I is for Intricate Backstories #AtoZChallenge

Brand Hammerlock

Brand Hammerlock

You might wonder, if you’ve read my previous posts, why it’s called “roleplaying” if all you do is kill monsters and take their stuff. Ah, but there’s more to it than that. Much more.

I enjoy the interplay between characters. I love to create intricate backstories. As a writer, I’m fond of torturing my characters, and I’m no less fond of it in gaming. The classic stereotype is that everyone’s character has parents who were killed by orcs. Not mine. Oh, no, that’s too simple.

Examples? Thought you’d never ask.

Mordecai Shadebane (Mosaic Campaign) is a Glimmerfolk (a sort of fae humanoid with small glowing balls of light orbiting their heads). He was born into a Puritanical society at just about the time their entire settlement was relocated (part of the conceit of the campaign). His parents were horrified to find the orbs were the color of shadow, and he had a scrollwork mark on his upper back. Mordecai’s father pronounced it evidence of the taint, possibly a consequence of his mother’s years of scouting out Enemy positions. If the elders of his settlement had known, Mordecai would have been drowned at birth. When he came of age, he became the apprentice of an aasimar sorcerer, leaving his settlement just ahead of a mob intent on stoning him for his own sorcerous abilities.

Brand Hammerlock (Ptolus Campaign) is a dwarf, an urban druid with a dragon pistol and a stone dog for a companion. He had been a journeyman in his uncle’s gun smithy, but he had no magic of the kind expected. He roamed the great city of Ptolus, sleeping in doorways, eating whatever the city provided (even it was rats and rainwater), and listening to the Voice of the City.

“What do you plan on doing?” the master asked when he said he was leaving his service.

“I don’t know,” Brand said with an unconcerned shrug. “Learn the City, I guess.”

Master Strikeflint frowned and stroked his braided beard. “Learn the City. Where will you sleep? What will you eat?”

“The City will provide.”

And one last, mentioned already in E is for En Arcadia Est:

(Francis) Drake Corrigan was born in 1900 in Rivercrest, a small factory town near Chicago, Illinois. His father Francis worked in a factory. In her spare time, his mother, the former Lyra Drake, dabbled in drawing and taught her son to love art, something Francis scorned and discouraged. “The boy's already too much of a daydreamer,” was a frequent accusation heard from Francis.

Lyra died in an influenza epidemic when Drake was 13. She had always acted as a buffer between the two, and her death drove them further apart. Drake was often in trouble at school for drawing or daydreaming instead of listening to his teachers. When he drew, he often felt he was on the verge of discerning some larger Truth about his artwork altering reality, although at that time he never thought of it in those terms.

Finally, when Drake turned 16, Francis decided his boy had had enough schooling and that he'd been too soft on him since Lyra's death. He signed him up for the Army.

War had already raged in Europe for three years when Drake's military training was complete, and he was shipped over to France as part of the American Expeditionary Force. Through a series of strange coincidences and serendipities that Drake could never explain afterwards, the young man ended up as a sketch artist working for military intelligence. The horrors he saw and drew renewed and intensified in him the old desire to alter reality as a way of helping others and holding those horrors at bay.

Early in 1918, he received a letter from home that his father had died. Drake knew he had no reason to go back to Illinois and pondered his next course of action. When the war ended several months later, an older soldier who had befriended Drake and shepherded him through the war came to him and confessed that he had shown Drake's work to a professor at an art school in Paris. On the basis of the sketches, Drake secured a scholarship to the school from the Zenith Foundation, an American-based organization.

Not long after Drake began his studies, a battered old trunk was delivered to him from back home. It is mostly filled with junk that he recognized from his boyhood home. Among the detritus, however, was the large art book filled with color plates his mother would pore over for hours and read to him. Tucked between the pages, he found two sketches by his mother, one of herself and one of him as a child.

Over the next few years, Drake immersed himself in the world of art, especially art of the Renaissance, learning French and Latin along the way. The turning point came when he discovered the journals of a group of wildly flamboyant Renaissance painters known the Rue d'Obscurité, after the street in Paris where they lived and worked. These four men and one woman used their art in occult ways, exploring illusion and reality and how to alter their nature. Drake devoured their works, deeply affected by the writings that struck a chord in his soul. He knew this was what he had been seeking all his life.

The fact that they died in some mysterious disaster that destroyed their home and most of the surrounding street daunted him not at all, and hints of the cause being demonic entities made him aware that the world may hold even worse horrors than what he witnessed on the battlefield. He began experimenting with the spells he found in their works, hesitant and tentative first steps into the world of the occult.

He has continued to study magik through the creation of runes, sigils and other icons, guided by the concepts of the Rue d'Obscurité, but adapting them in his own way. He even acquired a familiar, a gray tabby he named Henri after one of the Rue d'Obscurité members. Drake tends bar part time at an ex-pat bar called Chicago to make ends meet, studying art and magik and accepting commissions along the way. He has no particular plans for the future, keeping his eye open for opportunities as they present themselves.

Yeah, that last one was the most detailed. Have you ever created such detailed backstory for a character in a game, or am I the only one so obsessive? Comment below.

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