Designing a Tabletop Character
I’m playing a tabletop one shot!
This is exciting to me for many reasons. First of all, I finally have an opportunity to be a crotchety old lady again. (The last time I played DND I was a beefy old dwarf woman whose main job was to get smacked around by the enemies so our mages didn’t have to.) I also now have an excuse to design a new character, which, for better or worse, I love to do! So let’s chat briefly about character design and Zari.
We are playing DND 5e, and Zari is a forest gnome. Gnomes love names, or so says the player handbook. And they love names that are fun to say. I thought that was going to be difficult for me (I’m in the midst of a weeklong struggle coming up with a last name for a new main character I’m writing), but it turns out that when you get to pick several names for a character each of them has a lot less weight. So! With the freeing power of the one shot, I chose a bunch of garbage that was fun to say.
I think the only particularly weird bit about this name is that I gave Zari a title. She’s 413 years old; she’s been living in forests but close to society for the last fifty years. I wanted her to have something to represent the time she’s spent building up her skills and reputation—or menacing the townsfolk.
Zari’s primary magical ability does not lie in her druidic ability to transform, but if you’re a regular person hanging around the forest and you have a memorable experience with a tiny old lady, it’s probably going to be seeing her turn into a (still tiny) black bear or wrangling a momma and her cubs back into the trees. And thus, the Ursine Queen is born.
That being said, Zari’s actual skill lies in her ability to control fungi and decay.
My first inclination was that Zari should be gross. I was thinking bent back, hidden away in one thousand layers of robes so you just see her eyes peering out at you, fungus and rot dripping off her sleeves—gross! But I’m playing with other people, and as much as being a swamp dwelling rot monster appeals to me, I thought it would be better to have a character that other people actually want to get along with. (And don’t worry, the swamp dwelling rot monster concept lives on elsewhere.)
So I pivoted, and Zari is a personification of the fall. She’s wearing orange and red, the green in her skirt is starting to yellow, and her skin and cloth alike are embroidered with mushroom decals. Zari lives on the cusp of the season change, one foot firmly on growth and the other on decay. She’s a true neutral character who believes that death is natural, life is not inherently better, and prolonging one or advancing up the other makes no difference to the cycle.
It was important to me to be able to show directly that Zari has: armor, a weapon, kits of herbs (her pouches), a druidic focus (the bear carving), and that her style of dress was practical for the forest while still immediately communicating to the viewer that she’s a mage. To that end I gave her “robes” with sleeves short enough not to get caught on branches. The robes end in a skirt, but it’s also short enough that the skirts wouldn’t tangle in the undergrowth. (Of course, as a three foot tall gnome all of her body is probably tangling in the undergrowth, but I digress.)
Her feet are bare so she can feel the earth, and her skin has grown leathery after half a century of life directly under the sun. I will admit, I had to pull back on the wrinkles after I discovered that attempting to accurately portray a cartoon character as an ancient mess of wrinkles gives you Yoda.
All in all I’m happy with where she ended up, and I’m excited to send her out into the wide world to get demolished by skeletons very soon!
Bonus: a very loose sketch of Zari surrounded by seven huge backpacks and a stack of ten torches. I made all sorts of mistakes when trying to calculate her encumbrance levels on my character sheet. :)
Last Edited: 3.18.2021 | Return to Blog Index