Handling the Vigilante's "dual identity."

Pathfinder First Edition General Discussion

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I love me some vigilante dual identity. So much so that I've been known to hand it out as part of a homebrew "amateur vigilante" feat. It does tend to raise thorny questions though.

How far will you go to preserve your secrets? How central will secret identities be to the game? And perhaps most importantly, is the vigilante player on the same page as their GM?

So here's my question for the GMs of the board. When you introduce secret identities, how do you go about making sure that the player is getting everything they want from the trope? How do you structure a campaign to keep it from becoming silly? (e.g. Why doesn't the party recognize Clark Kent?)

Comic for illustrative purposes.

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Hasn't been an issue for me yet but if I were to run a game it would be handled one of two ways:
1) everyone in the party knows the dual identities and helps the Vigilante to make things work
2) everyone plays a Vigilante and no one knows another's secret, leading to a farcical comedy of mistaken identities and silly antics.

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I’ve played in two campaigns with a vigilante , and my conclusion is that the class just doesn’t work in traditional Pathfinder. Maybe it works in an all vigilante party.

Problem 1 - the rest of the party know the secret identity, unless the vigilante does his thing as solo adventures, which leads to the OOC issue of 3/4 of the party sitting around while the GM runs a solo adventure.

Problem 2 - if the rest of the party don’t or can’t spend time on disguise it’s hard to justify other people not seeing that half the time the Black Moth is hanging out with these mercenaries, and the other half it’s Twinkle the amateur bard, so maybe there’s something going on there.

Problem 3 - the time taken to swap identities (I know some archetypes reduce this) cripples the character. e.g. The PCs are at a ball so the vigilante is in their social guise. Suddenly assassins burst through a window. Three of the characters can roll initiative and do their combat thing, the fourth has to run off and get changed before they can get involved.v

Bottom line, secret identities don’t work if you are part of a group where no one else needs one.

Liberty's Edge

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About thirty-five years ago, while playing AD&D first edition, I had a player that did a lot of stealth missions, mostly in disguise, without the need for special rules. What mattered was that he had a lot of time, I had a lot of time, and we played at my house.
No one had to wait while doing nothing when we played.
We had a lot of fun.
The player getting more experience and gear than other players didn't matter much as AD&D was built about parties made of guys with different levels and very different gear. There weren't the big six.

Move forward to Pathfinder and the Vigilant.
Getting more experience than other party members matters.
Getting more custom gear than other party members matters, so having more loot changes the group balance.
Playing for fun without any gain for the character can be the solution, but getting new gear is one of the draws of the game.

Then, naturally, there is the little problem that both my players and I have less free time.

Personally, I don't think the Vigilante is a class that can work well in a normal game of Pathfinder.

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The best way to handle this would be for the vigilante identity to be the main identity instead of the social. The character spends most of his time in that identity and only changes into the social identity when needed. The idea of the noble going off on an adventure in disguise is a pretty common. Think of the “Black Knight” in the movie Knights Tale. Another example would be Silk (Prince Kheldar) from the Belgariad by David Eddings.

For the most part nobles don’t mix that much with the commoners and without modern technology people will not be able to recognize a noble on sight. So, the character acts as a normal adventurer that occasionally disappears for mysterious reasons when in town. The character’s social identity is usually not the heir. They could the younger son, or even a nephew or grandson. The social identity is more of a source of information and resources, so the amount of solo adventuring is kept to a minimum.

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As much as you love it, I just can't...

Don't get me wrong, though. I appreciate both what the class is trying to do, and how effective it can be. The builds people post look like they could do well enough, and possibly even be fun to play.

But I just cannot get behind it. If the party knows your secret, what's the point? If you don't really play that side, what's the point? If everyone in the party is not also a Vigilante, and you're the only player demanding all this extra time/preparation for solo side missions, what's the point?

There are even archetypes I want to play, or at least build complete characters using... but they come with all the baggage of having a secret identity. My Aaismar Warlock is just in for the Arcane Striker Vigilante Talent, to go with the Sunlit Strike feat available to Aasimar. Sure, channeling Mystic Bolts through a Conductive weapon is fun, and possibly the only way to actually use said Mystic Bolts... but this character has no need, or even use, for the secret identity.

