Table of Contents
Genesis & Theme
Entrapment as a gothic motif
Perhaps the most prevalent theme in gothic literature is that of entrapment. I defy you to find such a story where it isn’t at least somewhat present. From Doctor Jekyll, prisoner to his own ambition and later buried beneath a literal monster of his own design, to Johnathan Harker, held against his will inside Castle Dracula.
It thus made sense to design a character that fully embodied this theme.
For me, no gothic tale best encapsulates the theme of being trapped or held prisoner better than The Fall of The House of Usher by Edgar Allan Poe. The Ushers are not only held captive within a physical place—the eponymous manor—but they’re also held by the bonds of familial ties, health issues that make living a fate worse than death. All product of a generational curse and, ultimately, their jailer. One of the most striking features of such a phantasmagorical tale is that their physical prison—again, the house—is coming apart at the seams and sinking into the family grounds. Even their prison betrays Roderick and Melinda Usher.
Ultimately, this pervasive sense of entrapment needed to serve as the backbone for my character. However, I wanted to try and expand further, by including other references that deal with the same theme to great effect.
The first thing that came to mind was Guillermo Del Toro’s Crimson Peak. This film is essentially him paying homage to the forlorn Ushers. While thematically little separates Crimson Peak from House Usher, the character of Edith Cushing is the type of imaginative and inquisitive protagonist that I absolutely adore.
One of my favorite shows is 1967’s The Prisoner. Dealing with themes of entrapment, it did so in ways that continue to delight and confound viewers. While Number Six was indeed a prisoner of The Village, his chains were equally psychological. Nothing was reliable or based on reality. In fact, every episode would begin with a re-writing of the events as we understood them. Just as Number Six assumed he was unraveling the truth of his imprisonment, another surreal and devastating twist would redirect him. Often with himself as the main culprit of the deception.
For this character, I wanted the same bonds of surreality. That nothing during their imprisonment could be trusted, least of all their memories. That each and every day, a new piece of assumed reality was rewritten in a truly bizarre way.
As an aside, it’s interesting to watch WandaVision devolve similarly into an equally delightful puzzle-box of the very same themes.
Lastly, I wanted to tackle the idea that this character’s own body was a tormentor. The same befalls the Ushers, but I wanted to expand on that. I wanted the character’s bodily autonomy to be compromised by itself, and I wanted to support that narratively and mechanically. For me, very few characters better demonstrate this more tragically and triumphantly than X-Men’s Jono Starsmore, or Chamber.
Extolled by many as “gifts,” Chamber’s mutant powers literally tore his body apart. His upper torso turned into a cavity from which those powers spill uncontrollably. Watching him grow from a withdrawn, forlorn, and almost gothic archetype in Generation X into a survivor has been wonderful to see. I knew that my character would eventually join The Evening Tea Society and therefore had a similar character arc in mind.
The following build goals exist to reinforce the thematic notion of “entrapment” in all its forms: physical, emotional, imagined, etc.
- She needed to be imaginative and inquisitive.
- Arianne and her thoughts, memories, and abilities needed to be unreliable.
- She needed to be cursed. Presumably generationally, as visited upon the family.
- Arianne needed to escape one prison, only to find power and strength as a product of another.
- She also had to be held captive by her own body, supported by narrative and mechanics.
Continuing our gothic-inspired trend of proclaiming that man is the most devious creation of them all, Arianne Delcambre had to be Variant Human. For her free language, she was given Abyssal. A subtle hint to the devilish nature of her familial curse. The ability score increases given to her were +1 to both Charisma and Constitution. These are perhaps more mechanical functions of her build than narrative ones. However, Charisma makes the most sense for someone both devastated and fueled by a curse. Likewise, Constitution makes sense within the larger narrative as her body holds her captive.
