This entry is part 1 in the series Casual Opportunities

Casual Opportunities Series Logo

About the Casual Opportunities series:

I realized recently that something is missing from my campaigns, and has been for a long time: casual opportunities for the PCs to establish their primary role within the campaign.

Casual opportunities for heroes to be heroes, for villains to be villains, for geeks to be geeks. It’s easy to become so focused on the primary plot, or on the things that the PCs are contributing to it, that it’s easy to overlook these touchstones that remind players of who their characters really are when the chips are down.

Unless a villain (or a PC) has set it alight, there has never been a burning house, or inn, or wagon, in one of my fantasy campaigns. The PCs have never spotted a street urchin picking someone’s pocket only for the urchin to run into the PC while looking the other way for signs of pursuit.

The PCs have fared a little better in my superhero campaign, but there still has not been enough casual crime for them to deal with – speeding drivers, break-ins, etc – in passing.

In part, this situation has resulted from a nearly-obsessive drive to try and show the characters’ private lives, outside the superheroes-on-a-mission context, in an extremely limited play window of about 5 hours once a month, without short-changing those missions and plotlines. In part, it has come from the players expecting to always be in or near their home base because of those primary plotlines. And, in part, because I simply hadn’t thought of it – until now.

So, I’m going to try and make up for that with this series. Each part will focus on one particular character archetype and list at least half-a-dozen minor encounters for that major type of character that showcase an essential characteristic of that archetype. I will also take the time to explain why I think each encounter is relevant or significant to that character type, and make some attempt to get under the skin of the archetype and examine what makes it tick.

The series itself will be an irregular one, appearing every now and then – don’t look for it every week. And while it might start with a D&D / Pathfinder character class, I intend to cover superhero, sci-fi, and pulp archetypes along the way – all in no particular order. In fact, I’m going to deliberately mix it up…

Image from Wikipedia under Creative Commons 2.0 Licence

Image from Wikipedia under Creative Commons 2.0 Licence

So who is this Barbarian chappie, anyway?

There are a few who think of the Barbarian as a bloodthirsty savage who settles all arguements with whatever weapon comes to hand – if it’s not too delicate for the job. And a few more who equate the Barbarian Rage ability with a Berserker‘s battle fury. Aside from those three or four people, everyone else looks for a more sophisticated description that can accommodate intelligent Barbarians instead of treating them as being as dumb as stumps, regardless of their intelligence scores, and can also accommodate skilled barbarians instead of treating them as living buzzsaws.

The problem is that Conan, who is the classic Barbarian archetype, was used as one of the foundations of the Fighter class, so whatever the Barbarian is, Conan isn’t it. This wasn’t a problem until 3e D&D; prior to that time, the Barbarian (if he existed at all as a class) was a sub-class or variation on Fighter. Third Edition did away with subclasses, moving Barbarians out into their own character class, and introduced the Rage mechanic.

Before I can come up with a set of minor encounters to reveal and illustrate who the Barbarian really is, I need to understand exactly who that is. Right away, a number of variations come to mind.

The Simple Hedonist

Eating, Drinking, Gambling, Wenching – those are the important things in life. Some people get so intellectual about things they forget what really matters, forget to smell the roses. It’s not that this variant can’t understand a complex arguement, it’s that they don’t care about complications. They will always try to reduce any situation to it’s most primal elements, and the smarter they are, the better they are at doing so quickly. This enables a rapid (if simplistic) direct solution to the problem which the Barbarian can be implementing before the intellectuals have finished figuring out what the problem is. Determined, resolute, and unwavering, this character employs a direct approach to problem-solving – because anything else is playing whatever game the other side has chosen, on his terms. If you have a political problem, kill the politician. If he’s well-protected, you just need a little more force or a touch of craftiness to lure him out into the open. Sometimes he gets a little carried away, that’s all.

