We’re back again with Staying in Character, where we mix, match, and mash our beloved pop culture icons into our favorite tabletop role-playing game systems. It’s like building a Mrs. Potato Head, where the final product vaguely resembles a human face.
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This article contains spoilers up to, and including, Season 8 of Game of Thrones.
May is usually the time of year that we are enjoying another season of Game of Thrones. Seeing as it ended last year, for better or worse, we thought we would revisit one of our favorite characters and stars of the show, Jon Snow.
Jon, in the show at least, is a fairly straightforward fighter with a leader’s attitude. In the books, however, Jon is a known warg and is able to occupy the body of his dire wolf Ghost. This gives us some interesting options when choosing classes at a higher level, but we will get to that later.
Step 1: Create a Character Concept
Jon Snow was raised as the bastard son of Ned Stark in the Northern stronghold of Winterfell. Jon was raised alongside his older brother Rob, as they were a similar age. He had a close relationship with both Rob and his youngest sister Arya. He was tutored by Maester Luwin and trained by the master-at-arms, Ser Rodrik Cassel.
Here are the big three points of emphasis for the character that we want to convey in our build:
- Troubled Upbringing: While Jon was raised in the comforts of Winterfell, he was always troubled by the mystery of who his mother was. Catelyn didn’t help by outwardly hating him for being the living embodiment of Ned Stark’s “infidelity”.
- Honest to a Fault: Jon took his lessons from Ned Stark to heart. Things like “there’s great honor in serving the Night’s Watch” and “the man who passes the sentence should swing the sword” have defined the person that Jon Snow became.
- Natural Leader: Jon Snow’s empathy and compassion for others allows him to gain a following in the Night’s Watch that eventually leads to him becoming the Lord Commander. While he wasn’t loved by all, his strength, honesty, loyalty, and compassion allowed him to eventually be crowned the King in the North, one of the most powerful men in Westeros.
Step 2: Choose a Race
Canonically, Jon Snow is a human, plain and simple. Our choice now comes down to whether or not we will play a Variant Human or a Vanilla Human.
Variant Human is typically an extremely strong choice, because you get a feat at first level while still being able to bump your important ability scores. Taking a look at the available feats, we see there are a couple that fit Jon Snow’s repertoire:
- Great Weapon Master: Jon is a skilled swordsman and can certainly do a lot of damage with his famous weapon, Longclaw. This is probably your strongest option.
- Inspiring Leader: Jon Snow worked his way up quickly through the ranks of the Night’s Watch because of how strong of a leader he was. Jon certainly has his fair share of rousing speeches that are the perfect justification for the Inspiring Leader feat. Seeing as Charisma is not one of our primary ability scores, this is likely not an optimal choice.
- Warcaster: For Jon Snow, we will be using the Ranger class and choosing the Beast Master as our Ranger Archetype. Warcaster is a great way to make sure Hunter’s Mark will stay activated when we get heavy into combat.
Again, it bears repeating that Dungeon Masters (DMs) may have to give approval on feats, so check with your DM before going this route.
Let’s give Jon a boost to Strength and Constitution as Jon is primarily a melee combatant. We will need 3 important skills for Jon Snow’s build: Athletics, Animal Handling, and Persuasion, so for the sake of it let’s take Athletics here.
Language doesn’t necessarily matter so choose whichever fits your setting.
Step 3: Choose a Class
Now for the most important part, Jon’s class. Jon shows early on that he is a skilled swordsman, so Fighter seems to be the obvious choice here. However, his story truly begins after he goes off to the Night’s Watch, so we can get away with choosing a martial class with a bit more character: the Ranger.
The Night’s Watch are some of the best rangers in the Game of Thrones universe as they venture north of the Wall to protect the realm from Wildlings. While Jon was technically chosen to be a steward of the Night’s Watch, he was still put through the same training as the rest of the recruits and ventures out of Castle Black and into the frigid north early on in the story.
For Proficiencies we can take our last two skills from the list above, Animal Handling and Persuasion. Jon is going to need to be a strong athlete, have a good relationship with animals because of Ghost, and be a persuasive leader. We can pick up Perception as the Ranger’s 3rd skill proficiency as that is the most important skill in 5e.
Here we have an interesting choice to make. Jon has fought plenty of humans in his time but his true enemy is the Night King, who would technically be an undead.
Jon is a true born northerner. The Arctic terrain is certainly the choice to make for him.
In Step 7, we are going to talk about how to make Jon Snow more unique as we level up.
Step 4: Determine Ability Scores
If your group rolls for ability scores, it’s time to break out those dice. I tend to favor the Point Buy system, but if you roll for scores, you could consider lining them up from highest to lowest to match up with my choices. High Strength and Constitution are your go-to choices.
Your secondary choices are a bit tougher. Jon Snow, in the show and books, isn’t particularly wise, which is a shame because Wisdom would be a great choice for our Ranger spells. If you plan to be true to the character at the expense of your character’s build strength, you want to stack Charisma:
- Strength: 16 = 15 (Base) + 1(Pool). Jon will be a martial fighter first, and martial fighters need a good Strength score.
- Dexterity: 10 = 10 (Base). Jon definitely isn’t the most nimble and finesse-based fighter in Westeros. He relies more on powerful swings with his sword, Longclaw.
- Constitution: 16 = 15 (Base) + 1(Pool). Jon has taken a beating on numerous occasions and has had enough Constitution to get back up and defeat his enemies. He doesn’t go down without a fight.
- Intelligence: 8 = 8 (Base). Even though he grew up with a tutor, Jon has been told on numerous occasions that he knows nothing. Joking aside, Jon could have prevented most of the difficult situations he gets himself into with some clear, rational thought.
- Wisdom: 10 = 10 (Base). Jon tends to view situations as very black and white. He bullishly strives to uphold the strict moral code taught to him by his “father,” Eddard Stark.
- Charisma: 15 = 15 (Base). Jon is a born leader. He has a natural charisma that leads to him becoming the youngest ever Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch, and eventually the elected King of the North.
Step 5: Describe Your Character
We discussed the character concept in the first step, which is slightly out of order if you’re following along in the Core Rulebook. However, we still have some miscellaneous choices to make here regarding Alignment, Ideals, Bonds, Flaws, and Background.
- Alignment: Lawful Good. Jon Snow will always do what he believes to be right, no matter how difficult it may be.
- Ideals: Jon is trying to find his identity when he leaves for the Night’s Watch. He quickly learns that the Night’s Watch isn’t the noble calling he thought it was but does not waste time attempting to influence and inspire his brothers to become better.
- Bonds: Ghost is Jon’s strongest tie (although that isn’t as apparent in the show). Beyond that, Jon is loyal to his friends and the morals instilled in him by his “father.”
- Flaws: Jon will be honest and noble to a fault. When playing the Game of Thrones, this attitude usually gets you killed at least once.
- Background: Noble. Growing up a Stark means something just about everywhere in Westeros. This can also allow us to pick up a Stealth proficiency, another important skill.
Step 6: Choose Equipment
Jon’s favorite weapon is certainly Longclaw, a Valyrian steel bastard sword that was given to him by Lord Commander Jeor Mormont. Seeing as Valyrian steel might be hard to come by in your campaign, a standard longsword will do. Unfortunately, Rangers do not get access to longswords in their starting equipment, but a short conversation with your DM or a quick purchase at a blacksmith could solve this.
You really don’t need much else to get started. Pick up an Explorer’s Pack and that’ll give you the essentials for adventuring. Any other items are coming out of your paycheck.
Step 7: Beyond 1st Level
Your Level 1 Jon Snow is basically complete. Congratulations! But how will his powers grow once he begins his adventure? The sky’s the limit, but here’s a potential path to go down.
At Level 2, we unlock Spellcasting. Wisdom is Jon’s spellcasting modifier and we can mitigate the low Wisdom modifier’s impact on our spellcasting’s effectiveness. There are Ranger spells that are extremely effective, while not relying on their Wisdom modifier and we are going to focus on these in the below list:
- Hunter’s Mark
- Absorb Elements
- Zephyr Strike
- Detect Magic
- Fog Cloud
- Hail of Thorns
- Cure Wounds
- Animal Friendship
- Beast Bond
- Detect Poison and Disease
- Speak with Animals
We also gain access to a fighting style. Defense is a great option here to boost AC while you wield your longsword with two hands.
Level 3 is an exciting time for Jon since he gains access to his Ranger archetype. In Jon’s case, Beastmaster is the way to go.
Seeing as we can only lock down a CR 1/4 beast a dire wolf is out of the picture, but a wolf is available. Make sure to find an albino one.
Level 4 and Beyond
There aren’t a whole lot of choices to be made from here on out. If you want to stay true to the low magic Jon Snow, I wouldn’t choose any flashy spells and stick to the more “invisible effects” such as Hunter’s Mark (which is the Ranger’s best spell).
Game of Thrones Meets D&D 5E
This series will feature builds in Starfinder, Pathfinder, and D&D 5E. Keep your eyes peeled for future installments. Reach out to us on Twitter if there’s something you really want to see.
Good luck with your Jon Snow build, and remember, “Stick ‘em with the pointy end.”