Two years ago I discussed a new take on the Monk class, that of a carnival strongman with comically over-sized mustache, weightlifting singlet, and bravado to match. I don’t play in any table-top role-playing campaigns at the moment but many of my friends do, and a common past-time is discussing characters and character concepts that would be interesting to try out. At one point I brought up the monk, and I was surprised at the positive reception it received.

“Imagine a whole party of circus folk!” one friend exclaimed. Well Brandon, today you get your wish as I explore how a group of Victorian-era outsiders would make a believable and entertaining D&D adventuring party. Since I’m most familiar with 3.5 edition, I’ll run through the character classes therein.

Dramatis Personae

  • Barbarian — More than the charismatic showman that the monk translates into, the feats of strength and endurance that the barbarian performs under the big top are sure to awe and impress visitors from every hamlet. Bending bars in bare hands, bending swords against the throat, weathering heat and cold without apparent effect, these are all hallmarks of the circus barbarian.
  • Bard — How better to entice patrons from near and far into attending a wonderful show than with song and dance? Reading guests and guessing their height, performing pre-show entertainment, some slight prestidigitation, the bard is a natural fit into any group requiring some social graces.
  • Cleric — What strange and wondrous mystic tales come from the caravan’s long travels? Who is there to tend to the inauspicious wounds of performer or guest? Who serves as a living memory of the people and places they visited? Only the most solemn, the most studied, and the most holy would fit these tasks. Whether buffing performers as they go on stage or taking care of them as they go off, the cleric is a welcome and necessary addition to any circus group.
  • Druid — Who among the town has ever seen a real beast-man, with moss and grass growing in his shaggy beard and eyes that shine like a bear’s in firelight? The druid can ensure safe travels for the party through dangerous wilderness environs as well as provide terrible and fascinating entertainment for urban audiences. Was it a trick of the light or did that man, just for a moment, really look like a beast?
  • Fighter — In many D&D campaigns the fighter is the most boring character, without specific skills other than “hit bad guy, collect loot.” Who however dislikes seeing a pair of talented fighters duel, with real swords flashing through the air and only the slightest sliver of inches separating a dodge from disaster? With so many feats at their beck and call, the fighter becomes the most versatile of them all in this scenario.
  • Monk — See an entire blog post about the magnificent feats of strength and prowess performed by this wonderful physical specimen in the article Nobody Likes Monks.
  • Paladin — Strong men and women of faith roam the countryside helping those with ailments and pains soothe their physical and spiritual ailments. More than simple country preachers these powerful vessels of faith bring the word of the divine to all reaches of humanity. What better way to spread the gospel than by traveling with an entertaining band of fanciful characters?
  • Ranger — What kind of circus would it be if there weren’t animals? Whether opposing the fighter in the ring with amazing twin-sword dexterity or showing off feats of archery prowess, this versatile class is always a welcome sight in the entertainment arena.
  • Rogue — With unmatched feats of dexterity and a penchant for juggling, there’s no better source for pre-show entertainment than a talented and silver-tongued rogue to loosen the purse-strings of local communities, either by force or by guile.
  • Sorcerer — Some rare people are born with special gifts, special sight, abilities that let them peer into and beyond the unknown. These mysterious figures often ply their occult talents as fortune tellers or mystics, offering sage advice to a wondering audience, revealing hidden insights into their lives and communities. Think of a tarot reader, shrouded in shadows, with an aura of power radiating from their small tent.
  • Wizard — Who better to entice townsfolk about the dangers of supernatural and extraplanar creatures than one well-studied with the mysteries of the universe? A little charisma, a little pizzazz, goes a long way to bring the long-dusty tomes to life for a willing and wanting audience. With raw power rippling through their fingertips, the shock and awe a practicing magician could bring to the show cannot be overstated.

What a fun concept for a one-shot or short campaign, a troupe of entertainers who also happen to solve problems and beat down evil creatures threatening the community. Obviously these concepts and ideas can be extrapolated to Pathfinder or 5th Edition D&D classes, as long as the character concepts all fit the general idea and theme.

If you decide to run or play in a campaign utilizing these or related concepts, please let me know! I would love to hear how the game went and what wonderful ideas players came up with for their characters.

Header image c. 1940, Salt Lake City, Utah
Circus act titled “Old Time Acrobats”