The Five Roles

In Renaisance, there are, broadly, five player roles — which we've referred to incidentally throughout the guide. They are:

  • Combatant: winning (or just surviving) combat encounters.
  • Analyst: understanding clues, providing analysis, and helping the party figure out what's going on and what to do next.
  • Socialite: persuading, lying, bullying, and using social manipulation to get what the party needs, provide cover, find nonviolent solutions to problems, and more.
  • Infiltrator: using stealth, athletics, unique powers and special movement-modes to get into places where opponents don't want you to be — and get out without being detected.
  • Provisioner: using wealth, social, organization access, or craft skills to acquire things that the party needs.

We intend each role to be equally important and powerful: a character might pick any one of these roles as their primary role; each of these roles should be equally important and engaged throughout the course of an adventure; and, as a general rule, any it should be possible for any two or three of these roles to contribute to solving any given problem. This is different from many other fantasy RPGs, where Combat is the presumptive primary role for almost every character — which in turn means that most characters in other fantasy RPGs are defined primarily by their combat role — and where combat is the presumptive primary solution to any given problem.

In addition, there are two specialties that are common:

  • Survivalist: helping the party to travel, explore, or just survive in the wilds.
  • Healer: putting the party back together after they're wounded or traumatized.

The reason we call these "specialties" rather than "roles" is because they're only supported by one or two skills, and thus they don't require the investment that a "role" does. Also, they can be viewed as subsets of other roles: many Combatant or Infiltrator characters may take ranks in Survival; many Analyst and Provisioner characters may take ranks in Medicine; and many Socialites may take ranks in Soothe.

Impact on Players

Characters should usually be great at one of the roles above, and good at two more. Here, "great" means having Target Numbers (TNs) of 70 or more for the relevant skills, with support from relevant items, skills and classes. "Good" means TNs in the 50+ range, with at least the appropriate skill kits.

It's important to have one role that you're great at, so that there's one role that clearly defines your character (so that the rest of the party knows that when infiltration (say) comes up, your character is the one to call on), but also so that there's one role that you can fill even in tough circumstances — when you're wounded, out of resources, and rushed. However, it's also important to have several things that your character is good at — things that they can do when the pressure isn't on, and things that they can at least help with in dire circumstances — because the role that you've specialized in won't always be applicable! This is the flip side of the five roles: any one role is only going to be picked as the best solution to the current problem about a fifth of the time!

Parties should usually include good coverage of all of the roles — if they don't, they'll find that they're missing important capabilities. (Parties should probably also ensure that they have the two "specialties" covered as well; there will certainly be times when having a good woodland navigator or doctor can make the difference between life and death!)

It's worth repeating that this may be quite an adjustment for people coming from other fantasy RPGs, who are used to thinking of characters primarily in terms of combat roles. Here, we intend "rich, socialite noble with no combat skills" to be a player role, as valid, effective, and important as "combat-powerhouse knight."

Example: River

River the Tempter lawyer is primarily a socialite character, with secondary utility as a analyst and provisioner.

With TNs over 70 in almost every social skill, river is an incredibly effective socialite. When it comes to impersonating people, he's a powerhouse: between his Impersonation specialization (for the Deception skill) and his Tempter shape-shifting ability, he roles at 95 to impersonate someone.

He's a good analyst: he has TNs over 50 in several knowledge skills, including Profession: Lawyer, Knowledge: Law, Knowledge: History, and Protocol (which is a Knowledge skill as well as a Social skill). Importantly, he also has the Scholar trait, coupled with a good COG, so he can provide at least minimal analysis in nearly any situation.

He's also an effective provisioner: he has Wealth Level 4 and a high Protocol, so he can simply buy the party things that they need. He's also a member of a Lawyer's Guild, which enables him to draw on that organization's resources, and he has a Level 4 Investment, which is another asset that he can draw on to support the party.

River is all but helpless in combat. His Fray TN is 50, his Ranged Weapons TN is 60, and he is armed only with a crossbow and a dagger; while this allows him to participate in a combat by firing at range, he certainly won't be a primary factor in a fight. (Tempters' average STR and River's low SOM mean that his damage with his dagger is singularly unimpressive.) He doesn't even have armor — even though Tempters have mediocre DUR — so if the enemy successfully engages him, he's in deep trouble.

Despite his exceptional ability to impersonate people (and his acceptable ranks in Sleight of Hand), he makes a poor infiltrator, because he doesn't have ranks in Stealth, and doesn't have any infiltration-focused powers.

Like many wealth-focused provisioners, River's ability to provide for the party diminishes once he leaves his home city; at the very least, he has to convert some of his wealth to Trade Goods or currency.

Example: Lady Katarina

Lady Katarina the Ratfolk Noble (and secret crime-lord) is trying to step into four of the roles — and she's mostly getting away with it, though not without some important drawbacks.

She excels at her primary role as a socialite: she has TNs over 60 in all of her social skills, and her noble title can be an invaluable asset in social situations. She's also very effective in her secondary role as a provisioner: between her Level 4 Wealth and good Protocol, her criminal connections (represented by her Rat Queen class and her Profession: Criminal [Smuggler]), and her Craft: Chemistry, she has several different ways to provide the party with things they need.

She's also workable as both an infiltrator and a combatant, though with some notable drawbacks. While she has good ranks in Stealth, as well as the Blur and Vanish power, she has low ranks in Athletics and Sleight of Hand, no ranks in Disable Device, and no interesting movement modes; this means that, while she's very good at avoiding detection, she'll lack many of the supporting skills that allow her to get into interesting places or get out with interesting things.