The Emotional Arrow

This variation has a lust for the zest of life. It doesn’t matter what they are doing, they will find a way to make it enjoyable, or what’s the point of doing it? If the game is not enjoyable, change the rules, the parameters of the situation, until it becomes something that is fun. Because this character is so in touch with what he feels, emotionally, he is adept at getting to the emotional heart of any situation, any relationship, stripping away the complications that get in the way and confuse things. He has some bedrock fundamental values on which he has built his life, and which he will not yield or bend one iota – for anyone or anything. Loyal, steadfast, and brave, he takes his time declaring a friendship – but will back any declared friendship all the way to the gates of hell. Loyalty to that friendship, and to any commitment, is his greatest virtue, and betrayal of that friendship by others is the thing that will really, really, tick him off. There is no turning back from such a betrayal; once trust is broken it can never be restored. Instead of Conan, think Sam Gamgee. [This is the variant that I used for Arron in Fumanor – refer Inventing and Reinventing Races in DnD: An Introduction to the Orcs and Elves series part 2 for more details (look for the section on Ogres). This variant’s Rage is that of a lover spurned, a wife betrayed. When he has to, he simply turns off the thinking part of his mind and operates on raw passion and determination.

The Thrillseeker

This is an obvious variation on the variation just presented. The thrillseeker also has a lust for the zest in life, enjoying being at the centre of events, and forcing his way into that centre. He aspires to be an elemental force, a force of nature, whose very presence demands confrontation on his level and his terms because he will simply smash anything else against the wall. This variation revels in brutality when necessary, and directness the rest of the time. The greater his intelligence, the more successful the character is at positioning himself exactly where he wants to be in any situation. In many ways, the Thrillseeker’s emotional condition is arrested in childhood – he has a childlike love of adventure and danger, and a child’s temper, which casts aside anything and everything else when it expresses itself.

The Hop-head

The word ‘assassin’ derives from the Persian word hashishi or hashshashin, and refers to a sect of Ismalis. A combination of real life, enemy propaganda, and western imagination depicts the Nizari Ismalis as “hashish-consuming intoxicated assassins” (refer the “Legends and folklore” and “In popular culture” sections of the Wikipedia page linked to).

In reality, these were a group of religious warriors who had more in common with fantasy clerics than the “assassin” character class, and who just happened to be used by their political and religious masters for the purpose of assassination.

The description of the supposed impact of Hashish consumption on their psychology is closer to what would be expected of PCP abuse (also exaggerated by media reports) – warriors who felt little or no pain, and who kept going long after anyone else would have dropped, with extraordinary strength and ferocity. Think of a medieval version of The Terminator.

Not a lot of imagination is needed to re-blend fiction and reality to create a culture whose warriors routinely dope themselves up to achieve a state of religious ecstasy once a day or when going into battle. Some of the well-publicized incidents regarding violent acts committed by PCP users, such as those committed by former rapper Big Lurch, could easily be considered barbaric and the origin of the reported behavior of Barbarians as a class.

In summary, this variant imagines the Barbarians as a group of strongly-religious warriors who employ naturally-occurring drugs on a daily basis and before battle to place themselves into a psychotic state of religious ecstasy, and who reject the ‘sophistication’ and complication of ‘modern life’ to become ‘closer to the spiritual world’.

By modern standards and in the modern world, there is nothing but negatives to this depiction. But in a fantasy world where the gods are real? It’s still extreme, but would be seen as more tolerable – so long as they directed their violence against real enemies and not innocent bystanders. They might have their origins in a successful last act of desperate defense when faced with being overrun by some fallen race – Orcs or trolls or ogres or whatever. And it’s an interpretation that leaves a lot of room for roleplay and interesting exploration, thanks to the spiritual connotations. In fact, this variety of ‘Barbarian’ easily has as much depth, complexity, and plot potential as any other character class. There are elements of the classic cloistered monk, elements of religion, elements of a complex philosophy, all disguised as something simple, which is often mistaken for something primitive.

The Hot-head

This is the interpretation favored by some – the berserker who gets angry at the drop of a hat, but who is able to focus that anger and aggression into something that is usually positive. Dangerous to be around, and more dangerous to have as an enemy.

Comparing 3.x and Pathfinder

The descriptions of the class vary in two broad respects between these two sources. The first is that the 3.x version lists the berserker aspect as only one of several characteristics of the profile, emphasizing primitive and uncivilized origins. The Pathfinder version speaks of fury and passion and berserker tendencies as a far more dominant element within the profile, while offering the player far more variations on the “Rage” ability that imply a degree of sophistication at odds with the 3.x ideas. This is further borne out by the implications within the text that being a Barbarian is a philosophic choice that can be learned and embraced by anyone, rather than being the exclusive province of primitives beyond the fringes of society. The options and variations presented above cover the full range of possibilities implied by these extremes.

