Unusual Character Themes

by Wimwick (Neil Ellis) on June 7, 2011

We’ve all played or know someone who played the dual wielding ranger, the overly brawny fighter with his giant axe or the wizard with the low constitution. These are tried, tested and true stereotypes of the fantasy genres. The builds are so popular that the designers of D&D have created new builds to revitalize these classic character concepts. If we are honest, we enjoy these stereotypes because they are fun to play.

However, every once in awhile it’s fun to play a character that’s a little off the wall. Something different that the rest of the table isn’t expecting. Of course there are plenty of character options available that aren’t stereotypes. In fact you don’t want to break the mold of class/race recommendations too much. If you do you might end up enjoying the role playing aspects of your character, but the combat aspects will leave your character lacking.

The trick is to create a personality or character theme that is unique. While this might require a slight amount of give and take regarding your attributes it shouldn’t be too such a point that your character suffers because of it.

Eidetic Idiot

This is a character concept that could be a lot of fun to play, but might be difficult to pull off. Individuals who have eidetic memories are typically thought of as smart. It’s not that your character isn’t smart, he just lacks the situational awareness to use what he knows.

Your character remembers everything he’s ever heard or seen. The problem is he’s always a conversation or two behind and is never able to provide the required information at the correct time. Everyone is aware that you have an eye for detail and that you rarely forget a thing. It’s your timing and insight that is suspect.

A character like this might have a high intelligence and low wisdom score. Of course you could elect to place your attributes as you wish. I’m not sure that there is a rule that an eidetic memory requires a high IQ.

Time Warped

Your character is either from the distant past or the far future. As a result your viewpoint on events is skewed by the reality of your past. Perhaps you don’t listen to lawful authority because where you are from a different set of rules is enforced. Perhaps you fled or are aware of a natural disaster and you feel it is your duty to inform all who will listen and those who won’t of their imminent mortal peril!

A background like this allows you to be really creative. You may want to work with the DM, especially if your character is from the past. Pick game elements that are going to make sense with the campaign from a continuity standpoint. If your character is from the far future this is less of a concern. What you may want to avoid is being from the immediate past or future as your presence could have consequences on the story that the DM would find more troublesome than entertaining.

The key to a background like this is to make it interesting without becoming annoying. This is especially true if you are warning of a cataclysmic event. Your fellow players will soon tire of your warnings. Subtle is the key to making this a memorable character background.

A Novel Idea

While all of our characters are fictional, this theme takes it an extra step. This character theme has you playing a character from another novel or is perhaps an author of a novel. Similar to Paul Bettany’s playing of Jeffery Chaucer in A Knight’s Tale. In this example the story is fictional, but Paul Bettany plays a historical figure.

The trick to pulling a theme like this off is to borrow some well used lines from a piece of the author’s work and use it in conversation with your character. You won’t want to overdo it on your quote usage, just enough to get the other players curious. Don’t give it away, let them do their homework. Of course you won’t want to stop at quotes, provide your hero with some traits from the character you are borrowing from.

So if you are using Han Solo as a model you might say “I have a bad feeling about this” a lot. You will probably be insanely loyal, but be afraid to show it most of the time. Though to be honest, I think this theme works best when you borrow from a lesser known fictional character. It will make your character appear to be more authentic and will give you greater license in your role playing.

Where do you draw inspiration for from your characters? Do you have any characters that are still remembered or quoted to this day?

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1 Kiel Chenier June 7, 2011 at 8:55 pm

Those themes are good, and present some interesting roleplay ideas, but I say push the boundaries a little more.

The easiest way to create a unique character in terms of flavour is to subvert expectation. This can be done easiest with D&D’s standard races:

-An erudite, lore-loving librarian inclined HALF-ORC.
-A nature-bound, forest dwelling, seasoned DWARF.
-A battle hardened, war marshal of a GNOME.
-A charismatic, snake-oil salesman of a DRAGONBORN.

See? Ditch the Tolkienesque/Forgotten Realms classic trappings and you can create unique characters that are the EXCEPTIONS to the rules. They may seem a little comical, but maybe that works for you, or presents a challenge for your character to overcome.

For those who like a bit of random generation to their characters, here’s a quick d10 table of interesting character-broadening quirks and theme-related ideas to give your character some much needed spice:

1. Wanted in another city for killing a Queen. Has no concrete memory of the event or why.
2. Addicted to a number of illegal substances. Cannot go two days without ingesting one of ten substances, or will take a penalty.
3. Has a magical tattoo of an angel on bicep. The tattoo can speak and offers advice (usually terrible).
4. Has an unusual affinity with a different race (Player’s or DM’s choice). People of that race find your character terribly attractive, no matter what gender.
5. Trained in a very difficult musical instrument as a child and was once considered a musical prodigy, but now fans of yours now scorn you for some reason.
6. Cursed as a child. Now you bleed acid.
7. Wanted in another country for deflowering a prince/princess before their wedding night. Said prince/princess still pines for you.
8. Has recurring nightmares about the leader of a high-ranking temple priestess stalking them. Dreams are slowly coming true.
9. Has tremendous knowledge of almost every kind of fungus imaginable and all of their medicinal/magical properties. Hates the taste of mushrooms personally.
10. Owes a huge debt to a very powerful merchant, and is followed on occasion by people sent to “collect”. Reason for debt is up to the player.


2 Eduardo Flores June 8, 2011 at 8:49 am

Those themes are good! I want to use a Half-orc from the past, i think that i´ll be very fun!

@Kiel, may i traduce your d10 table for my spanish rolblog? I loved that table!!

3 Kiel Chenier June 8, 2011 at 10:51 am

@Eduardo Flores, you may, just make sure to attribute it to me, Kiel Chenier, and maybe add a link to my Youtube channel where you can watch episodes of D&D Encounters


4 Shimmertook June 8, 2011 at 1:09 pm

These are fantastic ideas for themes. I’d love to see full dedication to fleshing them out with alternate utility powers and 1st, 5th and 10th level bonus features. Take it just a bit further and we’d have some crunch to put with that great flavor.

5 Lugh June 9, 2011 at 3:50 pm

Also keep in mind that the single most powerful tool in the 4e toolbox is reskinning. You can play a character that is statted out as a bog-standard eladrin rogue. But, change all the flavor text, and you can be playing Ferris Bueller or Michael Westin (from Burn Notice) or Jackie Chan. All without sacrificing character effectiveness.

6 Sunyaku June 13, 2011 at 12:13 am

I like to derive a character from one particular defining detail. One of my all-time favorite encounters characters was a Dark Sun Life-Warden Goliath named “Amon” who primarily fought with nets (the odd weapon, nets, was the defining detail I started with).

My wife grafted a little wire mesh net onto the goliath barbarian fig, and awesomeness ensued. With net in hand, an appropriate campaign background naturally sprang forth. Amon was a former slaver/mining pit boss, so he was accustomed to subduing enemies without harming them too much so that they would still be valuable as workers…. and as a lifewarden, could beat spirited slaves into submission, and grant short-term buffs to those in need to keep them working…

7 northierthanthou May 15, 2013 at 3:13 am

My favorite off-tilt character was a half orc who claimed to be a leprechaun. He carried a magic wand of course (a great club) and push-come-to-shove he usually figured out what to do with it. I played this theme in two campaigns, and both times players consistently sought to figure out if he had changed shape or cast an illusion, etc. He was simply delusional.

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