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Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Examining Archetypes: The Charmer

I figured I'd continue the archetype discussion with a closer look at a new proposed class mentioned in the Thief post, especially in contrast to the Faithful Lover variant of the Cleric: the Charmer. First, here's the basic classic abilities (slightly different from the way I first presented it:
  • can reroll the reaction of any intelligent being at any time, limited only by awareness and communication ability;
  • gets a level-based bonus on reaction rolls and maximum number of followers.
The important things to note are:

First, that since the bonus applies to a reaction roll instead of to more generally useful actions, the Charmer's bonus also applies to the related factor of followers. Charmers get more followers than normal, since their whole schtick is that they get things done through friends, allies, or henchmen instead of through direct action. I was a little slow to add this bonus, because I'm toying with the idea that "max followers" should be dropped, but this really fits the archetype of the inspiring leader or the schemer with a web of spies.

Second, that the reaction reroll allows the Charmer to do uncanny things, like sooth angry savages in the middle of combat or befriend assassins who have been hired to kill the character; however, it doesn't allow the Charmer to do supernatural things, like order new-found followers to perform complex tasks without the benefit of knowing their language, or communicating with friends telepathically; there would be supernatural equivalents with powers like this, but they would not be considered Charmer variants.

For comparison, here's my proposed Cleric (faithful lover) variant:
  • can sense the urgent need of the True Love over any distance;
  • can perform limited miracles in the quest to save the True Love, with a level-based bonus (treat as Cleric miracle.)
The Faithful Lover is the romantic hero who has a sudden flash that his True Love needs him, who has a sudden burst of strength as he rushes to her side; he's the prince who can awaken the princess from a magical slumber, or the woman who can bring her True Love back from the brink of death, with just a kiss. I mentioned Lancelot and Romeo, although perhaps Romeo is a bit of stretch (as some have complained.) It's never made explicit, mainly because Shakespeare was sticking to a more realistic approach for that play, but one could interpret or at the very least imagine Romeo's ride to be at Juliet's side as being boosted by his love for her and fear for her safety. Later romantic heroes, even those in supposedly realistic stories, have sudden bursts of speed and strength or escape certain death just because their love drives them on. This is why I contrasted the Lover to the Charmer: the distinction is that the Lovers affect themselves, boosting their abilities, while Charmers affect others, persuading many people to do what they want.

But it gets tricky to distinguish the two, because the Charmer and the Lover are very prone to "multiclassing" or hybridization. Consider the example of Orpheus raised previously: he loves Eurydice and storms the gates of Hades to reclaim her, which certainly smacks of supernatural elements; but even before he meets her, and after he loses her forever, he has the ability to persuade and inspire others. He's a Charmer/Lover hybrid. John Carter, the Warlord of Mars, is also a Charmer/Lover or possibly Charmer/Lover/Fighter, able to win friends at the drop of a hat, recover from situations that would kill another man because of his need to save Dejah Thoris, and also able to fight three or four opponents simultaneously.

The Charmer has some variants, such as the Charmer (beasts) or Beast-Friend mentioned in the Thief post, which might fit either the innocent soul who's always surrounded by squirrels and birds, or the woodsy animal tamer; combine the latter into a Thief/Charmer (beasts) hybrid and you get a Tarzan clone. If the setting includes artificial intelligence, Charmer (robots) might be a viable option as well, and if you use a mildly supernatural version of the class with increased experience requirements, you can have Supernatural Charmer (plants) or (element) as further variants.

Any of the Charmer variants has a wide choice on how to interpret or use the ability. Followers might be dedicated because they are impressed by the Charmer's kindness, or they might follow because of the Charmer's aura of fear. The Charmer can focus on acquiring followers, or just on inspiring peace without worrying over making friends. The ability to stop combat might actually be a trick so that the Charmer can make a surprise attack, and might be portrayed as a clever lie or a hypnotic stare. The Charmer might only use the ability for con games and fast-talking his way past authorities, in a sense becoming another derivative of the Thief.

What I have to think about some more is what other options could replace the reaction reroll ability; that could provide a few more class variants and make this a richer archetype.


  1. I introduced a class a few years back to a BX Mystara campaign that was oddly similar to your Charmer class, although I called it the Diplomat.

    My version used the same saves and combat abilities as the Cleric, got a reaction bonus (+1 at lvl 1, +2 at level 4, and +3 at lvl 8,) and could reroll one reaction roll per level each level. I didn't give them additional followers, as I gave them Charisma as their prime ability (so they could boost it by lowering other scores.)

    The one player that braved the homebrew ended up rerolling an Elf after two levels (3 to 5.) His complaint was the class was to passive. it might have gone over better if I allowed the player to roll reaction, although I'm not sure if I'd like the PC's to have that much info on an encounter.

  2. As to a replacement ability, what about something along the line of the OA Yakuza's contacts. Perhaps they could call on the services of a specialists or hireling for a day once per level per game with out having to pay their wages?

  3. As you describe it, I can see why the player saw the Diplomat as passive: not much of a chance to use the class ability, and it certainly doesn't affect combat. I picked a reaction reroll ability and high reaction bonus for the Charmer to specifically make the class more useful: a Charmer can potentially stop a fight, or inspire others in combat. I definitely wouldn't let the *player* make the reroll, though; instead, the player describes how he's putting on the charm, and the GM makes another reaction roll.

    The contacts/hirelings ability you describe would be a "scaled" power, replacing the level-based bonus rather than the reroll ability. If used, it would have to be scaled much higher, but I'd be loathe to use an ability that's dependent on setting-specific details like wages.

  4. more examples of supernatural charming:
    Pokemon trainer - like beast-friend, but carries his beasts around with him. Note this leads to combat by proxy, which could be interesting but isn't very scheming.
    Houngan/hoodoo man, using the spirits or loas - almost the same as Pokemon trainer, but effects could be more indirect/action at a distance/like coincidental magic
    Any kind of divine petitioner but best adapted to polytheistic settings: the aspect of negotiating differently with different entities distinguishes this from the cleric (and maybe then it's all about brokering - what bargains you can strike)

    With all of these the issue is how reliably/regularly the allies show up. The same is true of old-fashioned Charm Person: if it's a plain "make friend" spell, as permanent in its effects as Magic Missile, then you just got a new party member attached to the MU. And the MU can expand the party again tomorrow. I'm ok with that, partly because every friend also has an oplinion of their own. Less so in the case of the charmer.

    The difference btwn Presence and Dominate in 1e Vampire also strikes me as interesting. I see the charmer as Presence, but it seems like you encompass both.

  5. by strange coincidence I ran across an extremely interesting video yesterday all about the formation of movements and the importance of the first follower - it made me reconsider the whole leadership/charisma idea ...but it's probably the opposite of useful for your project, making it more complicated and less easy to model in game terms.

  6. @Richard: you might be misreading my intent. Charmers don't control anyone, magically or otherwise; they just force a reconsideration, which normally won't happen in the middle of combat or without a significant event. They also get a hefty reaction bonus and more followers. Think: suped-up version of merc, bandit, or cult leader, politician, or con man.

    The Pokemon trainer would work, but would need a "supernatural" element (collecting monsters in magical or superscience containers.) It's basically a binder and summoner of demons, with a makeover. I'd use a Cleric variant.