The other spellcasting archetypes both look like they could be fun, too, but again my immediate ideas for either do not involve secret identities. Hiding such things from other players in the party seems like unnecessary work, takes precious time from the session overall, has too high potential for PvP nonsense... what's the point?

Faceless Enforcer is probably my favorite in the respect that it is literally the reputation of your armor. Like literally every adventurer, ever. Lol. Nobody knows what the Paladin looks like at the Inn without her full plate and shield. Wait, what? The Barbarian owns clothes? I totally didn't recognize him with a shirt on and no blood on his face.

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The issue, as others have pointed out, is one of incompatible milieus.

The Vigilante wants to bring to Pathfinder the foundational influences that Batman and Superman had on comic books, but without fully taking into account—or putting into action—the nature of those characters’ relationships with their environment and teammates… and how those would interact with the game’s mechanics.

Beyond that, in my humble opinion, the Vigilante suffers from three main issues:

1. The secret identity gimmick is just unnecessary.

In trying to bring Batman to Pathfinder, the designers bypassed long-standing and notorious traditions of actual heroes and villains (historical as well as fictional) concealing their identities. Wilfred of Ivanhoe arrives in England incognito, sporting false heraldry on his shield that’s full of loaded meaning. Robber knights would conceal their heraldry altogether. Brigands would throw on masks and hoods. Viziers would moonlight as evil sorcerers. Pathfinder (and D&D before it) has always had magical means by which characters could present a false face to the world and keep the truth hidden.

2. The Vigilant’s game mechanics are just kind of a all over the place.

Class features range from understandable, if underwhelming bits like spending a talent to increase your Intimidate by +2 to rather crazy things like being able to defy scrying and magical interrogation with no spell-like or supernatural explanation for it. It’s almost like the designers recognized the underlying headache introduced by the Vigilante’s central premise: dual identities, and having to switch from one to the other before Initiative is rolled, lest you miss the action. Instead of properly addressing it, however, they make you wait 7 levels to turn a 1-minute process into a full-round action, or 13 levels to just hand-wave it away as a move action—again, with no real flavor behind the mechanics.

3. Considering that it was supposed to be the flagship class of Ultimate Intrigue, the Vigilante is too much on the nose (emphasis mine).

Assuming a Vigilante-esque class was necessary, It would have benefited from far less Batman and far more Edmond Dantés. As it stands, the social aspects of the class are not nearly as developed as its combat aspects… and the choice between being Slayer-ish or Rogue-ish is not that compelling.

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Bjørn Røyrvik wrote:
2) everyone plays a Vigilante and no one knows another's secret, leading to a farcical comedy of mistaken identities and silly antics.

I've seen the Glass Cannon guys use that to good effect over in the "side quest side sesh" podcast. That seems like the "natural" state of play for the class, and it honestly makes me wonder if it's even possible to play it straight.

DRD1812 wrote:
When you introduce secret identities, how do you go about making sure that the player is getting everything they want from the trope?

I don't.

When I GM, I GM for a game of Pathfinder, a collaborative game. Most likely in a sword-and-sorcery fantasy setting. You don't want that? You don't sit at my table!
I don't do or allow non-collaborative stuff: I will not have the other players sit around idly because a player wanted to play some solo stuff during the session. I will not do some additional 1on1-session with the player. I will not tolorate a player who refuses to have their PC form an actual group with the other PCs.
Also, I don't let player options warp the campaign. Minor adjustments, sure, but I don't for example change my campaign to underwater just becasue a player took some water breathing option.

Neriathale wrote:
I’ve played in two campaigns with a vigilante , and my conclusion is that the class just doesn’t work in traditional Pathfinder.

No no no, the class works perfectly fine in traditional Pathfinder, it's just the dual identity crap that doesn't work.

