Thoughts on the Umbral


This is our fifth post in this series. I have more to share, but after this one we will take a short hiatus and continue the series after a few other articles to break up the pace. I hope you like what you see and encourage you to post your comments here or on our Facebook page!

Designing the Umbral

When the single Cerebral Class was removed in favor of the making the Cerebral Race and special Cerebral Classes, the Umbral was the second class tackled. The Umbral is tied to the Soul Aspect of the Triad. They would be the personification of raw emotions and power, this could make them dark and moody or vibrant and gregarious. Their powers were going to have a strong psychic feel and supernatural bent. To get the right feel the process began with a name.

Naming a Hero Class is never an easy thing for me. If it is too different, no one wants to play it. If it is too blaise, no one wants to play it either. I needed something that would give players a feel for what they could do, be edgy, and mystical. The name that immediately came to mind was Umbral, but I didn’t want to commit, so I stayed away from that for a while. I originally had a Shadow Hero Class that was the precursor to the Rogue, as I was making abilities, I realized the Umbral was a chance to make that class with a new Cerebral/Psychic touch. It also helped that Umbra in latin means “shadow.” The choice was made and the Umbral stuck so then I needed to start getting the powers locked in.

There was already character in mind to use as a starting point and inspiration for the Umbral created by Jenn, my sole contributing author to Unchained Heroes. The character was Lechmere, a vigilante warrior that used his psychic gifts to hunt down the terrible Lord Blackwood. He warped around the castle vanishing and reappearing in a puff of vaporous black darkness, crafted weapons purely out of his aura, and burned with a visible coldfire. He also reminded us of Nightcrawler and Psylocke, so we combined all three in our minds as our baseline for inspiration and began formulating the class and class role.

Each of the Cerebrals fits a particular Class Role, and the Umbral had to fit the Vanguards. When I considered all the things they were going to be able to do, the characters they were based on, and the Vanguard Class role, it was a simple step to start creating them. I wanted to make a class that could be used as a melee character or a spell slinging caster. They also needed to fill the role of a supernatural sneak. They would end up being the chance for me to get many of the Shadow abilities that I removed for the Rogue into the game.

As we began thinking about what the Soul Cerebral Class could do, it became more and more apparent that Umbral was both the right name for this class and the right method of explaining some of their powers. We ended up with a class with the stealth of a wraith, the matter bending power to teleport, and the power to cut into a person’s soul with their magic. Since I already tied so much of the magic in the world to the ethereal and eternal Soul, it also became a simple thing to make them magic resistant as well.

There was not a lot more to the story, we kept giving them powers until we got to a point where the class began to drift from its focus. We scaled the powers back and still hit snags. It was an excellent class in theory, but we could not get a codified feel that was different from a Rogue and different from a Sorcerer. In the end we kept it and let it design itself through gameplay. It took our friend Mark to play the class before we ended up bringing the Umbral the attention it deserved and the Umbral got its final feel.

Reactions to the Umbral

The Umbral Class is one of those classes that is on everyone’s list to play. It has not been used with a high frequency, but everyone that looks at them wants to play them at some point. We have had one serious instance of play by my friend and development tester, Mark. The multiple play sessions with Mark gave the Umbral the face-time it deserved and reshaped the way they are used to this day. We will touch on the highlights here.

After many months of being on the back burner for people, Mark picked up the Umbral and began to have a lot of fun with it. He played the Umbral with a hit and run style that utilized their teleportation abilities. He would get in melee hits with his Psi-Weapon Sabres and then stand back to blast his enemies from afar with waves of cold-fire. The style fit, but the ability names didn’t, so I sat down with Mark and we worked through names for each of the powers. On top of that we discussed where he wanted to go with the Umbral and what I could do to make that happen. In a short period of time we identified some issues that we resolved through changing the flavor of the abilities and adding some things here and there. The current incarnation of the Umbral hasn’t changed greatly from that conversation.

That campaign gave us a lot of things to chew on for the Umbral. The development testers that have played alongside the Umbral saw it in action and could see it was a valuable addition to the team. This drummed up interest and had a lot of people thinking about their next character. If we could have played the campaign for a longer period of time we would have created even more interest among in the development group. The Umbral has a great role-playing feel and a unique style of combat. Things have changed slightly since we last played an Umbral and with the new rules, they have added tricks up their sleeves like no one else, that include: creating replicas of themselves and using energy sapping vampiric powers.

Generally the Umbral has had a good reception. From a few individuals, it is much more than a good reception. I often hear from Jenn that she really wants to put in some time with the Umbral. Personally, the Umbral is high on my list to play as well. The next opportunity I have to roll a character, I will be making an Umbral. They inspire me like my personal favorite class, the Dread Knight. They have great depth of character and many possible story threads both on the table as a player and as a NPC for the GM.




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