I like looking back at character creation for RPGs. It’s creative, and expressive, and it has mechanical fine-tuning, I like that stuff. Mechanics give you things you must do, then concept and flavour give you things you can choose to do within that space, and that then means you get to pick what you express.
In a friend’s game, Genshiken was mostly expressing that I was watching a lot of Bleach back in the day.
Okay, so here’s the thing. This was a Forgotten Realms game. It didn’t last very long at all – I think I played in two sessions, a ringer who came in for a few fights with nasty dragons. Still, I overkilled the problem, and I did it by making a character with a few pages of backstory. I really loved this kind of thing, and I had a character in my mind I wanted to sit down and be for a bit. I called him Genshiken, Gen for short, and went for the style of an extremely competent, small and young-looking prettyboy.
In the Forgotten Realms, gods are essential. Literally – if you don’t have a god, there were a bunch of spell effects that didn’t work on you, and that was mostly good things. If you died, without a god, you were just dead – you wound up in a thing called ‘the wall of souls.’ It’s a kind of nasty way the setting pushes you to caring about the thousands of gods in the setting, even though most of them are in some way or another, kinda assholes. It’s what happens when the gods are mostly written by a handful of people who aren’t themselves very idealistic.
Nonetheless, I asked the DM for permission to make up my own interpretation of that idea, and he told me I couldn’t change canon – but he would let me put in deniable things. Ie, if I wasn’t going to prove anything, I could say whatever I liked.
Now, the text of his write-up is happening after this point, because… well, this is some supremely dorky stuff. The main thing is the idea of the society beyond the wall, the idea of people being born into the world from a world of the dead, borrowed blatantly from Bleach, and I suppose, you know, Buddhism, I guess.
Also, if you’re eagle-eyed, you’ll notice this character clearly borrows personality from Toshiro Hitsugaya from Bleach, but his appearnace is more like a more-boyish Rukia.
Genshiken Yamasenken-Tenryuusei – Son of Four
Name: Genshiken Yamasenken-Tenryuusei, The Son Of Four, Sixth Prince of the Free Souls
Weight: 90 lbs.
Hair: Black, scruffy and long.
Eyes: Deep, serious steel grey.
Social Status: Technically a prince of an unrecognised state.
Family Status: Father, six older siblings (all deceased).
Archetype: Remarkable, if possibly mad, fighter-mage
Alignment: Neutral Good.
There is some element of confusion as to Genshiken’s origin – he alone is the only source who seems to recognise his existence, and he does not appear to be a trustworthy source. All things being equal, his tale is quite fantastic.
Genshiken claims that he was born in the Court of Free Souls, a realm that lies beyond the Wall of the Faithless, a place where mortal souls can exist and extend philosophical ideas into eternity without the control or interest of gods. In this place, he claims, he is the first person to be born, rather than be the result of someone escaping the City of Judgement or the Wall of the Faithless. His mother, he claims, is the King of this domain, a scholar-ruler whose name Genshiken refuses to repeat in full – she is known as Yamamoto Yamasenken-Tenryuusei Daikaijin, but Genshiken has confirmed that to say his mother’s full name without permission is exceptionally disrespectful, and he refuses to do it. With this in mind, this makes Genshiken a prince of a place that has not yet been discovered by all the researchers in Toril, or at least has not yet been written about by any of the many potential credible sources.
Genshiken’s claims continue; he says that he has five senior siblings, and is the last in line for the role of succession, though that is likely not a significant concern. Rather, he prefers his role as an articulate scholar, but he lacks the finesse and social grace one would associate with a courtly upbringing, damaging his claims that he is what he says he is.
Genshiken claims his time on Toril began when he was born to a mortal family, being sent on a quest by his real parents, to achieve some greater understanding. The details he does not reveal, but he claims he cannot remember them yet, and that he will come to them in time. To that end, he has become a scholar, a researcher, and initially, set his Shinigami duties aside in the mortal realm.
This mortal family know of his role in the Court and were honoured to rear him as a normal child – there was never any doubt in either Genshiken’s mind, or theirs, as to who he was, and what his role eventually would be; they were caretakers and study aids, but not his true parents, and they did not find their task onerous. Genshiken was a dutiful, serious child, whose phenomenal potential and insight into the weave quickly catapulted him ahead of his peers in knowledge. This time of his, he claims, was taken at the Bulwark of Bone, a fortress that resides on a pocket plane connected to Toril, though its gatekeepers are quite scrupulous about keeping their presence hidden.