Thankfully, it doesn't need to. There are literally just four talents that don't work fully if you don't switch identities, (the Renown line and Case the Joint), either is hard to actually set up in a normal campaign anyway. And the only thing from the base class features is the scry protection that stops doing anything when the scryer targets a party member.

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I didn't like it from the start and it wasn't a class I offered my players. But back in April of this year, Owen K.C. Stephens (who used to be a frequent flyer here on the forums) came up with an alternative to the Vigilante that I will definitely offer my players as we prepare for our upcoming campaign. For you consideration, I offer everyone his class, The Peer.

The Peer, by Owen K.C. Stephens.

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Fun things can happen if a character got a sizeable bonus, and then has to keep that bonus secret from party members.

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I played in a Kingmaker campaign with a vigilante, and it worked pretty well. When the party was exploring or when acting in our leadership roles, the PC's public identity was used. But when we had an encounter in an urban area, it wasn't uncommon for the Crimson Cowl to show up and help out. The other PCs got into with some PCs falling into some low-level hero worship ("I wish the Crimson Cowl were here! He'd know what to do!"), and others going full on J. Jonah Jameson ("This is all the fault of the Crimson Cowl, I just know it!")

It was fun, but it's worth noting that the player was thoughtful about when the secret identity was used... which wasn't all that often.

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The name "Crimson Cowl" has such a perfect pulp feel to it. I could even see such a character in a 1920s Call of Cthulhu setting being a blast to play.

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And somehow everyone else in the party fails to realize they are short one of their key party members EVERY time they get help from the Crimson Cowl? Natural 1's on them Perception checks, huh? Every. Freaking. Time.

See, it's garbage... not necessarily the class, not even the idea, but the execution of it... and the idea is garbage, too. It's a team game, and secret identities are directly counter to a cohesive, intimate team.

I have tried to like it, and will probably finish fleshing out a few builds just to explore the class a little further... but I don't even like to use trusted NPC's to betray the party. Traitors and turncoats make me mad, and feel like I need to take a shower [as if their filth is somehow contagious]. No, sir, treachery and betrayal and deception are things I do not take lightly, nor use flippantly against the players/party.

What other use would an NPC have for a secret identity [if not to trick the party]?

I've had a vigilante in the Curse of the Crimson Throne campaign I run and it's been great. A costumed identity makes for a larger-than-life symbol for the people (it also helps that the adventure itself makes great use of a vigilante). Not to mention, having a secret identity is very handy if someone is afraid of reprisals, and having a safehouse that is magically protected against scrying, etc., has come in very handy for the party on multiple occasions.

Granted, it is a class that is very campaign-specific. It works great for an urban intrigue campaign, but wouldn't be that useful in traditional dungeon-diving campaign where no one really cares *who* is doing the dungeon-diving. For example, I made a vigilante for Pathfinder Society and realised it just comes across as cheesy trying to do an identity switch in the middle of a scenario.

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VoodistMonk wrote:
And somehow everyone else in the party fails to realize they are short one of their key party members EVERY time they get help from the Crimson Cowl? Natural 1's on them Perception checks, huh? Every. Freaking. Time.

We maintained a suspension of disbelief because we wanted to have fun with it. Just like PCs do with many aspects of ttrpgs, like things involving physics or something like when a Bluff check rolls a 20 even though the premise is ridiculous.

The people here who disallow it seem to be giving very, very bad reasons for doing so.

The Vigilante does in fact work in a cooperative game. Just because you have a secret or two doesn't mean you aren't cooperating.

People are complicated. I don't tell people I like kids shows when I meet them. Doesn't mean I'm not trying to be friendly, nor does it mean I have some nefarious plot in store for them.

Like damn people, get a grip.

If you are banning the Vigilante class for such reasons, I guarantee it isn't the class not working, but rather you not having any creativity, because the class works perfectly fine in this game.

What if the vigilante is not nice tho?

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I would, very neutrally speaking, argue that a vigilante PC requires above average role playing skills from the player, and a good measure of cooperation from every single of his player companions.

Personally, I have never been in a group where that would not have been a given, but I think a lot of the nay sayers have been in such.

