Do you ever feel like your life is meek and bland compared to those over-zealous do-gooders of the world? Don’t worry, you’re not alone, as in every world there are characters who just so happen to be in the background. What do we mean by this, exactly?
If you look at the best stories, they need solid supporting characters. These characters aren’t even the supporting cast. These are characters that are simply just there. They won’t make you go “I enjoyed this title because of that background character”, but they’re often memorable in their own, unique ways. Join us as we check out our Top 10 Background Characters.
So, rather than starting with my spell like I did in my Re-Skinning Spells part 1 last week, I’ll be starting with the spellcaster. To give your unique character a unique feel rather than just a colour-by-numbers hack-n-slash dungeon crawler, plant a little of their personality onto their spell list. For each character I’ll be throwing in more details like magical implements or Individual Magical Effect to give you some ideas on how to really change up your wizards, warlocks, sorcerers, and spellslingers.
Let me start with a character I’ve wanted to build for some time.
A wizard heavily invested in the nature of time, it’s mechanisms, how it shapes and is shaped by space and matter. There’s a few spells that are no-brainers for a master of time, Slow, Haste, Scrying, at later levels Time Stop and it’s not a huge stretch to throw in spells like Mending as a way to reverse time on a broken object, or Disintegration to accelerate time to the point of crumbling. But not every level comes with a complete collection of spells perfect for the Chronomancer.
It would not take an overly permissive DM to alter Conjure Minor Elementals to summon Modrons instead, those mechanical life-forms from the plane of rigid order and law. The collection from the Monster Manual sits within the Combat Rating requirements. Scrying and locating spells might help pinpoint the eddies and currents a creature leaves in the currents of time, Move Earth and Control Water might toy with history so ancient that the world was different.
Each time the Chronomancer casts a spell it is accompanied by the sound of a ticking clock, a whirling of spectral gears about his/her arms, and at later levels the very stars wheel in the heavens as he/she exerts power on the universe. A stopwatch might be the focus for the Chronomancer, or a sundial with a shadow that always points to the correct time, no matter the light in the room.
The magic of an Alchemist is all chemical, no otherworldly powers required. The correct admixtures can turn acid into a projectile capable of flying great distances, contain fire in a case of metal to be called upon later, or spawn lightning in a jar. The Artificer class for Eberron has dabbled a little in this, although I have to say I preferred the sub-type of wizard from an earlier issue of Unearthed Arcana. That works up to a point, but there are plenty of spells that you might not be able to pull out of a bottle.
Consider a spell like Wall of Stone, rather than a movement of earth the spell could be a growing mountain of foam that solidifies into a barrier. Illusions could be the result of a potent hallucinogen; it’s hard to summon an Insect Plague with chemicals unless you keep a box of larvae or a vial of potent pheromones in your pack.
Alchemists can fit into a low-magic setting, but have to plan accordingly. Your alchemist may have to carry a hefty medicine bag filled with bases, reagents, admixtures and solvents, along with enough glassware to refit a cathedral. You might be walking around in lab gear, goggles and gloves, collapsible work bench, the works.
Ok, let me draw some examples from elsewhere. I’ll grab some characters with signature spells or spell-like powers and give you something that’ll do the same job:
Maya’s Phaselock – Shamelessly going back to Borderlands, the Siren Maya has the power to imprison an enemy in a hovering bubble of raw energy from whatever plane of existence the Sirens draw power from. Hold Person would work fine as the basic version, but lacks the upgrades, they’re much harder to replicate without your DM allowing you to add powers and expending higher spell slots, or even several slots. Dominate Person, Bless, or Resistance can give you ideas for effects to pile onto a single spell.
Witcher Signs – Igni screams Burning Hands, nice and easy. Aard, maybe use Thunderwave. At early levels you might use Crown of Madness for the hypnotic sign Axii, rather than the more appropriate Dominate Monster. The shielding sign Quen has loads of possible options, from Shield to Magic Circle. And Yrden… is difficult, planting rune-circles that trigger when you pass over them is something you’ll have to wait for when you get level 3 spells and Glyph of Warding, but that’s such a versatile spell you should pick it up anyway, no matter who you are.
