THERE’S something comforting about playing a character that fits neatly into one of the standard fantasy archetypes – the happy-go-lucky Halfling Rogue, the mysterious Elven Ranger and so forth.
Like many players, however, I’m a big fan of trying something a little unconventional. This doesn’t just apply to mixing up non-ideal combinations of races and classes, but also their backgrounds.
One of my latest characters had been floating around in my mind for quite some time before I got her down on paper. She would be a barbarian, but one born far from the frozen tundra or craggy mountain peaks usually associated with the class. Instead, Lilli Wildflower was to be a child of the city, constantly fighting to contain the unnatural rage that pulsated through her otherwise civilised soul.
When I introduced my character to the group I play with on Wednesday nights the initial reaction was one of amusement. A female Halfling with the Guild Artisan background seemed a terrible choice for a barbarian, both mechanically and thematically.
For once both the serious roleplayers and dedicated min-maxers were united, rolling their eyes at the idea that I was bringing along a joke character that was useless in combat and a one-trick pony when it came to characterisation.
However, I was determined to show that I was deadly serious.
On the subject of stats, I’ll admit that when it comes to raw numbers a Halfling won’t ever make for an ideal Barbarian. Without even a secondary bonus to Strength they would lag behind the more conventional choices, such as Half-Orcs and Goliaths, in both accuracy and damage.
Beyond this, as Small creatures they are unable to wield heavy weapons without suffering disadvantage, so if you want to live you the fantasy of wielding a greataxe as big as your character you’re going to have to be extremely lucky with your rolls.
Despite these issues, the Stout Halfling sub-race is far from the worst option out there. Bonuses to both Dexterity and Constitution make for excellent AC thanks to the Barbarian’s Unarmoured Defence trait. Pick up a shield and Bear Totem and while you’re raging you’re probably the toughest character in the game that hasn’t shapeshifted into a bear, thanks to an already deep HP pool that is effectively doubled against everything but psychic damage.
The ‘Lucky’ trait also works incredibly well for a character that is going to be rolling lots of attacks, while ‘Nimble’ helps you move around the battlefield with remarkable agility if you’re clever about it.
As far as I was concerned, however, the fact that Lilli could actually be extremely useful in combat was just a piece of good luck. The real appeal came in her characterisation.
At the heart of it, the thing that elevates barbarians above the status of rough-around-the-edges Fighters is their rage. Even at level one, each and every Barbarian is able to work themselves into a primeval fury that grants them unnatural strength and resilience.
While this trait has traditionally been the domain of untamed hordes of muscle-bound raiders living on the outskirts of so-called civilised society, it would be a fool to think that even effete city-dwellers were somehow immune to anger.
This was the core conceit of Lilli’s character – an uncontrollable rage that was half blessing, half curse. It would allow her to battle against the tyrannies she hated with a passion so fierce that it almost burned her, but at the cost of her self-control and poise. She hated what the rage made her, but needed to exploit its power in order to correct the wrongs she couldn’t help but notice around her.
Her armour, at first level, at least, consisted of nothing more than an old red dress, criss-crossed with dozens of neat patches and repairs. At first glance it would be unlikely for an observer to even think that the polite, kind-hearted Lilli was a warrior at all, save for the battered old axe and shield she had taken from the wall of her father’s inn.
In combat, however, she would transform into something terrible to behold, filled with frothing rage and the need to destroy her enemies. When she was facing a particularly fearsome opponent she would toss away her shield and take up her axe two-handed, unconcerned for the damage coming her way.
She was a thoroughly enjoyable character to play and I had great hopes for her character arc – would she be able to control her growing rages and hold on to her humanity, or would she throw herself into the bloodlust that was growing within her soul?
Alas, as you may have gathered from all the past tense, I never got to see the full potential of Lilli’s story. In true Barbarian style she went down fighting a demon much too powerful for her to handle, holding it off with the raw power of her fury while the rest of the party retreated in disarray.
I was sad to close the book on Lilli Wildflower so early, but at least I achieved my goal. When the rest of the party discussed her sacrifice it was in tones of awe and respect. Not one of them seemed to remember that only a month or so before they had all been dismissive of their diminutive companion.
Lilli was no joke; she was a legend.