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The Barbarian Rogue

A Not-So-Unusual Character Concept

By Neal LitherlandPublished about a year ago 4 min read

"Look, the captain said we had to keep our eyes open," Marrock said, re-adjusting his grip on his spear.

"What for?" Ranner asked, turning out of the wind to light his pipe. "If he's worried about the Gundrian lummox, there's no point. We'll smell him before we see him."

Marrock made a hard, strangled sound in his throat. Ranner turned the twig he'd lit this way and that, ensuring an even burn on his pipe. He straightened, and let out a breath, sighing. He had his mouth open to say something, but Marrock was gone.

"Marrock?" Ranner asked, his forehead furrowing. That was when a calloused hand clamped down over his mouth from behind, and a dagger slid in next to his shoulder, just behind his collarbone.

"Do you smell anything now, whelp?" a voice hissed in Ranner's ear as warmth bled down his chest, and the world started to go dark.

Argor lowered the man's body to the ground, the thick cables of muscle beneath his skin shifting like a big cat. A Gundrian by birth, the massive hillman slid the guard's body into the shadows where it would not easily be seen. With a hole in the perimeter, he faded into the darkness without a sound. There was a crown to steal, and a child to rescue, before the sun rose that morn.

Not Too Big To Be a Thief

One of the strangest conversations I've heard people have regarding which character classes work together and which don't are the folks who will argue that you cannot be both a barbarian and a rogue. Part of this, I feel, is that a lot of us picture barbarians as nothing more than bellowing berserkers, and we see rogues as slender, small, and stealthy. So obviously the two of these things can't (or at least shouldn't) exist in the same character, right?

But I feel like players who hold these opinions haven't actually read any stories of Conan the Barbarian, and they don't seem to grasp the impact this pulp era protagonist had on the fantasy genre, and on the games we play.

For those who don't have a familiarity with the character, Conan in his source material is not what we typically think of. He is big and strong, yes, but he's most commonly described as pantherish, or moving like a tiger. He's not just hardened by a life on the fringes of society, and surviving in the wilderness, but he is fast, quiet, and able to do things that so-called civilized persons think is impossible... like scale the walls of their cliffside fortress, and infiltrate it from an angle they never anticipated.

This is the reason that, if you look back at the 3.0 and 3.5 editions of Dungeons and Dragons, barbarian and rogue abilities often dovetail together, particularly when it comes to Uncanny Dodge and Trap Sense. That wasn't a case of the designers doubling up on abilities; it was because in most of his adventures, Conan is not some ravening killing machine set loose on the field. He's a thief, a pirate, and a scoundrel. This kind of thing was a deliberate choice so that the classes could be blended together to create this classic, pulp-era character more easily.

The same trick works in Pathfinder's classic edition (though arguably you'd get more out of a slayer, but that's a different conversation for a different day), and you can pull it off quite well in Dungeons and Dragons 5E, as well. The question you have to ask yourself is what unique story is your barbarian/rogue character telling?

This is all an act so that you never see the Sleight of Hand coming.

Did your barbarian grow up hunting deadly creatures in the wilderness, and it was merely a matter of adjusting their skills to the big city to make them an accomplished thief? Were you someone who joined up with a mercenary company, or a militia, going a little feral when you became a scout or an irregular, surviving deep behind enemy lines and staying completely hidden? Or was your thieves' guild out in the rural hills, focusing on things like poaching, banditry, rustling, and other forms of thievery not seen as often in the cities where heists are more common?

If this is a topic you enjoyed, then don't forget to check out 5 Barbarian Multiclass Concepts Your Table Won't See Coming, as well as 50 Shades of Rage: Reflavoring The Barbarian's Signature Ability.

And if you're interested in the history of the barbarian as a literary character, as well as the etymology of the word itself, consider giving What is a Barbarian? a read, as well!

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That's all for this week's Unusual Character Concepts post!

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About the Creator

Neal Litherland

Neal Litherland is an author, freelance blogger, and RPG designer. A regular on the Chicago convention circuit, he works in a variety of genres.

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Blog: Improved Initiative and The Literary Mercenary

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Comments (1)

  • Canuck Scriber L.Lachapelle Authorabout a year ago

    Great content and writing and intereting!

Neal LitherlandWritten by Neal Litherland

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