Waterbending – It’s easy to replicate earth, air, and firebending from the Avatar Series, plenty of fire-based spells, mobility and defensive spells for air, and things you can change into stone, especially if you build a druid. Water might be trickier, but there are things that could be made more… watery. Magic Missile and Cloud of Daggers, streaks of water hurled at opponents, Slow and Evard’s Black Tentacles could be used as patches of water that grip and bind.
The fight is fought and won, there is no more glory to be had here, so why are you lingering? Why it’s to finish the job in style of course; because no epic fight is finished with one guy just bleeding from his wounds, or simply limping away to feel sorry for himself. You have to let them know who’s won, you have to do it in style!
You left us with a real tough challenge this week; You chose the Top 10 Useless Protagonists. When we really dissected the name, we realised that the term useless is pretty strong to apply to anyone. Also, to consider a protagonist useless is an even harder concept, as when you consider the purpose of a protagonist, it’s simply to get the story from A to B, via means of a character that you rally behind. Therefore, it’s got to be a main character, which automatically removes candidates such as Yamcha (Sorry, at no point has he been a main character).
Now that we’ve discussed what the protagonist element of this Top 10 is, it’s time to dissect the useless element. To be useless means you are without any use… In other words, to say a protagonist is useless is primarily a useless endeavour (at least, in most cases). With this said, useless is very similar to inept… Which is way more defined a concept. As such, we’re going for a Top 10 Useless Protagonists, but we’ll often dip into the inept. Rules for this list out of the way with, let’s get on with it!
10) Vault Hunters – Borderlands
The lowest entry to our list because, let’s face it here, Mordecai, Lillith, Roland and Brick aren’t exactly good for nothing. They help accelerate the plans of Atlas’ Commandant Steele by locating pieces of vault key, and there’s all of the sequel material in which they are pretty damn pivotal. But there’s two major points against their overall effectiveness on the story here.
1 – They show up at The Vault they’ve been hunting for just to discover Atlas already found it. The Vault opens up and the contents immediately kill the major villain who you’ve been failing to thwart all game.
2 – The whole thing was Handsome Jack’s plan! Start to finish, with Angel’s guiding hand, the Vault Hunters have been enacting the will of the biggest bad in the galaxy.
Well done folks, still feel like a hero? Good job there’s a new cast for Borderlands 2, they might actually accomplish something.
9) Guybrush Threepwood – Monkey Island
Guybrush Threepwood is well and truly a mighty pirate… Or at least, that’s what he keeps introducing himself as. See, Guybrush really is less of a mighty pirate and more of a mighty pirate fantasiser. I mean, he manages to put a ring on the finger on Elaine Marley, so he’s got something going for him, but he manages to always cause some insane blunders which means he needs to get out there and… Uh… Plunder, I guess. Guybrush really isn’t your stereotypical main character, which is why so many people loved him and still do to this day. But unlike his advasary, the ghost pirate LeChuck, he really is nothing special.
He’s a low lister on this list, as he does manage to accomplish just about whatever he sets his mind to… But Guybrush, although not truly useless, certainly falls under the category of the inept protagonist. He’s someone who basically does stuff and that’s great. It’s not really like he thinks about the grand scheme of things, or why things happen the way they do. A prime example is in LeChucks ship at the start of the game The Curse of Monkey Island. Oh sure, he manags to escape alright, but he only does so because he winds an old friend up to the point of reducing the man to tears, then blows up some skeletal pirates, breaks the cord keeping the cannon secure and boom – The cannon is fired one more time and he blows up the whole god damned ship in the process. I don’t think he really thought about his safety there, or even what the hell he was doing. Still, a success nevertheless.
8) The Kid – Little Inferno
It’s so very cold outside, so stay sat in front of your very own fireplace and burn your useless old belongings to keep warm. And so you do, as a young boy with his brand new Little Inferno Entertainment Fireplace by Tomorrow Corp you sit unmoving, immolating stuffed toys, wooden soldiers, and play with a miniature universe as the entire world about you dies.
The girl next door dies, she tells you all about it in her upbeat letters, while you sit there burning stuff. She sends you gifts, you just burn them. Your house is destroyed, and all you can do is go and ask what to do now, before being picked up by the Weather Man and whisked off to somewhere new.
Don’t get me wrong, Little Inferno is a work of art, but damn that kid! He was beyond hopeless.
7) Marty McFly – Back To The Future
Okay so get this… We’re led to believe that one of the major characters of Back to the Future is… Doc Brown?!
