A couple of game sessions ago we had a sketchy encounter with an ooze. All the characters survived, thankfully, but I took the opportunity to add some details to Thrush's story. Since it is a game and not a novel, the parts son't have to stick together in quite the same way. As players we keep track of important developments in the lives of each other's characters and sometimes collaborate in various ways. As our session ended before the fight was over, this glimpse into Thrush's life is set as a "flashback" between turns.
Also, there is a bit of a story telling agenda around the poem "The Lay of Lake Beltran". In the game it is a spell called "Soothe". It is a healing spell that is meant to be a bit spooky. One way to inhabit a spellcaster at the table is to give the spells more individualized names. Since I cast it twice as often as any other spell (we are always close to death, after all). I thought it needed a cooler name and a bit of a its own backstory as well.
Thrush lands with a thump on the hard stone floor next to the well. Looking to his left he sees Laera, totally messed up and as the pain registers in his slight form he begins the brief incantation taught to him by the Baronness so many years ago…
“This will keep you safe, my child.”
“Will they keep trying to kill me?”
“Yes. Of course.”
The tone is matter-of-fact, like the answer to “Will it rain again? Or “Do we need to run?”
Auntie gently removes the bandages over young Thrush’s face, trying not to cause any more pain than necessary. To the right of them stands the Baron, his eyes scanning between the door and the window, the two dead Hobgoblins at his feet, and his still-bloody sword.
“There will be more, my boy.” he says, his breath still ragged from the exertion. “Some like these and some from the depths of Hell and some family too, though I hate to say it. Being a member of a noble house of Chelliax is a curse. Either they try to kill you or you give them your soul.”
“Shush,” says Auntie. We will keep you as safe as we can as long as we are able. Now, do you remember the poem I taught you? The one about the great pools beneath the earth?”
“Yes,” Thrush says, and he begins to recite it again in the strange language of the dark elves.
“Far beneath the close tunnels of Nar Voth
In the quiet reaches of Sekamina
I sought refuge from Grimlocks
By the shores of Lake Baltran
Do not look for it.
I will not tell you its place.
But my heart seeks its goodness in a land lit by fire”
As Thrush speaks, the cuts on his face start to close. He can feel them! The pain lessens as well. The Baron looks on approvingly and the Baroness speaks again.
“You got the meter slightly wrong on ‘Grimlocks’ so there will be a scar.”
“That is of no consequence,” says the Baron. “Scars on a noble--at least of our type--are expected.”
The baroness rises from her place next to Thrush and brushes her husband’s own scarred face. “Quite fetching, too. Gather the remaining family. We must go home. They will be back.”
That was the first time Thrush remembers someone trying to kill him. It was not the first attempt, just the first memory. As evidenced by his current pain...it was certainly not the last. So many in his family are gone. Killed by unseen forces or enemies in battle, or by others in the southern faction of this own accursed clan. As he got older he got better at doing his own healing and his own killing, when necessary, eyeing his classmates for signs of ill-intent, affecting an easygoing...uselessness...after his uncle died and keeping his actual friends close. He had always been that way, but as he got older he became more practiced and more aware.
But now, back in the present...by the well and covered in black ooze...he is alive. As he once again casts the “Lay of Lake Beltran” he looks over to Laera and wonders how anyone--even someone as powerful as the ancient elf--can live so damned long in a world of constant decay.
This character I am playing, Thrush Vindolanda, is drawn from a variety of sources. One of these sources is Thomas Paine, the great pamphleteer of the American Revolution. Here is a piece I (he) wrote early in our campaign to flesh him out a bit and--of course--add some depth to the world, itself.
CONCERNING a RECENT INCIDENT that commenced PEACEABLY in
a PUBLIC PARK!
My dear FELLOW KINTARGANS!
What is happening to our fair city--nay--to all of Ravounel? Many are aware of the recent unpleasantness that occured in front of our OWN OPERA HOUSE where we have become accustomed to gather to celebrate, to discuss, and to air our differences in a PEACEFUL and WHOLESOME fashion. I will not bore you with the details of that event except to say that our OSTENSIBLE LEADER sent from the capital of this empire to nurture and grow our community instead treated its citizens in the most VILE and INSULTING manner! Then, of course, he set his dogs on those peacefully gathered. Yes, he turned the DOTTARI against those they are sworn to protect. Yes THEY are dogs! However, this small minded petty-tyrant also used ACTUAL DOGS FROM THE PITS OF HELL to disperse them! I could go on, my friends, but the blood boils hot at the thought and I know it does for you as well.
Nay, I want us to consider why the citizenry gathered in the first place. Why did our neighbors throng in protest bearing that time honored symbol of resistance, the PUSH BROOM? I need not tell you that the humble broom is there to clean streets, stages, and CORRUPTION of all kinds and that is why they were carried on this recent fair morning as we always have in times of need!
THE REASON is that THE THRUNISH UNDERLING WHO CLAIMS TO RULE THIS CITY has ATTACKED our very LIFEBLOOD!
We--here in this glorious, FREE THINKING land--rely on commerce and the arts for our livelihood and the depth of our culture. Perhaps you can pass off the BANNING of EMBROIDERY as a concern for the nobles and the wealthy, but to do so would be to deny everyone’s right--as free people--to self-expression. Maybe you DON”T LIKE TEA, though that seems unlikely. HOWEVER no true Kintargan can ABIDE the CLOSING OF OUR PORTS to trade and the SEIZING OF OUR OPERA HOUSE, itself!
While it is all fair and good that this copper-piece THRUNE who puts on airs is interested in the arts, but art is for sharing, for growing the IMAGINATION of the CITIZENRY and not merely for the consumption of Ergoian TOADIES. As for the port...what true governor would prevent the easy flow of goods and people, if not for the diversity in art and ideas such a flow brings? This THRUNE does not abide diversity...look at what he has done to our many temples. Look at what he has done to make us SLAVES! Yet that is to be expected. He is a narrow-minded dolt whose trappings conceal a limited intellect. At LEAST, though he may not be capable of ORIGINAL or MORAL thought, his advisors would understand the basics of commerce, the NECESSITY of TRADE! Does the Empress know about this? One can only imagine NOT!
These are the times that try our souls, my fellow-folk. Do not succumb to the normalization of oppression but resist, resist, resist, RESIST now in small--even secret--ways later in greater ones as time and circumstance alter the state of our affairs.
ABOVE ALL please know...you are not alone. We are better than this low state our occupiers drive us to and yes...WE WILL RISE!!!
“When all the singing falls silent,
and the rageful raging of the streets diffuses
with the dim echo of fellow-feeling,
circling ‘round and ‘round the tired state of mundanity
that resistance finds its way
whenever--whether by prince or prophet or profit
or country or creed or profit and profit--
hellhounds surge upon our body and soul
yet we are not consumed”
---A CHILD OF RAVUONEL
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.