Monday, August 12, 2019

Darvinin: Who Guards The Guardians?

"Are you all right?" asked Mistra. "You look worried."

Darvinin made himself smile, though even with Mistra looking into his eyes he only half-felt it. "Just thinking," he said.

"It must be something serious, then." Mistra was a common elf, but an excellent tracker and a truly amazing archer; and she'd studied enough wizardry to commiserate when Darvinin complained about the vicissitudes of his studies. He wasn't sure exactly when she'd chosen him or how it had happened, but they'd been lovers since his second week in the King's Guard.

"It's my younger brother," Darvinin answered absently, looking her over: the slender athleticism of an elvish warrior, the shirt of polished chainmail, the rapier at her hip, the bow across her back. Her features were angular even for an elf, her eyes wide and dark against pale skin framed by soft, nearly-white hair.

"You have a brother?" Mistra sounded surprised, but then he'd never mentioned Ruin to her. He hadn't much spoken of his family at all.

"My twin," said Darvinin. "He was supposed to be traveling with our mother to seek alliance with the dwarves, but I've just had word that he went to Annun instead, and then to a place called Brindinford just outside the city. He's with some family friends, so he must have a reason... but if he abandoned the embassy to the dwarves, it's because he was asked to do something important and probably dangerous." He paused. "So yes, I suppose I'm worried."

He glanced past Mistra, saw another guard, and waved; Mistra, her attention on him, mimicked the gesture absently. "What do you think he's doing?" she asked.

Darvinin's arm shot out and gripped her by the throat. "Who are you, really?"

Mistra caught his wrist and pried his hand away, showing undamaged flesh where his fingers had been squeezing in. "A bit too sharp for you own good," she said. "That's too bad. I'll have to be you next."

The figure jerked suddenly as an arrow slammed into its lower back. Across the small courtyard, Mistra -- the true Mistra -- drew another arrow and loosed it, sinking it into the impostor's shoulder. "Oh, you are both going to regret that," the impostor said. She reached for Darvinin again, but he had stepped back and drawn the double-bladed scimitar from his back.

"It was a good likeness," he said. "You even had most of the mannerisms. But that thing on your back is not Mistra's bow."

Behind the impostor, Mistra whistled sharply and the courtyard began to fill with the King's Guards.

"I should have known," the impostor said, drawing her rapier and attacking. Darvinin parried and stepped back, parried and stepped back again. "I should have known, but you True Elves are so damnably hard to read!" She sounded aggrieved.

More arrows slammed into its back, and Darvinin spun the double scimitar through a side-to-side windmill motion, opening wounds on her shoulder and chest. She turned then, and darted for the wall of the courtyard; but Darvinin cut her across the back, and more arrows caught her. She tumbled, spasmed...

...And changed.

Elvish flesh gave way to something pale, lanky, and almost featureless. The skin had a grayish tinge, and the eyes were large and completely white -- whether naturally, or from death, Darvinin wasn't sure. The body was long, and looked clumsy where it sprawled on the dirt -- very much at odds with the strength and speed it had displayed. Doppleganger, he realized. Trying to infiltrate the King's Guard. He'd been very, very lucky.

"Are you injured?" Mistra had stopped beside him, bow still in her hand.

Darvinin shook his head. "It didn't touch me."

"Are you you?"

He half-chuckled, half-coughed. "Ye gods, I hope so." He looked around at the half-dozen other guards, all going off shift just as he was, who had joined them in the garden. "We're going to have to check everyone. I just hope these things show up when we look for magic."

Darvinin was originally conceived as a Duskblade: a warrior capable of casting some arcane spells and combining them with his combat abilities. That class comes from the DnD 3.5 Player's Handbook II, though, which we aren't using in this campaign. And unfortunately, there aren't a lot of other good ways to play this basic character concept using a Core-only build. I could recast him as an Eldritch Knight, but that build ends with him being able to cast 9th level spells and also having a solid melee attack bonus -- viable, but overall weaker than other builds at the same level, and more importantly the emphasis is wrong for this character concept: this is a full mage who knows how to use a sword, not a swordsman who knows some arcane spells. Alternatively, you could build him essentially as a bard -- if you swapped out all the songs and bardic knowledge for a full attack bonus progression, better hit points, and access to the sorcerer's spell list instead of the bard's. The other alternative is to play him as a straight fighter/wizard, which gives him some versatility but leaves him underpowered against higher-level enemies. So as much as I like Darvinin, I don't think there's any way to make a playable build for him in the current campaign.

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