Common Threads

There are some themes that run through all of the variants listed, and these are fertile ground for exploitation in casual encounters.

  • Directness
  • Simplification of issues
  • Passion over intellect
  • Violence when wronged
  • Spirituality/Philosophy
  • Hedonism
  • Passion for life
Differential Threads

Each of the variations also have something that is unique to that variation. These are always useful as a source of minor encounters because they give the Barbarian Variant an opportunity to display the point of distinction of that variation:

  • The Simple Hedonist: An opportunity for revelry
  • The Simple Hedonist: The Cure for what Ails You
  • The Simple Hedonist: The bully/li>
  • The Emotional Arrow: The Aegean Bargain
  • The Emotional Arrow: An arguement over trivia
  • The Emotional Arrow: The Honest Advantage
  • The Thrillseeker: A thrilling novelty
  • The Thrillseeker: On the edge of the spotlight
  • The Thrillseeker: A risky proposition
  • The Hop-head: An arguement about religion
  • The Hop-head: An excess of hedonism
  • The Hop-head: The temple thief
  • The Hot-head: Three-card Monty
  • The Hot-head: Scene at a restaurant
  • The Hot-head: Water in the Ale
  • The Hot-head: What happens on the battlefield, stays on the battlefield

So, that’s the menu for today’s article…

The Common Encounters

In this section, I’m offering seven encounters derived from the common threads. Each variant and individual will respond slightly differently, of course, but will still be expressing that common trait of the class.

Directness: The star-crossed lovers

These situations are ridiculously easy to assemble. You start with the simply proposition, X wants to marry Y, and then start layering on complications that stand in the way until the whole thing seems utterly impossible. For example:

  • Pherilia wants to marry Drythas.
  • Pherilia’s hand has been promised to Umberto.
  • Umberto is Drythas’ father, an old and bitter man.
  • Pherilia hates Umberto.
  • Pherilia’s parents are deeply in debt to Umberto.
  • Drythas is a playwright, dismissed as completely unsuitable for anything by both Umberto and Pherilia’s parents.
  • Umberto has been blackmailing Pherilia’s parents for decades.
  • Pherilia’s father once tried to kill Umberto with a crossbow, but missed and killed Drythas’ mother instead. Pherilia isn’t supposed to know this, but her mother told her.
  • Drythas’ mother was the only one who held him in any esteem, and he loved her deeply.
  • Drythas’ is convinced that Umberto (his father) had his mother killed because she wouldn’t go along with his schemes.

What a tangle – it’s positively Shakespearian! Now, let’s introduce our Barbarian to the situation. He encounters a weeping and slightly drunken Pherilia, who is clutching a vial of poison and trying to work up the nerve to use it; she would rather die than be forced into the marriage her parents have arranged for her. It won’t take much more than a sympathetic growl from the Barbarian for the whole story to come spilling out.

There are a number of simple solutions the Barbarian can employ to solve the problem:

  • Kill Umberto.
  • Kill Drythas.
  • Kill Pherilia.
  • Umberto is old. Tell Pherilia to marry him, and use the poison on him.
  • Pherilia knows things about Umberto he would not want to be public. Blackmail him back.
  • Tell Pherilia to elope with Drythas, and let Umberto and her parents fight it out. None of the mess is her fault.

Sure, there are more sophisticated solutions that buy into the whole Greek Tragedy paradigm. But Barbarians are direct, remember?

Simplification of issues: The Wizard’s Tower

I thought about rolling this one into the preceding, but realized that while there is some overlap, it is not total. The biggest problem is trying to confine examples to a manageable scope; it’s very easy for this type of problem to take over the campaign and become a major plot element.

