A little while ago, I got around to making up the back-story for my PC in my Pathfinder game. As I sat down and wrote out my war master‘s personal history, I found myself grimacing as I got to the part about his aging parents and sheltered girlfriend.
This, I thought to myself, is just asking the DM to screw with me.
I imagine most people reading this blog will intuitively understand the above sentiment. For those of you who don’t quite grok why I had that thought, allow me to explain. Realistically, PC’s shouldn’t exist in a vacuum – they’ll have various people in their lives who are important to them, such as parents, significant others, children, best friends, etc.
The thing is, these are virtually always going to be NPCs, usually with fairly insignificant levels. Hence, they tend to fall into the background; when was the last time you role-played your PC going to visit his little sister on her birthday, for example? That’s the sort of thing that usually gets entirely glossed over – sometimes there’s an unspoken assumption that this sort of thing is done during the down-time between adventures, but just as often it’ll be forgotten/ignored entirely. These NPCs just don’t have any impact on the campaign in general, or the PC specifically.
…except when they’re in trouble.
And make no mistake, if the DM remembers that they exist, they’ll be in trouble at some point. After all, since the PCs are heroes, their career involves kicking evil in the metaphorical groin; so at some point they’ll piss off a villain who’ll stoop to attacking their loved ones in revenge. Suddenly, those insignificant NPCs are in the spotlight, because they’re being subjected to some horrible fate and you’ve already established that your character cares about them too much to be okay with that.
In other words, making up that your character has NPCs that he cares about – and who are too weak to defend themselves from your character’s enemies – usually means that at some point they’ll be used as a plot hook to drag your PC into danger. Now, is that good role-playing? Yes, since your character is acting out of concern for something other than XP and loot, but it still sucks that the only in-game effect of fleshing out your PC in this way is that some enemy will eventually use it to try and screw with you.
To that end, I’ve taken it upon myself to try and rectify this. After all, if you’re basically leaving yourself vulnerable – albeit in a way that doesn’t have any mechanical penalties – you should still be compensated for that with some sort of bonus. Hence, the following defects.
Some quick background on these mechanics. First introduced in Skirmisher Publishing’s Nuisances, defects are very similar to Unearthed Arcana’s flaws; taking one gives your PCs a penalty, but doing so lets you pick a bonus feat. Unlike flaws, however, defects can be 1) selected later than 1st level, and 2) you’re not limited to just two defects (and for that matter, 3) the defects in Nuisances are much more colorful and amusing than the flaws in Unearthed Arcana – Pyromania, anyone?).
As such, here are two new defects for having weak NPC loved ones:
You have loved ones at home, none of whom are especially martial.
Detriment: You have family members (not necessarily blood relatives) that you have a strong, positive emotional connection with. Work with the GM to determine the number and levels of these NPCs (typically 1d4 NPCs with 1d3 levels each).
Special: This defect is a declaration of your character’s mindset; they would want to help these family members if they were in trouble. If your character later has a falling out with some or all of these family members, they are either replaced with new ones (work with the GM to establish who these new NPCs are), or you give up your next feat slot to buy off this defect.
BRING HOME THE BACON
You are the primary breadwinner for your family.
Prerequisite: Family Ties.
Detriment: You spend 10% of the money you learn – including loot, treasure, and other goods gained from adventuring – on your family’s expenses. These expenses are effectively consumed by your family; you do not gain any additional items or services from this expenditure.
Special: This defect is a declaration of your character’s mindset: they want to spend this money to help support their family. As such, taking this defect means that your character doesn’t try to get around the 10% fee (such as by abdicating their share of the treasure into the party fund, which they can then draw upon as needed).
Note that the money doesn’t make its way to your character’s family automatically – the character will undertake reasonable methods to ensure that it gets to them safely.
And there you go; these saddle your character with about the same level of responsibility that having NPC loved ones usually brings, but at least now you get bonus feats for it. Isn’t family wonderful?