As a warning, this is some pretty serious "Tell me about your character" stuff, but it's necessary to get it out there so I can then start discussing what I'm going to do with it.
One curious thing about this character generation is that when we started, I had no idea what system I would be running the game in. There were a few strong contenders - Savage Worlds or mods of Cortex or Fate were all in my mind - but none of them were the definite winner. I mean, I knew whatever I ended up with would have some version of aspects, but I can port that to nearly anything, but beyond that I wanted to see where the players took things and choose a system based on that.
Our four characters are Sandon, Balin, Cecil and Eira. I actually got their names later in the process, but it's easier to explain things with names. Anyway, I had a few questions in mind regarding how they'd gotten where they are, things that had happened to them and so on, but I ended up starting with a question I haven't used before, but which I am very pleased with in retrospect. It laid out a clear expectation for the game, revealed really useful things about the characters, and gave me a sense of what sort of mechanics I'm going to need to support. That question was: How are you badass?
Sandon Korga has a brilliant, instinctive sense of situational awareness. This makes him a fantastic battlefield commander, and lets him really exploit the environment in fights. Unfortunately, it is really only something he excels at in the moment - he's not the guy you want making plans or offering leadership, though his success in battle means such things are often thrust upon him.
Balin, "The Butcher" is a psycho, plain and simple. He's got knives, and he knows how to use them, but the real problem is that the crazy comes off him in waves. He's one of those guys whose indifference to the fact that he might just cut you open is so apparent as to be downright scary. Scary as he is, his reputation is even scarier, and the rumor is he ate dead soldiers at the Siege of the Dragon's Tail.
Cecil is unstoppable, simple as that. He is relentless and pushes on past any point of rationality.
Eira was a great swordmistress in her youth, but in her age the speed and strength that came with that have dwindled, but her knowledge remains. She has an old master's understanding of fighting, and has the experience that allows her to defeat foes many years her junior.
The next question was: How did you end up at the Dragon's Tail? This was followed up by a personal question to each one, based on his background so far.
Sandon, a career military guy, had done something that embarrassed his commanding officer badly enough that his C.O. had gotten assigned there, and Sandon got dragged along. Sandon, it turned out, was from a family of cobbles, and much of his military paycheck was going home to the family.
Balin had killed a man, a priest, and was there with a group of penitent brothers (Church prisoners conscripted for suicide missions) en route to the north. Balin had grown up in the slums of the capitol, with a sister sold off into slavery and doing occasional work as a thug until he killed the priest. There is a boy, his landlord's son (9 years old at the time, 14 when we start play) who thinks he's a hero.
Cecil's wife had died, but had also apparently then gotten back up. He had been on her trail, and this was the last stop. We discovered that Cecil was a noble and that this was a politically important arranged marriage that both parties found tolerable, though there were no children.
Eira has working as a teacher for a scion of one of the great houses. The kid had been sent here for his safety and vanished in the last days of the battle. I asked her what she had done when, as they were heading north, she was offered a large sum to make the scion disappear. She said no, of course, but her report of the matter never made it back to the great house, so the rumor is she did him n.
I asked them to briefly give a sense of what the battle looked like from their perspective.
For Sandon, it was a blur - too hurried for any details to stick.
Balin spent much of it in the larder, acting as cook, and doing terrible and demonstrative things to the enemy bodies (hanging them from the walls, like meat). He killed a lot of men at one point when an enemy push made it to the kitchens.
Cecil very nearly died holding off the last push, and was so badly injured that he was still recovering when he got he award.
Eira spent the time protecting her ward, only losing sight of him towards the end when she was called out to a duel by one of the enemy leaders.
The next question, "what have you done with success?", was important to me because it's part of the heart of the darkness of the game. These guys are all former lottery winners, for all intents and purposes. They were heroes of the realm, and could have nearly anything, but that was 5 years ago - what have they done with it. Implicit in this is the assumption that all the glory and wealth has not improved their lives, and has possibly made it worse.
Sandon was given command of a personal unit of imperial legionnaires who mutinied during his first battle when he gave a command that would leave their families endangered (because it was tactically necessary - Sandon is incredibly unsentimental when in battle) . Their mutiny meant that they died with their families, while Sandon and his handful of loyal troops managed to hold out. By the accounting of things, it was a massacre, and Sandon's refusal to report the mutiny (to protect the honor of the dead soldiers) meant it was all on his head. Since then he's spent some time as a mercenary, but when pushed into command it tends to go badly and over time he earned the nickname "The Curse". These days he tends to take guard work under a pseudonym.
Balin was pardoned, and while he has his penitent brand on the back of his right hand, he wears his Century medal strapped to the back of the other. He tried to open a business (a restaurant, which quickly failed) and has tried to fit in with the upper crust of society with a dogged determination and a certain amount of obliviousness to his perpetual failure.
Cecil founded an order of knights dedicated to hunting the undead (and by extension, to find his wife) but he mismanaged it badly. The knighthood went broke and its command was usurped from within, and today is a fraternal order that is seeing reasonable success without Cecil.
Eira could not escape the assassin's reputation, and has sought a life of obscurity to avoid both misdirected attempts at vengeance and offers of employment.
Because it's one of my games, we came up with a quick connecting story for each of the characters:
- Cecil served under Sandon at the massacre. Sandon was also the person who put Cecil in the position to get nearly killed at the Dragon's Tail.
- Eira trained Cecil in sword after the battle, and made used of the knighthood while it was intact.
- Balin disposes of bodies for Eira, when her attempts at obscurity fail. As an aside, he actually delivers them to someone else to dispose of, but everyone just assumes he does terrible things to them.
- Sandon and Balin drink together frequently, and Balin thinks that Sandon can offer great insight into the court and is a boon to his social climbing. So Wrong.
- Sandon and Cecil were once hired to hunt down a dangerous assassin who, after a bit of confusion, was revealed to be Eira. The three then turned on their erstwhile employer.
- Cecil arranged for a marriage between Balin and one of his cousins. On paper it worked out well for both of them, but in practice it's an emotional minefield.
In a nod to Chuck, I asked what each character wanted and feares.
Sandon wants financial security for his family (who are the worst sort of nouveau riche after their bump in status due to him, but are now in steadily accruing debt). He fears responsibility.
Balin Wants to be respected as a right proper gentleman, and he fears losing his wife.
Eira wants fame and glory - she wants to be a legend. She fears death through creeping old age.
Cecil wants to put his wife to death, and fears the lure of eternal life might make him like her.
Lastly, I got 4 aspects from everyone - one was supposed to be the BIG aspect, the one they woudl have if they had only one.
Sandon: Korga the Curse, Unswayed by Sentiment in Battle, 'I'll Apologize Later' and Burdens of Family
Balin: Butcher, Branded, Striving for Respectibility, Intimidating
Eira: Old Master, Assassin's Reputation, Great House Connections, Last One Standing
Cecil: Unstoppable, She's Missing, Unwavering Resolve, "I can take anything, but not that"
That's a lot of stuff, but I feel like the characters are very solid. I can see a few gaps and disconnects, but they're ones I can work with. It now falls on me to think about hwo to make the world equally solid, and how to make this all work mechanically.
1- This particular harpoon ("who thinks you're worth saving")did not sink in as well as it could have - the answer is a little too protected. Not sure how much mileage I will get out of it.