Stohl is a wizard with a problem. He thought it would be a clever idea to build his tower out of stone blocks that were recycled from the fallen tower of his mentor, who was once a wizard of great power. But the stones had absorbed leakage from countless spells over the decades, raising the morphic field energies to the point where the smallest cantrip went wildly out of control. That was how his old master had died, and how his tower came to be destroyed in the first place. Then Stohl came along and imposed order and rationality on the ruins rather than letting the excess of arcane energy dissipate over time, as it would naturally have done, by rebuilding them into a structure with a purpose – and just at the same time that the temple next door was preaching unification of the people and common interests and looking out for each other. Now the very stones are reaching out to the neighboring buildings, turning loose stones into improbably and impossible structures that defy common sense and rational thought (two things that stones are not known to be particularly good at) and which violate every ordinance of construction within the city. Still more worrying, they have not been tapping their own morphic energies to achieve this, but have started draining other sources – such as the Duke’s prized +3 broadsword. A full investigation is underway, a handsome reward has been offered for the head of the thief who “replaced the broadsword with a magicless forgery”, and it’s only a matter of time before Stohl is blamed for it all. Worst of all, the stones have begun to vaguely apprehend what happens when a building is razed to make way for new construction, and have started to take it personally. What Stohl needs is someone who can solve the problem without deducing all sorts of inconvenient deductions that will lead to his head being offered up on a platter. Someone like a Barbarian…

The big trick is now getting the Barbarian involved without explaining what’s going on. The simplest solution is to have Stohl hire the Barbarian to knock down his tower (he can use just about any excuse he can come up with to justify this desire. The desire to redecorate (‘towers are so yesterday, you know, and I so want to be stylish…’) is my favorite. The tower will, of course, fight back. Either the Barbarian will win, ending the problem and any connection between the events in town and Stohl, or the Tower will win, in which case Stohl can blame him for doing something to his tower. Either way, Stohl is off the hook.

How the barbarian can solve the problem:

  • Lure Stohl back to the tower, and attack him. The walls will soak up the magic Stohl uses to defend himself until the tower goes boom. Problem solved.
  • Or, he could figure out that it’s magic doing it, and that it’s draining magic items in the town to do it – and simply stack as many magic items as he can find or steal in the tower until it overloads. Problem solved.
  • Or he could knock down a whole heap of other buildings to soak up all the magic in rebuilding the town.

Three solutions that all get to the heart of the problem – with no real need to even attempt to understand the complexities of how things reached this point. And that’s what a Barbarian is good for – clever of Stohl to have realized that…

Passion over intellect: The Wildervore Migration

A migration of wildervores* is threatening a crop. The smart thing to do is to try and deflect them around the croplands, or concentrate on protecting the town and declaring the crop a lost cause. But to anyone who really relishes a challenge, confronting the alpha Wildervore mano-a-creature and seeing who’s stronger is irresistible.

* What’s a Wildervore?
I made the name up to represent a large creature that travels in larger herds. It could be anything from a Stegosaurus on down. Invent something. It should be prone to charging, and big. A herd of them should be something that no-one in their right mind gets in the way of. That’s what Barbarians are for.

Violence when wronged: Accusation In The Alley

After a night spent carousing, the Barbarian stumbles out into the lane to make his way to the stables where he is lodging for the night because the innkeeper wouldn’t let him sleep indoors, when he stumbles into a mugging that’s gone very badly wrong. The victim has been hit rather too vigorously over the head, and the city watch are approaching the alleyway entrance. The perpetrator, a thin man dressed in dark clothes, takes one look at the situation and does something half-smart – he yells for help and pretends the Barbarian has assaulted his “friend” and is threatening him…

If the Barbarian were a country bumpkin or a savage simpleton, this might have been a smart ploy. But he’s not, he’s a Barbarian, and that doesn’t mean stupid. Brave to the point of idiocy, perhaps, but not stupid. Even drunk, he’s more than a match for the town guard – but the confrontation gives the would-be mugger the chance to get away – for now. The next morning, the hunt is on, as the wrongfully accused Barbarian begins stalking the streets like a natural disaster…

Spirituality/Philosophy: The Arguement

The Barbarian comes across two priests having a very loud arguement about a trivial aspect of religious doctrine. Normally he wouldn’t get involved, but a crowd have gathered to listen, and some are starting to take one side or the other, and they are all blocking the Barbarian’s path.

