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02 August 2021

The Warforged Ancestral Protector: Soulguard

Interesting character ideas constantly pop into my head, especially when reading books like Xanathar's Guide to Everything and Volo's Guide to Monsters. While perusing the former, this interesting idea stormed into my brain and won't stop stomping around, so I thought I'd share it with all of you in a quick article. Enter the Warforged Ancestral Protector, who we'll call Soulguard from now on.

This article explores Soulguard's concept and brief mechanical abilities. Enjoy!

The Concept

Most Path of the Ancestral Protector barbarians are flesh and blood individuals. They have ancestors who walked the world before them. These ancestors likely gave birth to them, whether they were mammals like humans and dwarves (in most worlds) or reptilians or cold-blooded creatures such as lizardfolk and kobolds.

Spinning that around: what if our barbarian character didn't have true forbearers? What if they were an engineered creature...like a warforged?

Say hello to Soulguard.

Soulguard is an atypical Path of Ancestral Protector barbarian. He does not channel his ancestors because he doesn't have any. Instead, he channels one of three sets of souls to power his spiritual rage:

  1. The soul of his deceased creator, who meant quite a bit to him.
  2. The souls of those he slays, who try to escape from his unearthly body.
  3. The souls of wandering spirits, who he captures and uses.

Regardless of which set Soulguard draws from for his rage, he grapples with souls swirling around or inside him.

He is an outlander, a tribal nomad now without a home. Surprisingly, he feels more comfortable with beasts than other people and he can see the souls of the fallen. Remnants of his creator's will remain in his being, and he feels he must earn glory in battle for himself and his creator. This is his primary driving force to adventure. His creator gone, his only bond is the strange vision that keeps repeating in his mind, haunting his resting periods and wild being while raging...it foreshadows an incoming disaster that he seeks to stop. He also remembers every slight against himself and his creator, and will do all he can to get revenge.

Soulguard carries a necklace made from the teeth of a dire wolf and his metallic form is painted with the visage of a great wolf as well. He wears these teeth to protect himself from spellcasters, who he is deeply frightened of.

The Mechanics

I enjoy pure builds, so Soulguard is going to be pure warforged barbarian with the outlander background. He holds all the special abilities of those two professions!

He'll begin with 12 + Constitution modifier hit points, proficiency in light armor, medium armor, shields, simple weapons, martial weapons, the banjo, Strength, Constitution, Athletics, Survival, and Perception.

In his inventory, he'll hold a maul, an explorer's pack, four javelins, a staff, a hunting trap, the teeth of a dire wolf, a set of traveler's clothes to blend in with fleshy folk, and a fur pouch containing ten gold pieces from his creator.

Soulguard speaks Common and Dwarvish.

After that, the build is simple: take Path of the Ancestral Protector at third level and continue from there, off he goes! Play Soulguard as a tanky frontliner who wields the souls of some set of people in battle. Look out for anything that increases his tankiness and Strength during the adventure. That's where Soulguard shall shine.

Warforged Barbarian, 2019 gastonicker

Actionable Advice

  • Odd combinations lead to interesting stories.
  • Let your mind flow freely while reading and nurture the ideas that hit your head.
  • Over time, these ideas will grow and become awesome characters to play or insert into your campaign.

Until the next encounter, stay creative!

Eager for more RJD20? Begin here, subscribe to the RJD20 newsletter, and explore RJD20 videos on YouTube.

Check out my first released supplement, Villain Backgrounds Volume I.

Provide any feedback or inquiries to rjd20writes@gmail.com.

Art in Order of Appearance

  • The Last of the Warforged, 2019 captdiablo
  • Warforged Barbarian, 2019 gastonicker

26 July 2021

Learn From Epic Failure and Slog

My most recent Dungeons and Dragons game played out as follows: The characters learned three planar portals popped up around the city of Ba-Livil, they rushed to destroy one of them, fought slaadi and a beholder-kin creature, lost a party member, and ended split between two planes of existence, the Plane of Water and the Material Plane. Sounds sort of interesting and exciting, right?

WRONG!

Almost always, I emerge from my weekly D&D game with a burst of energy. Recently, the exact opposite occurred: my game ended and I felt horrible, defeated, disappointed, and in a state of disarray. I began the session with hope and excitement, but as it evolved, I gradually became more and more upset with its story and execution. It ended the opposite of how it began: hopeless and dreadful.

This is bound to happen to everyone's D&D game at some point, as pointed out in this video by Matthew Colville. Our games encounter slog. We must recover and rebound from it, mightier and more confident than before.

When dreaded slog hits our game, we must ask ourselves a simple question and explore it:

Why did slog hit my game?

In my experience, three elements contribute to summoning slog.

  1. Poor State of Mind
  2. Planned Circumstance
  3. Greatest Fears
Let's explore each in this article and explain how all three can be combated to, hopefully, defeat slog when it arrives.

