The Emotionally Available Barbarian

November 19, 2018 - 3 min read

Today I’m going to tell you about my greataxe-wielding half-orc barbarian, and talk about tropes.

Tropes Are Tools. We play D&D not in spite of how its themes have been done to death, but because of it. We want the familiarity of fighting a dragon to rescue a captive, even when our 21st-century sensibilities update things so that the princess is rescuing the knight for a change. But I personally like using tropes as a springboard: not just showing why the trope is a trope, but subverting expectations about it in a positive fashion.

In D&D, the greataxe half-orc barbarian is a cliche. This is the stock standard build for Barbarian characters, due to positive interactions between the race and class features and this one specific weapon. I got a list of classes that the DM hadn’t seen or wanted to see, including the Barbarian, Ranger, and Sorcerer. Another player took the Sorcerer, and our remaining party members were a Bard (with Rogue aspirations) and a Druid (who may go Moon), so I went with something that could synergize in melee rather than a ranged sniper.

However, I’ve also been playing Masks for a year, and the teen-superhero-social vibe has definitely rubbed off on me. It also happens that this particular D&D game was pitched as “young people go on adventures”, so the PC age range is 14 - 19. So here’s the backstory I chose.

  • Once upon a time, a human paladin rescued an orcish blacksmith from assault by soldiers
  • She became his companion, mending his weapons and armor, and later a love interest
  • He retired from his life to take up logging in a forested valley, and she joined him
  • They have a half-orc kid, nicknamed Rock, now aged 15
  • The rest of the village is generally not on board with orcs, or half-orcs, though he has friends among the kids (including the PCs)
  • The mayor figure, Fergus, keeps trying to “helpfully work with” Rock, but blames him whenever anything goes wrong - a form of soft bigotry

So that’s our backstory. In the very first session, we found a sheep-holding barn that had been taken over by Vegepygmies. Our bard convinced us that the fungal infection that had already killed one sheep was dangerous. Rock was really okay with locking the barn - Fergus’ prized sheep “Goldie” was still in there, and Rock has a flaw that means he never forgets an insult or slight. But he was quickly overcome with guilt when our Druid appeared on the scene and insisted on rescuing the sheep.

When the adults came over to find out what was going on with the burning barn (courtesy of our sorcerer), Fergus immediately laid blame on Rock. And while the other PCs (remember, they’re kids) were preparing to run, Rock waited it out. Not because he was brave, or going to talk back, but because he knew he would be blamed for this somehow, and he had been ground down enough to meekly accept the consequences. His reality was that it would be made to be his fault. And it was surprising to him when the others spoke up in his defense.

So he’s a kid who’s storing up a lot of anger and resentment, but is convinced that there’s nothing he can do about it. He’s socially awkward and uncertain, he still keeps a pressed flower given to him by another PC in their shared backstory, he wears a hand-knit scarf over his face to hide his half-orc features, and hopefully he comes off as Adorkable to others as I want him to be.