This encounter gives the Barbarian the chance to be simple yet profound: “What does it matter? The Gods look inside men’s hearts, not at all the fancy trappings and pretendings that you wrap them up in.”

Hedonism: The Wedding

The Inn where the Barbarian is lodging has run out of ale – something about the delivery cart being late. So, slightly tipsy, he has wandered out to find another to drink at, only to come across a high society wedding where there’s plenty of fine booze, good food, and attractive women – who have also consumed enough of that booze to be impaired in their judgment. Any respecter of propriety would keep going rather than inviting himself in, but we’re talking about a Barbarian here, and no-one seems to mind.

The next morning he awakes to the screeching of one of the maids of honor, who has just discovered the Barbarian in bed with her mother…

Passion for life: The Night Before

It’s the night before an important battle, or at least, a significant and dangerous one. The ascetic and professional military have ordered the inns closed so that the citizens will respond to orders in the morning with clear heads. The pious are praying. The fearful seek hiding places. The opportunists are taking advantage of the opportunity. All sorts of revels are on offer for the Barbarian, who is no coward, doesn’t especially like or trust thieves, and whom no inn door can keep out if he really tries…

The Differential Encounters

Having completed the litany of minor encounters and mini-plots focusing on the Generic Barbarian, it’s time to get specific…

The Simple Hedonist: An opportunity for revelry

Two con-men are working a ploy almost as old as time – they claim to be selling a farm on behalf of an old widow who can’t look after it any more. Because she is not well, and needs to relocate for health reasons, they have to sell it quickly and “for a small fraction of what it’s really worth”. They have worked their way from town to town, selling and reselling the same piece of swamp at every opportunity, then moving on before anyone can complain. They take the time to liquor up their marks before, during, and after making their pitch – it makes them easier to convince. This time, they’ve made the mistake of choosing the Barbarian as their next victim…

The Simple Hedonist: The Cure For What Ails You

The Barbarian, feeling a little delicate after last night’s activities, wanders down the street wishing the dawn didn’t have to be so loud, and comes across an enthusiastic little man who has set up a small apothecary stand on the side of the street and is offering a cure-all. The Barbarian is stumping past grumpily when he is spotted by the salesman, who immediately mentions another putative benefit of his potion: “Cures Hangovers”…

This is really two encounters for the price of one. The initial encounter sells the Barbarian the “cure”, the second involves the Barbarian realizing that it doesn’t work. Most people would shrug and let it go, not having expected miracles under the circumstances – but the Barbarian isn’t most people.

You can up the ante by having the Barbarian notice several other customers buying the potion to cure more serious ailments, and letting the Barbarian champion “the little guy”. Or you can save that for an intermediate encounter, stretching the plot thread to three encounters – the salesman suggesting that maybe the Barbarian “got a bad batch,” and “Here, have a replacement for nothing, my compliments”…

The Simple Hedonist: The Bully

The Barbarian comes across a weak and spindly guy being picked on by a big, burly, bully. Normally he would keep going – “None of his business” – but then the spindly guy says “You’ll be sorry if you’re not careful, I’ll set my Champion onto you,” and points vaguely at the Barbarian. The Bully, with more bravado than sense (practically a Barbarian himself) replies, “Oh yeah? I’ll kick his butt…” or medieval to that effect.

In a straight fight, the Barbarian would probably win. But the Bully cheats, and has a couple of confederates nearby…

The Emotional Arrow: The Aegean Bargain

Last night, drinking at the inn, the Barbarian ran out of coin, and promised to muck out the stables for another jug of ale. It’s the next morning, and the Barbarian has just discovered that the Inn and several neighboring businesses have a communal stable that is eight times the size he was expecting – so large that by the time he’s finished, the end he started on is dirty again.

The Emotional Arrow: An arguement over trivia

A son and his father are arguing over trivia to avoid telling each other that they care about each other, an all-too-common pattern where the people concerned consider themselves ‘too macho’ to go in for the ‘touchy-feely stuff’, in the next room to the Barbarian’s. After a while it starts to grate on the Barbarian’s nerves. Some Barbarian variants would threaten or simply assault them; the Emotional Arrow gets to the real problem – in a fairly blunt and direct fashion, of course.

