Themes: Criminal

I realized that I’m short on month and I have a lot more themes to go. So, buckle up.

The criminal presented an interesting dilemma in the general application of a specific theme. That is, criminals can be all sorts. The theme needed to cover highway bandits, second-story artists, smugglers, money launderers, members of organized crime, people who run confidence games, and so on. I wanted abilities and quests that could cover much, if not all, of the sorts of criminals players could be. Only one or two abilities miss this mark too badly, but I don’t expect every ability to apply equally to every player. If I did, I’d have written the Paizo vigilante.

The only things that absolutely must apply to every type of criminal are the advancement benefits. You’ll notice they’re somewhat uninteresting to read, but I think their table applications outweigh that.

All your life you’ve been dodging the law. You may be a self-taught pickpocket, an heir to an organized “protection” guild, a con artist trained by an aging mentor, or a gentleman or lady thief whose targets deserve a bad turn. Your exact methods, goals, and reasons for living a life of crime are your own, and you may embrace your skills and history or keep it a secret as you now walk a more narrow path.

Theme Skills: Bluff, Disguise, Escape Artist, Perception, Sense Motive, Stealth
Theme Feats: Alertness, Deceitful, Fleet, Improved Initiative, Quick Draw, Run

Theme Quests

Novice Quests: These quests are appropriate for advancing through 3rd tier.

  • An old friend comes to the criminal, asking for his or her help for one last score. The target is out of the friend’s league and known to be unforgiving to trespassers, but he is insistent on going through with the attempt. He may have an ulterior motive for the crime, one beyond simple money.
  • A new player is in town, committing the same crimes as the criminal in much the same way but in a much more public, noticeable way. The ensuing investigation comes dangerously close to home. The newcomer must be caught, silenced, or convinced to stop before the case of mistaken identity puts the criminal away, which may actually be the newcomer’s intent.

Expert Quests: These quests are appropriate for advancing through 6th tier.

  • A haggard man approaches the criminal asking for help hiding from the law. It may be an old acquaintance or just somebody with an excellent story, and he only needs to lay low for a couple of days. But the criminal hears rumors about how his crimes may be greater than he said. As the manhunt for him intensifies, the criminal must decide whether their fellow lawbreaker is worth saving.
  • The city watch approach the criminal with an offer. They want his or her help investigating crimes similar to the criminal’s own, allowing some forgiveness of past misdeeds for assistance catching other criminals. Secretly they suspect the criminal of planning or committing a great crime, and they’re hoping this arrangement will give the criminal a change to slip and expose himself or herself. They’re so certain they have the right person that, in the absence of such evidence, they’re not above manufacturing it.

Advanced Quests: These quests are appropriate for advancing through 9th tier.

  • A new guild of thieves, con men, or other lawbreakers has moved into town, and they offer the criminal or her a position in their organization. Whether the criminal accepts or refuses, it soon becomes clear that the guild has a startling reach, operating in multiple places under different names, and that their leadership is mysterious, powerful, and politically untouchable. But the biggest problem is that the crimes are only one phase of a plan capable of changing the world for the worse.
  • An order of paladins is asking questions about the criminal. One of his or her past crimes has been tied to a far greater sin, and the paladins look to apprehend the criminal to interrogate him or her about the crime and have him or her face justice when they are done. The order’s action are borderline masochistic, relying on more forceful measures than others, and a full order with a church’s backing is very hard to stop.

Legendary Quest: A revolution is in its pupal stages, where the fighting is intense and the government is on the brink of collapse. In some places the anarchy is greater than others, and thugs commit all manner of crimes during the watch’s and military’s inability to stop them. It is up to each person how much they try to thrive at the expense of others, but in the end even criminals must create and uphold a form of law to keep people alive.

