Dungeons & Dragons is, rightly in my opinion, considered the forerunner and progenitor of tabletop role-playing games. For over 4 decades, D & D in one form or another has been at the core of the roleplaying game community and economy. The 5th Edition represents a true iterative leap forward for the game. The basic conventions of the roleplaying game were set by D & D with ability scores, classes, and advancing levels many years back, but as the larger culture changed, D & D looked to change as well. What was once geek culture is not pop culture, and with the rise of online MMORPGs, D & D tried to make changes to the game in the 4th Edition to streamline some of the more complicated and dense rules to open it up to a new generation and a new audience of players. The results were … mixed, but that is a story for another time.
The Fifth Edition of Dungeons and Dragons has clearly fulfilled the promise of 4th Edition creating a straightforward gaming experience that still holds the recognizable essence of Dungeons & Dragons for us old school grognards while being accessible and inviting to a whole new generation. I’ll admit that, despite it’s success and popular acclaim, I have had little opportunity to play 5th Edition yet. If you want to look at some of the discussion of “Basic” Dungeons & Dragons from the 1980s into the 1990s, check the Card Catalog write ups of The Callie’s Song crew.
In case you don’t know much about 5th Edition, the Characters are made with six Abilities, a race, a class, and the much more straightforward skill system than previous editions. Abilities are rolled on 4D6, with the lowest score dropped, and assigned as the player prefers and those Abilities are then modified by the racial choice, Halflings receiving a +2 to Dexterity for example. Humans receive a +1 to all of their Abilities if the Variant rules are not used. The races also have other potential traits such as the darkvision of the dwarves that may be useful before picking your class. (I am an old enough grognard that I still do a double take to see races such as Dragonborn and Tiefling in the Core Rule Book). The Classes are where the most “meat” of the system lies covering a large swatch of what can be done including special features such as the Monk’s ability to deflect missiles or the Wizard’s Spells. Skills are not just Proficient or not – if you are Proficient, when you make a check, you add you overall Proficiency bonus to your attribute bonus for the roll, like 3rd Edition’s Base Attack Bonus for combat. I am also a big fan of the use of Backgrounds which provide a shortcut to helping you flesh out your backstory with a list of possible personality traits, ideals, bonds, or flaws, but also have mechanical bonuses for your character in skills and languages. In a lot of ways, this seems to distill the essence of the old Gazetteer series through the Kits of previous editions.
The Feats of previous editions are optional now. If you want to use them in your game, you elect to skip Ability Score improvements to select a Feat as you level, though many of the Feats also have an Ability Score improvement included. I am going to use this option to generate Balama so I wanted to mention it here before jumping into the design.
First off, I plan to start with a Human across the board so differences between the three games races are not part of the issue. With the Variant Feat Rules, that means that she will get to increase two Ability Scores she rolls by 1, gain proficiency in an extra skill, and gain a Feat at First level. Second, using the Dungeons & Dragons Core Rule Book to make a Longbow Archer gives you two options – Fighter or Ranger. While I could have gone with a sneakier and more “nature” connected Ranger, I am going to stick with the Fighter Class for its flexibility and because I am not quite seeing the Ranger side for Balama right now; maybe she can multiclass later in her career.
For the Ability Score Rolls, we got – 16, 12, 13, 15, 17, 14! HOLY HANNAH! That is a fantastic set of roles! I can already tell you that I will be applying the Ability Score increases to Dexterity and Charisma, so after that, the resulting Ability Scores are: Strength – 12, Dexterity – 18, Constitution – 13, Intelligence – 15, Wisdom – 14, Charisma – 17. SInce I know that I am making an Archer, the bonus Feat has to be Sharpshooter because it removes the benefits of partial cover from her targets and removes her penalties at longer range. An easy choice indeed. For her bonus Skill Proficiency, I will go with Persuasion as I see her being or becoming a leader.
Fighter’s start with a Proficiency Bonus of +2 for their rolls such as combat and their proficient skills. Fighters have a Proficiency with all armor & shields as well as both simple and martial weapons. For the two additional skills a Fighter has Proficiency with, I’ll choose Acrobatics and Perception as generally useful skills for a rather lithe and perceptive archer. One of the defining moments for a Fighter is choosing what Fighting Style specialty will define you; Balama picks Archery for the +2 Bonus on all attack rolls with ranged weapons without a doubt. Finally, as a First Level Fighter, Balama has the Second Wind class ability that lets her shrug off some damage and keep going in a fight.
For her Background, I already picked a name from Turami list because the description of being tall and muscular fits the idea. One thing to note, the D&D Core Book has the least amount of world building contained, so while you Forgotten Realms fans know this means Balama is likely from Turmish and that the Aristocratic background would be more of a wealthy Merchant family background, the book itself leaves it wide open to the player and DM imaginations. I am still using the Noble background because it fits the best, granting an additional language on top of the two Balama already had as a human, proficiency in a particular game, as well as proficiency in both History and Persuasion. Since we already has chosen Persuasion earlier, I’ll pretend we picked Intimidation instead to keep with the leadership idea. I went ahead and rolled on the random charts for the remaining components of the Noble background:
- Feature: Position of Privilege – Balama fits in with the upper crust of society and seems to be accepted as someone of high birth. Even commoners seem to treat her as wealthy and local nobility will grant her an audience. A fitting reputation for the scion of one of the wealthiest merchants from the Inner Sea.
