One thing I find myself doing all the time while playing a game is figure out how certain characters or monsters or whatever else might translate into ttrpgs. I frequently go into tangents on gaming streams about how I’d build a character to represent the game’s protagonist, antagonist, side character, etc. Not only is it super fun for me, but it’s also a way to practice design within certain constraints. You have an end goal – the original character concept – and limitations within the medium – the game’s rules.
“Inspiration! And Improvement” is something the legendary Wayne June narrates when a character receives a buff of some sort in Darkest Dungeon. For the purpose of this post, the “inspiration” is what interesting features of a character that make you want to translate it into a ttrpg character. The “improvement” is taking an otherwise standard concept for a ttrpg character and make it cooler and more interesting by using the inspired source. Today, I’m going to go through a slightly more in depth process of doing this so in the future similar posts can just build off of this.
One of my favorite games of all time is the cosmic horror rogue-lite, Darkest Dungeon. I’ll have to talk at greater length about the game at some point in the future, but I’ll give a quick run down here.
You run a hamlet and send adventurers of varying classes to clear out areas of monsters, a bunch of the adventurers dying along the way. In addition to falling to regular health damage, there are traumatic events that increase a stress gauge which can cause maddening afflictions and even heart attacks. People frequently say the game is super hard and liken it to Dark Souls in its difficulty. However, much like Dark Souls, it’s not so much ultra-hard as ultra-unforgiving. In some ways, these are the same thing, but there are definite ways to make the game work for you.
The characters themselves are pretty archetypal in a lot of ways. Crusader is a typical holy knight. Highwayman is a sneakybastard thief type. Vestal is your usual cleric/priest/white mage. I’ve loosely plotted out every one of the eighteen hero types of Darkest Dungeon as Pathfinder characters, and I’m going to post them all eventually. Today though, I’m gonna start with one of my favorites: the Flagellant.
“Through pain and agony, I drag myself to the Light!” – Flagellant, Darkest Dungeon
In the lore, the flagellant is a religious fanatic that embraces pain as a way to purify oneself. Their intro comic shows them as a beggar that gets the crap beat out of them and only smiles, standing tall after the assault, stronger than ever.
Mechanically, the flagellant fills multiple roles. The class does moderate base damage, relying mostly on heavy damage-over-time bleed effects. They have three abilities that restore hit points, one that reduces stress, and one that removes damage-over-time effects, so they make a decent support – however, they do these effects by damaging enemies, bleeding themself, or transferring negative effects from allies to themself. They don’t have a crazy amount of hp or defense, but they become stronger the more damage they take and can only access a heavy hitting self-heal attack when they are at low health, all of which allows them to tank in some capacity. Even their camping ‘downtime’ abilities are unique, including an ability that makes them take a huge amount of stress to induce the rapturous condition (which I describe below). From all that, it’s easy to see this hero is very much about fearlessness, ruthlessness, and self-sacrifice.
Lastly the flagellant has a couple other unique factors that no other hero has anything like. As alluded to above, the flagellant really likes being low on hp (40% or lower to be precise). They get a big buff to their stats, their two strongest actions are only available at low hp (which subsequently reduce the amount of healing they receive), and some of their class-specific items only trigger at that point. When they hit 0 hp, they automatically heal the rest of the party for a decent amount, and if they die, they also automatically attempt to stun the enemies before they go. Finally, whereas other stressed-out characters get various afflictions as penalties – or very rarely become virtuous and get big buffs – the flagellant does both at the same time, every time. They will always become rapturous at 100 stress. They might attack allies or themself randomly, but they also become faster, stronger, and easier to hit. Again, all fearless, ruthless self-sacrifice.
“Guided by pain! Favored by the light!” – Flagellant, Darkest Dungeon
The first thing I do in order to transfer a character from one piece of media into a ttrpg is to explicitly choose what factors I want to have represented to accurately emulate the source material. It’s best to have a spectrum of these ranging from 100% necessary for the character’s identity to flavorful but forgettable, in case we can’t fit everything. So, what do we have for the flagellant?
- Lotsa blood
- Stronger the more damage they take
- Embraces pain, stress, and suffering
- Mixed role, primarily somewhere between damage dealer and a kind of support
- Healing others and self, usually through weird methods
- Self-sacrifice mechanics
- Fanaticism to a dangerous degree
- Uses a spiked flail to attack and self-flagellate
- Scarred up something fierce
There’s a few things we can pick up here pretty simply. Blood effects can be as simple as persistent bleed damage from a wounding rune to a number of spells like blood vendetta and vampiric touch. Things like religious fanaticism and relishing pain and suffering are largely flavor and personality, however there are mechanical things like classes’ edicts and anathemas that can tie the character even closer to the source material.
Other than the basic concept of “blood stuff” as theming, I feel the number one thing the character needs is getting stronger the more they suffer, especially through self-sacrifice. How can we get a character that gets more and more powerful through more and more punishment?
