Worldscape Workbook—Choosing Red Sonja's Class

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

We're three weeks from the official release date of Pathfinder Worldscape #1, the first issue of the new Pathfinder comic series from Dynamite! Worldscape crosses over the Pathfinder heroes Valeros, Seoni, Kyra, and Merisiel with a host of sword & sorcery superstars including Red Sonja, John Carter of Mars, Tarzan, Thun'da, Fantomah, and more! In addition to six monthly issues of pulse-pounding inter-dimensional adventure, each issue includes a Pathfinder RPG rules appendix that contains official game statistics for the series' guest stars, new race information for the unique creatures that appear in the series like Barsoomian green Martians, and so on. I'm writing the series, and taking the lead on the game design portions of the appendices. That's a huge honor, of course, but it's also a significant responsibility. When presented with such a cool opportunity, the last thing I want to do is mess it up!

I've spoken at length about the characters, plot, and origins of Pathfinder Worldscape with Bleeding Cool, Know Direction, and Things from Another World, but every Wednesday from now until the end of the series, I plan to peel back the skin of the RPG side of Pathfinder Worldscape right here on the Paizo Blog, in a new series I'm calling Worldscape Workbook.

How did I choose which characters to adapt? Why did I make this or that decision about how to bring their weird powers, equipment, or racial abilities into the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game? I'll be letting you know right here every week with a look into my thought process, as wrong-headed as that may sometimes prove to be.

I'm thrilled to be able to bring so many amazing characters from the sword & sorcery, pulp, and comics tradition to Pathfinder, and the resulting discussions around the Paizo editorial office were interesting enough that I thought you would appreciate a fly-on-the-wall look at how it's all gone down so far.

Last week, I kicked off the Worldscape Workbook with a look at Red Sonja's (in)famous "chainmail bikini," and how I jumped through several hoops and ran into some development dead-ends trying to figure out how to make it work in Pathfinder. In the end, I decided Sonja's skimpy armor wasn't armor at all, and resolved to use a special archetype to give her the Armor Class oomph necessary to go toe-to-toe with some of the nastiest customers of the Hyborian Age.

But as archetypes modify specific Pathfinder RPG class abilities, before I could get to the details of Red Sonja's archetype, I knew I had an even more important question to answer: What is Red Sonja's class?

The easy, almost reflexive answer, is that Red Sonja is a barbarian. Her past as the daughter of a chieftain in the Hyrkanian Steppes is more barbaric than cosmopolitan, to be sure, but (as with most things), the "simple" solution really isn't the best, and isn't very true to her character as presented in the comic books.

Which, actually, brings up a fair point. Red Sonja first appeared in a 1973 Conan the Barbarian comic written by Roy Thomas and illustrated by Barry Windsor Smith. A natural female foil for the hard-headed Conan, comic book Sonja drew inspiration from Conan creator Robert E. Howard's Red Sonya (note the "Y"), a swashbuckler historical adventure character from the 1934 story "Shadow of the Vulture." In the more than 40 years since that original comic appearance, Sonja has had scores of writers and artists, all of whom brought their own approach to the character. Like many multi-decade comics heroes, there are a lot of "takes" on Sonja's origin, personality, and skill set.

To prepare for Pathfinder Worldscape, I read about 100 Red Sonja comics, ranging from her original 1970s adventures (published by Marvel) to the most recent issues of her current series from our partners at Dynamite. For key character details, I focused most strongly on writer Gail Simone and artist Walter Giovani's landmark 18-issue run that kicked off with the re-imagined origin of Red Sonja in the Queen of Plagues story arc from 2013. While keeping the most important elements of Sonja's origin and character intact, Simone's revamp gave Red Sonja more agency even before the tragedy that put her on the path of the warrior. Gone was the empowering goddess Scathach, the 1970s source of Red Sonja's fighting prowess. Gone was her ridiculous vow of chastity to only bed men who had bested her in combat. And gone, too, were other depressing elements of sexual violence to Sonja's origin story that probably seemed appropriate to a male comics writer in the early 70s, but which are grating and deeply un-empowering by modern standards.

For me, the Simone reboot keeps or amplifies everything that makes Red Sonja a compelling character while jettisoning the lamer elements of the original origin, creating a hero who cut her way to greatness under her own power as opposed to a puppet of a mostly absent chastity-obsessed war goddess. Opinions probably differ, but I considered it a vast improvement. I therefore turned mostly to the 2013 arc for issues related to Red Sonja's early life, which of course plays directly into decisions about her official Pathfinder class.

As I read through my huge pile of Red Sonja comics, it became very clear to me that Red Sonja was not a barbarian at all, at least by the standards of the Pathfinder rules. For starters, while Red Sonja certainly displays anger and combat prowess throughout her adventures, she doesn't "rage" in the traditional Pathfinder sense. Her anger and fury doesn't translate into short bursts of greater power. In fact, over the course of her adventures, "Strength" isn't really emphasized at all. During a recent Conan/Red Sonja crossover, Red Sonja's speed and, in game terms, Dexterity, were emphasized in direct contrast to Conan's Cimmerian brawn. Comic book Conan may, in fact, be a barbarian, but it's simply not a good fit for Red Sonja.

