Log in

No account? Create an account
20 December 2006 @ 11:14 pm
Rolling dice on Memory Lane  
Reading a couple of posts by the lovely and talented cadhla, I caught myself thinking about old gaming characters of mine. I started thinking of how I'd break them down, describe them, and explain why they were memorable to me. It's taken a few days, but here we go.

Now, to put these characters into perspective, you need to know a couple of things. First, almost all of these characters came from games played with one gaming group over the course of about ten years. The same people, at least once a week and frequently more often, for around ten years. There were a couple who left and a couple who joined; overall, however, it was a singularly stable group of gamers dedicated to sitting around a table and having fun with dice, pen and paper for eight or nine straight hours at a sitting.

Secondly, we played a number of games, but the majority of our time was split between three:

  • First there was Quest for the Rings (QftR), a home-built game of sword and high sorcery in a home-brewed game world that was several years old before I got involved. This game encompassed nearly everything you could imagine; the rules were flexible and capable of handling nearly any character or happenstance, so we occasionally had dragonriders battling mecha pilots.

  • Then there was Ringmaster (RM). This was decidedly not the name of the rules system or the campaign, but it has felt fitting in hindsight. This was the same game setting as Quest for the Rings but was gamed using a heavily modified version of Harnmaster. Harnmaster was all about realism and skills. Combat in Harnmaster was deadly to begin with, and the modifications our group used only made things more gruesome. You could die from one hit if you blew your roll-off against an opponent. It didn't happen a lot to PCs, but you never felt sure that you'd survive against a skilled opponent. Cocky PCs ended up dead more than once. RM picked up the campaign setting from QftR and eventually became the primary rules system for that setting. At first, the two systems ran at the same time, sharing players but rarely PCs. Eventually, QftR was phased out and RM rebooted the setting, picking up the game world after a very long period of time had passed, more than enough that the events of the previous campaigns were believed to be myths and legends by all but those who had been alive to see them happen. Characters from QftR would sometimes reappear in RM as NPCs; considering the time frame between the two and the extreme level of high fantasy involved, you can begin to imagine the power level of anyone who reappeared from one system to the other.

  • Lastly, there was Project: Defender (PD). This was a standard power level Champions campaign involving a fairly large number of characters over several years of playtime. The setting was again original and followed several distinct groups of characters ranging from a super-powered detective agency to a government-sponsored special response team that beat the Ultimate Avengers to their own premise by several years.

Third, the GM of the QftR and PD campaigns would sometimes allow us to run very odd character concepts, well outside the norm or even what was technically allowed by the rules. This could mean running an unusual race, a rare prestige class kind of thing, or so on. We as players would usually have to petition to play things like this, sometimes even bidding for the right to run one as some of the concepts were highly desired by others in the group. Once in a while, the GM would offer such an odd character as a "challenge character," where he'd create the thing from the ground up, give us an idea of its pros and cons, and see who would most like to try it out. There was a good deal of competition for challenge characters as these were often potentially very powerful characters as well as excellent opportunities to shine as a role-player. Doing a good job was a path to prestige; doing poorly or abusing the privilege was a sure way to get your next bid denied.

Now we get to the characters themselves. I'll mark them by name and then by game system.

  • Tamsen (QftR): Let's start with one of the more unusual fantasy characters I played. By saying that, I'm almost guaranteeing that he'll seem the least unusual of the bunch, and there's a reason for that. While he was unusual in premise and even unusual among other PCs, he ended up having a surprisingly long and varied career, becoming far more successful than I ever imagined at things for which his character sheet would never have suggested a snowball's chance in hell of even surviving, let alone accomplishing. Tamsen was first and foremost a bard. He picked up musical instruments like black clothes pick up white cat hairs. He eventually had to carry a Backpack of Holding just to contain his growing collection of instruments. Several of those instruments were magical. The truly frightening thing is that two (freaking two!) of those instruments turned out to be artifact-level in terms of raw power. He started out no great shakes in combat, being envisioned as a support character. His destiny (as controlled by the GameMaster) turned him down another path, however, putting into his hands an ancient sword with the rather disturbing ability to call forth armies of the dead. Large armies. People would note over the years that they wondered if there wasn't more to the sword than our GM was letting on; you see, Tamsen was normally friendly, as gregarious as you'd imagine a heroic bard would be. When he would call upon Deathfang's power, however, he would be covered in an armor of bone, his eyes would glow red, and he would speak in monosyllables if at all. This was not an effect of the sword; it was simply something I did without realizing it when I was calling up legions of skeletons from the ground. He became a reknowned swordsman, pursuing a swashbuckler's path. Even that was but a stepping stone, however. He would find himself in the unlikely and unwanted position of apprentice and second to the overlord of crime and vice, eventually managing through luck and a growing cunning in overthrowing said overlord by outmaneuvering him once and for all. Even THAT wasn't the end; in a time of desperation, Tamsen found himself in a position to render critically needed aid to the forces of light, asking of them something that surprised everyone (including the GM): elevation to the ranks of the lords of light, the Mystics. Tamsen was one of those characters who returned after the time lapse as an NPC; he was destroyed in circumstances I can only call "ridiculous." Tamsen was only a front-line fighter when leading an army of the walking dead, and even then he preferred to solve problems any way other than resorting to a blade, but the GM running him decided for some reason that he would hold off an unstoppable warrior with his own blades while allowing the PCs to escape. It's ridiculous, but he wasn't under my control. (Did I mention he started play as a day-walking vampire, by the way? Oops, left that out? It was never all that important, more of a plot device. See what I mean about things getting crazy?)

