can also help us determine where the character comes from, how he talks, or what she sounds like. “Hudson” has a Nordic vibe to it, so I concluded he must have come from a cold clime. Does the name tell you something about the character’s family (e.g. who sired them), or what their profession is (i.e. many surnames do just that)? Exotic names can be hard to pronounce, but they can also give us clues as to the character’s voice. Researching phonetics or the sounds letters make on websites like dictionary.com or wikipedia.org can help you find the voice through pronunciation. Take “Drizzt Do’Urden” for example. What would he sound like in-game? We need look no further then his name. Perhaps he speaks with the equivalent of a French/Spanish affectation to our ears? A Mediterranean/North African blend? Persian?

And so it is that we come to the end of our look at class names and names in general in the D&D game. Hopefully, these articles provide you with the right tools to come up with ideas that even surpass the ones presented here. Good gaming until next time; with swords high and daggers low!

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Written by LanJemWezz

Writer for ICOSA Entertainment LLC, and author of the upcoming in-house offering, “The Alchemist’s Trilogy”: a series of Pure Steam tie-in novellas. Also, look for his short story “Dark Magic in the Root Cellar” in the “Dreamless Roads” anthology for DreamWorlds Publishing, due out Winter 2014!

Check out the Pure Steam Campaign Setting at: puresteamrpg.com, drivethrurpg.com, paizo.com, d20pfsrd.com
Twitter: @PureSteamRPG

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2 Responses to “The Art of the Small—Can you find the CruFluffnch?”
  1. TalonSylpheed says:

    My favorite name for a character is Torolf, a Human barbarian from the north with thick brown hair and a rough, thickly accented voice. When I first named him not long ago, I thought of the name pretty quickly and thought, “Hey, that’s an awesome name, I can’t believe I came up with that.” Only later did I find out that I had heard it during the opening of Skyrim and subconciously remembered it… Oh well. It’s a great name that gets across the vibe I was looking for.

  2. LanJemWezz says:

    Nice, evocative name! Just as MythicParty showed us in an October article (here: http://www.dungeonmastering.com/tools-resources/console-cleric-1-d6-ways-gears-of-war-3-can-help-your-dd-game), video games can be a good source of inspiration and wealthy resource for many ideas, not the least of which are good names for characters.

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