Theme Abilities

Always Have an Out (Ex): You constantly keep on the lookout for ways to flee if things get rough. When you take the withdraw action, the square you start out and the first square to which you move are not considered threatened by any opponent you can see.
Cover Identity (Ex): You have an alter-ego you can use when avoiding watchful eyes. Pick a single, specific identity. Once you choose this identity it cannot be changed, and you cannot choose a person who already exists. When you use this identity you gain a +2 theme bonus to Charisma-based skill checks relating to the identity. You lose this bonus when interacting with anybody who knows you and your identity are the same person. You also gain a +2 theme bonus to a single Craft or Profession skill relating to the identity. If you are not normally trained in the Craft or Profession skill you chose, you are trained while you are in your identity.
Floor Fighter (Ex): You’re more comfortable attacking from below. You take no penalty to AC or attack rolls for being prone. If you hit an enemy while you are prone, you can stand as a free action that does not provoke attacks of opportunity. You must be at least 4th tier and possess the scrappy fighter ability before selecting this ability.
Greater Cover Identity (Su): Nobody can see through your identities. Your bonus to Charisma-based skill checks and to Craft and Profession checks increases to +6. Anybody who uses a divination spell or effect on you automatically receives information about you identity unless you allow them to receive information about you. You must be at least 7th tier and possess the improved cover identity ability before selecting this ability.
Improved Cover Identity (Su): Your alter-egos are especially good. You can have one cover identity plus one for every three theme tiers you have. Your bonus to Charisma-based skill checks and to Craft and Profession checks increases to +4. In addition, anybody who uses a divination spell or effect on you must succeed on a caster level check to discover information about you. If they fail, they instead receive information about your identity. The DC for this check is 10 + your theme tier + your Charisma modifier. You must be at least 4th tier and possess the cover identity ability before selecting this ability.
Innocent Face (Ex): You know when you’re dealing with the police and act appropriately. You gain a +2 bonus to Bluff, Diplomacy, Perception, and Sense Motive checks when dealing with officers of law.
Lawsense (Su): You have a sixth sense for when police are nearby. You can automatically detect the presence or absence of officers of law within 15 feet. You must be at least 4th tier and possess the innocent face ability before selecting this ability.
Play Possum (Ex): You’ve feigned death to get out of multiple fights. When an attack drops you to fewer hit points them your theme tier, you can fall prone and make a Bluff check to play dead as an immediate action. You make one Bluff check for all creatures who can see you, and the DC for each creature is 10 + the creature’s Hit Dice + the creature’s Wisdom score. You can play dead for as long as you want as long as you take no actions. When you act, for one round all creatures who believe you to be dead are flat-footed against your attacks. You cannot use this ability more than once per encounter.
Scrappy Fighter (Ex): You can fight even from disadvantageous positions. You only take a -2 penalty to AC and attack rolls for being prone.

Advancement Abilities

Skirting Law (Su): Good criminals are difficult to catch, even magically. At 4th tier, you gain spell resistance equal to 5 plus your character level against divination spells and effects. In addition, you gain one of the following spell-like abilities, usable once per day: expeditious retreat, invisibility, or obscuring mist. You can switch which spell-like ability you have at the beginning of each day. The caster level for these spells equals your theme tier.
Escaping Law (Sp): An experienced criminal is almost impossible to pin down. At 7th tier, your spell resistance against divination spells and effects increases by 5. In addition, you gain one of the following spell-like abilities, usable once per day: air walk, dimension door, or haste. You can switch which spell-like ability you have at the beginning of each day. The caster level for these spells equals your theme tier.
Disregarding Law (Sp): You can’t be caught unless you allow it. At 10th tier, your spell resistance against divination spells and effects again increases by 5. In addition, you gain one of the following spell-like abilities, usable once per day: mislead, phase door, teleport, or wind walk. You can switch which spell-like ability you have at the beginning of each day. The caster level for these spells equals your theme tier.

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2 Responses to Themes: Criminal

  1. MisterBlake says:

    This is going to sound harsh, so I wanna preface it by saying I love this theme and think it should be one of the big poster-children for the mechanic. (Like, one of the three characters on the cover of the book.) It’s so perfectly perpendicular to race and class and rich in character development opportunities. I also like the quests. I’m just making humble suggestions because I wanna see this theme be the best it can be.

    I really don’t like the spell like abilities as Advancement for this theme. I presume they’re meant to be mundane tricks that are as effective as the appropriate spell? If so, that presents a problem because as (Sp)s they interact with other magic stuff such as anti-magic field or detect magic. If not, I disagree creatively. Crime and magic are not thematically linked in Golarion, Greyhawk, or -I would expect- most settings.

    I suggest instead moving those abilities down into the Theme Abilities and instead focus on the bluff, escape, and interaction w/ law enforcement elements for the Advancement Abilities.

    In addition, I think there’s plenty of creative space left to mine for this theme.
    “Underworld connection” type abilities: Fences, bribery, contraband dealers
    Money-focused abilities: Appraise, negotiation, starting wealth
    Moral flexibility: Dirty fighting, coup-de-grace, reduced consequences to alignment violation

    • MssngrDeath says:

      I have tried very very hard to not bind mandatory theme abilities to skills to keep them appropriate to a wide variety of characters. For example, if I made the advancement abilities focus on Bluff, Intimidate, and interaction, I’m tacitly saying “all criminals have good Charisma or training that approximates it, and only characters with good Charisma and training in the appropriate skills should consider this theme”. The only constant I could think of for all criminals and all character types was “don’t get caught”, so the advancement abilities are intentionally generic.

      That said, I’m not happy with them either. There’s definitely a better idea out there I just haven’t found yet.

      I have the same problem with your suggestions here as I have had with the same suggestions previously, and I am still planning on a whole post to discuss them.

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