  • Shadow (RM): This is a character I hardly got to play, yet managed to pull off stunts I'd never have dared under any other circumstances. Shadow wasn't his original name, but it was later the only name by which he was known. He was rolled up on short notice to accompany a party of PCs when all my other characters were occupied elsewhere. He was rolled as an assassin and ran as a jerk. Seriously, he was the single most cynical and foul-tempered character I ever played. He had a number of skills, all of which involved killing people, preferably without being seen and thus without giving anyone the chance to fight back. He started out skilled with a crossbow and ended up disgustingly good with them. Through a few very lucky early rolls, he picked up some powerful magic weapons. His fortunes from then on stemmed from some creative combinations of available abilities and a willingness to do anything to further his own goals. He was never a hero; he was a mercenary at best and more than once turned on his allies for a higher bidder. He was in the position for a time of "PC you don't dare piss off no matter how carefully you think you've planned." In a system and setting where even the mighty could be brought low by chance, a guy starting out playing with the big dogs ended up the Master of Assassins and the one PC that everyone dreaded was somewhere nearby, simply because you never knew who was going to die... but you knew someone was.

  • Jackal (QftR): Ah, Jackal. Jackal was the result of my desire to play against type. Rather than play anyone even slightly noble and out of a desire to run a character no one else had, I petitioned and won the right to play a gnoll barbarian. I was a mean bastard with this guy, too. Savage, bloodthirsty, a highwayman and robber out for money and booze. We had a lot of fun with gnollish cultural practices; Jackal for quite a while was like a hyena-headed Conan. Sadly, politics and the continuing events of that campaign eventually turned my bandit king into an actual king, lord of the frozen North, land of the most fearsome warriors around, the Viking hordes. I wanted this for him less than I wanted Tamsen to work for the Overlord of Crime, but it worked out in the long run.

  • Continuing in the theme of characters who started out one thing and ended up something else entirely, there was Tarek (RM). Tarek started as a swordsman, wielding double scimitars. He was also an orc. Now, orcs in this game were of two types: savages and the tribes who had settled on a VERY large tract of land granted to them as a reward for their assistance in aiding the king of the Elven Empire. Tarek was descended from the latter and eschewed the tribal ways to pursue his fortunes in the primarily elven sword arts. His travels took him around the world from the Elven Empire in the South all the way to the Frozen North, and from the dark Western continent, across the Middle Lands (the primary setting of the original run), and all the way to the far eastern realms including Shahatha, homeland of the gnolls, and the Valley of the Ancients, essentially a pastiche of the ancient Orient. I started this character with the luckiest roll of my life, and he kept on in that vein; the first thing he ever did was slaughter an assassin wielding what had to be one of the most frightening magical longswords I've ever seen. By the end of his run, he was a) the acknowledged master of a sword art long thought lost to the world, b) one of several grand masters of a blade analogous to the katana, and c) the only cleric of a pantheon of gods who would eventually become the prime gods of the Shahatha/Valley region after the time lapse. He was gruff, he could be grim, but he was noble and judged worthy of accolades that honor me as his player as much as he was honored in his world.

