View Full Version : Help/tips wanted: playing a delusional character

2009-06-08, 02:39 PM
So currently we've played two sessions in the campaign of this friend of mine. This is the one where I'm playing a Neanderthal Barbarian/Fighter-Rogue Gestalt, and I love playing Young Male a ton. But despite having an optimal +11 in melee with his spear at 2nd level, Y.M has a low AC (and he makes it worse since I tend to have him out of his armor a lot) and very poor HP (I rolled a 3 for my HP at 2nd level :C ). And the way I play this character, well, he takes a lot of risks. The greater the danger, the greater the glory is YM's philosophy and he's already barreled into one fight where by all rights he should have died instantly.

So let's say that if cruel death befalls YM in the next few levels, I won't be completely taken aback. Actually, I've never had a PC survive past level 7, so I'll be rather more surprised if he lives. I like to be prepared, and thus I have a default character thought of already: meet Canio (pronounced Coney-oh. Yes, it's a significant name (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pagliacci).)

Canio was born in a small rustic village somewhere in the hinterlands. As one of the later children born in a large, peasant family he was hardly noticed and there wasn't much fuss when he left at age 12 to learn the trade of a performer. He joined a traveling Commedia dell'Arte (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Commedia_dell%27arte) troupe and started taking lessons in acrobatics, juggling, and singing. By age 14 he was quite nimble and deft, and amused onlookers before the main show by juggling and tightrope walking among other tricks.

Among the troupe was a girl of unsurpassed beauty (in the opinion of Canio and not a few others) named Mona. She danced and took on the role of Colombina in the troupe, and it was not incidental that the role Canio was most practiced in was Colombina's ardent pursuer Arlecchino (aka Harlequin). She returned his affections shortly after he offered them, and the exchange seemed permanent. It was not altogether proper, as she was five years his senior, but we are speaking of theater folk.

In addition to the well-traveled formula of the Commedia, the actors/acrobats/comedians did other shows as well. Plays to delight a variety of audiences were performed. One for the children was secretly Canio's favorite, because his love got to take the starring role. It was about a beautiful Princess, who was desired by an evil Sorcerer, Baron Mordo. Desiring her, but fearing the wrath of her betrothed Prince, the wicked Baron poisoned her wine so that the Princess appeared to die--but whisked her away to his castle far in the frozen north, unknown to anyone. Of course the Prince found her eventually, but most of the focus and all the best dancing was Mona's. Canio loved to watch her grace, almost as much as he loved Mona herself.

The romance was brief, but not by the choice of either. A sickness overcame Mona when the troupe was stopped in some town, and she grew so ill that the travelers decided to send her home to her family. She died en route, however, Canio right at her side. Her last words were intended to be "don't give in to grief, Canio." But she only got so far as "don't give in." Canio swore to heaven that he would not.

In a few days Canio was spotted at Mona's grave, drunk and raving. The gendarmery collected him and threw him out of the town after he, screaming "bastards! It's all a lie! She's not here!" knocked over the marker. Canio was convinced and resolved, to the core of his being, that Mona was not dead. Rather, she had appeared to die--all so the wicked Baron Mordo could drag her away to his freezing castle. But though mountains and seas lay between them, Canio swore he would not relent or stray from his quest. To rescue Mona, to kill Mordo. He would spend his whole life if he had to, and he wouldn't hesitate to kill any of Mordo's henchmen, or anyone who got in his way.

Just to make it clear, there is no Baron Mordo and Mona is very much dead in a pauper's grave. This character is completely insane and has welded a fictional story so strongly into his reality that nothing will ever convince him otherwise.

This would be the first time I've ever attempted to roleplay a character suffering a mental illness/delusion (IMO, anyway--sociopathy clearly doesn't count in D&D :p ). Even though I'm not actually going to play Canio unless Young Male buys the farm, or I join another campaign (unlikely, I'm already in as many as I can handle), I would like to hear some advice/shared experiences/encouragement if anyone has played or DMd something like this before.

Canio is not a maniac or axe-crazy. In his own mind, he is a hero questing for his one true love, and he should act the part. What worries me formost though, is this is a character with a pretty specific subplot-arc; standard dungeoncrawls, save-this-village, fetch-this-macguffin stuff won't interest him unless it brings him closer to his goal. Of course, his goal is completely made up, so maybe he can twist it around? I supposed anyone he actually fights will become a henchman of Baron Mordo in his mind (and much to the confusion of anyone else), but that also begs the question if his fellow party members would even keep him around when/if they discover that he's nuts (and I do want to keep that under wraps for as long as possible).

So, TIA if anyone has any ideas to help me flesh out this idea.

2009-06-08, 06:18 PM
"Flesh out this idea"? Seems like you already flashed it out pretty well!

You may have some difficulty, as described, with fitting your plot into the DM's plot. Make sure you talk this through with your DM so they're ok with it.

You would probably best be off in a Don Quixote -esque role where whatever you see or do gets twisted to fit your delusions. The flock of sheep becomes a marching army; the windmill becomes a towering giant-- that horde of goblins becomes the Baron's slave warriors; the trinket found in the dungeon becomes the key to your beloved's tower prison.

You could have a lot of fun with this. But again, I caution you to clear this with the DM. Also, make sure you don't steal the spotlight from your party members. Just because you have a cool backstory doesn't mean you can run away with the campaign. Subtlety is the key.

Well, that's my 2 cents. Hope that helps, and have fun.


2009-06-08, 06:25 PM
Heh. That's an awesomely entertaining backstory you've got there!

I think that going with something where your character just twists the facts to fit his version of reality would be best. Definitely talk to your DM so that he can work with your character and his imaginary plot.

Man, the character interactions with someone like that would be great... I have a feeling most people will either split between playing along with the delusions because its easier, or constantly trying to convince him that what he's rambling on about is crazy. Good luck with this!

2009-06-08, 07:36 PM
Man, the character interactions with someone like that would be great... I have a feeling most people will either split between playing along with the delusions because its easier, or constantly trying to convince him that what he's rambling on about is crazy. Good luck with this!

What really worries me is the sole other player (it's just a 2-player game ATM) has a very perceptive, manipulative character with a high bluff check. If I'm not careful (or maybe even if I am careful) he could manipulate Canio into becoming his gofer because "this will lead me to uncovering the whereabouts of Baron Mordo's Frozen Castle" or whatever. >>

It's for that reason, I was trying to think of a good way for Canio to do like you said, and twist everything he sees into furthering his quest, without making his goal obvious to the PC who will be his erstwhile partner.

EDIT: Maybe have a way that fits into his delusion not to trust her (the other PC) with the secret? She is a Vampiress, although apparently they're an accepted (or at least tolerated) race in this setting.