Table of Contents
As I began to look through various character builds—either ones I had played or hoped to play—that I thought would be interesting to present in an article, several common themes kept showing. This happened enough that I saw an overarching way to group the characters within a single narrative.
The Evening Tea Society.
But more on that later.
Looking at how I would build a Ranger for this shared narrative, the idea of a fanatical hunter was deeply compelling. I wanted them to be a flawed character that was willing to sacrifice everything, to damn themself in that pursuit.
At the tell-tale heart of almost all my character builds—especially those I have a desire to play—is some theme ripped from the pages of Gothic literature. Nevermoor was that way, and Admiral Tasker will be much the same.
Specifically for our ill-fated admiral, I wanted to explore the concept of a ravenous desire or obsession chased with such fanatical zeal they would willingly sacrifice limb, life, or soul to obtain it.
If that sounds awfully familiar, well, it should. It’s essentially Captain Ahab from Moby Dick. There are other, perhaps more “gothic” characters that come to mind under the same theme. However, I really enjoy the symmetry of lusting after something, of an obsession being manifested in an actual hunt. That is something that a player/character can really sink their teeth into with every facet of the game.
I’ll admit that I’m a sucker for angry old salts. I was raised by one, after all. Furthermore, whaling plays an integral part in the majority of my world builds. So much so, that we had to coin the term “blubberpunk.” This idea that blubber became the most paramount facet of the industry, culture, and livelihood of these worlds.
All of that to say, once I landed on a theme I wanted to explore next, it had to be done with a starved-with-obsession old whaler. Our Captain Ahab with [even more] gothic, fantasy trappings.
Extrapolating the theme for Admiral Tasker, I came up with the following goals for the build:
- Tasker had to be obsessively obsessed. Supported narratively and mechanically.
- He needed an idol of worship. One that was fantastical and phantasmagorical. The more unsettling the better.
- Admiral Tasker would need to be a skilled hunter and tracker.
- Sailing and nautical talents were a must; waterborne skills were not.
- A salty old fool with a domineering presence that was both frightening and awing.
- As a total cherry on top (if possible): magical sea shanties!
Within these goals, I still had several questions left unanswered.
Most importantly was the question, how best to theme obsession within the guidelines of a class structure? An oath sworn against its obsession? A hunt sought with religious zeal? Perhaps Admiral Tasker would undertake a blasphemous pact to dominate his prey? Perhaps his obsession manifests as severe rage?
Secondly, in a game filled to the gills with fantastic and frightening creatures, what would it take for one to be worthy of fanatical obsession? What would make it bone-chilling enough to be evocative, but not so much so that a campaign may not have the space to facilitate its existence?
For a final guideline, I wanted to see how far I could lean into the sailing/whaling background without needing to pick up aquatic-themed elements. I wanted to avoid having Old Admiral Tasker shaping water or calling down walls of water. As much as I adore those things, they seemed needless within the theme of an obsessed hunter.
Since things like race and class were not a featured part of Admiral Tasker’s genesis or theme, they were still up in the air as of level one.
At his core, Tasker is a deeply, deeply flawed beast. For me, none of the D&D races say flawed quite like good ol’ humans. I’m a hopeless pessimist, after all.
It made the most thematic sense, then, to cast him as a human; if taking the human route, it’s best to go variant human to scoop up that free feat. Never turn down an opportunity for a feat, I say.
For his language choice, I took Deep Speech to hint that the object of his desire is an aberration of the cosmic horror variety. This helped mentally clear the way for his idol to not be beholden to just aquatic adventures.
With his ability score increases, I took +1 to both Constitution and Dexterity. Nothing says “old salt” like a hardy (and hearty) constitution, while a life of seafaring requires a healthy amount of dexterity.
Tasker is a survivor. He’s battled the horrors of the elements, the depths, his own mind, and of course, the fateful encounter with his idol. Nothing phases him. His proficiency is Survival.
