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Saturday, September 5, 2015

Vurokk Dahvre: my favorite character, for the updated D&D and updated Zendikar!


Vurokk Dahvre (aka Vurokslaw Dedahvrov) is a name that, if googled, might even be mistaken for an official character of Magic: The Gathering, and its Zendikar plane in particular.
That's because I really wrote a lot about him, and played him for a while in a Zendikar-set D&D campaign, albeit a prematurely ended one.

He is the only character I would like to keep for the new campaign that me and my original Zendikar DM (and beloved friend) Gonzalo are going to start soon, set back into Zendikar, but in the updated timeline, matching the new Battle for Zendikar expansion (#mtgbfz), and with the new fifth edition of D&D (#dnd, #dnd5e).


He was always a weird character for the setting, but at the same time fitting. So much so, that I would like to point out, for future reference, what of him doesn't seem to fit in Zendikar.

  • His looks seem a bit too gothic when put next to the usually practical/pauper outfits of the typical Zendikari adventurers.
  • He is a user of dark magic, possibly even divine in nature, something that not even the vampires in Zendikar are known for.
  • He's not cunning, wise, or very resilient, which are probably the distinguishing abilities of a successful adventurer in Zendikar.
  • He's not even a native of Zendikar, or at least his ancestor weren't (it's unclear).
At the same time, there are some aspects that really fit, and in some way cancel out the ones that don't.
  • The gothic appearance is actually supposed to be just a styling of very practical/pauper materials, typical of Zendikar: the armor is not metal, but giant scorpion chitin, the mask although black is carved out of the skull of some demon or worse, and so on.
  • The "dark divine magic" he is supposed to use in D&D terms is actually just plain Black Mana in Magic terms, thus molding up nicely in the setting, which is supposed to translate D&D concept into Magic ones, when applicable.
  • He sports a combination of abilities (strength, agility, and charisma) that is rare and even unique (you never see them all high, all together in any character, usually), making him a character that is sought by the typical Zendikarian "Expeditionary Houses", because he is not replaceable.
  • Even if he is not native of Zendikar, or descended from non-natives, he doesn't know it (although sometimes he suspects it), so for all purposes he is and acts as a true Zendikari.
So, leaving his past aside, in particular leaving it to the copious text I already wrote, and links to them (background, short story, character sheet), what is new about this new Vurokk?


The updated story: getting lost in Zendikar

The trick to leave the story adaptable to any events it might have to hook to, is right within Vurokk's quirks: he has big memory issues, and in the last adventure he even went close to a complete psychotic break. So it's quite easy to blot out a portion of his story and still have a very authentic Vurokk.

He was also never famous for being good at orienteering when left to his own devices (something fixed by the presence of an unseen helping character, in the short story), so here we have the new "adventuring hook"...

Vurokk was probably either fleeing from someone or something that he pissed off, or was vice-versa pursuing someone or something that pissed him off. But this was surely happening at sea, with a ship navigated only by him (he was probably separated by his unseen guide/protector Nashdu), and this is basically his last memory. A big storm, a strong negative emotion driving him through it (maybe anger, maybe fear, maybe both), and then an accident, capsizing, and ending up on an unknown island.

Simple to the point of being oversimplified, maybe, but extremely open to all the possibilities.

One more detail: he still didn't lose memory of the existence of his troubled family: a mother and some very young siblings that he is sure are suffering from a very rare disease that needs expensive cures. He needs to find a way to send money to them, but he has only ever done it through hopefully trusted contacts, because he feels a deep shame for what he has become, and wouldn't like to show his face home: just send his support. After all, he wouldn't even be able to find his home, if he tried. He only knows that it's somewhere in the outskirts of Nimana, the Free City of Guul Draz, the continent dominated by vampires.

He also remembers his previous adventuring companions: 
  • Cylonea, a young merfolk shaman that he remembers as "a girl that Zendikar really loves" - but he doesn't remember in what sense...
  • Zaphren, an arrogant and dangerous Murasa pyromancer that was proud of being more a ranger than a mage, deep inside, and equally proud of the strength of his muscles.
  • Mae, a usually silent, but at times sarcastic Kor that fought with her own hands and the help of an oversized feline.
  • And then a sophisticated woman that seemed to be more a scholar (and a sybarite) than a wizard, but was also capable of doing magic that he could not even begin to understand - he can't remember her name, but he knows she's connected to the catastrophe that brought him to his present state...
Now, even knowing that this last character is the one that is going to adventure again with him, I think it's a nice twist to start with a bit of a conflict, I hope Gonzalo will not mind if I put his Tori in this position..! :)

The updated mechanics: 11 levels in 5e: just enough to match 4 levels in 4e!

