Gathering inspration from traveling, part deux: Tricking out your character

viking flair

viking flair

On Monday, I presented part 1 of my vacation report about gathering ideas for D&D from traveling around the world. Today I’ll finish off by describing some ideas I had about tricking out characters with medieval pieces of flair.

Wall of HalberdsBefore parts standardization, weapons were hand-made and unique. I saw several museums with wall upon wall of swords, halberds, and the like. Each weapon was unique in size, shape, and decoration. If you’re going to put in the amount of time and money it took to make a weapon that would survive hundreds of years of museum quality, you might as well have it nicely decorated. In-game, once weapons reach masterwork quality, they should have a little unique design; if your character was the one to comission it, you get some say in the matter. A character can show his humor or devotion by the decoration on his arms and armor.

Characters can also carry around small amount of wealth embedded in the hilt, pommel, and scabbard of a sword. Decorative art (aka, generic treasure) isn’t limited to brooches, figurines, and goblets: it can also be weapons and armor that are too fancy to be functional. The real crowns, bowls, goblets, scepters, swords, etc. owned by the medieval kings seem to have a gaudy big jewels haphazardly shoved on  like a kindergarten art project.  I imagine the most powerful rulers in the d&d world probably have astral-diamond studded crowns. By the time your character works up to magic items he’s pretty much guaranteed to have a little bit of gilt. For magic items decorations could  double as a hint to its functionality: snow flakes for frost effects, divine symbols for radiant or necrotic, or a serpent for handle on a poisonous dagger.

In London I found out that Henry VIII had more firearms than wives. He wad a fanatical collector of early cannons, guns, sword-guns, and mace-guns. In his collection you can see the evolution and experimentation in the early days of firearms as the engineers and artists tried to make gunpowder work on the battlefield. Looking an actual arquebus makes me wonder if the d&d stats should have a had a higher misfire rate. I bet its wielders died more often from a sword-gun or mace-gun than its targets; but it must have been exciting for them at the time.  Just as in the real world some people are early adopters of technology, in d&d some characters should be the type to jump to the newest thing, be it weapons, transportation, or spells. This kind of character may adopt a new “main” power at each level, or start using the newest piece of treasure, letting his trusty waraxe gather dust in the handy haversack.

16th C hand mortar

16th C hand mortar

Some characters like artificers may be inclined to be the one developing the new stuff in the world–always experimenting and trying out new ideas and techniques. I once convinced a DM to let us set up a giant “there i fixed it“-style goblin-killing device to clear out a dungeon.  We made up a lot of up rules as we went a long and it wasn’t as effective as straight up combat, but it sure was fun.

Of Kings and Servants

Another way to trick out your character is with lackeys, servants, and sycophants. In order to go adventuring, you need lots of gold for equipment. Since labor is way cheap, it’s not unreasonable to think that player characters could support a few characters’ yearly wages from their earnings. I couldn’t find good 4e rules for hiring servants, but as they wouldn’t really have any in-game effect, they are probably free. If your character has the least bit of noble blood or the desire to join their ranks, she should get some personal staff. A good start would be to have valet and cook, and you probably want a someone to oversee the running of your estate. From there you can pick up any Victorian era-set novel to see what else you need: a gameskeeper, butler, chauffeur, constable, etc. The rules make it quite cumbersome to take non-PC friends adventuring so let’s assume for argument that you have a way of storing these guys when you’re not actively adventuring, so you probably own a manor or keep.

For time advice, see today’s Dungeon’s Master repost on +1 swords.