The oracle’s main shtick is the combination of their mystery, revelation, and curse. The more they use their mystery’s powers, the more cursed they get. The more cursed they get, the more bonuses and penalties build up. Sounds pretty apt. Luckily, there’s also a perfect option for the class here: Life Mystery. The very first focus spell it grants transfers some damage from an ally to you each turn, healing them at the cost of your hp. Again, pretty apt. The curse makes it harder to heal the more you use your powers, from reducing the amount healed to completely negating outside healing effects to healing extra by sacrificing your own hp. Perfect for the heal-debuff the flagellant gives themself with their biggest abilities. One other thing oracle has going for it is that the divine spell list has a bunch of bloody spells like vampiric touch, blood vendetta, and bloodspray curse.
While all the heroes of Darkest Dungeon are supposed to be human, that’s part of the setting; aside from humans, the only peoples in the world are pigmen and sahuagin-esque fishfolk. There are undead and aberrations to be sure, but the “people” in the setting are pretty limited. So, while you could make this character a human, I try not to hold myself to that too strictly with all the fun and applicable options with other ancestries.
For the flagellant, there’s a lot of good options from orc that help fill the theme of more damaged = more power. Orc ferocity and its subsequent feats are great for staying on death’s door all the time. Lifeblood’s call and death’s drums both give buffs when suffering negative effects. There are various ways to grab temporary hp, which is really helpful for a class that constantly loses hp just for using their own abilities. Whether you go full or half orc is up to personal preference.
How about the fanaticism? The zealous nature to purifying the world? Embracing strength through pain? There just so happens to be a deity in the Golarion system perfect for this: the empyreal lord Vildeis. In the entry from Gods and Magic about Vildeis, it says “The Cardinal Martyr presides over devotion, sacrifice, and scars.” Her domains include duty, pain, and zeal. She appears as an angel with blood-red wings covered in bloody scars and bandages. Perfect for our zealous blood warrior. Taking a background that has to do with belief, such as acolyte, cultist, raised by belief, or street preacher, does well to emphasize this ever further.
So now we have a list of important parts to include in the build as the “improvements” above. At its core, we have a character that mixes melee damage and healing. Simple enough. Throw in the inspiration: blood spells for offense and defense, pain and suffering effects, leaning hard into building up your oracular curse… Suddenly this simple little melee-healer is dynamic and unique.
“So grows the burden! So grows my strength!” – Flagellant, Darkest Dungeon
Here he is: Damian the Flagellant, named after the character in the background-comic. We got blood. We got self-sacrifice. We got heals. We got damage. We got more blood. We have basically everything that makes a flagellant to some degree. As always, you can find the full character sheet in the sidebar.
Other life oracles might focus on healing and ranged spells, maybe building themselves up defensively to ensure they have enough bulk to share their hit points safely. Not Damian. He runs straight into melee. He relies on abundant temporary hit points from vampiric spells to keep him going. He either attacks or moves into position with one action, spending the other two nearly every turn to cast a spell. The spells I listed are the ones that fit best for flavor and function, but the only essential spells are the healing spells, the blood spells, and arguably phantom pain and claim curse. Similarly, items are just ideal suggestions with nothing really mandatory.
Blessed one is purely a choice for survivability. A potent one action heal will come in handy once your life link and later your major curse starts eating your hp away. When every high level spell makes you lose a considerable amount of health, a quick lay on hands might be the difference between life and death. It also emulates his ‘reclaim’ ability in Darkest Dungeon by doing a humongous heal when things get dicey.
Unfortunately, all the most fitting weapons for the flagellant are martial and uncommon. The scourge and spiked chain are the most similar, but if those aren’t accessible a whip can work well enough. Since oracle doesn’t get better than expert weapon proficiency, being trained only isn’t a huge deal given the various traits afforded you buy the martial options. Think of the +2 you miss out on being traded for reach, disarm, etc. Remember that weapon traits like trip allow you to add the weapon’s item bonus to your athletics checks for the right maneuvers, though you’d probably want to adjust your skills a bit if you want to focus on that. If you’d rather use a simple weapon and forgo the flail, a dagger does just fine with only a minor damage loss and fewer traits for better accuracy. The important thing is deal piercing or slashing damage so you can put a wounding rune on whatever you pick for more bleed and to trigger bloodspray curse. You’re not likely to attack more than once a turn, but applying more bleed is good.
Damian has plenty of medicine skills to help heal the party out of combat, but it also helps with knowing how best to draw blood from your enemies. Risky surgery is super on brand, dealing damage to heal more. Religion and occultism are perfect flavor for darkest dungeon stuff. Blood Lore is admittedly strange, but honestly what else would he be super knowledgeable about? I figure it would at best help identify certain creatures with notable ichor and the like, at the very least it might let you know if your enemy can bleed.
This was a pretty basic rundown of how I think through making a character based on some other medium. Hopefully it makes sense and can help someone go through the process themselves to make a referential character. Just make sure that if you do this you don’t just leave it at “it’s this other character” and be done. It’s much more fun for other people and yourself if the character is distinct in some way. With the flagellant in this post, that’s fairly easy to do since the classes in Darkest Dungeon are sort of designed to be blank slates in a lot of ways. Use the base character as a starting point, but add in your own flair. Think of some conflict your character must have gone through and how they’d react.
There’s a wide spectrum of how a translated character can emulate the source. The character sheet I provide is an attempt to get as close as mechanically possible with as many options for referential play. You could just as easily stop at vaguely using themes of blood and zealotry and disregard the rest. That’s the beauty of ttrpgs; you can make them whatever you want!
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