Ok, then, maybe she's something funky and off-beat like the Advanced Class Guide's brawler, or even a swashbuckler? Well, maybe, but for major heroes like Red Sonja and John Carter, I wanted to use one of the Pathfinder game's core base classes to start with, because I imagine these comics will be drawing in people who are roughly familiar with the primary Pathfinder game rules, but maybe not with our secondary or tertiary class books. So I decided to close that particular door before delving too deeply into it myself.

What about a fighter? Red Sonja is undoubtedly known for combat prowess, swordcraft, and bow skill. In Pathfinder terms, she's definitely in the d10 Hit Die camp, with the resulting "best" Base Attack Bonus progression that goes with it. Fighter certainly qualified on that front. The class would also load up Sonja with a bunch of cool combat feats, which would make her an even more formidable opponent—a design goal I definitely did not want to overlook.

All that said, fighter provided one major challenge, above and beyond the fact that Armor Training is one of the fighter's most important class features, and I'd already decided that Red Sonja basically didn't wear armor. I could always use Sonja's archetype to "swap out" Armor Training for something that gave her an Armor Class bonus when not wearing armor, but when you take away the fighter's Armor Training and Armor Mastery, there isn't an awful lot of other goodies left over to trade out for other archetype powers. And, after reading 100 Red Sonja comics, I knew I had some other powers I wanted to give her.

That led me to consider a solution that, when originally posted to my Facebook fan page before my reading spree, didn't seem to make a whole lot of sense. What about the ranger?

A close look at Red Sonja's origin story suggested that the idea had a lot of merit. To recap, Red Sonja was the daughter of a chieftain of the Hyrkanian Steppes, a huge land in the east of Robert E. Howard's Hyborian Age. When she was 12, marauders sacked her village and murdered the rest of the family, making vengeance a huge part of Sonja's motivation from almost the very beginning. Almost. Consider this interaction between Sonja and her father, shortly before the raiders arrive, when the family is out on a hunt.

So, by the age of 12, Red Sonja is "better with a bow than anyone in our village," and she knows "every bit of woodlore we can teach." Her father further adds, "No one can shoot or track better." That's compelling evidence and probably enough to make the case alone, but there's more.

Throughout the series, Sonja' enemies call her "Sonja the Hunter," an appellation she mentions herself, as well. In Simone's second story arc, The Art of Blood and Fire, a southern potentate named Emperor Samala hires "Sonja the Hunter" to track down the world's six greatest artisans for a party commemorating his imminent death and entombment. "I need a tracker," he says on the following page.

Want more proof? Here's Red Sonja tracking a group of fish-men through a watery swamp. Note also that Sonja uses a shortbow in this scene, which she does commonly throughout the series—further proof that I needed to figure out a way to work her ranged combat expertise into her overall rules presentation.

Lastly, Red Sonja shows strong animal affinity throughout her many appearances, and seems to especially despise cruelty to animals. In the aforementioned Conan/Red Sonja crossover (published by current Conan publisher Dark Horse under arrangement with Dynamite and co-written by Simone and former Pathfinder comics writer Jim Zub), Red Sonja encounters a cruel animal trainer named Kalayah, who later appears as one of Emperor Samala's "greatest artisans in the world," much to Sonja's ire. Check out the way she talks about Kalayah's horrible treatment of his performing animals.

Spoiler alert: It doesn't end well for Kalayah.

So that's several signifiers that point in the direction of a ranger: Excellent bow skills, total mastery of woodlore, respect and affinity for animals, tracking ability so strong her reputation as a hunter spreads to the leaders of distant foreign nations. And one more thing so common I didn't even bother looking for images to prove it to you—Red Sonja constantly fights with two weapons, another hallmark of the Pathfinder ranger.

Of course, the Pathfinder RPG ranger has a lot of class features that aren't appropriate for Red Sonja. She doesn't have an animal companion. She doesn't seem to favor a particular type of enemy over any other. She doesn't have what Pathfinder calls "favored terrain." And, perhaps most importantly, she doesn't cast spells.

While those inappropriate class features look like they disqualify the ranger from contention, in fact I was thrilled to have them. Staying competitive without wearing armor is a pretty major power, and I had other elements—such as Red Sonja's "Curse of Hyrkania" death vow—that were also going to be necessary to keep her competitive with other d10 Hit Die warrior types.

Making those powers work would mean swapping out significant, powerful, and frequently useful class features—exactly the type of "inappropriate" class features provided by the ranger.

To me, that looked an awful lot like a solution.

Red Sonja is a ranger.

She's not just a ranger, though. She's a ranger with the very special "sword-devil" archetype, which I'll begin to go into in next week's installment of the Worldscape Workbook!

Until then, please consider setting up a Pathfinder Comics Ongoing Subscription, which will ensure that you don't miss a single issue. If subscribing direct from Paizo isn't your thing, be sure to ask your local comic or game store to order you a copy of Pathfinder Worldscape #1, which releases on Wednesday, October 19th!

