When I started playing Dungeons & Dragons, I was obsessed with creating the “perfect character.” To some degree, even years later, I try to get everything with this one character right. Which character you might ask? The handsome blue-clad swashbuckler looking elf you see here: Daerthalion Dawntracker. In the process of creating him, and in some cases, re-creating and refining him, I learned more about character building than I ever thought I could from working on a single character.
Art: Daerthalion Dawntracker by Kannah
Stick around to the end for a new magic item!
When I first started really playing D&D, I was an avid Magic: The Gathering player. I loved building decks for the Commander (EDH) format, and I loved them working like clockwork. Finding synergy in card combinations was fun, and I enjoyed feeling like my decks were a working machine. I originally viewed creating a character in D&D like deck building. If I could go back to 2013, and give myself advice to the contrary, it would have saved a lot of time and effort. Because we were playing D&D 3.5, I had a lot of research to do. If you have ever looked at any 3.5 online resource, all the material to dig through is overwhelming. You had all the feats to consider, the prestige classes, multiclassing was practically a must. Somewhere along the way, someone even composed a tiered list of the power levels, and that certainly didn’t help.
I cobbled together a character that I named Daedhelon, and later renamed Daerthalion to better fit his personality. One being the Tolkein elvish for “Shadow of Dread” and the other “Great Hero” and I was more sold on the latter. I started him off as a spellthief, but found that within a few sessions of playing, I wasn’t happy with what I had made. It didn’t feel right, nor did it feel like the character I was trying to create. Yes, I wanted a character that was both swords and magic, and didn’t know how to get there. I tried everything that might make the character feel unique through combinations of feats and features, and I was still unsatisfied. This pattern continued even when our system changed to Pathfinder and then ultimately 5e. No matter what I did, I couldn’t figure it out.
The strange thing about my dissatisfaction with Daerthalion’s build was I enjoyed playing the character. Daerthalion in action plays like Matt Smith’s 11th Doctor (Doctor Who) meets the Three Musketeers, and it is always a blast. Tapping into the character’s wit, humor, creativity, and swashbuckling antics is always a great time. I flavored every sword stroke, every quick joking aside, every movement and facial expression, and I felt like that brought the character to life more than the mechanics ever did. My only sense of disappointment was that I couldn’t find something that fit a build for him. In my frustration I made a decision: just play the character as he would live, and it worked. I chose to make him a College of Swords Bard/ Swashbuckler Rogue, and I let go of my need to have everything just right.
I started picking options that fit the character’s concept and story. For example:
- If College of Swords only has Blade Flourishes, then picking the Martial Adept feat granting his Feinting Attack and Riposte are two options he has as a “coup de grace”.
- I picked the Magic Initiate feat and chose Sorcerer because he has draconic heritage; those little metallic freckles of his are remnants of his copper dragon ancestry, and when he uses his mage armor granted by the feat, they appear on the rest of his body acting like armor.
- His spells are all dueling or sword themed: bane and faerie fire are his way of “cheating” in a duel, and his Magical Secrets take the form of Steel Wind Strike and Blade Barrier.
Choices like these felt like the character had made them and felt as though they were a part of him, as opposed to every time I had tried to just make what I felt fit the character. My problem was that I never stopped to think about Daerthalion’s thought process. A lot like the article where I shared my creative process for designing the Whelm spell, by viewing the character as informing the mechanical choices, I found satisfaction in the selection of his abilities rather than trying to string a build together that wasn’t fitting this vivid image of the character.
This isn’t to say, of course, that you can’t find fun ways to make personalized additions to a character. Take for instance a sword that I am working on convincing my wonderful DM, Kannah, to let me craft in game as Daerthalion.
Blade of the Arcanist by Kannah
Blade of the Arcanist
Rapier, Legendary (requires attunement by a spellcaster)
This unique rapier crafted from mithral and magically infused crystals allows the wielder to channel magic energy through the weapon with every strike. While you hold this rapier, it sheds dim light out to 20 feet. You gain a +3 bonus to attack and damage rolls made with this weapon. When you hit with an attack with it, the target takes an extra 1d8 force damage, and you can expend a spell slot to deal an additional 1d8 force damage per level of the spell slot. If you do, the target has disadvantage on the next saving throw it makes against a spell you cast before the end of your next turn.
Hopefully my and Daerthalion’s shared adventure helps inspire your own. Keep creating, never stop adventuring, and stay awesome. See you next time!