To finish features granted by the variant human race, it came down to three feats: Alert (I like the idea that his paranoid obsession puts him on watch at all times, unable to be snuck up on), Lucky (even if it’s mostly bad luck, he keeps surviving), and Savage Attacker (the idea that he’s capable of deadly zeal while on the hunt). Ultimately, for Trask’s feat, Alert made the most sense. I normally don’t invest much in feats that don’t include an ability score bonus, but at level one, this was worth it.
This is where it was time to drill down on the mechanical implications of obsession. I took a look at Barbarian (Path of the Berserker), Cleric (War Domain), Paladin (Conquest, Devotion, Open Sea, and Vengeance Oaths), and Warlock (Fathomless). Ranger didn’t offer much in the way of obsession mechanically, but would definitely come in handy when it came time to focus on Admiral Tasker’s hunting and whaling abilities.
While Oath of the Open Sea and Fathomless Patron were thematically the most aligned with the admiral, they also leaned way too heavily into control of wind and wave for my liking. Tasker is an old salt, but he’s a sailor, not an elemental mage.
That left Path of the Berserker, War Domain, and Conquest, Devotion, and Vengeance Oaths. The challenge with all of these is that Tasker is neither particularly devout nor rage-filled. He may be an awful, bitter old man, but his intimidation is through a cool, unfeeling presence rather than violence.
I removed Oath of Devotion because it felt the most challenging to strip of religiosity.
Oath of Vengeance made the most sense (and would help move Ranger spells under Charisma when multi-classing). I liked the idea that Tasker’s zealotry was in response to something his idol had done to him personally, and it shaped his whole world view.
War Domain was not really right thematically, but mechanically offered a lot of abilities that did fit. Those abilities kicked in at level one, which is convenient for multi-classing.
Ultimately Oath of Vengenace was the right call as it worked both mechanically and thematically, and that was more important. For class proficiencies, I selected Intimidation and Athletics.
This character was manually rolled, and the results looked like this:
Dexterity (17) + 1
Constitution (12) + 1
These scores are all fine. I would have preferred him wiser, but not at the expense of DEX or CHA.
This was a given: Sailor background. For Admiral Tasker’s background-based proficiency, I took Nature. This leaves him with a smattering of skill proficiencies that are thematic, but not entirely great when measured against his ability scores. This speaks to both age-based erosion of skills or him letting skills atrophy that do no suit his hunt.
Standard equipment was taken, and from there, I grabbed two martial weapons (rapier and longbow), five javelins (from all that whaling), an explorer’s pack, an amulet, and a trinket (a tooth from the beast he hunts).
Levels two and three
Paladins are pretty tame at level one, with Admiral Tasker’s highlights being products of his feat (like +9 to Initiative at level one), so our next two levels went toward making his Paladin more vengeance-obsessed.
At level two, we get access to a fighting style, for which I selected Interception. I liked the implications of his obsessive personality coming out in a sort of “loyalty”, almost. He may be single-minded and hell-bent on vengeance, but he will intercede on the behalf of those helping him achieve his hunt. In a sense, more vengeance.
Also, 2nd-level Paladins get two 1st-level spells. Wrathful Smite serves as a key component of the admiral’s theme, so it is a must. Tasker is a dangerous and feared hunter of beasts, pushed to reckless abandon. Heroism works for the other spell. He was an admiral after all, skilled at commanding. That is two concentration spells, which isn’t ideal, but it’s also the downfall of level two Paladins.
When he hit level three, he gets access to Oath of Vengeance and our mechanical representation of obsession. This satisfies Tasker’s first build goal, and from here on out, it will just be reinforced.
This gives access to the abilities Abjure Enemy and Vow of Enmity, both of which strike fear into the hearts of any creature dumb enough to incur the admiral’s wrath. He also gains advantage over those he hunts.
Third-level Paladins get access to Oath spells as well. For Tasker, Bane and Hunter’s Mark go toward another build goal, becoming a feared hunter.
Speaking of becoming a feared hunter, level four is where I jumped over to Ranger. That’s a little painful before the ability score improvement, but I wanted to get some more foundation beneath Admiral Tasker before deciding ability score improvements.