All jokes aside, Marty McFly really isn’t all that special, yet he’s treated with a lot of respect. Interestingly, we only thought about Marty McFly, as we almost inducted Morty from Rick & Morty… However, as that show literally explains, the stupid brain waves of Morty are used to disguise the genius brainwaves of Rick. Needless to say, that’s a pretty big power, so Rick keeps him around for this very purpose. Meanwhile, Marty likes to ride skateboards, plays the guitar and plays lots of video games.
Sure, we don’t disapprove of the youngsters lifestyle, but for crying out loud! Just because he played a lot of video games does not make him good at shooting a gun! If anything,
6) Billy – The Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy#
Probably the biggest idiot on this list is our dear child friend, Billy. He’s definitely nothing special and you’d certainly not expect the Grim Reaper to literally be bound to be this kids friend for all eternity… But that’s just how it goes when the sister of dear Billy is Mandy, the evil and manipulative little girl that she is. Conversely, Billy has a heart of gold, but thankfully that’s not literal as otherwise people would try to kill him for his heart alone.
Nevermind, Billy doesn’t have any powers and it’s infuriating. He is obscenely gross though, so he has that going for him? Ah, boys can be so, so icky…
5) Charlie – Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
Here’s a kid who earns a factory by being less lousy than a bunch of other kids who were randomly selected by their unrelenting devotion to one of the least healthy foodstuffs in existence.
Really need I say more on the matter? It’s not like Charlie doesn’t succumb to temptation like the others, he just manages to wriggle his way out of it without the need for a song, dance, and a gang of Oompa Loompa’s with a wheelbarrow. His most defining action is giving back his gobstopper.
That’s just in the Gene Wilder version, in the more recent (worse, but not all that bad if we’re honest) version he basically just talks to Wonka until the Mad Chocolatier has enough flashbacks for his daddy issues to be resolved.
4) Flute Cop – Axe Cop
When Axe Cop found the perfect axe at the scene of the fire he became the greatest Good Guy of this or any other world, the pinnacle of the arc of destiny that would send him into a legendary career of decapitating Bad Guys from the back of his mighty T-Rex, Wexter. In his mission he has many friends and allies: Grey Diamond, Sockarang, Liborg, Uni-Baby, and his closest partner in fighting crime, side-kick, brother, Flute Cop!
That’s a guy with a flute. At one point he was an avocado with a unicorn horn and he was vastly more impressive but that flute does, basically nothing. He’s a great sounding board, a humourous straight-guy to Axe Cop’s comedy, but in a world of evil moons and rabbits who break all the rules, a flute ain’t doing much for anyone.
3) Twoflower – Discworld
Ah, Twoflower. The little tourist hailing from the Counterweight continent, bane of Rincewind’s peace and wellbeing, living danger-magnet in a hawaiian shirt if such a place as Hawaii existed on the Disc. Our intrepid adventurer comes equipped with camera, phrasebook, general obliviousness to his surroundings and the most deadly travel accessory known to man.
The put upon Wizzard is swept into interesting times, watching in horror as danger from all corners narrowly misses Twoflower and instead has a stab at him. The eldritch terror Bel Shamharoth, the cruel dragonlords of the Wyrmberg and C.M.O.T Dibbler’s sausage inna bun, Twoflower survives more by blind luck than any design or aptitude. His antics inadvertently start a revolution back home, for which he is jailed, and once again saved by providence and is landed one of the highest ranks in his nation’s government.
Not bad for an insurance salesman on holiday.
Yes Mario is on this list and he’s all the way up at number two! It’s hard to believe that this really rather well known hero could end up on this list, but you need to understand something here… Mario, in the main games, is supposed to be a plumber. He’s never done actual plumbing in a game. No, going down pipes does not count as plumbing, would you please just stop it. No, plumbing isn’t going inside of Bowser either. How rude…
But nevertheless, Mario is super successful at being the hero, even though he’s actually genuinely useless at his supposed profession of choice. I bet he just calls himself a plumber so that way he has an easy time explaining what he does to the locals.
‘So, what do you do?’ asked Toad.
‘Uh, it’s a me, Mario theeeeee…’ Mario paused, struggling to find anything adequate to explain his employment status. Suddenly, he heard a flush, ‘… Plumber!’
Suddenly, a large beast with a spiky turtle shell on his back known only as Bowser comes out from the restroom. ‘Oi, red hat. You a plumber? Good. You’re needed in there.’
