Go Home and Be a Family Man!

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.


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?

Tags: , ,

4 Responses to “Go Home and Be a Family Man!”

  1. Yxidor Says:

    Hi, just wanted to tell you that you made it on grognard.txt for one of your old EN World blog post. Good work!



    • alzrius Says:

      Hey, thanks for the heads-up that someone was referencing my old article. I’d post a reply over there, but you have to buy an account to post on their forums, which I’m unwilling to do since I doubt I’d ever post there again.

      It’s a shame that most of the people over there didn’t seem to care for what I wrote; still, I know that that sort of essay isn’t to everyone’s taste. Someone over there mentioned they didn’t know why I didn’t just make up the results I wanted; that, however, wasn’t the point. The point was just to see what information about the world as a whole could be gleaned from working the tables in the DMG – it was, in all honesty, done purely for fun (as odd as that sounds).

      In regards to the validity of the numbers, I address in the original essay that there are issues with the results I got. Likewise, I freely admit that several of the latter points (such as the world population total – which I’ve since come to think is far too low – the low rate of new spells being invented, the 50% loss rate for new spells, and that it’s only been going on for 2,000 years) are made up. They’re baselines, in other words, and should be taken with a grain of salt.

      Beyond that, I’m not sure what anyone’s problem really was. If it’s with how I worked the averages (such as moving the .5 around from the various averaged die rolls), well, it’s all noted, so I welcome any debate on the results I achieved. Saying that I had some sort of pre-determined point and was rigging the numbers to try and achieve it, however, is completely false, as is the idea that I was doing this just to win a flame war; I admit that I was inspired to do that based on a disagreement I had over on EN World with another poster, but it was never a flame war, nor did I reference my results in that thread.

      Finally, I want to mention again that the majority of the credit for that essay should go to Paul Melroy of Distant Horizons Games, who wrote the original essay in his free d20 supplement, The Practical Enchanter. It’s still one of the best d20 supplements I’ve ever read, and I’ve read a lot of them. Everyone who enjoys v.3.5 should definitely get a copy. His blog is linked on my blogroll (the Emergence Campaign Weblog).

  2. Yxidor Says:

    No problem, I’ve got an account myself if you want to pass a message.

    Grognard.txt is (among other things) a place to post the work of people who spent way too much effort on a minor aspect of an RPG, to the point where it gets rather creepy, and your essay certainly qualify.

    I personally thought it was a bit pointless because practically all the numbers involved are what you called “baseline”, and could conceivably be extremely different, making the final result entirely unreliable. But hey, that’s of no matter if it was just for math fun anyway.

    I’ll have a look at that The Practical Enchanter essay to see if there’s anything else grognard-worthy 😉

    • alzrius Says:

      It may be accurate to say that Grognard.txt is “a place to post the work of people who spent way too much effort on a minor aspect of an RPG” but it seems more accurate to say that it’s basically a place for people to bitch about RPG-related elements that they don’t care for.

      That by itself wouldn’t be so bad, but the majority of the posts that I read there were derisive and scornful, showing their disdain for things without bothering to explain why they didn’t care for them. In fact, in most cases they were more concerned with making sure everyone else knew that they were looking down on something than anything else.

      Now, that’s not unusual for the internet; it’s the Greater Internet Fuckward Theory at work (http://www.penny-arcade.com/comic/2004/03/19/); it’s just a pity that Grognard.txt is exactly the same as almost every other forum out there. It has some good posters who make thoughtful, intelligent points, but they’re drowned out by the multitude of assholes.

      Now, I don’t particularly care about any of that. Partially because I don’t go to Grognard.txt (I wasn’t aware it existed before you linked to it), and partially because you don’t start a blog or otherwise join the “internet community” without being prepared for that kind of crap.

      What I don’t like, however, is when people like Gerund repost one of my blog posts in its entirety without attributing it to me (http://forums.somethingawful.com/showthread.php?threadid=3098558&userid=0&perpage=40&pagenumber=401#post378103176). Hell, he didn’t so much as give an indication that he was quoting someone else – looking at it now, it’s easy to mistake that he’s the original author for that post.

      If you’re still willing to pass a message, I’d appreciate it if you pointed out that I was the one who wrote that post.

      Finally, you’re not incorrect in noting that the “baseline” numbers are all made up, and so could be quite different for any given campaign world. However, that doesn’t make them worthless – rather, I’d say it means you should just treat them like placeholders, either replacing them with more relevant values or simply deleting them altogether, as necessary. Then simply multiply the new numbers and you have values that are more accurate for your campaign…if you actually want that much detail, that is.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: