Excerpts Archive | 1/18/2012
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Character Themes
Heroes of the Elemental Chaos Excerpts
Bart Carroll

C hapter 2 of Heroes of the Elemental Chaos presents a selection of themes related to elemental magic and the Elemental Chaos. A theme is a calling, vocation, or archetype you can use to add further detail and options to your character. Your theme joins your class and race in helping you to realize your adventurer's identity. You might be a human slayer, but you could also be a windlord, an earthforger, or a moteborn. Most themes are available to members of any class or race, so you can choose the theme that best fits your imagination.

Each theme contains story elements you might adopt to flesh out your character's background and his or her place in the world. You can work with your Dungeon Master to integrate the character theme you choose into the backdrop of the campaign, whether you select a theme as part of character creation or you want to apply a theme to an existing character at a higher level.

This chapter includes the following sections.

  • Choosing a Theme: How themes work and rules for what your character can gain from having one.
  • New Themes: Ten character themes for any campaign setting, which are summarized on the following table. Each includes supporting mechanics you can adopt as you gain levels.

Choosing a Theme

Your character can have only one theme, which you can choose when you create your character. The theme you select grants the benefits described in this section. You don't have to choose a theme, and you can defer your choice until you reach a higher level. However, themes describe unique backgrounds, origins, and occupations—adopting one at 1st level can help you define your character.

Starting Feature

Each theme includes a feature that you gain when you select the theme.

Additional Features

You gain a theme's additional features whenever you reach the appropriate level. Most themes offer additional features at levels 5 and 10.

Optional Powers

A theme grants access to a range of utility powers (and occasionally attack powers). Add the powers from the theme you choose to those available to you because of your class. Whenever you reach a level at which your class grants a power, you can choose a theme power instead. The theme power must be of the same or lower level than the class power you might have gained. For example, if you attain 6th level as a wizard who has the windlord theme, you can choose a 2nd-level or 6th-level wizard utility power or windlord utility power.

Using Themes to Create Characters

Themes are intended as tools in character creation. The theme you choose helps you to add detail to your character, push beyond the limits of class and race, and expand your customization options. For example, if you're playing a defender, you might choose earthforger to help you lock down more enemies. If you're playing a controller and want to boost your control options, primordial adept could be your best choice.

You can instead use a theme to take your character in a new direction, adopting a story or role your class otherwise doesn't provide. A theme's starting feature can let you contribute in different ways, perhaps letting you take on some defender responsibilities even though you're a striker. For example, as a knight you're a defender, but choosing firecrafter gives you some impressive ranged capabilities.

All of the above advice presumes that you consider theme after you choose a class. However, choosing your theme first might be the better way to realize your character concept. From this decision, you can go on to choose race, class, feats, and so on, reinforcing the idea that began with the theme that appealed to you most.

Regardless of when you choose your character theme, look for ways to incorporate it into your character's background. Your theme might reflect the event that propelled you into your adventuring career. Or it can suggest specialized training you underwent to prepare for the objectives you or someone else set. Perhaps the best way to think of a theme is this: What were you immediately before you became an adventurer? How would you describe yourself to someone else in the game world? A class name isn't necessarily an obvious part of a character's identity—if you see a skilled sword-wielder in leather armor, that person might be a fighter, a rogue, a ranger, or a paladin. A theme, on the other hand, can be something that is obvious to the character and to everyone else.

A few themes in this chapter involve differing ways a character might approach elemental magic. A few have a stronger connection to the Elemental Chaos than normal characters possess. Some even make your character an elemental creature, changing his or her basic nature.

Themes in the Party

Character themes in this book provide story elements that can be unique to your character. Maybe you know secrets that others do not. You might have a goal you keep hidden from your compatriots. Such character aspects are meant to inspire roleplaying, not to set your character against others in your party.

Think about how your character's theme might interact with the themes that the other players choose. Discuss this with them and the DM in the same way that you might talk about what class or role each person is playing in the party. Characters could come from similar backgrounds or the same elemental realm, or similar themes might indicate a like-minded worldview. As you roleplay your theme, make choices that enhance the fun at the table and the cooperative nature of the game.