- Personality Traits – Holds a long grudge, where once her trust and favor are lost they are lost forever
- Ideals – Obligation. She comes from a place and position of privilege and she holds it upon herself because of that to protect those who were not so fortunate in birth.
- Bonds – Family. The Domine family is large, but close and nothing is more important than the family members.
- Flaws – Shame. As an Archer, and an unmarried woman, Balama knows that she disappoints her family, though her father continues to tell her she must be true to her own calling.
- Equipment is fairly quick and easy to determine to start as a Longbow and Studded Leather armor are the obvious components. Glancing through the book for other weapons, I am going to go with a rapier and a whip because they will let me use the Dexterity bonus rather than Strength bonus as Finesse weapons. This may shape some of the choices in our next systems too! Add to that an Explorer’s Pack, the signet ring of her family, and Balama is ready to explore!
Advancement in Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition is fairly straightforward! As you gain experience, you gain the abilities at each level of your class, including increases to your Proficiency Bonus. By Fifth level, Balama will have added the Action Surge Feature, an Extra Attack, another Feat, and her Martial Archetype as a Fighter. I am going to take the last one first because it is the most interesting one and the one with the most words to follow.
At Third Level, Fighter’s choose what Archetype they want to follow – Champion, Battle Master, or Eldritch Knight. The former is a rather blunt tool or raw power while the latter incorporates magickal study and spellcasting. Balama will follow the Battle Master Archetype that is described as a field of study passed down in training and complete with lessons of history and artistry. Yeah, that fits. Being a Battle Master also adds proficiencies for the artisan’s tools listed on Balama’s Sheet. Battle Masters have special maneuvers they may use in combat for added effects and make use of a bonus die called a Superiority Die for some of those maneuvers. Balama’s three Maneuvers choices are:
- Precision Attack – The ability to choose to add an addition 1D8 to your roll to hit makes absolute sense for a Longbow Archer
- Disarming Attack – You know you want to shoot the Barbarian’s Axe out of his or her hands.
- Distracting Strike – This reflects that perfect shot that doesn’t just hit, but hits at the right time for your friends and allies to take advantage of that shot.
For her next Feat, Balama is choosing Inspiring Leader so that we can keep going with our leader and Charisma heavy concept for her.
We will take the statistical average for hit point increases and look at some gear that may have been found by the time we are into the 5th Level. Magical items are much rarer in 5th Edition than in previous editions, so while I am generous, I won’t go too over the top. Maybe just a +1 Suit of Studded Leather armor, nicely ornamented and cared for as well as a handful of some consumable magical arrows and a potion of healing.
While I spilled a lot of words on the generation and advancement, it was all fairly intuitive and quickly done. As this is the game that set the standard against which we measure other systems, it is a comforting design to choose your race, class, and a small number of other things to really enhance and round out the character.
Balama Domine is trapped between two competing drives. One the one side, she is the scion of her family and a leading light of her cousins looked upon as the head to be of a massive trading house, but on the other side she is a strong willed and adventurous woman seeking to lead more than just trade caravans.
Balama knew little of hardship as a child. The Domine had more wealth than many nobles in other parts of the world, and the family never wanted for anything. It was a blessing, a privilege, for Balama to play without care, learn without fear, and explore without reprimand. Her tutors left her with books and knowledge of the past as much as they left her with knowledge of the bow and sword. Truth be told, Balama was an exceptional child who showed all the signs of carrying on the Domine legacy. The Domine had long established themselves as traders and merchants but it was her father who solidified the family’s power through the Inner Sea acting as a broker and intermediary to foreign merchants who were less versed in the customs.
Balama’s freedom led her towards a different path. When she was old enough to see what others faced in the world, her heart broke. She had been given all, and she had not thought or realized what she had was not what other had. It was then, as the youth began to grow to a woman, that she started to draw apart from her family’s wishes and hopes. She strengthened her body and mind with greater resolve pushing her family to do more for their employees, for their countrymen, for the world. Balama never bought into the laws of the world as the highest calling, and as her gaze broadened to see other countries in other parts of the world, her so too did her gaze harden.
In light of some of the abject evil she saw, among humans, dwarves, tieflings, and elves across the planet, in light of the evil the gods allowed to persist , she chose to fight back directly. From her position of privilege, she had access to the levers of power and with her talent in the martial arts, she could gain access by force if need be. Her noble bearing and steadfast belief in raising up those on whom the great nations and houses were built have given her a meaning and a direction few her age gain. She is Balama Domine and she will not stand by to watch your tyranny.
1 Archer, 3 Ways Overview