For Arianne’s skill improvement, of course Investigation had to be chosen. To further illustrate her inquisitive nature (and our first build goal), she received Skill Expert as her free feat. As she’s read her way through countless musty old books in the manor’s library, her additional skill proficiency is History. Her expertise is given to Investigation, and the additional ability score improvement lands in Charisma once more.
I reserve the right to come back and change her race to Hexblood once that makes it out of UA.
There were only two options for Arianne Delcambre’s class: Warlock and Sorcerer. As she is born trapped in Templeton Manor, this horrible curse had to be a product of a pact made generations ago, or some form of innate arcana tainting the family grounds and bloodline.
As one of our themes and build goals is this idea that she loses control over her body and abilities—once again prisoner—with it leashing out wildly from within, Sorcerer and its Wild Magic origin was the best option.
With that, Arianne gains a Wild Magic Surge that causes unpredictable and often dangerous magic to spew from her anytime she tries to wield magic herself. This is absolutely a part of our build goals and a product of her relationship with the curse. Once she is able to free herself from Templeton Manor, the curse attacks her, choosing to nest down inside her. It gives her great power, yes, but it also collects a penance every time. This might make her apprehensive or punish her if she isn’t.
The other side of that coin is Tides of Chaos, which allows her to exert her sorcerous abilities over probability, at the expense of—again—her magic painfully spilling out.
Arianne’s skills were manually rolled, and got the following results:
Charisma (16) +2
Constitution (15) +1
Having some idea that I want to multiclass a level or two of a martial class down the line, the low Dexterity score and the abysmal Strength score put that at jeopardy, but the scores make narrative sense for a girl raised essentially in a prison, no matter how posh. I also could not sacrifice Intelligence or Wisdom as doing so would go against a build goal. Arianne could possibly pick up what she needed from her ability scores as a late add to the build.
Arianne Delcambre is the epitome of a Cloistered Scholar. While trapped in Templeton Manor, the majority of her time was spent in the family library. And while there’s very little chance she would willingly go back to that library, her zeal for them would shine any time the opportunity presented, so Library Access is the perfect background feature.
For Skill Proficiencies, as a function of her studious upbringing, she received Insight and Religion.
This is a girl who grew up hoping one day she’d be freed and could explore the outside world, content to just see its mundane splendor. With that in mind, she would have studied the simpler, more common language with her days in the library. For that reason, Elvish and Dwarvish made the most sense.
As always, I selected standard equipment resulting in: a boomerang, a component pouch (filled with all sorts of knickknacks from the manor), an explorer’s pack, a writing kit, and some books snagged before she left.
Now the fun stuff for our imprisoned and cursed child! As a sorcerer, Arianne gets four cantrips and two 1st-level spells. I wanted to do something unique with this build, though, and instead of picking an advantageous complement of spells, I wanted to prioritize spells that would seem cool or entertaining to an curious little girl. It also makes sense to me that someone who has spent most of their life isolated and alone would have less consideration for the effect magic would have on others.
For her cantrips, she was given Dancing Lights, Minor Illusion, Chill Touch, and Mending. Dancing Lights are pretty and fun, Minor Illusion is the ultimate imagination cantrip, Chill Touch is a little spooky and perhaps a little naughty, and every kid would love to have a Mending spell when their favorite toy or book breaks.
As for 1st-level spells, Chaos Bolt was a must, another reminder that the family curse wields her as much as she does it. With her final known spell, she picked up Chromatic Orb. Of the 1st-level spells, these are by far the most interesting and fun, especially for someone whose magical knowledge has always been driven by her own imagination and personal enjoyment. Does this leave some glaring holes in her repertoire? Very much so, but it makes sense within the narrative of unreliability.
With level two, Arianne Delcambre gains access to the Font of Magic feature and Sorcery Points, the foundation of the class. This symbolizes the magic (or curse) coursing through her body, and the ability to reach within and rearrange the volatile mix. She can exchange points for additional spells or change how spells react.
