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The question boils down to the title, but the reason I'm asking the question in the first place is a bit unusual, so I will give all the information here in case that helps with answers.

I recently thought of a nice twist for a side character to play sporadically in our campaign, and my DM thinks it's a fun idea, so I want to work on it.

The character (on the outside)

Roland The Slayer is a relatively well-known adventurer, who has solved his fair share of mysteries all around the kingdom. Famous for his hatred of vampiric creatures, he is well liked by nobles and peasants alike, as he has often protected them from the ploys of the creatures of the night. A few times, Roland has unearthed a vampiric conspiracy in the court of the lord while working on a seemingly unrelated task; many others, he has found and slayed vampires and their acolytes who hid in plain sight between the villagers of a town in which he was conducting business (see, it was them, not wolves, the ones responsible for the missing cattle!).

No conspiracy and no vampiric conspirator can slip under Roland's powerful divination skills. He can't be lied to, information can't be hidden from him, and the undead cannot simply avoid his ability to spot them in a crowd.

The character (in reality)

He is not so much a hero as an idiot. See, Roland is obsessed with vampires (for good reason, as they were behind a traumatic event of his early life), and can't help but seeing them everywhere.

When he was a teenager, he heard of people who were naturally gifted at magic, and thought he was one himself. In particular, he is convinced he can use many divination spells: Detect life, Detect thoughts, Detect Evil and Good, Detect Magic... When he "casts" those spells, he can clearly see in his head whether someone is lying to him, or their intentions, or whether they are dead or alive... Unfortunately for him (and often, for those interacting with him), this is only self-suggestion, and the outcome of these "spells" is just reinforcement for his already-held suspicions.

Many of these ploys he has foiled were just figments of his imagination, and most of these vampire acolytes he has slayed were often just regular folks growing more and more weirded out by this obsessive "investigator". As he didn't take it kindly to "finding out" someone was a vampire or working with them, a fight always broke out, and he always came out victorious after stabbing his enemy in the heart with a wooden stake (or cutting their head off). Of course, this meant there was no one to challenge his conspiracy story (which he himself fully and truthfully believes), and since he knows how to tell a compelling story, his legend slowly grows.

The role he will play

The party will meet him in a new city, and they will all join efforts (hopefully) trying to figure out who's behind the vampiric conspiracy dawning on this town, which is what brought Roland to the city in the first place.

Roland will show off his abilities (and his hot temper when he faces someone working for those filthy creatures!) and extract clues from the conspirators at different points, leading the party into a crazier and crazier situations.

The idea is that at some point it will become obvious that Roland is deranged, and is actually not a powerful divinator but an unhinged fella with some combat skill; hopefully this won't happen until after the party has aided him in some dubious tasks, such as killing and disposing of some city guards who were (not) vampire acolytes, potentially tying their fates together.

My problem

It must be credible that Roland can make use of divination spells when the party meets him. He must be at least somewhat competent in combat (for everything to be consistent), while at the same time not relying on any actual magic while fighting (since he can't really use magic; this is a big reason why he believes himself to be a divinator, as he doesn't have any actual magic experience to compare against his "divination").

My DM has given me complete freedom to choose his race, class and background, from the core game or any expansion, whether they are normally available for players or not. Unfortunately, I'm new to role playing games (having played only a few sessions these past weeks), so I can't think of a suitable one and all the possibilities overwhelm me.

The question

Is there any combination of class, race and background (taken from any available) which would be suitable for such a character? If not, as a last resort, are there any already-made homebrew alternatives which would work (asking about something already made as I have zero experience with homebrew and wouldn't know how to make it balanced)?

His level will be 4 or 5, and multiclassing is allowed. We only intend to have him around for a session or two.

My thoughts

First of all, I could make him whatever I wanted and just not disclose anything to my fellow players when they inevitably ask "So what's the class of your new character?" but that's will just raise alarms, which at least at the beginning I want to avoid.

If I claim openly to the players that I am of the same class I will actually play, I might find myself in a serious disadvantage in combat. I can't make him a Wizard, Sorcerer or Warlock, as he can't use real magic; hence he would be mostly useless in combat (at most stabbing with a dagger or hitting with a staff). On the other hand, he cannot be a Barbarian or a Warrior, as it would be strange for him to be competent at divination.

