Eldritch Excursion – Aggressively Humble

Common wisdom in Pathfinder and it’s draconically aligned counterpart is that characters start with simple beginnings, rising from their meager lives to become great heroes of the land. From level 1 in rustic havens to level 20 in majestic heavens. But the most important thing, according to that, is the sense of scale.

Well, I’m here to tell you that the sense of scale can go make out with a cactus. I’m tired of starting every new character killing rats for copper bits in Rusty Shank Alley. This time, I’m flipping things around and stating loud and proud that my character was one of the best in his field, brilliant beyond his years, and a near living legend before it all came crashing down around him. Not some meek apprentice, but a grand archwizard of the empire.

“YoU cAn’T jUsT sTaRt ThE gAmE aS a GrAnD aRcHwIzArD” that’s how they sound.

Hello and welcome to Eldritch Excursion, the blog that reaches staggering heights and endures tragic downfalls to examine the intersections of flavor and mechanics. Today I’ll be exploring a drastic deviation from your typical origin of a player character. And when you really think about it, what could possibly be more different than a rising hero?

The Fallen Villain

Few concepts in fiction interest me as much as a defeated villain that turns towards the side of good, or at least relative neutrality, after suffering a thorough defeat. You see it in videogames like Super Mario RPG when the longtime big bad Bowser joins your party to fight a mutual enemy. You see it in anime like Dragonball Z when Prince Vegeta goes from iconic villain to iconic rival for the main character Goku. My first memory of this plot twist comes from reading Dragon of the Lost Sea, where the witch Civet begins as a primary antagonist but ends up joining the protagonists in the second book.

The point is that writing a character who fell from grace can be just as fun as writing one who’s starting at near zero. Imagine the sort of power they might have wielded at one point, perhaps as an aspiring main villain in their own right. Now think of what kinds of events might have led to them losing the majority of that power. From there, work with your GM to integrate your backstory into the lore of the game. Perhaps you were a general in the army that was once defeated by a group of intrepid heroes. Maybe you were an arcane researcher that relied to heavily on a magical doomsday weapon, having that very tool siphon away the majority of your power as it was destroyed. Or maybe you were the big bad’s former right-hand man, turned to a path of revenge by any means necessary when your own loved ones were used as sacrificial tools of conquest. Regardless of the reasoning, having such a strong connection to the main story can help you put together a very compelling character concept as well as an interesting contrast to the party’s motif.

If you’re joining a campaign after it started, you could even play as a former chapter’s central villain. Assuming they’re still alive. And if not, there are ways around that as well.

New Backgrounds

Deformed Vivisectionist           Background
Your mastery of the medical arts led you down a dark path, free from the restraints of law and morality. Though many great monstrosities were birthed in your laboratory, none were strong enough to stop the adventurers that came to stop you. By accident or desperation, you were injected with an unstable concoction of mutagens, transforming into a massive abomination. Though that body was slain, all that was left of you managed to crawl out of its carcass. With your body mutated, your mind addled, and your worldly possessions in ruins, you must decide if your talents will be used to heal or harm.
You choose two ability boosts. One must be Constitution or Intelligence, and one is a free ability boost.
You’re trained in Medicine and Surgery Lore. You also gain the Echoing Mutation action.
Echoing Mutation [one action] (concentrate) Frequency once per polymorph or morph effect; Effect Your body remembers what it has endured. You duplicate the effects of the last morph or polymorph effect that changed your body. This lasts for one round and cannot duplicate another use of Echoing Mutation. Each use of Echoing Mutation gains the morph or polymorph trait, as appropriate for the effect that it is duplicating.

Defeated General           Background
The marching of soldiers was a sound as familiar to you as the beating of your own heart. You were an expression of your patron’s will, and that will was ironclad. But all of that changed when a motley crew of colorful companions outwitted your commanders, sabotaged your forces, and ultimately bested you in direct combat. This utter and total defeat broke you as a person. You questioned everything: your flawed tactics, your sloppy fighting, your very identity, and most importantly, your former loyalties. It’s up to you to pick up the pieces and decide what’s worth fighting for.
You choose two ability boosts. One must be Intelligence or Charisma, and one is a free ability boost.
You’re trained in Intimidation and Warfare Lore. You also gain the Victory At Any Cost action.
Victory At Any Cost [free action] (Auditory, Mental) Frequency once per minion per day; Effect You command your underlings to push themselves beyond their limits. If your next action is to command a minion, that minion may reduce the numerical effect of one condition (such as enfeebled or stupefied) by one, but they take nonlethal damage equal to your level.

“I think I’ve had enough ‘character development’ today.”

And these are just two ideas to consider for playing as a former antagonist. Many of the more esoteric backgrounds that are already in the game can be reflavored to fit your ideal fall from power. Perhaps you made a pact with a dark entity and ultimately failed, but retained a fragment of their gift? Or maybe you like the mad scientist idea from before, but want a mechanical motif to your medical horror. The sky’s the limit. That, and whatever the other players are willing to put up with.

Come back next time and watch me rip and tear until it’s done.

Nate Wright

Hey there. I'm Nate Wright, author of the Eldritch Excursion blog. I'm also a credited freelance author on several releases from Paizo. When I'm not scooping up my thoughts and slapping them onto your feed like so much delicious ice cream, I can be found on social media where I retweet pixel art and talk about how great summoners are.