  • Windstorm (PD): My air elemental superhero. He was afflicted with amnesia and never did regain his memory. He appeared one day in Paris, spoke English, and ended up being the field commander of a special response team for the US Department of Justice. In costume, he was there to do business, but always had his heart underlying his actions. Out of costume, he was a musician, a gutarist with a Celtic influence and a rocker's soul. He came very close to abandoning law enforcement to pursue a musical career, and to this day, I'm not sure how I'd finally have chosen for him: concert rocker or flying ass-kicker. He commanded the winds and ruled the skies; he was an effective demonstration of just how useful the Double Knockback advantage could be when applied to attacks.

  • As night is to day was Darkspeed to Windstorm. Darkspeed (PD) was a teenage speedster with a heart of gold; of course, he only had that because he stole it. He was envisioned as a super-thief following (quickly) in the footsteps of his idol, the single most feared criminal speedster in the gameworld: Quick. I say he was feared, but really only by insurance companies, as Darkspeed's idol went out of his way to cause no harm. Quick was comedic, originally presented as the comic foil for another player's dark and dour speedster detective. The hero might have been just that bit faster, but Quick was cunning and witty; you honestly wanted him to win. Quick was a kook and enjoyed playing the hero/villain "game" more than anything. Quick was a kleptomaniac and simply could not help putting his powers to criminal use, but he never stole from anyone who couldn't afford the loss or who didn't deserve to lose everything. Darkspeed wasn't planning on being so discerning; he was out for himself and wanted to learn from the best. He attracted the attention of the Bank-robbing Blur, the Orange Genius of Crime, and spent several sessions trying to convince Quick that training him would mean Quick would have the chance to guide his methods as much as his choice of targets in the future. (As an aside, Quick's costume was an orange so bright that it was almost a violence on your eyes. He almost always carried his own brand of spray cans that could manage shades of orange which he put to amazing use. In example, he once stole the Mona Lisa from the Louvre, replacing it with a graffiti spray-painted duplicate on the wall that experts admitted was a pixel-perfect replica, though in nothing but shades of orange.) Quick guided Darkspeed (the only thing faster than the speed of light is the speed of dark, is the joke) into becoming more of a hero than Dark wanted to be, but again, it turned out to be okay in the end. I never did get to play this character enough; he was probably my favorite super-PC of all.

  • For a while, I was given the opportunity to play Johann von Krieg (PD). Johann was my character in a spinoff from the Project: Defender campaign set in an academy for the young superbeings of tomorrow. He was actually one year older in campaign time than Darkspeed, but Dark had no interest in any more institutionalized BS than the high school he was already suffering. Johann was like a 16 year old Victor von Doom. He was the son of the Iron Duke of a small fiefdom that had once been behind the Iron Curtain, reclaimed post-Soviet Russia by that same Duke through force of personality (and through force of arms, though that was little known). Johann was the result of third-generation genetic science, the pinnacle of refugees from exactly the German fiends you think he'd be the product of, yes. Johann had his own ideas for where his path would lead, plans that directly opposed those of his father. Johann was a robotics genius, a polymath of the physical sciences, damn near a wizard of all technology, and an arrogant prick the likes of which you don't see outside of comics. (Of course, it was a comic book role playing game, so he fit in perfectly.) At the time the campaign was suspended, he was already laying the groundwork for a) a suit of battle armor that would have rivaled anything out there, b) a network of servants in dozens of fields loyal only to him, c) a financial empire to fund his true goals, d) a robotic army, and e) the conquest of his homeland from his father, which of course was merely the stepping stone to his eventual ascent to the throne of all Earth. Johann was my every megalomaniacal urge run rampant. He was built on a mere 150 character points at the start and went forward with XP from there. That campaign didn't run nearly long enough, unfortunately, and given a moment's chance, I'd run this character again before any other simply because of that. It wasn't easy keeping my true plans unknown from the teachers at the Academy or from my fellow classmates. It would have gotten harder over time, I suspect, but it would have been well-worth the challenge. (As an aside, I do not speak German, so when I chose the name, I had no conscious knowledge that "krieg" was German for "war." Lucky accident or subconscious guidance? The world may never know.)