Another option is to claim to be something to the players but actually be something different on the sheet. I thought of finding a class for him which is capable in physical combat, and which has a subclass/background which can make use of magic (something similar to Arcane Warrior). The players would believe him to be of that subclass, while his actual subclass would be another one. Arcane Warrior itself doesn't work as they can't use divination, but that would be the idea.

I haven't considered the previous idea with classes (e.g. have people think he's a Sorcerer while in reality he's a Warrior) because I think it would be too obvious his combat style does not match his claimed background at all.

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    \$\begingroup\$ On what level will your characters start, and do you have any expectation of how long your campaign will be? \$\endgroup\$
    – Akixkisu
    Aug 30 at 14:58
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    \$\begingroup\$ Is he meant to be playable, or an NPC? If an NPC, is there any reason you want to stick to options designed for PCs? \$\endgroup\$
    – Mołot
    Aug 30 at 15:01
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    \$\begingroup\$ Are multiclassing and feats on the list of possibility? \$\endgroup\$
    – 3C273
    Aug 30 at 16:04
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    \$\begingroup\$ @3C273 Sure. The reason for including all that information in the first place is so that someone can challenge the framing of the question, no nothing is off limits :) \$\endgroup\$ Aug 30 at 16:06
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    \$\begingroup\$ @3C273 I didn't even think of that because I'm an unexperienced player and when I think of class I think of single classes (though I know multiclasses exist, it's just not the first thing in my mind!). Thanks for bringing them up and giving this a thought! \$\endgroup\$ Aug 30 at 16:28
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Thomas Markov's answer is probably the closest you can get with player-focused material. The following is how I would normally handle a short-term character with specific requirements.


Roland uses an NPC stat block

A moderately experienced player will easily determine your class starting around level 3, unless you play extremely suboptimally.

"I'm an Oath of Devotion paladin."

  • "Why aren't you smiting?"
  • "Why aren't you using Lay on Hands to heal me or pick up an unconscious ally?"
  • "Why aren't you using Turn the Unholy to deal with these undead?"

You can certainly have answers for them, but they're unlikely to fool an experienced player for long. If you play in-person or with open rolls online and roll Sneak Attack that you flavor as Divine Smite, everyone can tell that you're rolling 3d6 instead of 3d8.

Instead, embrace that this is an NPC and use an NPC stat block. Work with your DM to adapt an existing stat block to your needs. Veteran or Knight would be a good place to start. If you need a specific ability, bring one in from another stat block or make one up with your DM's help.

When the other players ask what you're bringing, simply say that you're bringing Roland the Vampire Hunter. You or your DM can tell the other players out-of-character that you will be playing this NPC temporarily, thus Roland has a custom stat block.

If you want the deception to stand up to additional scrutiny, add in (fake) abilities to the stat block that you "use" when needed. Add a 3/Day zone of truth, detect magic, detect evil and good, etc. Do they actually work? Nope. But you can say "Roland casts detect evil and good" (or "Roland uses the Detect Bad Things feature") and the DM can respond appropriately. If someone happens to glance at the sheet, everything appears to be in order.

Lastly, if/when things come to blows, I would highly recommend handing Roland back to your DM. PvP is a tricky situation, so it's usually better to let the DM handle it. It helps redirect some resentment to the NPC rather than you, the player.


A warning about secrets

In my experience, player secrets at the game table almost never work as intended. The warlock with Mask of Many Faces expects a dramatic scene when their true face is revealed to the party. Instead, the players shrug and move on. A sudden betrayal often evokes anger at the player rather than their character.

The idea is that at some point it will become obvious that Roland is deranged, and is actually not a powerful divinator but an unhinged fella with some combat skill; hopefully this won't happen until after the party has aided him in some dubious tasks, such as killing and disposing of some city guards who were (not) vampire acolytes, potentially tying their fates together.

Danger! Every table is different, but this could easily cross a line. It might be a dramatic moment in a TV show, but players are often closer to their RPG characters. Instead of "I can't wait to see how this affects Character X in the next season", many will feel "I just murdered a bunch of innocents because Player Y broke our social contract".

If you and your DM still want to go through with this, I'd recommend strong mitigating circumstances. When all is revealed, you want players to be able to say "maybe they didn't deserve to die, but they were __________" (serial killers, arsonists, people who talk at the theater).