And to this day on, Mario became the sworn enemy of Bowser.
Ah, toilet humour.
1) Daphne – Scooby Doo
Daphne is one of the ‘gang’ in Scooby Doo and she’s an iconic character from the series. This isn’t the first time we’ve included a character from the Hanna-Barbera Productions classic on our Top 10 lists, so we’re glad to get another one in. Daphne is instantly recognisable with her red hair, blue top and green scarf. She’s not dumb, but she’s certainly far from any of the more useful characters on the show.
She has no qualities which makes her of any true use. You could argue that Shaggy also has a similar fate, but between the two, Daphne has even less use in that she often does just act as a damsel in distress. See, whilst Fred generally has the plan and Velma has the ideas to make it happen, we’re left with three characters: Shaggy, Scooby and Daphne. Whilst Shaggy might have his off moments, he certainly makes up for it with some uncanny bravery for a scaredy cat. He usually will act as bait for the baddies. Scooby helps, by being a dog he brings some useful skills, especially when he’s being rewarded… But Daphne’s just Daphne… God damn she is so useless in this show.
Some characters are simply and utterly rubbish at what they do… And these are two more characters that deserve to be mentioned on our Top 10 Inept Useless Protagonists list.
Detective Inspector Joseph Chandler – Whitechapel
Ok, I feel a little bad for this one. DI Chandler is a good detective and a good cop. In every season of Whitechapel he solves the crime in just enough time for things to get good and dramatic, despite his ever clashing team, crippling OCD, and the sheer terror of the horror-themed criminals that Whitechapel pitches against him.
But there’s one major problem. It seems there’s a curse upon poor Chandler, as he’s never yet managed to bring a single killer to court. The New Ripper, the Copy-Krays, the Bogeyman, the Witchhunter, the Flayer, every single one has died in bizarre circumstances just as the team have them bang-to-rights. Had the show been renewed for one more season, the one it richly deserved, we may have discovered why every criminal they uncovered died before being brought to justice.
Lan Hikari – Mega Man Battle Network
Lan Hikari really is far from useless, as he’s managed to save the world from some evil viruses and programs. If you’re uninitiated, Lan Hikari is from the Battle Network series of Mega Man, which also had it’s own anime. In the anime, Lan is viewed as a plucky, eager and energetic kid who has a great heart. In the games he’s viewed as much too… And his partner in digital virus busting is the titular Mega Man. Pretty impressive that he can control Mega so easily…
Except at the start of every game in this franchise, he manages to forget everything he’s done. He goes so far, that he forgets even how to bust viruses at the start of every single one of the games in the franchise and has to be re-taught how to do it! It’s a little insane – and whilst I respect the fact gamers need to be taught how to play the game (especially when there’s new features, or if you’re new to the game), the fact it so bluntly tells you “THIS IS HOW YOU DO IT!” is a little over the top.
We’re now absolutely fed up of these characters getting so much glory, when they effectively add nothing to the story. It’s time for us to put this list to rest and tell these characters to get back to what they do best, which isn’t much really, but at least we’re being honest about these things here. While we wait for these useless ones to get out of here, help us decide what Top 10 we cover next week. We never said we weren’t useless at making up our minds..!
That’s it for this week, from Daphne to Twoflower, we’ve covered some pretty useless and inept characters indeed. But what did you make of our list this time? Did our reasoning of including ‘inept’ characters resonate with you, or do you think that made this list too easy? What about the order of our list? As always, let us know what you think in the comments below, or over on Facebook, Twitter or Reddit.
With a few noteworthy exceptions, most games tend to have a fairly homogeneous progression, usually going from lush green grasslands and becoming progressively more wild, desert, jungle, and usually ending with freezing cold, winter perhaps, snowy tundra, or soaring mountain range. Some examples:
Diablo 2 progresses from the temperate plains around the rogue encampment, straight into the desert of Lut Gholein, forests of Kurast, and finally hell itself. The expansion then takes the hero to the barbarous wastes of Harrogath, a land filled with massive, destructive beasts and hellspawn.
Borderlands is almost exclusively deserts and salt flats, being the more common terrain on Pandora. The finale however takes our Vault Hunter to a snow-capped mountain in the Eridium Highlands.