First-level Rangers get a new proficiency (Insight), and they get two class features. Favored Foe (from the optional class features in Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything) lets a player attune with nature to smite a creature the player chooses as if it were their hated enemy. Sounds like Tasker to me!
I swapped in Deft Explorer also from the optional class features. As much I liked the idea of having a favored terrain, Coastal isn’t inclusive enough of the old salt’s skills. Speaking of which, Deft Explorer lets players double their proficiency bonus in one skill of their choice (Perception), which can turn another weakness into a strength. It also grants proficiency in two languages, which I used on Primordial and Abyssal to round out the monster-hunting language package.
Levels five and six
For the next two levels, we’re taking Ranger again. Second-level Rangers also get access to a fighting style—our second—and I took Archery to make Tasker better with bow and javelin, classic hunting weapons. They also get two 1st-level Ranger spells. I liked Absorb Elements for our rough and tumble admiral and Ensnaring Strike as a way to corral his quarry. This is again another concentration spell, and therefore, Admiral Tasker’s spellbook is becoming pretty situational.
At this point, Tasker will also receive another 1st-level Paladin spell, which I dumped on Shield of Faith. The sea and the beast have taken a lot from him, but the hunt that drives him continues.
With level six, Tasker hits 3rd-level Ranger and unlocks the Ranger archetype! Despite the fact that we’re taking levels of Ranger to build up his hunting prowess, the Hunter archetype is pretty underwhelming. So, I took Monster Slayer which I find just as thematic and a little more useful. This will grant access to Monster Slayer Magic (and Protection from Good and Evil), as well as Hunter’s Sense and Slayer’s Prey. I feel like there’s a Ranger Random-word Generator at play here.
Hunter’s Sense lets Tasker glower moodily at a creature and discern its strengths and weaknesses, while Slayer’s Prey lets him drop an extra d6 of damage on a creature when attacking. When he locks onto his quarry, that means a possible combination of Divine Smite (2d8), Hunter’s Mark (1d6), and Slayer’s Prey (1d6) of extra damage on a single attack. Beasts beware.
I kept Primeval Awareness because our admiral is a maddened, tireless tracker of beasts and monsters once he’s in pursuit.
Levels seven and eight
With the next two levels, I hopped back to Paladin. At seven, Tasker gets his first ability score improvement, and for me, the skills that needed the most help were Wisdom and Charisma. A +1 to WIS would improve the ability score modifier, but for Charisma, it needed to be +2. So, I decided to focus on feats that provide a +1 to WIS.
Normally, I’d go Observant here, because it makes sense for a sea captain, tracker, and whaler. However, the idea of Shadow Touched seemed interesting. What if the encounter with the fell creature that haunts his every thought fundamentally changed him somehow? There was an exchange of some kind, and now Tasker’s soul is mottled with a bit of irrepressible darkness. Or the ability to blend in with the darkness? As part of Shadow Touched, he gains the Invisibility spell as well as one 1st-level spell from the necromancy or illusion schools. I selected Inflict Wounds to offer another option in damage output.
At seventh, Tasker also gains an additional 1st-level spell slot from Paladin (Cure Wounds) and one from Ranger (Longstrider).
When our admiral makes it to eighth-level, it’s all about fifth-level Paladin and the extra attack per round. It’s a late arrival but helps to make Tasker an even more formidable hunter.
Leveling also grants him two Oath spells: Hold Person and Misty Step (which are infinitely useful).
At level nine, I jumped back into Ranger to pick up the second ability score. It was ultimately a wash between getting the full +2 for Dexterity, or Charisma, or grabbing another feat. Not to say none of them were important, but they all were. Any route would help to define Admiral Tasker’s combat playstyle. Taking a +2 Charisma would make Paladin spells more reliable. Adding a +2 to Dex would max out his weapon attacks. A feat could buff his health pools or make all the concentration spells more resilient.
Ultimately, Tasker is a monomaniacal captain hell-bent on destroying the creature that haunts him, so I decided to forgo the Charisma buff and the feat, sinking the improvement into Dexterity and his attacks.