She also gains an additional 1st-level known spell. It would be an ideal time to shore up her lackluster defense, but it didn’t make sense to me that Arianne would have less understanding of defending herself from attack than she would something that either served as exciting imagination fodder or utility around the manor. For those reasons, the spell that made the most sense was Expeditious Retreat. I imagine the younger Delcambre zooming around the estate, pretending to outrun the monsters from her books.
At this level, Arianne gets access to Metamagic, which is one of my favorite primary caster features, admittedly. This is where sorcerers can use their innate kinship with magic to twist and alter how spells behave when cast. For her first two metamagic options, it made the most sense for Arianne to take Extended Spell (why Expeditiously Retreat for only 10 minutes, when you can do it for 24 hours—concentration willing?) and Twinning Spell (what’s cooler than Chromatic Orb? TWO Chromatic Orbs).
With her third level, Arianne adds one known spell as well as another 1st-level spell slot and two 2nd-level spell slots. This gives her access to Mirror Image, which is not only defensive but plays into our narrative and build goals. Of course, she’d want to create a mirror version of herself. Instant imaginary friend! There’s also the potential for losing a sense of self, which speaks to the build goal of reality as she knows it being entirely unreliable.
At level four, the standard ability score improvement comes into effect, and the goals were: continue to build up her most important abilities (Constitution and Charisma) and, if possible, sneak one point of Dexterity to open up a fighter multiclass. Feats are always a consideration, too, as there are countless feats that benefit primary casters.
In the end, it made the most sense to choose +2 Charisma and max out her primary ability score.
Fourth-level sorcerers get an additional known spell and an added 2nd-level spell slot as well as another cantrip. For the cantrip, she gained Mind Sliver, which I rationalize as a sort of lashing out against those that challenge her understanding of reality. Along those lines, Phantasmal Force allows Arianne to mold reality to her will and force others to believe in whatever her imagination might dream up.
Fifth-level sorcerers normally don’t get a class option, but for Arianne Delcambre, I wanted to give her the optional class feature Magical Guidance, which allows her to exert a sorcery point to reroll an ability check that fails. I like the idea that she can essentially use the chaos roiling within to give her collection of homegrown skills another opportunity to prevail.
She also learns a new spell and receives two 3rd-level spell slots. This added Enemies Abound to her repertoire. The ability to manipulate reality to the point where enemies see their allies as enemies is the exact kind of “unreliable truth” Arianne’s powers should take on.
With sixth level, Arianne gains the ability to Bend Luck. Not only does she have domain over her own reality, but now she can twist the fate of those within her sphere of influence.
She also unlocks access to another spell and an additional 3rd-level spell slot. Second-level spell Alter Self is a perfect pick up for Arianne and the volatility of her being. As a child, every day she would wake up, and the reality inside Templeton would change, alter. This allows her to redirect the curse upon herself to do much the same.
Levels seven and eight
For sorcerers, level seven is a bit of a blip. They receive no additional class features and gain a single 4th-level spell slot and additional known spell. With that, Arianne Delcambre can emit a Sickening Radiance. As the curse spills from her body, the malignant arcane energy lingers and inflicts massive radiant damage to anyone who enters that space. Not only is her tampering with the curse for power harmful to herself, it can be harmful to those she cares for.
Level eight brings with it another ability score improvement, and as Arianne collects more and more concetration spells, the most important thing for her is to take the War Caster feat.
For her additional known spell at this level, Blur made sense. It’s defensive—opposing disadvantage on all attackers—but she can use Extended spell metamagic to make it last for up to 24 hours, as long as she maintains concentration, which benefits from War Caster.
Hitting level nine gives Arianne another 4th-level spell slot, as well as a 5th-level. The nature of Arianne’s family curse is that it can turn the mundane—like a house—into a living, breathing prison. It can also do the same for objects within the house. Having wreathed herself in that same curse, it would only stand to reason that she would be able to use the Animate Objects spell.