Yes, the character level has to go up a lot to match the old power level, or even just the variety of things that Vurokk could do. Even the ability scores have to go down a notch or two, so the level increase is nearly mandatory!

At first I also thought a class change was mandatory, but in the end I managed to represent him with the direct successor of his original Blackguard class: the "villainous" Oathbreaker Paladin.
However, it didn't prove to be enough: without some tinkering I wouldn't have been able to represent the features given by his now absent "Shade" race, the Escaped Slave theme, and the multiclass feats. So in the end I had to add classes:
  • Oathbreaker Paladin represent his core class: divine smite is his bread and butter, and the fact he fights with an exotic "double" weapon (represented by a glaive used in conjunction with Polearm Master, although it shouldn't have the reach property), makes him need some spell slots, something that (excluding full caster classes that would not match his flavor) only a relatively high level of Paladin can give. So I settled for 5 levels of Paladin, to reach the additional attack, since his style of combat has to include as many attacks per round as possible.
  • Assassin Rogue has to feature nearly as prominently as Paladin, because he needs the Assassin feature (that combos very well with Smite, representing his old Blackguard of Fury high damaging attacks!), and he also needs feats, given only by a 4th level of any class. So it's 4 levels here, granting him also a very necessary Expertise in Stealth and Survival, the first because he needs to be stealthy to surprise opponents and thus use the Assassin feature, the second because without it, his low Wisdom would make him utterly useless in the wild, and it was not the case before!
  • Last but not least, to replace the supernatural shadowy powers given by his Shade race, 2 levels of Fiend Pact Warlock are in order, to gain back his supernatural darkvision (Devil's Sight), and invisibility tricks (One With Shadows, which was the same name of his racial feature as a Shade!). It also grants him two slots per short rest, which will be of great help in case of many combats per day, now that it's been officially clarified that even these Warlock slots can be used for the Paladin's Divine Smite. I chose the Fiend pact because it's more in tune with his flavor, even if a shadowy pact of sorts would have been far more useful. It will actually help represent his difficult to control bloodthirst when the fight starts (he gains temporary HPs when killing hostiles), and it even helps represent the strange "spirit dwelling inside him" with the simple reskinning of the Unseen Servant spell.
    I would also completely ignore the Expanded Spell List granted by the pact, because not even the spells given by other pacts would be of help, and I just don't want him to be able to cast more spells than he already does.
    Minor Illusion and Prestidigitation as cantrips are more than enough to represent his old tricks, and the addition of Armor of Agathys and Hex are very welcome and thematic already.
I would argue that the "additions" are just enough to represent the variety offered by the many little powers that composed characters back in the days of 4e, and that the Warlock thing represents perfectly the fact that he underwent a soul-scarring ritual to "become a Shade"... It really feels like he should have been part Warlock since the beginning.

Now, for the rest of the mechanical details, here's a short but comprehensive list:

Skills: Intimidation and Athletics (from Paladin), Bluff and Perception (from Sailor/Pirate background, Bluff replacing Athletics already taken), Stealth (from Rogue multiclass), Survival (from Human bonus skill) - This gives basically all the proficiencies he used to have except for Thievery that is now substituted by the Thieves' Tools, which he is getting anyway

Tools: Navigator's Tools, Vehicles (water) [from Sailor/Pirate], Thieves' Tools, Disguise Kit, Poisoner's Kit [from Rogue and Assassin archetype, although I might really omit the Disguise Kit...]

Saving Throws: Wisdom and Charisma (from Paladin)

Feats: Medium Armor Master (nearly the core of his concept is being able to stealth in a full armor, so this is absolutely necessary!), Polearm Master (It's basically an extra attack, so even if he wouldn't use the Reach trick, it's invaluable as an extra Divine Smite in the same turn), Savage Attacker (Which substitutes some of the old properties of his weapons, and is invaluable when rolling as many damage dice as he does with his Assassinate+Divine Smite. Plus, "Savage Attacker" really sounds Vurokk!!)

Fighting Style: Mariner (from Unearthed Arcana): it perfectly represents his mobility in armor, including a very useful swimming speed and climbing speed!

Typical prepared and known spells: Minor Illusion, Prestidigitation, Darkness, Hellish Rebuke (possibly changed to Cold damage!), Compelled Duel, Cure Wounds, Armor of Agathys, Hex, Unseen Servitor

Just for the sake of completeness, here are the Background Traits that I would choose, if forced to choose from the ones available to Sailor/Pirate:

Personality Trait: "My friends know they can rely on me, no matter what."
Ideal: "People. I'm committed to my crewmates, not ideals. (Neutral)" [extended to family an friends]
Bond: [Has to be custom!] "I deserted my previous captain, and many other employers, so I might be very unwelcome in their areas of influence."
Flaw: "Once i start drinking, it's hard for me to stop."

And that's it for the update to 5e rules!

Wrap-up and bonus!

I think the character is charged and ready to start incredible new adventures! Some of you might cringe knowing that I will also be the DM in those adventures, but hey: what the DM says, goes! :P

Bonus: (Real) 15 Minutes Background Quiz!

  1. WHAT EMOTION BEST DESCRIBES YOUR CHARACTER?

Melancholy.
  1. WHAT EMOTION DOES YOUR CHARACTER EVOKE IN OTHERS?

First fear, then curiosity towards him and security around him.
  1. WHY DID YOUR CHARACTER CHOOSE THE CLASS THEY HAVE?

Only because he wanted to become a tactically valuable sell-sword. And this because he needed money. And he needed money because he needed to help his family.
  1. WHAT ARE YOU ADDING TO THE PARTY?

A stealthy assassin and a multi-terrain shock-troop all in one mean armored package! Also some humor, lots of troubles coming out of nowhere (never bored when he's around...) And a loyal defender if he considers them friends.
  1. WHAT IS YOUR CHARACTER’S GOAL IN LIFE?

To solve the puzzle of his lost memories, to finally be sure that he helped his family, and maybe one day see them again.
  1. HOW DOES YOUR CHARACTER BELIEVE THIS GOAL CAN BE REACHED?

He doesn't have a clue. Hence the melancholy.
  1. WHERE ARE YOU FROM?

The true birth-place is unknown. But his first memories are from Nimana, the Free City of Guul Draz. He actually became more famous in Zulaport, in Ondu, and then throughout the Halimar during his contract with the unnamed "trader" who was actually a ruthless pirate smuggler, plunderer and homicide. His last adventures, after he deserted the pirate, where in Tazeem, and the last port he remembers being in was the city of Sea Gate, where the cursed and forgotten voyage that got him lost, and to his present location, started from.
  1. WHAT WAS YOUR FAMILY LIFE LIKE?

He forgot all the details (and even the faces), except a feeling of diversity, as if they were always strangers in strange lands, and the memory of a debilitating illness that fell on all the siblings and his mother, but not on him. Of his father he only has dreams, more than memories: he can't focus in on how we really was or how he looked like. He just knows he is doing something "like his father", sometimes, especially in his way of fighting.
  1. WHAT DO YOU DO FOR A LIVING?

Scouting, protecting, killing, and hunting. Mostly for Expeditionary Houses or other organizations hiring adventurers, but more than once also for criminal associations.
  1. WHAT VALUES DOES YOUR CHARACTER HOLD?

Protection and helping of the weak, loyalty to those who deserve it, or when a contract is stipulated.
  1. HOW DOES YOUR CHARACTER DRESS?

Always in a fully-covering half-plate black armor, made out of hardened chitin plates of giant Guul Draz giant aquatic scorpions. He also always wears a dark (but not as black) mask made out of the skull of some demon. He does so to conceal an unnaturally grayish skin complexion, and feral green eyes, that he got after engaging in the dark ritual that gave him most of his powers.
  1. WHAT ARE YOUR CHARACTER’S PERSONAL TASTES?

He enjoys swimming (or flying, when magic allows), good food, elegant women, and all the mind-altering substances he can get, including alcohol.
  1. WHAT IS YOUR CHARACTER’S LIMIT?

For Vurokk is difficult to kill intelligent beings, although he had to do it various times to get paid, and it's also difficult to stop his trance-like killing-sprees when he starts.
  1. WHO HAS HAD THE BIGGEST IMPACT ON YOUR CHARACTER’S LIFE?

More than who, what: the dark soul-scarring ritual he underwent to acquire his powers. He lost most of his memories back then, and subsequent amnesia periodically affected him even afterwards, like now.
  1. WHAT ARE SOME OF YOUR CHARACTER’S QUIRKS?

Very superstitious, acquires a strange accent and loses grammar correctness when distracted, very easily distracted, always busy brewing or drinking the source of his next hangover.