Similarly, while she has the ability to cause heavy damage in combat, she'll be hampered by very low durability. She has good ranks in Melee Weapons, Ranged Weapons and Fray, and she specializes in daggers (for melee) and thrown weapons (for ranged); she also has the Sneak Attack power. Blur, Vanish and Sneak Attack combine powerfully, and her proficiency with Alchemy give her access to deadly poisons (that she can apply to her daggers) and powerful thrown weapons (like Scour canisters). However, she has to be near her opponents to fight them, and her survivability is very low once she's detected — she has no armor, and Ratfolk have low DUR. (Her opponents have a reasonable change of detecting her, since Vanish requires an opposed check; in a large combat, most opponents probably won't see her, but some of them will; to the ones who do, she's a high-priority target with very low durability.) And, of course, deploying Scour and Tar in combat is a risky gambit, especially when throwing them; while the damage she'll cause if she covers three or four enemies in Scour will be massive, she may also put her allies at risk — or even herself, on a critically bad throw.

It should be noted that there's nothing wrong with Katarina's attempt to fit into four of the roles, as long as she accepts the trade-offs she made to do it; and there's nothing wrong with the high-risk, high-reward strategy she's trying to deploy in combat, as long as she accepts the risks associated with it.

Example: General Chandra

Chandra the Drake General is a very focused character: he's a powerful combatant, and even within that, he's amazingly durable — and he packs a powerful punch in melee. He's also a useful analyst and a workable provisioner.

Chandra is terrifying in battle, and almost as durable as you could want a character to be. He has extraordinary innate durability, between his Dragon's Scales, his Bronze Arm (which improves his DUR and Armor), and his Tough trait. And he wears heavy armor over it all — a full suit of plate worn over an arming jacket. Though he doesn't carry a shield, his AV is still a massive 16 (2 for his scales, 10 for the plate armor, 2 for the quilted armor, and 2 for the bronze arm); this means he has a running shot at negating most of a well-struck short-sword blow, which would do 1d10+3+DB DV at AP -1 (a reasonably-built combatant might have a DB of 6). Helping his durability are his high ranks in Fray, and the fact that his bronze arm means that he is always considered armed (and thus he can always defend himself against armed attackers).

Equally terrifying is his melee damage: the Bronze Arm gives Chandra +5 STR, and General Chandra already had good STR and SOM, giving him a massive DB of 8. The Bronze Arm is a formidable weapon on its own, but he's also a master swordsman, and he carries a massive two-handed sword of distinctive Dragonshire design. Taken together, he deals a massive 2d10+10 DV on a melee attack — plus even more if he scores an exceptional success! (Chandra is famous for dealing more than 40 DV on a single attack, dropping an enemy lieutenant — a Wolverine shifter — in a single, massive blow.)

Chandra is also a useful analyst: he has Knowledge: History, Knowledge: Politics [Royal Houses], Knowledge: Siegecraft and Profession: Soldier [Command]. (Don't dismiss these knowledge skills — which might seem to be very narrowly focused — as mere character-building details; they can be invaluable, even game-changing, during any intrigue-focused campaign anywhere in the eastern half of the Emerald Plane — including almost any adventure set in the Kingdoms of Men.)

Chandra has both a noble title (as a Lord) and a high military rank (as a General), as well as a fortune to draw on (he has Wealth Level 5); he also has good Protocol, which allows him to effectively tap into all these assets. These things can make him a powerful provisioner. (The ability to call on the Commonwealth military can be a particularly powerful advantage, for obvious reasons.)

Chandra is not without his drawbacks, of course: his melee-focused combat strategy requires him to be at the front of the fighting, where even his immense durability will be tested — especially by enemy combatants equipped for an armored opponent. (He will be in trouble indeed if his opponents are armed with guns, whose extremely high AP can negate even his armor.) His wealth and title also become more difficult to draw on once he leaves the Commonwealth — the title of Lord-General may be all but meaningless in the wilds of the Ruby Plane. He also has the Distinctive trait, representing both his bronze arm and his far-reaching reputation; this can make him as much a liability as a strength in an intrigue game (at the very least, it requires the party to plan around the need to keep the general stashed somewhere out-of-sight, since he is almost incapable of stealth or deceit).

Impact on GMs

GMs should try to balance all 5 roles. Remember,

  • each is equally important,
  • each should get equal time, and
  • any given challenge should be solvable by several roles.

Satisfying all these requirements can be tricky — it isn't even always possible!

This also means that you might have to work hard to shake some D&D instincts:

  • Games shouldn't be combat-focused. Games can have a lot of action — and they can have good combat scenes — but almost-all-combat games really won't work. The wound and healing rules are major reason for this; you'll find that combat rapidly debilitates your characters, and that they heal very slowly. This design works great to add impact to "fight scenes" in an intrigue or horror game, but very poorly in arcs with lots and lots of fights.
  • Another D&D instinct you might have to shake is thinking of players who use means other than combat to solve problems as people who are "doing it wrong" or "messing your game up."
    • In D&D, a character who uses their lawyer backstory to talk their way out of a combat encounter might be fucking it up; in Renaissance, they're playing their role exactly as intended — and you should do your best to enable that if their approach is reasonable and they're playing it well.
  • This means that designing Renaissance games becomes complex.
    • Some games that might work as Pathfinder games don't work as Renaissance games.
    • It's usually a good idea to focus prep time less on specific fights and maps and more on designing a good opponent.
    • Renaissance games work well with a live opponent who's working against the party in response to what they do; that's easier to do if you have a good grip on what the opponent's goal is, what their resources are, and what their history and motivation is.

Building a Character

For advice on each of the rolls or specialties, see the following chapters: