Tortuga Fairbanks: Tortle Barbarian

I just began my fourth ever campaign. It’s my second as a player. I decided to keep with a class I’m familiar with (barbarian) but to go a rather different route with species. I decided to create a tortle. Partially because I already had the mini, but I also already had made a rough sketch of the character back in November when I was doing a writing exercise where I created a character every day for a month.


Brief Backstory

I’ve changed a few things about the character. The name remains, Tortuga Fairbanks, and it is a name given to him by others, specifically dwarves. The DM of this new campaign created a dwarven subrace, Sand Dwarves, inhabiting a desert region. I have my tortle leaning more into the tortoise side of things like a Galapagos tortoise.

Upon leaving his birthplace, an ancient fortified stone ruins used by generations of tortles known as The Turf, my tortle wandered an arid desert. There it savored the wide and deep quiet and patiently learned to see the minute actions within a seemingly vast emptiness. As it ventured, it came upon a clan of Sand Dwarves with which it developed a respectful trading partnership. This is where the tortle got the name it goes by as the Sand Dwarves could best conceive of The Turf as a place mentioned in their history as ‘Fairbanks.’ The tortle came to like the sound of the name and gladly took it on.

During this time, Tortuga learned to speak Dwarven and the dwarves eventually pointed out to him caravans of other peoples moving between cities. Tortuga decided to explore these ‘civilized’ lands. With a trinket granted to him from his parents hoard of treasure, an Orb of Direction, Tort has been heading due east arriving at the city of Orthnic.


Its encounters with the Sand Dwarves have awakened an urge in Tort to leave his solitary existence behind and make some connections with other peoples. Tort reasoned adventuring would be the best way to meet folk, so he showed up at the Bard’s College looking for work.

Having not really spoken to anyone for decades, Tort speaks in a rather peculiar accent. When I roleplay him, I’m doing a sort of County Kerry accent. I try to keep my lips as still as possible as I imagine tortles as lipless and my jaw tight. This gives the desired effect, my fellow players frequently have to ask me to repeat myself. I figure the more Tort speaks the clearer and better at it he’ll become (hopefully my party can tolerate me for that long). I took the translation scene from Hot Fuzz as my inspiration:

Tort has little to no interest in coin or gems. They also don’t really understand how currency works and sometimes will collect coins just for the sake of having it. However, this urge is often fleeting as Tort quickly gets bored with it. The use of magic and magical items fascinate him to the point he’ll always want to know more about them. He’s got a sort of childlike wonder about magic (even though he can cast spells as a Totem barbarian, he doesn’t really consider this magic so much as patient attentiveness).

As I play Tort, I’m allowing him to learn to work with others. Since he’s so used to being on his own, he doesn’t really wait for consensus. While not quite hurried or rash, he’ll tend to do what first strikes him as a good idea and assume others will go along with it having gotten to the same conclusion. In-game this has led me to be responsible for throwing the party into combat a bit before anyone else wants to. Again, I hope my fellow players have patience with me.




Afterthought: A Word on Traits

Two things I love about tortles both of which I’ve gotten to use to rather good effect over my first two sessions: shell defense and the ability to hold their breath for an hour. The latter is a keen little trait even for tortles like mine giving players a very useful feature. The former is slightly controversial.


Unlike some players who tend to adore griping and quibbling, I find nothing broken about the racial trait Shell Defense. It is an action where the tortle withdraws into its shell adding +4 to its Armor Class. When a tortle does this, is loses all movement. I find it to be balanced as it’s meant as a purely defensive move (one could also see it as a panic or desperation move) and best deployed when ranged attacks are coming. Here’s the full description:

You can withdraw into your shell as an action. Until you emerge, you gain a +4 bonus to AC, and you have advantage on Strength and Constitution saving throws. While in your shell, you are prone, your speed is 0 and can’t increase, you have disadvantage on Dexterity saving throws, you can’t take reactions, and the only action you can take is a bonus action to emerge from your shell.

Quibbles come in regarding advantage/disadvantage and rules-lawyering about AC. Look, it’s not that hard to understand. Would you use Shell Defense during melee combat? Likely not, and if someone does, what of it? I’m not really too keen on people griping about how someone else may or may not use an ability or a trait. It feels petty.

I used this trait in my first session as a player. It did exactly what I wanted it to–kept me from taking damage, let my party catch up with me, and kept my enemies occupied. When I used my Bonus Action to come out of it, I still had movement and my Action so it doesn’t really make sense to bitch. If my DM had said I only get the +4 added to my AC without my shield, that would have been fine (that is, in fact, how I considered it). If my DM had said I only had half movement because I was coming out of a prone state, that would have been fine because it makes intuitive sense. What doesn’t make sense (for the kind of player I am) is stopping gameplay to parse rules in a passive-aggressive manner. That’s not fun. That’s tedious.

I plan on using Shell Defense whenever my character beds down for the night in the wild. I think it’d be a perfect way to keep oneself a bit safe. Perhaps some will consider this just ‘flavor.’ If so, all the more reason not to concern yourself with it if you choose to not play the species. Shell Defense isn’t meant as an all-time option, but one entirely dependent on situation just like its Hold Breath or Claw Attack traits. Finding creative as well as relevant ways to use traits is part of the fun of the game, especially in-game. 

I think certain Dungeons & Dragons species get a lot more flack than they deserve. Exotic species make for a more varied game and experience. Some players aren’t into that, and there are plenty of more traditional species for them to min-max, but they need to leave those who are alone. 




5 thoughts on “Tortuga Fairbanks: Tortle Barbarian

  1. Hi! Thanks for linking my article.

    I want to clarify a few things since it seems you misunderstood the purpose and results of the analysis.

    At ThinkDM, we analyze RPG mechanics for several reasons:

    1. To educate players on how to become better at the game by helping them understand the impact of their choices;

    2. To provide suggestions to DMs for errata of mechanics that could be improved; and

    3. Because it’s fun!

    Knowing the rules makes play more streamlined at the table. Enforcing the rules-as-written is not “rules lawyering.” The only way we can analyze an RPG mechanic is by looking to the rules. If you ignore the rules, your analysis has no substance.

    When we compare Shell Defense with Dodge, we see that the Tortle’s specialized racial feature is worse than a standard action that’s available to every class. That’s a fact. From melee damage reduction to action economy, Dodge is just better. The article does discuss the viability of Dodge in edge cases. So, a player who read the article is more educated on the mechanics of their character and the best decisions to make in play. This is not a commandment to never use Shell Defense for flavor reasons; it’s a primer to know when you’re making a sacrifice for flavor reasons. Informed choices are always better. By educating the player, we have satisfied objective #1.

    Following that, we look at ways we can tweak the racial feature to address the primary issue with the mechanic. So, a DM who has read the article may incorporate the errata in their game to address the main problem with Shell Defense. By providing a suggested fix for DMs, we have satisfied objective #2.

    We write for players who enjoy rules analysis. If that’s not fun for you, then you are not the target audience. We are hopeful that we’ve satisfied objective #3 for the 12,000 folks who read the article.

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