Most gamers I know have more characters than games. I am sharing their backstories here in case they can have a life in someone else's game.
This is Urgoan a sort-of ghost orc sent by Pharasma (a God of Death) to guide the dead warriors back to the afterlife. I am using the Pathfinder world of Golarion but another world could be substituted.
To those who receive this receipt: Greeting and Blessings in Life and Death
I am Urgoan Pharasmyn Orc of the Jade Skulls, Phalanx of Badgers, Devout Cleric of Pharasma
This is my statement upon departure from my home and temple for other lands though no land shall be found better.
Seasons have passed since I was discovered at the front enclave of Pharasma’s sanctuary. Whether I was left there by my parents or--as the Bishop claims--as a gift from the god herself as a blessing to guide the living toward their rest, I may never be certain. Suffice it to say I have never felt an absence of caring. Nor have they denied my place as an orc of the Jade Skulls. My fellow-priests presented me--along with the other novices--before the fighting pits on the assigned days. We took our boar hunt in a proper era of precociousness. Those of us who have survived to this time of young adulthood have not lacked for the scars and stories that form the bond of warriors. I have never felt different among them though my color be pale and my stature and girth be light.
In fact, for most of my life I have expected to be resident in this place; a servant of Pharasma guiding my friends in their final journey and hastening the journey of our enemies. Until one year past from this day--on the day of vision-fasting--when I received a message from the god I serve. She appeared to me as an aged orc of incomparable lineage and placed in my heart an urge to seek out the relics of the past. The dead, you see, still speak through their creations and the words and songs they have left behind.
“Why should I do this thing?” I asked “Why should I leave off my temple and my phalanx for a lonely quest away from my tribe?” “All will be clear in time” she said--again in my heart--”But why do you ask if I have need of you?” At this I was ashamed, but she took pity on me. “There is a great world out there, my child, and if you are to return to this place some day, the temple will have need of someone with your experience, skill, and knowledge. There is more to your mission than guiding people to death. After all, death is meaningless if they do not make the most of their journey to that door. You need to make the most of your journey as well. You must learn. I have seen you. You are curious about the past. All I am doing is giving you that chance to fill your curiosity in service to the great wheel.”
When I returned from the fast-time and found my family, my fellow-novices were skeptical. The Bishop, however, was not. She seemed to know what I had seen and set about my instruction, sharpening my mind and giving me the tools to understand whatever I may discover out in the ferocious world of wild beasts and hostile incivilities. I am grateful to her and to the others, who soon understood the seriousness of my mission. I will miss them. Perhaps the world will send me back again if Pharasma so desires. I leave this note in the records here, to be updated if I return and to stand witness to my faith if I do not. I am Urgoan, an orc I will not shame my people I will not shrink before my enemies I will live and die with honor And will honor the balance Of presence and absence Of death and of life I will carry my scars and tell my story And tell the new stories of the past So the light of the dead will never go out Pray for me. This is my quest
The most regular game I play in began shortly before the pandemic and is set in the Pathfinder world of Golarion. We are playing 2nd edition Pathfinder but the Adventure Path (the "Campaign" in system neutral parlance) is from 1st edition. Here is the backstory that I submitted when we began the game...
...but first some notes...
I play Thrush Vindolanda (also called Lord Flavius Aulamaxa of Vindolanda) who lives in the city of Kintargo in the nation of Chelliax. The world is easily googlable so I won't bother explaining it all now. I am just sharing to give a sample of some of the fiction writing this group gets into in case you want to up your own backstory game.
1) The original (and still actual) audience for this is five (5) people. That is my gaming group for this endeavor.
2) The backstory naturally influences the world for the other characters/players. Most of the place names are in the book but this story started to flesh out the Aulamaxa family in a non-canonical (other than at our table) way. Also, I added an island--Vindolanda--and stole it's name from a Roman fort in England near Hadrian's Wall. I needed something for my character to be "Lord" of because...
3) What I wanted to experiment with in playing this character was a) a potentially long lived person (Thrush is an Elf/Aasimar...which is a kind of angel person) who is in a context where they don't live very long and b) a person with a great deal of privilege who "for reasons" decides to become a revolutionary. The plot of the Adventure Path involves liberating Kintargo and its environs from the evil Chellish (or Chellaxian) Empire it belongs to. Fun!
Anyway, it is an organic start to an organic and collaborative game. I have a ton of this "fanfic" so no doubt I will post more...
One sure thing about being an Aulamaxa is the near certainty of your violent death. It comes from being a Chellish noble. It comes from being not entirely (or less than?) human in a world dominated by human beings. It merely comes from living in Chelliax which is, after all, a beautiful shithole.
All my early years I tried to get away. Mostly that flight was in my mind. I wanted to escape into a dream world where people were good and just. Sometimes it worked. My friends and I could while away weeks camping on Vindolanda and the other islands off Vyre. After all, our adults were busy scheming and climbing (or crawling) their way toward the scraps of power dropped from the table of greater families that lived far from Kintargo.
The only problem was that we couldn’t live on these islands forever, so we would return to the cities prepared for the impending inevitability of our deaths. I now know this is a weird way to be a kid.
Over time my friends and playmates drifted away--most of them. Some of them succumbed to their ambitions. Others found their way out of this accursed nation through subterfuge or destruction. Most of us tried to make do with managing our expectations against our obligations. It was in this tension that my own life began to change. I had different expectations than the ones presented to me. Many of my so-called obligations disgusted me.
