Greetings dear duet-ing friends! I am so happy to be writing to you today, and I’m really excited to share my reflections from our duet game this past weekend!
In this post, I share the newest PC empowerment strategy Jonathan and I have employed in our duet game and walk through the process behind our decisions so you can apply it to your game too!
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Context from Our Home Game
As you know if you’ve been following us for a while, Jonathan and I switch DM and player roles in our duet game. In our home game last weekend, Jonathan was DMing for me and my PC Briseras in our game set in Steymhorod. (The same characters and campaign that inspired Land of Vampires!)
We’re transitioning into this game on a break from our two-rogues campaign. (More posts coming on that soon!) But as we discovered most clearly in our roguish campaign, being powerful is fun!
Not being powerful enough
The problem, in the case of this past weekend, is that my PC, Briseras, is the weakest member of the party in terms of damage rolled per round. There are a few story and mechanics reasons behind that, but we wanted to turn this around.
I’ve written previously about empowering but not overpowering your PC. And we also often refer to the “Rule of Cool”—the idea that the rules and mechanics are less important than having fun at the table.
The secondary problem we encountered was Jonathan’s preference, as a DM, to throw really high-level creatures at the party. More specifically, he’s getting Briseras and her companion ready to face a shadow dragon, and he doesn’t like to pull punches during boss fights if he can help it.
(Plus, as a player, I’m what he calls “level-up resistant,” which means I’d rather problem solve as a lower level character than wash away all my problems simply by being much stronger than anything I face.)
Meanwhile, in Steymhorod…
In our Steymhorod game, I play a beast master ranger, and Jonathan’s DMPC, Jorgan, is a werewolf bloodhunter. During our session, our characters were recently exploring the underwater civilization hidden beneath the norther reaches of the River Ryder in Steymhorod, so my PC was without her wolf companion.
This of course didn’t help the level of damage I was rolling, but rolling two d8s to the DMPC’s four d10s was making me really jealous!
As Briseras was swimming deep underwater, conveniently polymorphed into a mermaid, she encountered a vast intelligence that identified itself simply as “the Deep.” Previously, Briseras had heard it referred to as the leviathan, but it informed her that “the Deep” is a more accurate name.
The Deep offered Briseras the opportunity to enter into a pact with it in exchange for its aid in bringing down her enemies that stand in the way of her restoring the four Archfae sisters.
Briseras mulled it over and decided to take the Deep up on its offer. Outside of our story world, between sessions, Jonathan and I discussed what accepting help from the Deep would look like in the mechanics of our game. Would she change from a ranger to a warlock? Would it alter her subclass in some way? Would we add spells?
We tossed around a few ideas, and I went looking for inspiration in our books, specifically Xanathar’s and Tasha’s.
Inspiration for the Mechanics
Beyond the specific mechanics, Jonathan’s hope was for Briseras to have a special boost when fighting her most powerful enemies, most notably the shadow dragon. She’s not powerful enough on her own to take on such a foe, even with help from her allies, but we also need her to go ahead and face the dragon for the sake of the narrative.
I thought at first that the boons of a group patron might be what I was looking for. The leviathan promised Briseras that so long as she kept walking the path of darkness and worked to restore the Sisters, it would help her.
But our problem is my dice-envy (wanting to roll higher damage) and our party not being strong enough on their own.
With the leviathan helping Briseras specifically instead of the party as a whole, we’re solving the damage problem and still keeping Briseras at the center of the story arc.
PC as Hero
Another favorite topic here at D&D Duet! (Should the PC be the hero? What about the other characters’ quests? Read previous posts here!)
A New Pattern Emerges
I’ve noticed a new pattern emerging with my characters that I find absolutely fascinating. It started with Persephonie on her quest toward the Tree of Silver, and I’m noticing it again now with Briseras—as they face the forces of darkness, they become darker in turn.
Briseras’s pact with the leviathan is the perfect expression of this narrative arc.
This turn toward darkness looks different for the two characters. Briseras already lingered in a state between life and death, so stepping further along that path was not a leap for her. However, turning outside her own power and stepping up to this new level—outside Draego’s influence especially—is a big step for her.
For Persephonie, I would describe the shift more as her being haunted by her adventures. She has grown more powerful, but her adventures have left their mark on her psyche and abilities as well.
Narrowing in on the Mechanics
After we ruled out a group patron, I started reading through some of the subclass options in Xanathar’s and Tasha’s. Some of the flavor text around the warlock options was interesting, but it still wasn’t what I had been looking for.
But then, in Xanathar’s, I found several cool options flavor-wise with the sorcerer subclass influenced by the Shadowfell (Shadowlands in Azuria). This was exactly what I had been looking for!
One of the sorcerer abilities allows the character to become immaterial and gain resistance to most damage types. This worked out perfectly in our fight against the aboleth (who is in service to the shadow dragon) after it took over the minds and bodies of both of Briseras’s companions. She waited until the aboleth was ready to strike, made herself immaterial with her new powers from the leviathan, and broke free from her companions’ hold!
I don’t think we’ll use this as an ability that Briseras has all the time, but it worked out perfectly in terms of the mechanics and flavor of our combat this weekend, and I’m sure we’ll figure out something similar for her dragon fight!
I’m also not sure how far out we are from the dragon fight, but I will add a second post on this subject when we get that far with other ideas for tweaks to character mechanics and abilities!
The short form of this advice would be to search for inspiration and talk with your DM about different possibilities for your character. Perhaps they gain a boon in a particular environment, or they’re especially persuasive or insightful one day after undergoing a special transformation or after being exposed to a magical space or being. There are so many options!
Storytellers/DMs, I hope this post has helped open up some possibilities for you as well! Don’t be afraid to turn the reins over to your player and ask them to undertake some of the research and inspiration for these sorts of tweaks. They can be just the thing to add that needed umph to your party or a particular session without derailing your leveling path.
Share your thoughts!
Have you tried this snatch and grab approach to subclasses and abilities for a limited time in your home game? Let us know below! And please share any questions you have in the comments section!
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