And now, if you'll excuse me, I have a green Martian named Tars Tarkas who desperately needs game statistics!

Erik Mona
Publisher

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Silver Crusade

Pathfinder Companion, Starfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Roleplaying Game, Starfinder Society Subscriber; Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Superscriber
Charles Scholz wrote:
Rysky wrote:
Steve Geddes wrote:
Rysky wrote:
A bikini doesn't give you more armor than actual armor just because it may look sexier.

I'm pretty sure that isn't his point.

I think he's saying that PF's method for modelling armor is not very simulationist anyhow. There's a simple, mechanical system (just add some numbers together) and that how you might describe your armor is not always related to how high those numbers 'should' be.

It doesn't matter how simplistic the armor system is.

Lorde Fyre wrote:
I say again, I have zero problem treating her bikini as armor.

A Bikini isn't armor.

A Bikini isn't armor.

A Bikini isn't armor.

A bikini is armor, but it only protects the areas it covers.

>_>

Paizo Employee Publisher, Chief Creative Officer

1 person marked this as a favorite.
Lord Fyre wrote:


Also, Beauty (an ineffable quality) does not equal Charisma (a game stat.) Sonja needs a good charisma stat (she became both a general and queen), but doesn't need to have an "18."

An 18 for an 8th-level character isn't that big of a deal.

Paizo Employee Publisher, Chief Creative Officer

1 person marked this as a favorite.
Rysky wrote:


Oh, I agree, I would have preferred her not in the bikini as well, continuing it is perpetuating and defending the sexist ideology, but so is trying to make a bikini into armor. And bending over backwards trying to defend making it into armor.

To play devil's advocate for just a second, of all the "main" licensed characters in this comic (Tarzan, Thun'da, Tars Tarkas, and John Carter), Red Sonja is actually wearing the _most_ clothes. :)


2 people marked this as a favorite.
Pathfinder Battles Case Subscriber; Pathfinder Maps, Pathfinder Accessories, Starfinder Accessories, Starfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Maps, Starfinder Society Subscriber; Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Superscriber

Prude.

Spoiler:
To be read in the spirit of: "Doesn't matter what you do, you can't win." :p

Silver Crusade

Pathfinder Companion, Starfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Roleplaying Game, Starfinder Society Subscriber; Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Superscriber
Erik Mona wrote:
Rysky wrote:


Oh, I agree, I would have preferred her not in the bikini as well, continuing it is perpetuating and defending the sexist ideology, but so is trying to make a bikini into armor. And bending over backwards trying to defend making it into armor.

To play devil's advocate for just a second, of all the "main" licensed characters in this comic (Tarzan, Thun'da, Tars Tarkas, and John Carter), Red Sonja is actually wearing the _most_ clothes. :)

Despite wearing less are the males sexualized as much as Red? What's their loincloths and battle thongs made of?

Paizo Employee Publisher, Chief Creative Officer

1 person marked this as a favorite.

Leather.

Honestly I think Thun'da is fairly sexualized, at least in that his physique is emphasized significantly. There aren't close-ups on his crotch or anything, but you see much more of the top half of his body than you do Red Sonja's.

Also Jonathan Lau's version of Red Sonja's costume is a fair amount less bikini-looking than the standard Sonja look. It's got lots of nice details and matches the Pathfinder characters pretty well.

I also had Valeros take off his shirt in the first issue so he can get in on all the man-chest action in this series.

Silver Crusade

1 person marked this as a favorite.
Pathfinder Companion, Starfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Roleplaying Game, Starfinder Society Subscriber; Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Superscriber
Erik Mona wrote:

Leather.

Honestly I think Thun'da is fairly sexualized, at least in that his physique is emphasized significantly. There aren't close-ups on his crotch or anything, but you see much more of the top half of his body than you do Red Sonja's.

Also Jonathan Lau's version of Red Sonja's costume is a fair amount less bikini-looking than the standard Sonja look. It's got lots of nice details and matches the Pathfinder characters pretty well.

I also had Valeros take off his shirt in the first issue so he can get in on all the man-chest action in this series.

... that's not sexualized, that's a power fantasy. Difference.

"at least in that his physique is emphasized significantly. There aren't close-ups on his crotch or anything"

Having a well built man simply exist isn't the same thing. There's people who will be sexually attracted to them, yes, no doubt about it. But being sexually attracted to and sexualized aren't the same thing.

Silver Crusade

1 person marked this as a favorite.
Pathfinder Companion, Starfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Roleplaying Game, Starfinder Society Subscriber; Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Superscriber

Power Fantasy*

Sexualized

Note the difference between the posture and the viewing angle.

*hillariously this one is slightly NSFW due to the borderline naked lady in there as well, do you know hard it is to find a pic of Conan without a near naked lady clinging to him? Pretty damn hard apparently.

EDIT: for those who don't think the second picture works because it's a different character, here's actually a (slightly NSFW, again) Conan painting by Frazetta.

Paizo Employee Customer Service Manager

3 people marked this as a favorite.

Removed posts. It is not appropriate to use SJW/Social Justice Warrior as a pejorative on our website.

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