At tenth level, Arianne Delcambre gains another metamagic option, which went toward Quickened Spells. This allows her to shift a spell into a bonus action, so that she can use some of her more powerful spells to affect the battlefield and still attack with one of her offensive cantrips.
Speaking of which, gaining a tenth level of sorcerer grants her another cantrip, as well as another known spell and another 5th-level spell slot.
For her cantrip, she learns Frostbite. There’s not much narrative justification, but as the build shapes, she needed another offensive cantrip. And imposing disadvantage as a side effect is always good.
Keeping with the theme of entrapment and being able to wield that as a tool, Intellect Fortress was a necessary spell for Arianne. Her familiarity with being locked away allows her to lock away her mind, as well as others’, from nasty psychological harm.
As always, level ten is where I check the build against the goals set out for the character.
Arianne Delcambre is definitely intrepid and creative, as evidenced by her spell selection that show a sort of intuitive whimsy and curiosity. She also has no less than +5 in all of her soft skills, including skill with weaker ability scores.
Her sorcerer class—Wild Magic—has the opportunity to backfire at any moment, so while she has learned to wield her family curse, she is still prisoner to its whims, even as she learns to exert those whims on the world around her.
Additionally, a majority of her spells either trade in chaos, symbolize a woman trapped away for most her life, or rewrite the rules of the outside world. She is still a product of her entrapment, never to escape. Only now, she can visit that same torment on others.
This character absolutely reaches the goals we set out for. There’s not much else I’d want to add, either. I do not want to reach level fourteen in Wild Magic, as that level is all about gaining more and more control over the chaos, which goes against the spirit of the build. Adding more levels until then essentially lets Arianne collect more spells and target multiclassing, and that’s about it.
The goals for Arianne after ten are simple: continue to collect spells and avoid level fourteen of Wild Magic at all costs. At level twelve, she could take +1 to both Wisdom and Dexterity, which would allow her to multiclass into a Horizon Walker ranger. This would symbolize her understanding of her curse, and its “place-out-of-place” nature: an ability to seek out and destroy any planar anomalies similar to that which imprisoned her.
Arianne’s playstyle is steeped in chaos and confusion. If there’s a spell that parallels the familial curse tearing her apart from the inside out, Arianne knows it. Illusion and artifice are her tradecraft, sewing disorder and disorientation with a barrage of psychic damage and condition effects. She excels when she can keep her distance, playing pied piper with reality, turning her enemies’ senses—and even themselves—against each one another.
For added effect, Arianne can twist the curse inside her to access Metamagic, turning her illusory disasters into extended, daylong prisons. The War Caster feat helps her maintain control over her victims even when attacked.
Even as the misfortune of her family’s curse kills her, she can tempt fate, turning her bad luck good, turning missed attacks into hits. All at the risk of her magical curse spilling out wildly.
Arianne works best in situations where she can act as a Arcane mastermind. From afar, she manipulates the fabric of reality, holding enemies captive while party members focus on damage. Which isn’t to say she doesn’t have decent damage output herself, but she should never trade security and control for damage during battle.
With very low hit points and frankly abysmal armor class—a product of the curse slowly shattering her body from within—Arianne must avoid direct combat at all costs. Furthermore, she lacks direct improvement of her health or defense and, instead, relies on weaving illusions to avoid being hit.
Even against relatively middling to poor ability scores, Arianne’s life locked away in Templeton Manor honed her inquisitive nature, ensuring she doesn’t have a single negative skill value.
Arianne Delcambre’s first memory was waking up in a bed shared with the skeletons of her mom and dad. Or so she believes. From such ominous beginnings, things only got worse for the little girl. From her dead mother’s neck, she took a locket that held two pictures. One of herself—as she understood herself in the mirror—and that of Little Sister—as she looked on any given day, different with the next. On the outside of the locket, etched into the brass, was the word “Delcambre”, which Arianne presumed to be the family surname. Caretaker—a mute nursemaid who was never seen to be in the same place as Little Sister—would only nod silently in confirmation of this theory.