I would love playing a vigilante with people I know, I would be anxious playing one with strangers.

Although, as a TLDR, I would prefer to play Vigilantes with people who I know I can make laugh. People I can make laugh is most people, but not all people. Of course, I would also prefer to play any class with people I can make laugh, but for a vigilante it seems to be a more pressing requirement.

If the campaign has some down time, the vigilante does not need to create problems. Just have the character spend most of his time in his vigilante identity and take care of anything the social identity is doing during downtime. The vigilante is not a mysterious masked superhero it is a normal adventurer using an alias instead of his true name. His social identity is someone who is socially connected like a younger son of a noble or maybe connected to some powerful organization.

If he is a noble, he is not prominent enough be in the public eye a lot. He could be something of a rake or a buffoon. The character would be accepted by the nobility, but not much will be expected out of him. He can move around society but if he disappears for a while people will not really worry about it.

If he is a member of a powerful organization, he is their agent. His social identity is a public member of that organization, but his real purpose is to handle problems that the organization does not want to openly acknowledge. Depending on the nature of the organization this might require taking an archetype. For example, a Warlock could be an agent for a mage’s guild, or a Zealot could be an agent of a church as an alternative to the inquisitor. Even without an archetype this can work. An avenger could be a knight or member of the royal army, but actually be working as a spy.

In either case this could work out to the benefit of the party. The vigilante gives the GM a reason to funnel information to the party that the characters' social identity has access to. Some of the social talents of the vigilante can also be used by when he is not in the social identity. Always prepared can allow the vigilante and the party to equipment they normally would not be able to get.

While a lot of the vigilante was inspired by commix book and some aspects may not fit into a standard pathfinder campaign that does not mean the class is going to always cause problems. With the right background and build the character can easily coexist with a traditional party. So, while building a character based on Batman will probably cause problems, one built based on Silk (Prince Kheldar) will probably be fine.

Adventure Path Charter Subscriber; Pathfinder Rulebook, Starfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Roleplaying Game, Starfinder Society Subscriber

Note that the vigilante, although the description leans heavily into the superhero-ish and/or pulp genres, does not require the use of those themes. The Scarlet Pimpernel and Zorro are literary examples that can be used for inspiration instead of comic books (if not going with an archetype that grants similar benefits).

Real world history has many examples going back a long time of people who hid their "real" identities for various reasons when competing in tournaments, fighting in battles/wars, etc. Even the term "black knight" refers to someone that paints over or covers their coat of arms, making it pretty much impossible to identify them as long as they are wearing armor and keeping their face covered.

The vigilante just adds some extra system mechanics to what would otherwise be "background" or "flavor."

In my Hell's Rebels campaign I played a Vigilante by having the two identities fulfill different roles in the Silver Ravens organization. The social identity was the idle scion of a noble family sympathetic to the revolutionary cause that would bring her resources and connections to the organization but had remain inconspicuous lest the rest of her family figure out what's going on before it's too late. She was a person who was seen as flighty and unserious in public, a thing she took advantage of.

The other identity was a dashing, charming mystery man who will punch the $#@! out of evil-doers, always willing to put his life on the line to do what's right. But someone who (diegetically didn't want to remove his mask based on the premise that he was someone on the run from a tragic past that he just wanted to get away from, that would nonetheless result in being unavailable sometimes.)

Every player knew what was up. Their characters not figuring it out instantly was a roleplaying thing. After all, a lot of people want to help the revolution in the way that they can and you don't generally suspect they're up to something when all they are doing is helpful. For the GM to make this work, you had the frame of "you are running a revolution" so lots of people would drop in and out of whatever is going on in any scene. You could just easily figure out "this is not a NPC" based on "the person performing them is not the GM" but again, this is a roleplaying game.

Grand Lodge

Vigilante works wonderfull as an NPC.
They are really hard to figure out for the PC and can screw up their plans easily.
I had a Vigilante using social talents and a couple of henchmen making a very succesfull mutiny on my Skull and Shackles players.

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