One of the common activities that I see on the gaming boards I tend to frequent is the desire expressed by a multitude of gamers to recreate in the game rules system, a favorite literary, movie or video game character. While there are dozens of such figures that are discussed on those boards, there are only a few that are repeatedly and constantly recreated by players for their games. Here is a short list, more or less in the order of popularity, of those figures I’ve seen addressed in this way:
- Drizzt, the reformed Drow swordmage
- Link, from “Legend of Zelda”
- Batman (yes, Batman is definitely in the top five)
- Conan, the Barbarian
- Iron man (yep, seriously, something about his armor I think…)
- Dr. Who
- Catwoman (is it a coincidence that one of the most popular female figures is also somewhat morally ambiguous?)
Etc. This isn’t meant to be a comprehensive list, just a short demonstration of what sorts of figures gamers like to “recreate.”
So, the latest example of this is a thread going on right now about Gandalf and how you would build Gandalf as a Pathfinder character.
There appear to be three basic ways to accomplish this goal, and they appear to be more or less mutually contradictory.
The first approach (the one I would take) is to look at what Gandalf actually does as a character in Lord of the Rings and figure out what sort of Pathfinder build could accomplish more or less the same things. Using this approach you look at Gandalf’s skills, powers and abilties and duplicate them as closely as possible with Pathfinder skills, powers and abilties. What you realize in this approach is that Gandalf is pretty lame as a Pathfinder character. Most of the things he does with his magic are comparable to Pathfinder cantrips (like prestidigitation, spark or light, just as examples) or else relatively low level spells (like scorching ray, produce flame, etc). The most powerful magical things he does in the entire series of books is comparable to a lightning bolt or fireball. You could argue that the single most powerful spell he attempted, one which almost totally exhausted him, was the “word of command” he attempted to use to block the Balrog after his “hold portal” spell had been counterspelled. That spell was so powerful that the attempt to counter it resulted in the total destruction of Balin’s tomb room, and the collapse of a small section of the Mines of Moria. But in the end Gandalf’s demonstrated magical prowess seems to be more or less in the range of a level 5-7 spellcaster. And even then many of the most common spells available for that level of spellcaster (levitation, flight, invisibility) are far beyond Gandalf’s abilities. So in this analysis Gandalf ends up being represented as a fairly low level Pathfinder character.
The second approach (the one I see most people take) is to use the following logic: “Gandalf is the most awesome magic user in Lord of the Rings, he’s practically a demigod, so therefore he should be represented as a Pathfinder epic character or demigod”. This approach ends up with Gandalf being described as a very high level wizard, cleric or druid, usually with some levels of a martial class to allow him to be a melee fighter as well. Of course this approach totally ignores the reality that Pathfinder spellcasters of that level routinely fly, turn invisible, teleport, grant wishes, etc. So Gandalf appears to be a super high level character who for some unknown reason, only uses very low level spells and abilities. This creates such a sense of cognitive dissonance in my mind that it is incomprehensible to me how someone can argue this way, but as I said, this is the most common way to do it.
The final approach is to suggest that Gandalf is not possible to model as a player character, and instead should be modeled using the monster/NPC rules. In that approach Gandalf is usually represented as a celestial outsider with specific spell-like powers and the ability to cast certain spells, plus it allows him to have martial abilities in addition to his magical powers without having to construct complex multi-classed characters. This approach actually works OK for me, but even when people take this approach they tend to make Gandalf an epic level NPC with awesome cosmic powers, again in complete disregard for the limited amount of power Gandalf actually demonstrates in the book.
So, all of that to ask this, what would your approach to this exercise be? How would you define Gandalf in a Pathfinder world?