As I grew older and graduated from my dear Alabaster Academy, I found myself following my parents to the capital of the “empire,” Egorian. My parents were--and possibly still are--actors and entertainers in that dark place. The family seat is an opera house where they plied their trade while living the lives of courtiers. I tried to live that life as well. Being more studious than they, I turned to poetry and story, but there is still a place for that on the stage and I filled it. I also appeared at court, careful not to appear too bright or clever. For all the world I wanted them to think I was as vacuous as the other country-squires, fond of mild flirtation and less-mild drink. After all, I did not--and do not--want to die.
Here is the thing, I am a follower of Shelyn and have found refuge in her temples. My parents did not (or do not, I don’t particularly care if they are alive or dead) feel that way. While their profession was artistic, their real interest was power of the secular, political kind. In Chelliax, that power comes from Asmodeus. My friends--many but not all--slipped easily into the worship of him. My cousins both Aulamaxas and others (our family tree is complicated) also found solace and support there. I was isolated in Egorian and in Egorian isolation can mean your demise...or worse.
I remember when my parents first suspected that I was not what I seemed--a stupid young man who poorly played the Chellish noble’s game. They called me in to their study. They threatened me--again--with a painful death unless I would conform to their wishes both theological and professional. They may have been frightened for my future. Mostly, though, they were frightened for theirs. Of course...they were also embarrassed. How could they not be? They wanted so much more--or less--than what creating beauty could bring them.
As they spoke and I returned their words, they became even more angry. I tried reason. Sheyln forgive me, I even tried lies. They only became more angry, declaring I was not their son. They had their guards beat some “sense” into me and sent me back to my quarters, bloodied and semi-conscious.
Do you know what? I didn’t mind being disowned. They did not raise me. They were too busy, too frivolous, too self-involved to care what happened to me or the rest of the family so, upon their rejection, I suddenly felt free. I was free to leave this place I was trapped in and go back, back to my home and to those who had, in fact, cared for me in their own Chellish way. I would return to the Baroness and the Baron and make my way in Kintargo, a place deemed too backward for so many of my kin though it remains the family seat.
Once I could move around with relatively little pain, I hatched my plan. I had learned a few things at the Academy and would put them to use in the weeks and months to come. As to my future, I feigned resigned conformity in public. Either I succeeded in lulling their suspicions or they just didn’t care and I was dead to them. Slowly, however, I formed my team. I would not go alone.
First, I confided in Reynia, the house tutor. She had come south for her own reasons but I knew her to be a devotee of Shelyn and a trustworthy support who kept me from falling into the ocean when I was a child. Then we went to my young cousin. I will call him “Shrike” here for he is now with the Knights of Ozem and does not need the taint of his family history. He was immature then, but a good boy. He deserved to be saved from the corruption of our house.
Then, on the day before we were to leave and put Egorian and our family behind us, I walked boldly into the armory, claiming I was preparing for an extended hunting trip the next day. I collected the usual bows and hunting knives, but somehow managed to walk away with something else. I would call it a “birthright” bestowed by my title but I know others might find that silly. I took away the “Sword of Vindolanda” that I had found in that ruin as a child.
The sword was taken from me for safekeeping, probably never to be returned. I am well aware that my title was meant to belittle me, after all. They thought they had hidden the sword away but, of course, I kept track of it all those years. I am the Lord Vindolanda. The sword is mine and now I carry it with me.
We did not wait for the dawn. Claiming that it would take half a day to get out of the city we saddled our horses and road away south along the river in the direction of Westcrown. We made no secret of who we were, just two young nobles and their slightly older keeper out on an adventure, but some days later as we reached the outskirts of the old capital, we let our horses go and booked the first of a number of caravan passages north and west toward home. We were in Belde before anyone appears to have missed us.
Long story short, once the money started to run low, we walked when we could and took on odd jobs or put on shows in the villages we found on the way. Our years “adventuring” on the islands when we were young gave a slight leg up, but mostly it was pity, I think, from the people we met--along with the ludicrous nature of our travel that was so different from what any normal person could imagine would be the lifestyle of the nobility--that kept us alive.
Still, a year or so after our departure, we returned to the Baroness in Kintargo, once again under the cover of darkness. We walked up to the front door, so thin and dirty it took Chelton, the head butler a moment to recognize us though we had known him all our lives! That is when we learned that the Baron had died, but the Baroness welcomed us home. It may have been the most risky thing she has ever done, but I am grateful. Also, she is eminently pragmatic. She is playing a long game both inside the family and out. Somehow we all fit into that plan, I am sure. It wasn’t just love that moved her to take these three self-designated orphans in. We are Chellish nobles, though, so we take comfort in her gift of manipulation rather than umbrage at being “used”. We have a place and station again, after all.
Reynia became the Baroness’s trusted advisor. As I mentioned earlier, Shrike is a very junior knight now. And me? It all depends on where you are sitting at any given moment...right? I continue to find my way in Kintargo, my home that I love.
A few years ago my intern and I began a D&D game for our church youth group. I wanted to get back into Tabletop Roleplaying games that I had played extensively as a kid and then off and on (eventually with my own kids) over the years. Anyway, fast-forward to now, I am gaming a lot and have become interested in the spiritual dimensions of the game as well as it's ability to spark the imagination about this world and other worlds.