In most cases (though it may not work in your current one), I prefer character secrets. All the players know Character X's secret, but their characters don't know. You might expect that to "ruin the surprise", but I've found that it enhances dramatic moments. The players will often have their characters get close to the truth or almost catch the other character red-handed. They also have a chance to prepare how their character will respond to the eventual reveal.

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    \$\begingroup\$ On that last point, I’ve actually been in a game which had a similar setup, including killing some guards who were ‘obviously’ (but only to the NPC they had befriended) followers of the god of death. The party got arrested (obviously), but found out the next day that they had actually killed a group of spies from the next nation over who were plotting to assassinate the local lord as a precursor to an attempt to annex the province. It turned out that while the NPC was crazy, he actually did have a talent for finding conspiracies (just not the types he thought he did). \$\endgroup\$ Aug 31 at 2:05
  • \$\begingroup\$ @AustinHemmelgarn I was thinking something similar (the only reason he has lasted this long is that he can actually finds conspirators, he just has a tendency for false positives). This will actually be a decision for the DM, but I'll send him all these comments. One of the reasons we don't see this as a bad idea is that all the party is "morally gray" (understatement), and if past behaviour is worth anything, no one is going to be tormented by having wrongfully slayed a guard (as guards are consistently framed as corrupt and power-abusing all through the campaign, and have often been enemies) \$\endgroup\$ Sep 2 at 11:34
  • \$\begingroup\$ +1 to the last point. Character secrets are great. I haven't played proper D&D in a while, so I'm aware that "keeping your character alive" and "playing into character secrets" are at odds, but the best feeling is when a friend says like "Yeah my character is definitely trying to kill yours" and you get to lean into it like "yeah, well my character thinks of yours as a brother and trusts you with my whole heart". That's how you set up the delicious heartbreak when your character finally discovers the betrayal both of you have been building up to. \$\endgroup\$
    – Kaia
    Sep 2 at 20:16
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I think what I've got here is the best solution to the problem as presented, but Red Orca's answer is the real solution I would recommend.


Roland is an Oath of Devotion paladin. Errr, he thinks he is.

The base paladin class comes with five divination spells:

  • detect evil and good
  • detect magic
  • detect poison and disease
  • locate object
  • locate creature

As a presumed Oath of Devotion paladin, he allegedly has access to some more related spells (not divination but still on brand):

  • protection from evil and good
  • zone of truth
  • dispel magic

As an alleged Devotion Paladin, he allegedly has access to many of the spells you mention, and some more that are on brand for that concept, and having some decent skills with a blade will round out the idea that he is a paladin.

That said, consider that class is a metagame concept that the characters wouldn't really be aware of, at least, not in the systematic way we are havingread the class descriptions. See this Q&A: Is there a way to ask in game (i.e. in a non-meta way) what a character's class is?. In his answer, T.J.L. writes:

class is a metagame construct: from the characters' perspective, it doesn't exist. There is no good way to determine "class" as a hard fact for the character, because a particular set of abilities does not cleanly map to the character's identity and societal position in-world.

To put it a different way (using D&D 5E terminology)...

  • You have a two characters who wear heavy armor without discomfort, swing a greatsword with skill, and call on the powers of a deity to enhance their abilities and destroy their enemies. Are you dealing with a War Cleric or a Paladin?

  • You have two characters who wear medium armor, wield a longsword, and cast arcane spells. Are you dealing with an Eldritch Knight Fighter, or a multi-classed Fighter/Wizard?

To emphasize the difference even more... all four of these characters, if asked in game (without metagaming), may call themselves a knight.

So whatever he claims to be, just make something more generic, separated from the familiar vocabulary of the players. "I am Roland, knight of [some god]. I seek to divine information about my enemies by the power of [some random god]."