Gaining Themes at Higher Levels

You can adopt a theme for an existing character at a higher level. Gaining a theme at a higher level might be the consequence of events in the campaign. Several themes included in this chapter are suitable for acquisition at any point in your career. Gaining a theme might be the result of completing a major quest, defeating a powerful elemental or demon, or being exposed to an environmental hazard related to the Elemental Chaos.

Before you choose a theme, consult your Dungeon Master to come up with an explanation and method for gaining your theme. The DM might make the theme a reward of some sort. You might have to travel to the Elemental Chaos or seek out a region where the plane threatens to breach the natural world. Then again, the DM might let you take the theme without any requirements.

Changing Themes

Although a theme can last throughout your character's career, circumstances might arise in which it makes sense for your theme to change. You could begin your career as a watershaper and later find yourself working for Zaaman Rul, a fiery primordial. You might then abandon the watershaper theme and adopt firecrafter, especially if Zaaman Rul replaces your previous patron.

When you can retrain, you can exchange your theme for another instead of using any other option for retraining. To retrain a theme, however, you must have none of the theme's optional powers, and you must have neither feats nor a paragon path for which the theme is a prerequisite. A paragon path that requires your current theme prevents you from retraining that theme, since paragon paths can't be retrained. But if you have only optional powers or feats that prevent you from retraining your current theme, you can retrain those powers or feats to others that don't require your current theme. Once you have retrained all character elements that require your current theme, you can then retrain your theme at your next retraining opportunity.

More Elemental Themes

The Dark Sun Campaign Setting introduced character themes to the Dungeons & Dragons game with a selection that reflected certain occupations, callings, and backgrounds. Although those themes were designed for use in that setting, several are appropriate for characters who have strong ties to the Elemental Chaos. The elemental priest, primal guardian, and wasteland nomad themes can all work in other settings with little to no modification.

Janissary

The races of geniekind have a reputation for carrying off mortals to serve as slaves in the cities and palaces of the Elemental Chaos. Few mortals realize, however, that being the slave of a genie is far from an unpleasant existence. These servants lead lives not much different from those of the common workers, servants, soldiers, and artisans found toiling in and around the castles and palaces of nobles in the world.

Even the most ordinary genie—whether dao, djinn, efreet, or marid—fancies itself a great lord with a high and royal title. It regards the everyday business of administering its estates and overseeing its property to be a task utterly beneath its attention. Instead, these genie overlords leave most of their affairs in the hands of a select caste of trusted, loyal slaves known as janissaries.

Some janissaries are part of a genie's household staff and have little freedom to travel, but most large genie cities and realms are host to a whole class of janissaries who are considered slaves of the throne, rather than of a particular genie. Most such janissaries serve as elite soldiers, city officials, or highly valued artisans and engineers. They are allowed to own property, bear arms, travel, marry, and engage in whatever pursuits they like, although most are guards or bureaucrats in the ruler's service. Adventuring janissaries usually come from this group and are free to do as they please—until a high-ranking genie commands a service from them. It's not unusual for janissaries to venture into the mortal world on various errands, then stay on to seek their fortunes when their original mission is completed.

Although janissaries are often rich, comfortable, and entrusted with great authority, they are still subject to the whims of their genie masters. Goodnatured genies, such as djinns and marids, treat their janissaries well and bestow honors and offices on servants who show cleverness, reliability, and efficiency.

Daos and efreets, on the other hand, are cruel and overbearing, so they naturally value servants who use brutality and viciousness when attending to their duties. In most realms janissaries enjoy at least some legal protection against poor or capricious treatment, but in return they are expected to police themselves stringently and to comply with any order or request a genie gives them.

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Bart Carroll
Bart Carroll has been a part of Wizards of the Coast since 2004, and a D&D player since 1980 (and has fond memories of coloring the illustrations in his 1st Edition Monster Manual). He currently works as producer for the D&D website. You can find him on Twitter (@bart_carroll) and at bartjcarroll.com.