The Emotional Arrow: The Honest Advantage

The Barbarian has come into possession of some minor knick-knack that he hopes to sell in the next village for enough to buy some ale and food. The village, a very small community, has only one tradesman who might be interested in the knick-knack, but after apologizing profusely, he informs the Barbarian that he cannot afford to purchase it; he has only counterfeight coins, which he was given by a passing stranger yesterday in payment for his entire inventory. The Merchant then shows the Barbarian one of the false coins; the Barbarian realizes that he cannot tell the difference between these and the real thing. Had the Merchant said nothing, he would have been none the wiser until someone discovered the truth at a later time; the Merchant would have passed the economic loss on to several other businesses (but would probably save his own in the process).

While most Barbarians would simply shrug and move on, the Emotional Arrow values honesty and integrity. What he will do to make things right is up to him, but here’s one suggestion:

The Barbarian sells the Knick-Knack for all the counterfeight coins that he the Merchant has, and adds some real ones of his own to the total. He then hurries to the next town, where he suspects that the counterfeiter will attempt to sell the fruit of his lies; sure enough, he finds a man there attempting to trade the goods obtained from the honest merchant at a small fraction of their real value. A bidding war begins between the merchant who was being persuaded to buy them and the Barbarian, which the Barbarian inevitably wins because he is willing to pay full market value (plus) for the goods. The counterfeiter, fooled by his own creations long enough for the sale to go through, is only beginning to suspect what has occurred when the Barbarian tells the town constable that the merchant in the previous village has accused the counterfeiter of trading in false coins, and produces a sworn complaint from the Merchant. Because the merchant has a reputation for honesty throughout the local region, his complaint is taken seriously enough for the counterfeiter to be searched and the false coins discovered. His protestations of innocence are unconvincing, his accusations against the Barbarian yield nothing but a threat from the Barbarian if he doesn’t apologize on the spot, and he gets carted off to prison. The other bidder remains silent and denies ever having met the counterfeiter when questioned. Later, he tells the Barbarian that he spotted the origin of the produce, and the counterfeight coins being offered for the merchandise, and figured out what was going on. “I would rather have an honest competitor with whom I will always know where I stand than a piece of deceptive trash like that hanging around.” He then gives the Barbarian enough for some ale and bread to compensate him for his efforts.

If the above is too cutesy for you, make the second Merchant a secret confederate of the counterfeiter and a fence on the side – who has cut his compatriot loose when the jig was up. Insert some subtle clue to this relationship into the conversation with the Barbarian; then let the Barbarian get to the edge of town with his ale and bread before he figures it out. Time for some more direct action…

The Thrillseeker: A Thrilling Novelty

Trekking through mountainous territory, the Barbarian (and his friends/companions, but they don’t matter) come across a man offering rides down a waterfall in barrel. Unknown to the PCs, this is a con – a confederate kills the Thrillseeker, relieves the bodies of valuables, and attaches lead weights, all while supposedly helping the thrillseeker into the barrel. The body is then (after a brief delay) stuffed into the barrel, which shatters conveniently on the rocks at the bottom of the waterfall; the body, because of the weights, sinks, while the salesman pretends to be stunned, “that’s never happened before”, etc. Things go badly wrong when the confederate tries to kill the Barbarian. The scheme is quickly exposed and the villains taken into custody, leaving the Barbarian to pine regretfully that he never did get to ride the waterfall in a barrel. But maybe one day…

The Thrillseeker: On the edge of the spotlight

The thrillseeker variant can’t stand not being the center of attention. That means that he tends to thrust his way forwards whenever a volunteer is called for, no matter how dangerous the mission might be (and how much his comrades might wish he wouldn’t). It also means that he doesn’t do sneaky very well – whenever the PCs need to do something they would rather other people not pay attention to, the best bet is to have the Barbarian stage some sort of diversion. Something like climbing the castle tower bare-handed, or challenging everyone who passed by to a wrestling match, or being very loudly drunk in the middle of the market square.

