A while back, I mentioned to Alric’s player that I had seen some talk on the forums, claiming that the Barbarian template was troublesome. The thinking went, the Barbarian has to spend 40 points on Outdoorsman, which increases the skills Camouflage, Fishing, Mimicry, Naturalist, Navigation, Survival, and Tracking, yet none of these skills are terribly pertinent to dungeon-delving. The conventional wisdom with some around the forums seems to be that if you’ve got a Barbarian in your party, you have to go out of your way, as the GM, to throw wilderness-based challenges in their way, to give the poor savage something to do. I asked if this bore any resemblance to his experience, playing a Barbarian.
He gave me a look like I had just sprouted horns.
I would have thought, if any set-up would be rough on 40 points of Outdoorsman, it would be ours. The dungeon is a three-hour hike for people on foot in no particular hurry. The party’s standard procedure is to have a leisurely breakfast, mosey up to the dungeon, take a half-hour break with a light snack, do the day’s delving, and hike home: burdened with loot, often nursing injuries, and still home in time to have an early dinner. The path’s not only short, it’s basically paved. There are sections with stairs. Dungeon-delving in Tembladera is more like a trip to the amusement park than a safari. Wouldn’t you expect Nature Boy to feel a little under-utilized? If so, you couldn’t tell it by our barbarian. Alric has really made his money’s worth from his talent.
More than once, and as recently as last session, he has used Mimicry as a complimentary skill to Animal Handling. He’s better with big cats, but still, so far, nobody’s had to fight any animals, not even the dire kind.
Alric’s orienteering skills have come in handy more than once. His Navigation skill is what got them back to the main road after the party left the dungeon through the killer halfling’s privy. Last session, it’s a big reason why he was able to get Jed back to town before his mortal head wound killed him. There’s been a lot of talk, lately, about scoping out new routes and finding new entrances, and for both, the party will be relying on Alric’s navigation skills.
There have been a lot of Naturalist rolls, for information on this or that. Even in the dungeon, there’s mundane plants and animals. Even if the thing you’re trying to identify isn’t subject to Naturalist, it’s still useful to know that: “That howl did not come from the throat of any beast of this earth!” As far as more material uses, I seem to recall, early on, before the party could afford potions, there were a few rolls to search out the ever-present, ever-vague “healing herbs” to help with First Aid rolls.
Survival is always useful, even just a few hours outside of town. I remember, the first time the party sat down to rest and regain Fatigue, it was mentioned that having a snack could speed things up. They did a survey: half the party had a meal or two of unpalatable iron rations, and the other half hadn’t packed anything. (I guess they expected catering.) The next time they sat down to rest, that same trip, Alric was able to pull out several meals’ worth of something freshly scavenged. This past session, it was Alric’s Survival skill that let him light a fire to prepare for improvised surgery. If it had come to it, that would have been a consideration in figuring out the penalty for lack of equipment.
The thing is, for the most part, these are all rolls that Alric’s player himself prompted. When I placed dogs, for instance, I wasn’t thinking that they would be a good “spotlight” moment for the character with Animal Handling. That never even crossed my mind. What I was actually thinking about was one of my first fights as a GURPS player.
Way back then, in a fantasy campaign, the same one I stole the cannibal elves from, the party was sneaking around at night in an urban environment. We disturbed a watchman, who set the dogs on us. Two or three big German shepherd types. I don’t recall what happened with the others, exactly. I seem to recall a mad scramble for the fence line, to start. I missed it, because my character ended up grabbing his dog by the front legs and “dancing” with it, to keep it away from tearing out his throat. Envisioning the situation, I tentatively asked the GM if there were any way to keep the hold and kick the dog in the ribs. (I was coming out of my World of Darkness phase, so I was willing to try new and different things in combat, but kinda assumed that they would all come down to ask the GM, then roll and shout. At least I had experience of systems besides D&D, or I wouldn’t have even tried for the grapple…) Of course, there was, and my character did so repeatedly, which eventually encouraged the beast to flee the scene, limping.
… and that’s all I had in mind when I set up Ghorbash with a pack of dogs. I figured, that he figured, he would open combat by siccing the dogs on the party, then he’d charge into the confusion and break their formation. Didn’t pan out that way… thanks to Alric and his way with animals. He intimidated them, rocked them back on their heels, and thereby let the party take control of the fight.
Some day, I expect the party will decide they’re big and bad enough to go over the mountains and into the jungle, to hunt dinosaur, giant ape, and wild cannibal elf. On that day, I expect they’ll put Alric front and center… and not just because he’s a good, thick meat-shield with an axe taller than some of the other PCs.