The Caliban

Recently, I’ve had a player express some interest in running a PC race specifically designed for the Ravenloft setting called the caliban. For those of you that are not very familiar with Ravenloft, this may be a race that you have never heard of before, and it has occurred to me that, in order to be fair to all the players, if I allow one player to run a caliban, I should give that same option to all the players. So, with that thought in mind, I will give the full description of the caliban below. I will also point out that because there are no official stats for the caliban in the Pathfinder system (it is a D&D 3e race), the caliban race has presented me with a little bit of a dilemma. Over the past weekend, I have put a lot of thought into this dilemma, and so, following the description of the caliban, I will present my dilemma, which will then be followed by what I think is a suitable solution to this dilemma.

The Caliban

(As quoted directly from the Ravenloft Player’s Handbook):

Orcs are unknown in Ravenloft, even as creatures of legend. For this reason, no half-orcs are native to the Land of Mists. However, creatures do exist that fill the half-orc’s role: calibans. Thankfully rare, calibans are twisted humans exposed to curses or foul magic while still in the womb. The birth of a caliban in a community is often seen as a sure sign of the presence of witchcraft – specifically, the corrupting aura of a hag.

Calibans are physically powerful but misshapen humanoids. No two calibans look alike, but common deformities include twisted backs or limbs, asymmetrical features, bristly hair or tusk-like teeth. Calibans are widely considered brutish, savage creatures; their name is a corruption of “cannibal,” stemming from their most infamous reputed habit. In truth, many calibans are simple-minded, petty brutes, but this is often the product of their upbringing. Rejected as monsters, most calibans spend their lives hidden in dank cellars or flee civilization to roam the wilds. In truth, a caliban’s heart can be as pure and noble as that of any human.

Use the racial characteristics of the Player’s Handbook half-orc when creating a caliban player character.

Homelands: As creatures of unnatural origin, calibans can hail from any populated domain. Most are born in lands where magic is relatively common, such as Darkon, Hazlan and Tepest.

Recommended Feats: Alertness, Endurance, Great Fortitude, Jaded, Lunatic, Run, Skill Focus (Intimidate, Survival), Voice of Wrath

Base Outcast Rating: 5

This is the full description of the caliban. Note that some of the listed feats are Ravenloft feats. And the Outcast Rating is a number that expresses the fear and suspicion that others have towards certain races. The higher the number is, the worse for the character. In the case of the caliban, he suffers a -5 penalty to Bluff, Diplomacy and Perform checks, but gets a +5 bonus to Intimidate checks.

The Dilemma

The problem that I see with the description for the caliban is that it was written with the rules for D&D 3e in mind rather than for Pathfinder, and for a number of reasons, it has never been converted (officially) to Pathfinder, nor is it ever likely to be. In the description, where it says, “Use the racial characteristics of the Player’s Handbook half-orc”, it is referring to the D&D 3e handbook which gives racial adjustments for half-orc ability scores as follows: +2 strength, -2 intelligence, -2 charisma. Now, as some of you are probably aware, Pathfinder has altered all racial adjustments so that all races receive a net total of a +2 adjustment to ability scores. Since a 3e half-orc receives a -2 net total, it would obviously be unfair to impose the 3e adjustments on a caliban in a Pathfinder game. So why not go with the Pathfinder version of the half-orc? Here is where the main crux of the problem lies. The Pathfinder version of the half-orc allows a +2 adjustment to any ability score, the same as a human or a half-elf. Now, since I have been running Pathfinder, I have yet to have a player run either a half-orc or a caliban – so the issue has never come up before – until now.

Some players, who are used to playing Pathfinder, might not see any problem with a +2 bonus to charisma for a half-orc. I, on the other hand, do have a problem with this, especially when one realizes that dwarves suffer a -2 on charisma. I may be wrong about this, but I’m thinking that in an effort to try and make the half-orc fair and balanced with the other PC races, the makers of Pathfinder decided to look at the half-orc as more human than orc and because they could not give the half-orc two penalties to ability scores (and still end up with a +2 net bonus), this was their solution. But I think they could have done a better job of balancing-out the half-orc, especially when one realizes that a half-orc could receive a +2 bonus to charisma while a dwarf receives a -2 penalty to charisma.