It didn’t take long for the intrepid little girl to realize the house she was born into was a prison. The house unwilling to let her leave. Every morning, the little girl would wake up to a new, twisted reality. One day, the family portrait in the foyer was bleeding. As if the air within the manor were violent, tearing at the canvas. Another, she found all of Father’s taxidermied animals alive and reciting poetry. Another still, a phantom draped in a fine dinner jacket ran loose down the halls, wailing incessantly. Some new horror always awaited her every time she woke, and on each morning, she would find Little Sister—with her fresh new face—oblivious to it all.
To avoid the disorienting madness of the house, the girl named Arianne—she had decided this was her name—locked herself into the family library. Amidst the sprawling books, Arianne learned endlessly. She taught herself a great many things. After long, the books started to leave her notes. Little clues unraveling the truth of her reality, uncertain as it was.
Arianne learned of the familial curse, passed down to her upon her parents’ deaths. She learned the house was a prison meant to torment all Delcambre born within it. She learned that she would either wither and die like her parents, or the tenuous grip on reality within the house would shatter with her inside. Whichever came first.
As the horrific truth of her existence became more and more evident, the notes would conclude with a signature. A warning. A promise. A threat.
“Be seeing you,” it would claim. “—Benefactor.”
One the same day that Benefactor named itself, so did Jailer. A startling white ball of molten alabaster, it roamed the Templeton halls, chasing naughty little girls. If it caught one, it would send them straight to bed, only for them to wake up in the morning, the manor again remade. As she learned to evade Jailer, Benefactor would leave ciphers of mirrored runes for her. It taught her to embrace the curse, pulling it inside of herself. It gave her power. Power of the calamity destroying Templeton. With each day, she grew more powerful. With each day, she slipped further under the tides of chaos, sure to eventually drown.
When that day was certain to arrive—her body a roiling blister of chaos magic, fragile and broken like porcelain—the doors to Templeton instead unlocked, and into the outside world Arianne stepped. The words of Benefactor she had recited countless times ringing in her ears:
“Be seeing you.”
Arianne Delcambre is at heart an inquisitive explorer of the unknown. Very much in the mold of Alice (of Wonderland, natch). That is, if Alice had instead eaten up all of the madness of Wonderland, fashioning it into a paradoxical weapon beyond the looking glass.
She is prone to flights of fancy and irreverent yet repressed, unsure and self-sacrificing. She is a product of her upbringing, of confinement and isolation.
Arianne is prone to experimentation and study, even as her grip on reality itself is tenuous.
Arianne’s physical appearance is marked by the effects of the family curse. Her skin is pale, evidence of a lifetime trapped away from the sun. Her features are gaunt and sharp as if carved from porcelain, which is constantly cracking. These cracks and seams, as well as her eyes, burn emerald green from the chaos magic barely held beneath the surface.
Her hair, makeup, and attire are all plain and cheap—collecting whatever she could find out in the world—but are all assembled in ways that a youth might before learning societal propriety.
Either as an NPC or player character, there are several ways to include Arianne Delcambre in a campaign:
- Players come across Templeton Manor, getting trapped inside, only able to escape with Arianne’s help.
- Arianne might be looking for or running from “Benefactor” and, in doing so, stumbles into the party.
- Tracking down chaos magic and other “Unreality Prisons” puts the party in Arianne’s sights.
- If the party finds itself in a prison or near one, they might find Arianne, similarly locked away or tearing down its walls.
The key to bringing Arianne into a campaign, no matter the hook, is to understand that she’s likely the least reliable insight into her own motivations and desires. She trades in imagination far more than truth, because she’s not very likely to understand it anyway. Players and DMs should have fun circumventing the circumstances of her presence.
Luck + Fortune Month
Arianne Delcambre: Oozing Personality | To be continued…