Bastions journey leads the Kid from the ruins of his old town through the drifting chunks of Jawson’s Bog, forests and jungles, ending in the ice blocks of Urzendra Gate, Zulten’s Hollow and the Tazal Terminals, dripping with icicles.
Castle Crashers, Titan Quest, the masterpiece edition of Myst, Grim Fandango when you think about it, Skyrim’s fairly snowy all over but the difference from Helgen to the Throat is a marked difference, Pokemon Gold/Silver ends on Mt. Silver, and I’m sure if you think on it you’ve already conjured a few examples yourself. Why do so many game designers take their story along this path?
There’s a literary device known as Pathetic Fallacy, you may be familiar with it. The sun shines on happy days, it rains when everything’s sad, it’s tragic, but some people still do it, and if it’s done well enough you’d never even notice it was happening. The same thing can also apply to the seasons, they follow a fairly natural progression with all the metaphors to go with them, spring is a time of rebirth and new beginnings; summer is filled with life, growth and joy; autumn is a period of decay, when everything is undone and falls into decline; finally winter is the season of darkness, and death.
The progression of a game follows a like-for-like path, and often the terrain and weather reflect it. A game usually begins with the birth of a hero, the call to action that takes the normal person into a story. The action builds, intrigue rises, suspense and activity grows, driving the hero to develop and achieve things he/she never thought themselves capable of. Finally the real conflict is ahead, seemingly insurmountable, friends fall behind, the world crumbles, the hero is faced with an impossible decision or heartbreaking revelation. They overcome at last to stand before the end, victory or defeat, life or death, pivoting on a single moment.
A less heroic analogy, a decline in weather follows the decline of Prince Arthas in Warcraft 3, from the young hero of springtime, and the madness he pursues takes him into winters death, which then follows him everywhere he goes.
Keep your eyes peeled for this particular quirk of media, and how weather can influence emotions as part of narrative, and particularly look at how it can change your perspective on an area. It may not be the very last segments of the game, occasionally they are the very beginning (Metal Gear Solid, Borderlands 2, Rise of the Tomb Raider), but they’re frequently pivotal, memorable, tough, or some mixture of all three. If you’ve ever felt daunted at the sight of snow then you’ve already fallen victim to pathetic fallacy.
It’s grisly, it’s over the top, it’s explosive, it’s gory and frankly it’s unnecessary. We love it! When a character’s heights of violence have become so visceral and excessive that it’s borderline funny in how exaggerated it is, then the character becomes something truly and ridiculously memorable.
Grab yourself a mallet and a big bag of dynamite, and join us in a blood party of epic and stupid proportions as we count down through our Top 10 of gratuitously violent characters, but be forewarned because while we try and keep things civil around here the characters listed do not. Some of the content may be bloody, brutal, and even unpleasant.
Don’tcha just love it! (more…)
Lok’tar Ogar! Victory or death to you scrubs, we had a tie during our last Top 10 poll and we knew we needed to make a decisive call as to which of the lists we would be doing. We had Armour and we had Orcs and we did the most decisive thing of all: We tossed a coin and it said we’re writing our Top 10 Orcs this week!
Orcs are big, they’re strong, they’re downright scary and sometimes they have really bad breath. They’re ferocious fighters with natural fighting instincts; some go as far as to being pretty adept at magics as well. But one thing is for certain: Orcs aren’t a pushover, no matter how many Orcish Peons you smack. So without further adieu, this week we’re looking at our Top 10 favourite Orcs in all media. (more…)
- A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
- A robot must obey orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
- A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.
These are the laws that may one day save us from a Matrix/Terminator style situation, the rules that all artificial intelligence must be bound to, with some possible extra stipulations to prevent I.Robot happening too. Despite the fears of luddites who still beat their phones with rocks hoping for the fire that might cook their freshly slain microwavable pasta, science marches on with an army of entirely hypothetical robots at its back with only the purpose of discovery, and also having a cool butler who makes drinks and you don’t even have to pay him. (more…)
Huge thanks to everyone who took part in the vote for my NaNoWriMo entry. It all began in earnest on Sunday, and my work has already begun, albeit slowly, this weekend has been busy, and as well as writing a fifty thousand word novel this month I’ll also be keeping up a slightly diminished posting schedule here (and holding down a new, more demanding job).
For those of you who may have missed them, here are the articles that lead up to this stupid, stupid plan… (more…)