But for now, I’m not going to concern myself with the half-orc. Right now, my concern is the caliban. So I will focus on that and the description given above, which describes the caliban as “twisted humans” and “misshapen humanoids” with various “deformities”. First of all, it has been pointed out to me that charisma includes a lot more than physical appearance and that force of will and personality can be even more important factors to a person’s charisma. In fact, one could argue that physical appearance might even play a minor role in a character’s charisma – and I might tend to agree with this. It has also been suggested that because a character’s personality can be such a major factor to that character’s charisma, this might explain why a caliban could have a +2 bonus to charisma. But the problem with that line of reasoning is that this same argument could be applied to a dwarf, and yet the dwarf, despite every effort to improve his personality, still suffers a -2 penalty to his charisma.

Now, one could put fourth the argument that the reason dwarves suffer a -2 penalty to charisma is because their personalities are generally described with words like grumpy, dour, taciturn, somber, humorless, etc. But look again at the description of the caliban: “simple-minded, petty brutes”, “rejected as monsters”, hiding in "dank cellars and fleeing civilization. Does this description give one the impression that calibans are generally out-going, charming, gregarious, affable and make great leaders and conversationalists? Hardly. And how would this Quasimodo, this Frankenstein’s creature, be able to learn the social skills necessary to receive a +2 bonus on his charisma while he apparently spends most of his time hiding in cellars and fleeing from civilization? Meanwhile, the poor dwarves, many of which are known to be mighty kings, great military leaders and powerful clerics with large flocks of followers, are penalized with a -2 to their charisma.

The last point I have to make about why I think a caliban should not be allowed to receive a +2 bonus to charisma (or intelligence for that matter, since a caliban would not have access to the same schooling as other races) is probably the most irrefutable. While I think most people would agree that personality is a large or even the major factor in a character’s charisma, it is not the only factor. Physical appearance, however small a part it might play, does play a part in charisma. Keep in mind, that most charisma-based skills deal with initial reactions (bluff, diplomacy, intimidation). And because physical appearance does play a part in charisma, then it has to be acknowledged that a physical deformity would have a negative impact on charisma. That is not to say that a caliban can’t have a high charisma, but rather that a caliban should have to strive that much harder in order to overcome the negative effects of his physical appearance. And that negative effect should be expressed in a -2 penalty to his charisma. Then there is the problem of how a caliban would ever acquire the social skills necessary to overcome this negative affect.

I also feel that the caliban should likewise receive a -2 penalty to his intelligence, because a caliban would not be given the same opportunities as other races to receive an education. (And to take this one step further, I don’t see how a “curse” or “foul magic” would necessarily equate to a +2 bonus to strength for a caliban as it would for a 3e half-orc). But, of course, as already stated, a -2 penalty to both charisma and intelligence would not make for a balanced character when compared to the other PC races. So I will make a compromise.

The Solution

Because the Pathfinder version of the half-orc is so generous when compared to the 3e version, and because we are using the Pathfinder system, I will go with the Pathfinder racial characteristics for the caliban, but with just a few adjustments:

1) The caliban receives a +2 adjustment to any one ability score of his choice at creation EXCEPT charisma and intelligence. In other words, the +2 adjustment can be put in either, strength, dexterity, constitution or wisdom. There are no negative adjustments to any ability scores.

2) In addition, to make up for the loss of choices for the +2 bonus to ability scores, I will grant calibans a +2 bonus on all horror checks, to reflect the fact that calibans are somewhat more accustomed to gruesome sites. For anyone not particularly familiar with Ravenloft, a +2 bonus on horror checks could be a huge benefit as horror checks are fairly common in Ravenloft adventures and a +2 bonus could literally save a characters life.

The Caliban

The Ravenloft Files: Dead of the Night arkhemedes