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    \$\begingroup\$ Any recommendation as to what class he he should actually be for the purposes of gameplay? It would have to be something that "looks like" a paladin in combat. I'm guessing probably some kind of fighter. Maybe a Battle Master who believes his combat maneuvers are smite spells, when actually he's just hitting them harder or in specific ways? "Disarming Smite!" "Distracting Smite!" "Tripping Smite!" \$\endgroup\$ Aug 30 at 15:27
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    \$\begingroup\$ @user2891462 Actually, no—you should answer out-of-character, for that is an out-of-character question. And something like this should—almost always—be discussed out-of-character with the group ahead of time. This character concept could easily be disruptive at many tables, and it isn’t fair to spring that on your fellow players—even if the DM is OK with it. If you were a veteran player who had played many, many games with this group, you might know that the group would enjoy this surprise and could keep it secret, but as a new player, or even a new player to a given group, you shouldn’t \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Aug 30 at 15:46
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    \$\begingroup\$ I am with @KRyan; you and the DM are setting up a potential grief play situation. Not sure how well you know the other players, and how your game table handles PvP, and deliberate hoodwinking ... when you consider how big the RPG landscape is now, are you sure you don't want a different game system to do this with? Sadly, this could be a Great game rec question - what game system is best for this kind of play? - but Game rec questions were ruled off topic due to being too much like shopping questions. \$\endgroup\$ Aug 30 at 16:32
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    \$\begingroup\$ @RedOrca Great idea. There is no intention of PvP, but if it came to that (due to the party's decision) the DM taking over the character sounds like an excellent idea. The party clearly overpowers Roland, he wouldn't last a single turn if it came to that, but it has never been the intention for that to happen. \$\endgroup\$ Aug 30 at 17:03
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    \$\begingroup\$ @user2891462 on that class is a metagame concept. I played in a campaign in which a character was a paladin but thought they were a warlock. It was weird, made no sense in universe, and caused more issues than anything fun. So from my experience don't let metagame details bleed into the rp or risk some weird situations. \$\endgroup\$ Aug 31 at 15:43
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Have Roland use a "magic artifact"

Make Roland have the normal class and character you want, but have him believe that some small trinket, say a religious icon on necklace, gives him the abilities he believes he has.

This could allow for some cool roleplay, maybe have him clasp it and close his eyes, or hold it to his forehead whenever he uses it. Maybe he claims it grows hot in the presence of a vampire or something similar.

Additionally, if your party is slow on the uptake, the DM could engineer a situation where they need to borrow the item, and either Roland refuses for no good reason, or the item just doesn't work, either of which should tip off the party that somethings not right.

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    \$\begingroup\$ The artifact obviously "needs attunement", so it doesn't work for anyone else. \$\endgroup\$ Sep 1 at 0:11
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If you go by character concept rather than exact plan: Bard or sorcerer.

Since bard and sorcerers rely on innate ability rather than actual training it meshes well with the idea that your character is mistaken about their skill with divination spells. They can use spells, and their non-divination spells work as expected. But when they think they are casting divination spells they actually cast another spell like minor illusion or silent image which shows what they believe to be true rather than what actually is true.

On top of that, spells like friends and charm person let the character know they were being influenced after the spell ends. That could explain some of the fights that Roland ended up in. He charmed a person to get their aid and when it wore off they attacked him so he assumes they were actually in league with the vampires.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I like your suggestion \$\endgroup\$ Sep 2 at 20:20
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Mark of Detection Half-Elf Artificer.

I'll start off by saying that your general character concept would not be welcome at any table I have ever played at, the same as any other character concept that seeks to actively sabotage the party's success.

That said, if you wanted to play an actually competent vampire hunter, I'd say that the Mark of Detection Half-Elf Artificer would fit the bill of a character with divination spells who doesn't rely on magic to fight. The Artificer doesn't have much in the way of divination spells, but it's still a half-caster that can focus pretty heavily on armed combat rather than magical combat (especially with subclasses like the Armorer or War Smith); the Mark of Detection Half-Elf adds a bunch of divination spells onto their spell-list.

You'd probably be looking at a statline like Str 10 Dex 14 Con 14 Int 16 Wis 12 Cha 8, using the standard point-buy for 5e, and you'd be able to fluff all their infusions and spells as vampire-hunting gear they've built.

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Roland's Character Sheet

Roland's core concept is

  1. Knows no actual magic whatsoever
  2. Melee fighting, including stakes for heart-staking and blades for decapitation
  3. Has the chutzpah and temerity to convince many folks that people they've known for years were secretly vampires or in league with same, and that he's bravely defended them

And your core question is

Is there any combination of class, race and background (taken from any available) which would be suitable for such a character?

which I take to mean what he actually is per rules, not what he makes himself out to be. Since you've stated you're new, I'll stick to just the Player's Handbook.