Poor State of Mind

The oft repeated saying "No D&D is better than bad D&D" is true. As Dungeon Masters and hosts of the game, we must know when to postpone or cancel D&D. Sometimes, we make mistakes as I did last night and run anyway, trying to push past our poor state of mind. It can lead to the slog or epic failure I experienced.

Although I was excited for my session, I was not creative or feeling well. The group was in the midst of a massacre and a mystery was set to unfold, and I knew a few planar portals were going to pop up across the city, leading to more intrigue! However, when we actually played, I found words difficult and my mind refused to improvise to the point where I was frequently stumbling over my words.

One of my worst fears, more on that later.

Meteor Swarm, Adventures in the Forgotten Realms, Olivier Bernard, 2021 Wizards of the Coast

Moment by moment, negativity in my mind grew and I tried to combat it. Sadly, it was fruitless. The lack of improvisation continued and annihilated my sense of pride in my world and abilities, leading to the final rounds of a combat to transform into a "he hits you, you hit him" scenario; another one of my worst fears.

If you are in a poor state of mind, do not be afraid of letting the players know and calling off the session. It's the truth: no D&D is better than bad D&D. Be up front about your poor state of mind; if the players are sensible human beings, they will understand. Allow yourself time to recover and recalibrate, you'll return all the stronger and more confident.

Planned Circumstance

Over planning may lead to poor sessions. DMs may build up a remarkable scene in their mind for weeks, only for their players to arrive at it and have it crumble beneath the grandeur the DM has built up for it. This session of slog arrived after an unplanned two week break from the campaign, which gave me plenty of time, too much time, to think about what might happen next. This is a break from the norm for me and it went disastrously, as you can tell.

The lesson is simple: both over planning and under planning may lead to terrible circumstances and slog.

Over planning might lead you force the players into a particular situation or cause you to react poorly to unexpected events. Worse, you may build up a moment in your head as I did and when the players encounter it, it might falter. Preparing the right amount, the amount you are comfortable with, is the key to avoiding this. I constructed a crafty encounter for the characters to fight: a bubbling portal, five slaadi, each unique in ability, and a second phase during which a beholder-kin called an expurgat would rise from the closed portal. It was too much preparation for me and I should've simply written "five slaadi, portal fight" and the fight would've gone better.

Eccentric Apprentice, Adventures in the Forgotten Realms, Campbell White, 2021 Wizards of the Coast

Across the spectrum, under planning could cause you to freeze at the table or make the players wander aimlessly, unsure of what to do or chase. I'll reiterate that you must find the perfect amount of prep for you and go for it session after session. Straying from the norm works sometimes, especially if you're feeling adventurous, but for times when you're in the wrong state of mind or are fearing something great, you want to stick to what you normally do.

Overall, stick to what you know best. Find your ideal amount of preparation and let it bolster your game.

Greatest Fears

Already unlikable sessions can slip into slog if our greatest fears become reality. Someone acts like an ass to another player, the dice absolutely annihilate any player plans, or perhaps a character dies. The latter occurred in my session with no sensible way out and it compounded on the dreadful feeling inside me.

The slog grew.

Sometimes our greatest fears are unavoidable consequences of the game we play. Player death in D&D, for example, happens. But when it is coupled with slog and multiple causes of this terrible phenomenon, it becomes nearly unbearable.

Of the three causes of slog I've outlined, this is the one you can combat the most. Try to transform your greatest fears into challenges you can overcome. Make death interesting. Change how the dice may affect player plans. Shut down an assholery pursued by the players. 

Eventually, your fears may become strong weapons you can wield at the table or even use to eliminate slog set in by other factors.

Actionable Advice

  • Slog manifests in all of our games at some point. Know it will arrive eventually.
  • Slog comes in three packages for me, and maybe you too: playing while in a poor state of mind, over planning or under planning, and when our greatest fears grow before us.
  • No D&D is better than bad D&D. Do not play if you are in a poor state of mind and be up front about this fact with the players.
  • Find the perfect amount of planning for YOU. Do not prepare more or less than you need to.
  • Fight your greatest fears so that you may wield them as weapons in the future.
  • Learn what causes slog to occur in your games and actively combat it, or know when to call a session quits and how to communicate this to the players. Slog is unique to all of us.

Until the next encounter, stay creative!

More RJD20

Eager for more RJD20? Begin here, subscribe to the RJD20 newsletter, and explore RJD20 videos on YouTube.

Check out my first released supplement, Villain Backgrounds Volume I.

Provide any feedback or inquiries to rjd20writes@gmail.com.

Art In Order of Appearance

  • Power of Persuasion, Adventures in the Forgotten Realms, Brian Valeza, 2021 Wizards of the Coast
  • Meteor Swarm, Adventures in the Forgotten Realms, Olivier Bernard, 2021 Wizards of the Coast
  • Eccentric Apprentice, Adventures in the Forgotten Realms, Campbell White, 2021 Wizards of the Coast

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