Adopted Characters

I’m now officially on my fourth PC in the Carrion Crown adventure path – henceforth renamed, the Killing PC-killer of Killing.” Carrion Crown is lethal… I’ve made a dwarf Inquisitor. He’s an orphan, child of an adventurer, left in the care of the father’s boon companion – a human. This human was married to an elf and my dwarf was raised among elves with two half-elven siblings. This led to some interesting conversations with the other PCs when my dwarf made his debut.

But as I was building this character I realized that the game didn’t give me a lot of options (mechanically) to distinguish myself from a dwarf who was born and raised underground in dwarven society. Really, the whole concept for this character sprang out of the Adopted trait as I was reading through the APG looking for inspiration. I used the Adopted trait, linked him to his half-elven style family and then went looking at the list of dwarven abilities that I wanted to change and… hit a wall.

To that end, I thought I’d examine the options for building an adopted PC – as currently exists in the rules – and a little beyond. I’ll take them in order of most intrusive to least intrusive – that is, how much they drift from the core.

Feats
Feats are already a means to customize your character. Most builds, especially in the early levels, can afford to slip in a less-than-optimal feat choice to enhance your relation to a different race/upbringing. Take feats that relate to the region you’d grow up in, or that could explain your alternate training… My dwarf took Weapon Finesse and EWP: Elven Curve Blade. These both fit the character and while not optimal are certainly still strong choices at the table. It’s how he was raised; to fight like this brothers.

Skills
Using skills may be one of the easiest ways to customize for your adopted nature and bears one of the lowest “opportunity costs.” I spent a point in Linguistics to be able to take Elven as a language. I spent points on Knowledge (Nature) and Survival. While these are good skills for anyone to have, I took them more with the background in mind than the table play. In this AP, I don’t find myself rolling many Nature checks… But between Linguistics, the various Knowledge skills, and catch-alls like Craft and Profession, it is fairly easy to inject a level of mechanical support for your “I was adopted by…” story choices.

Traits
The Advanced Players Guide introduced Traits into the game. They are an optional rule, though one that we like. A trait is basically about half as powerful as a feat and gives a small bonus. The assumed standard for adopting traits is that PCs will start with two. Traits really shine for the purposes of building an Adopted character. First, there is a whole category of traits themed to PC races and one of those is “Adopted” which allows a character to take a race trait from another race category. Beyond this though, there are some excellent choices based on the region/terrain your PC grew up in, faith-based traits related to the gods of the PF campaign setting, and – if you are playing in an Adventure Path – the Player’s Guides for these often offer traits related to the backstory of the region which help to ground your character to that place/campaign. A major benefit of traits is that a very common bonus is turning something into a class skill and providing a small bonus. So you can shape your skill list to allow you to fit in with your adopted race/region better.

Alternate Racial Traits
Racial Traits, not to be confused with traits (something that has happened at our table… I wish traits could have been named something different) are the inherent abilities/bonuses that come with your PC race choice. Like Stonecunning and Darkvision for a dwarf. The APG introduced this concept to Pathfinder as well, and the Advanced Race Guide expanded on it. A good example of using Alternate Racial Traits comes up with my PC. Dwarves can swap out their attack bonus against orcs and goblins (Hatred) for a bonus against elves (Ancient Emnity). I figured this made perfect sense considering the amount of time he’d have spent training with and fighting elves growing up. It also plays nicely into his later selection of the Persistence Inquisition for his class (try growing up a dwarf surrounded by elves) by establishing a pattern of storytelling through his mechanical selections. The Alternate Race Traits are fantastic, as many of the options are excellent at providing variety without ruining the character – but they are limited because they still (intentionally, I would imagine) try to ground the PC in being a member of that race, not trying to make him into something else. Still, there are good options to be mined here if the GM allows these Alternate Traits to be in play.

ARG Race Builder
The Advanced Race Guide also includes a section on building races with a point-buy system. It also offers the breakdown of the current races into what their points would be under this system. Now, the point values are imperfect and this could probably be abused so GMs might be hesitant. If you’re GM is willing to work with you though, you might be able to swap out a race trait or two that make no sense for your adopted character for something more in line with your concept. This has the added benefit of at least having the PF designers tacit approval of the value of the abilities as they see them for the game environment. I’d love to be able to drop Stonecunning and Weapon Familiarity for other abilities (as these are completely wasted on my character). Weapon Familiarity is especially odd because it is entirely training-dependent so it should be gone… but again, this would be a bridge too far for some GMs so respect that boundary.

This had gotten a little longer than I intended so I’ll leave off here. Mechanical options will never replace good roleplaying. If you want to convey the complexity of a character adopted into another culture it really must shine through in your portrayal at the table… but hopefully these ideas can help spark some new thoughts for your own PCs. I really enjoyed building my adopted dwarf with his fun history. The inspiration from a trait name grew into a whole character when I was really struggling with how I was going to rejoin a game where I’ve already played three PCs (who really didn’t last very long). Hopefully, fourth time is the charm…

As always, thanks for reading.

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