A Barbarian with intelligence is smart enough to realize all this – and so, when he encounters some public display designed to capture the attention of the crowd, his first thought is “what don’t they want me to notice?” and his second is probably “Maybe I can figure it out if I make myself the centre of attention”.\

To use this encounter then, all you need is a spectacular stunt, and something that the stuntman is trying to distract attention from. Smuggling a princess out of the castle, for example. Add one Barbarian and stir well. Then stand back, and let the Barbarian and the designated Distraction engage in a series of one-up-manship games.

The Thrillseeker: A risky proposition

Fools rush in where angels fear to tread. Barbarians rush in where fools hesitate and think about visiting a relative several Kingdoms over – well, at least the Thrillseeker variant does. To employ this encounter, you need something absurdly dangerous, a Barbarian in the audience, and a volunteer who (to the Barbarian’s eyes) is clearly unfit for the task. The Barbarian should challenge the volunteer to some sort of contest to prove his fitness for the challenge – in the process committing the Barbarian’s companions.

The Hop-head: An arguement about religion

The Barbarian encounters a hellfire-and-brimstone cleric calling for abstinence from alcohol as he is on the way into a tavern. If only he weren’t so tall/broad/whatever, he might have been able to slip in without being singled out. But the cleric did call him out, and called him a godless heathen in front of everyone (including any gods that might be watching), and he couldn’t have that. But the witless idiot was only doing what he thought was right, so violence wasn’t the first answer – he just needed to do some more learning about the real world and lose some of those wrongheaded notions. Then some punishment smackdown could be handed out.

The Hop-head: An excess of hedonism

Getting drunk and drugged is a religious duty and obligation to those who truly believe. There is no better way to get closer to the Gods according to those of the Barbarian credo. But, shockingly, there are those philistines who go through the motions without believing, without piety, without purpose – and walking through the tavern doors, he’s just found a a room full of them, and it’s the last straw. He’s gonna learn them or he’s gonna burn them…

The Hop-head: The temple thief

Everyone worships in their own way, so unless they get in his way, the Barbarian doesn’t pass judgment on the practices of others, one way or the other – not too often, anyway. But when a small child clutching a golden candlestick bursts out of a temple and runs headlong through the crowd, priests and temple guards in pursuit, only to collide headlong with the Barbarian because he was looking behind him at the time, it was time to draw the line. And then he saw that the priests wore the sigils of Mornless The Unfathomable, the most-hated god in existence, whose credo is the live sacrifice of any who don’t believe in their squid-headed deity…

The Hot-head: Three-card Monty

The Barbarian encounters a street hustler who engages him in a game of three-card Monty. After eight attempts and eight failures, the Barbarian is starting to get suspicious, but forces the hustler to play again, as he has done several times already. He’ll find that Queen card if it kills somebody…

The Hot-head: Scene at a restaurant

Feeling uncharacteristically flush with money, the Barbarian decides to buy himself a fancy meal at the most exclusive restaurant in town – one of those ones with the snooty waiters – without a reservation…

The Hot-head: Water in the Ale

Most people know better than to serve a Barbarian watered-down ale, but this barman doesn’t seem to have gotten the memo…

The Hot-head: What happens on the battlefield, stays on the battlefield

Yesterday there was a fight. Both sides had Barbarians. It ended in a draw, both sides falling back. Today, the Barbarian encounters one of the enemy Barbarians in a tavern. He’s about to tear the tavern down around him when the other Barbarian offers to buy him an ale…

Primitive doesn’t mean stupid: The Conclusion

There’s a lot of plot potential in these variations on the somewhat poorly-defined standard Barbarian, and that’s before you start exploring native cultures and the like. In particular, there’s lots of opportunity for Barbarians of all types to both refute and reinforce the stereotypes – and for a player and GM to have fun doing it. The other players might get a little jealous, though – how come they don’t get cool plotlines like this?

Whew! Finished at last. I wasn’t sure I was going to get there – this article has taken more than twice as long to write as I thought it would, and that was with a clear idea of what I was going to say, and with the basic concepts of the variations already in my head. Future parts of this series might have to be subdivided – one half the character analysis and one half the plotlines – just to keep the workload, and the deadlines, manageable. The question I would now pose our readers is: Would you find it better to have the second half of a subdivided article published immediately after the first (which should make these easier to write) or would a bigger gap, leaving room for something else in between, be preferable?

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