The first constraint is surprisingly strict in fifth edition Dungeons and Dragons. For each major choice I'll use that to narrow things down and then focus on the more flavorful aspects.

Race

Most races should be ok for Roland, but a few have innate spell casting.

High Elves and Drow Elves both have innate spellcasting, but Wood Elves are ok.

Dragonborn speak Draconic, which is often related to magic but doesn't actually allow you to cast spells, so they're ok.

Forest Gnomes have natural illusions, while Rock Gnomes do not have innate magic.

Tieflings get innate spellcasting.

Flavor wise, any living race has reason to fight the undead, so there's no strong preference there.

Conclusion: Wood Elf or Rock Gnome or any Dwarf, Halfling, Human, Dragonborn, Half-Elf, or Half-Orc

Class

Full casters get spells every level and so are right out: Bard, Cleric, Druid, Sorcerer, Warlock, Wizard

Half casters get spells every two levels starting at second, and also have access to the class spell list for things like item usage, so I'll give them the boot as well: Paladin and Ranger

Barbarian, Fighter, Monk, and Rogue are not inherently spellcasters. However, there are some problematic archetypes. Eldritch Knight Fighter and Arcane Trickster Rogue get spells. Way of the Four Elements Monk gets Elemental Spells - spells cast with Ki Points, which I'll similarly consider out of the running.

Barbarians are based on their Rage ability, which you haven't really mentioned. Monks are more unarmed or lightly armed agility fighters, which also doesn't seem to fit your description. I'll consider those out.

Rogue offers Thief and Assassin archetypes. The Thief doesn't offer much to this character, and has the here-unfortunate Use Magic Device at 13, make it a poor choice for Roland. Assassin is a bit less problematic but still odd from a flavor perspective. High first round damage would help get instant kills on weaker "vampires", which "prevents" them from using their giveaway vampire abilities while simultaneously mimicking sudden vampire death from beheading and the like. A more dishonest version of Roland could use the Assassin's contact poisons to mimic holy water, but that feels out of character for him. The rogue does also offer some tempting Skills for the "convince everyone else they were vampires".

Fighter offers the Champion and the Battle Master. Champion has a strong focus on individual combat prowess, which makes sense for a wandering vigilante. Battle Master focuses more on tactics and studying combat. It does have the thematic Know Your Enemy, which gives a divination-like ability to learn some basic stats about an opponent by interacting with them outside combat. Unfortunately, that only kicks in at level 7. Either of these should be fine for Roland.

Conclusion: Champion or Battle Master Fighter

Background

No PHB backgrounds offer spell casting.

There is a clear flavor choice here: Folk Hero. This background has you choose a Defining Event. In this case you would choose #3, "I stood alone against a terrible monster". A great Bond for Roland would be "I protect those who cannot protect themselves". I don't feel like I have enough information to recommend a Personality Trait, Ideal, or Flaw; keep in mind the lists are suggestions and you can roll your own. Flaw would be particularly defining for Roland.

Conclusion: Folk Hero.

Miscellany

There are a few other things in game that can grant spells, but they're pretty obvious and easy to avoid. Don't pick feats like Magic Initiate or Ritual Caster. If some kind of higher power grants you an Epic Boon like Boon of the Fire Soul or Boon of the Stormborn, it's probably best to accept graciously ;)

For your stats, you'll want a decent amount of Charisma for the various Persuasion checks Roland will need to make to maintain his gentlemanly reputation. Beyond that, whatever is best for his class and armor/weapons is fine.

Bonus opinions

  1. Don't lie to your friends. Some people may take great umbrage at players misleading other players out of game about a character in game. Remember that your real life friendships are more important than your shared imaginary friends, and that a game is a stupid thing to lose a friendship over. It's best to ask people before hand how they feel about this kind of thing (google or search here for "session zero"), but it does likely spoil the surprise for them to ask now.
  2. Game terms aren't real inside the game world. A Wizard may call himself a shaman, sorcerer, mystic, or arcanist. A Fighter may call himself a grunt, fighter, soldier, swordsman, mercenary, or noble. It's also possible for any character of any class to pick up a little spellcasting here and there via feats, which may be worth casually mentioning if you're maintaining the ruse through obfuscation rather than outright lying.
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