When building characters, I usually gut-check them against the build goals at level ten. With Tasker, his maniacal obsession was duly expressed with his Paladin Oath of Vengeance taken toward the creature, and his monster-slaying abilities thanks to the Ranger. This helped cover multiple build goals, while prepared spells and class features made him a character capable of a wild-eyed madness both inspiring and frightening. It is almost impossible to provide characters nautical and seafaring abilities without also giving them some control over water itself. We did what we could with backgrounds alone. The only other things missing were the damnable beast at the center of his mania and sea shanties. Some of the mechanical choices made point toward some interesting narrative possibilities for his foe, while the possibility of sea shanties remained entirely optional.
With level ten, taking another level of Ranger is mostly useless, but to cement both his tenacity and obsession, it made sense to build toward seventh level in both Paladin and Ranger.
Multiclassing rules say that the additional extra attack at fifth-level doesn’t stack, so all Tasker gets is Zone of Truth and access to a 2nd-level Ranger spell, which I spent on Locate Object for its thematic value.
Levels eleven and twelve
Level eleven brings Admiral Tasker the sixth-level Paladin ability Aura of Protection to bolster saving throws (including death saves), which doubles down on the intense presence of our admiral. It also allows him to take another Paladin spell, and I love Branding Smite for Tasker. This idea that when hunting his quarry, he can sear their flesh with intense magical light to help track them as they dive back into the depths.
For level twelve, Tasker gets another level in Paladin and access to Relentless Avenger. Now when Tasker strikes on attacks of opportunity, he can also move to cordon off his prey.
Levels thirteen and fourteen
Most notably, sixth-level Rangers with the Deft Explorer feature gain five extra feet of walking speed and match that in climbing and swimming speed. Perfect for Admiral Tasker. His Favored Foe damage also steps up to a d6.
At seventh-level Ranger, Tasker unlocks Supernatural Defense. This provides the ability to include an additional d6 to saving throws and against grapples.
With consecutive Paladin and Ranger upgrades to saving throws, Admiral Tasker is a formidable presence, either through madness or sheer will. He’s able to dive into the combat with brutal tenacity both offensive and defensive.
Relentless Avenger and Supernatural Defense provide the final pieces needed to cement Admiral Tasker’s thematic goals to the mechanical. Everything speaks to a maniacal hunter with an upsetting presence and countless tools with which to punish those that have tormented him. For all intents and purposes, I feel as though we have succeeded in all our necessary build goals, and the maniac admiral is finished. He does lack sea shanties, which is a sea shame, no doubt. If I were to give Tasker sea shanty abilities, I’d add three levels of Bard. Taking Cutting Words from the Lore College makes the most sense, and I’d give him a hurdy-gurdy to play.
Admiral Tasker is a prime example of mechanical sacrifice for thematic importance. As a Paladin-Ranger multiclass, he is doubly inferior to the fighter in combat. This emphasis on roleplaying over numerical metagaming make him a poor fit for players intent on maximizing combat output.
That’s not to say he’s not a formidable front-line attacker. Maxed Dexterity and martial proficiency make him top-line deadly with all ranged weapons and all dexterity melee weapons. He also has high AC and health pools. Additionally, with two +9 saving throw modifiers and one +7, he can rebuff many creatures’ magical advances. The ability to share that with other frontline characters bolsters an aggressive party. Lastly, the ability to rain down several different types and sources of bonus damage helps keep him relevant at the front of almost all battles. With a +10 to Initiative, he’ll almost certainly be out front, too.
Tasker has limited healing ability, immunity to disease, a plethora of languages, 35 feet of movement through most terrain, and pretty decent skill bonuses (with +12 to perception), making him suitably utilitarian as well.
The one glaring flaw he has is a spellbook tied mostly to concentration spells. Without War Caster, his ability to cast and maintain spells is perilous. The thematic implications are wonderful; he’s so monomaniacal that his ravenous obsession makes it hard to maintain spells.