  • There was Raummir Evernight (QftR), who was perhaps the most fun character I got to play. Again, this was a challenge character with whom I did everything I could and who turned out as well as I could have hoped. Put simply, Raummir was a demon. Actually, put literally, he was a demon, a servant of the Lord of Devils. He was a diabolical enchanter, sent to the mortal realm to work foul magics and serve the interests of the demon realm. He was genuinely loyal to the Lord of Devils and just as genuinely evil at heart. Over time, his successes gained him the attention of his Dark Master, and increased power and influence for himself in the demon realm. He was granted an expanded range of diabolic power as a shapeshifter, and his studies made him one of the most fearsome dark mages known. There was just something about this character that prompted me to be both creative and vicious in ways I could never manage when running other characters. He took on a life of his own, plans of his own, eventually leading to his rebellion against his former Master, whom he had come to view as weak and insufficiently devoted to either the cause of Evil or the welfare of the Demons. By the age of the time lapse, Evernight was the undisputed Lord of Hell, Master of all Demons and Lord of the Pits. Yeah, that's right. It was like playing through "Satan: Year One." (The conquest of the demon realm was a GM fiat, but followed along with what I was planning to attempt, anyway.) He reappeared as an NPC in RM, handled quite differently from how I'd have handled him, but that's just another case of "out of my hands, nothing I can do."

  • Lastly, there was the epitome, the one character I played more than any other, Varian Valasarn K'lorr (QftR). I've mentioned Varian once before now in terms of my regret in how he ended. I spent more time on this character than I spent on high school homework, said without any exaggeration. For an orphaned elf swordsman, he ended up... you wouldn't believe it, really. Looking back, I barely believe it, and I was there. Varian started penniless and lacking any social rank at all. By the midpoint of his career, he had been found by his family who turned out to be the Royal house of the Elven Empire, making him the crowned King of all Elves. Like I said, that was just the midpoint. He was a swaggering braggart who became the Knight Paladin of the Elven Pantheon. From servant of the Mystics, he would eventually achieve a level of power that would lead him to curse the Gods, blacken the eyes of Mystics, and breach the barriers of time and space at will. He was too much for his world; his destiny was in the stars and that is where he went. He learned magic the old-fashioned way: he cheated. He was perhaps the single most deadly swordsman in the world, and while he was perhaps never in the top ten of mages, he was still formidable in that arena, as well. This was the most absolutely ridiculous character I ever ran; he was a polymath and paragon, a twinked-out munchkin that simply defies definition. Even describing him in detail would take several pages, a task I simply don't have the heart to accomplish, anymore. I still regret how he ended. He had a twin brother who was destined to meet him in an apocalyptic combat. My character was the shining light of good and his brother was the epitome of vile evil, so a final battle between them was inevitable. The twin won. My PC was killed... and the GM then described a spirit energy radiating from the corpse of Varian, flashing into his twin, combining the two into the one they had always been meant to be. He then handed control back to me... and I wouldn't have it. Years of set-up, planning (that could have been more careful, but that should have worked), and what should have been the climax of his PC career and the end of his story ended in a a jarring GM fiat decision. I've never been so disappointed in how a story ended; if this had been a book, I'd have thrown it and everything else by the author out the window and cursed anyone who ever suggested thereafter that I read his work. The resulting character left the world shortly thereafter. I couldn't tell you what supposedly happened with him, if anything. If anyone from my old group has heard from him as an NPC, I'd ask that they leave me out of it. It's not my character anymore.

Anyway, there's my list of just the characters I can remember. I played others, but if they aren't on this list, I have for the moment forgotten them.

If you've read this far... good gods, people. Thanks. I love hearing people's role-playing stories, so if you want to share them here in comments, great. If you want to post something like this yourself, let me know.
Current Mood: nostalgicnostalgic
Current Music: Premium Blend - various comics
Ace Lightning: books01acelightning on December 21st, 2006 07:33 am (UTC)
where, might i ask, did you get the name Raummir from? (hint: do a Google search for the word.)

Traveler Farlandertwfarlan on December 21st, 2006 01:06 pm (UTC)
Ah, that's right. Forgot about that. I didn't consciously get it from Nik's work, but then as I said, I didn't consciously choose "von Krieg," either.
Ace Lightning: goth roseacelightning on December 21st, 2006 09:10 pm (UTC)
may i call this to sheramil's attention? i think it would make him smile to see that you used the name of his "Planet of the Goths" for a rather gothic RPG character ;-)

Traveler Farlandertwfarlan on December 21st, 2006 09:58 pm (UTC)
If you like. It was a coincidence, but he might still find it amusing.
Ace Lightning: purple warning signacelightning on December 22nd, 2006 07:32 am (UTC)
what i also find amusing is that not a single one of your gamer friends has responded to this post - just me, the non-gamer ;-D