Admiral Tasker is driven to madness by revenge against The Beast. A creature so fearsome it stands out against D&D’s menageries of terrifying monsters. It is also necessary that the paths of man and creature crossing be so bleak and devastating that Tasker would give up everything in pursuit of the foul beast.
Admiral Robert Ainge Tasker was once a dutiful servant of the Royal Navy, having risen to prominence after countless daring tales of bringing brigands to justice in faraway waters.
With such a reputation, Tasker was personally requested to escort a fleet of cargo ships containing copious amounts of prized teas on his return sail before much-deserved shore leave.
As fate would have it, brigands were the least troubling things in the waters on that day, for something far more sinister awaited the intrepid admiral.
A breach just off starboard signaled the approach of whales, a common occurrence in these waters. The beast revealed itself to be no whale, once it crested the waves, however.
Its flesh was impenetrably black shadow like the infinite night sky, with a maw lit bright as stars from which shown rows of angry, ravenous fangs. The monster did not moan like so many sea mammals, but wailed like an infernal banshee. It was unlike any other hell the deep sea had ever dredged up.
As the monster thrashed the first ship, turning the ocean brine into a stew of fancy tea and red carnage, a name died within the gasps of drowned sailors:
The exact horrors of that day, Mad Admiral Tasker doesn’t dare speak of. If the talk of sailors could be trusted, they would have him swallowed by the beast within which he lived for a year and went mad in his own cavern of despair.
Legend of his escape are indecipherably inconsistent and vague, but often account for the admiral’s loss of eye and attempt to explain away some of his more arcane trappings.
The truth understood is that ever since his return to the realm, he has turned away his previous post, shunned whatever remnants of his family still live, and taken to the sea as a whaler and hunter, deliriously seeking the beast. The only scraps of the his former life that remain are the tattered bits of an admiral’s uniform that hang across his weathered skeleton.
They call him ‘Mad’ Admiral Tasker for a reason, for he is, in fact, mad. Tasker is tortured, and whether it duty, guilt, or anger, he has taken it upon himself to destroy the Whale-o’-the-Wisp. Nothing else matters to him. No cost is too high. Some would even believe the destruction of himself would be equally satisfactory to him as that of the beast.
The admiral is often sullen, driven inward into self-isolation. It would require an intense swell of trust the captain no longer possesses to hear the events of that day from his own lips. He prefers the whispers of shock and terror that permeate the fleets. It is yet another weapon to use during his hunt. Let sailors determine the monster they sail under themselves.
That is not to say that elements of the celebrated admiral don’t sometimes float to the surface. Tasker can be both inspiring and loyal.
Admiral Tasker is tall and gaunt, made all the more startling by the ruined admiral’s uniform. It gives him an almost undead quality. Given the shambles of a life he’s chosen, it’s not that far off.
His skin is tarnished by sun and salt with just a touch of rosiness lingering in his cheeks. His missing left eye is hidden behind a patch, and his hair is a dark slate color with a shock of white just above his forehead.
The mad admiral is easily implemented in any campaign where the party will undertake seafaring of any kind. Perhaps the party joins his crew in a desperate attempt to get out to sea in search of some goal. This desperation could align them to Tasker’s own. There’s a chance that The Whale-o’-the-Wisp attacks them and draws Tasker across their path.
No matter how a party meets Admiral Tasker, his influence on them should remain entirely neutral, except where his hunt is concerned. In this regard, no amount of sacrifice is too sacred for him. The party should be able to imprint their own interpretations of the Admiral onto him. Whether he’s a tragic figure they are meant to help or a menace that needs to be stopped should be decided upon by the party.
For individuals choosing to play Tasker, the impetus for joining a party is simple: his hunt brings them into his company, and his desperate need to slay the beast requires him to enlist or join other daring souls.
The exact happenings of his fateful encounter with the Whale-o’-the-Wisp were left vague. This serves the thematic nature of sailors’ tales, and the wild embellishment that comes with them, but also allows players to define those events for themselves. Just remember that nothing is sacred to the mad admiral save the events of that day.