Once achieving a measure of Magical skill, he left the Bulwark with a complement of Royal Guards, to engage in further magical study in the realms of Kara-Tur, before adventuring into Faerun’s territory in search of more magical knowledge, and to see what lead people to believe in the gods. In time, the guard were slowly recalled, leaving Genshiken travelling more lightly with the Captain of the Bulwark’s guard. It was during this time he claims that his training as a Phantom Guard began – learning the ways of magic and swordplay from swordsmen and mages long since dead.
Needless to say, no evidence has been gathered to prove any of his claims. The Bulwark does not seem to exist anywhere, and while he does travel with his Captain, she offers no greater proof than he himself does. However, if it is true, it offers interesting implications for many of the deities and faiths of the people of Faerun.
Genshiken’s primary emotion at all times is a stoic pride. He is a prince, but unlike his older brothers – who he claims to have known quite well in his time at the Court – he was born first in the Court, then into the realm of Toril. This claim, much like many of Genshiken’s claims about himself, remains totally unproven. He is cool, confident, and generally well-rounded, if somewhat reserved.
For such a young individual, Genshiken is very serious, and has not been observed playing or relaxing. He seems to revel in extremely difficult situations, thriving in adversity, however. He enjoys combat, likes the chance to test his wits against things such as puzzles and games of strategy, and is generally unimpressed with anything that relies on random chance.
Genshiken’s primary motivating factor is knowledge. He wants to know as much about the world as he can, even if it might lead to him being unimpressed or upset. For all that he is young, he’s not very naïve – he has a reasonable bead on human nature, and doesn’t expect people to make good on bargains or deals unless they have a serious amount to gain from them.
That said, for all his seriousness, he does seem to have the odd mark or two of his age. He collects puppets and stuffed toys, often using them as placeholders for descriptions of historical events, or important tactical maneuvers.
Genshiken is short, remarkably so, just under five feet tall. He has short, black hair, bobbed around his face, with a small ponytail out the back. His hair is exceptionally finely cared for – the kind of care that speaks of frequent washings and at least some magical healing. His expression most commonly is a scowl, and he rarely seems to quirk a smile.
Genshiken’s mode of dress is undeniably similar to that of Kara-Tur; he wears hakama pants, and many of the trappings of his clothes are of the Oriental fashion, with broad hems, loose sleeves and many layers. The overall effect of the clothes is to give him some bulk and shape. This effect, while making him look less youthful, also has a side effect of making him seem even more oddly disproportionate.
Genshiken wears a chain around his neck, that runs through a ring and vanishes down into his clothing. He wears dragon bracers that bind to rings on his hands, one of which is glittering gold, the other being silver. His weapon of choice, a nodachi, is normally worn slung over his back, hanging from a woven sash.
Genshiken’s magic is another curious note of appearance. When drawing magic into himself, it isn’t as many others treat it – a science to be employed, exploring the weave in a relationship of action and reaction. Genshiken swims through magic, moving as naturally as if he were born to it. This is not a sorcerous act, and may simply be the result of great practice and discipline on his part, but Genshiken’s fluidity and grace with magic is clear and defining.
As for a visual motif, Genshiken’s powers seem to derive heavily from ice and darkness – shadows envelop him, and` his motion through the air and along the ground, when he uses his magic to engage in them, are marked by the passage of short-lived snow drifts and ice patches.
Beyond The Wall – The Land of Free Souls
Presented here are excerpts from the letters written by Genshiken to various correspondants at the magical universities of Waterdeep, Athkatla, and Silverymoon. These excerpts were almost footnotes – jottings in the margins of exceptionally complex magical theory, or treatise on the proper maintanence of an armed force.
The Society Beyond The Wall
It is said that when a man dies, his soul is sent to the gods. It is said those that have no gods are instead, imprisoned in a wall for all time. Does this not strike you as… implausible? That fealty, that obeisance is more important than anything else? That a proud, good man who saves the world and bends not his knee to any one of these play-pen spoiling brats, is doomed to an eternity of nothingness for his crime of holding gods to the standards they wish of us? That there is no god in the spectrum of all faiths with a scrap of compassion? That no god would reach outside their realm, their personal domain? Is not the tenet of good that of caring for others? That of sacrifice?
Planeswalkers have seen the wall. Many have walked its length. Tales are told of madmen who have lost their way, shambling up and down the length of the wall until the ravages of time claim their bodies. The Wall represents many things for mortality. It speaks of uncertainty. It speaks of the ineffable. And most of all, it speaks of a dread uncertainty as to what transpires beyond death to those who claim no allegiance to godhood.
In these cases, deity worship is the safe option. It gives one an assurance. Provided my deity likes me, provided I am wise, provided I do not ire my god… I will be at least assured something known in the afterlife. People mistake the mystery of the wall as a certainty. They have never seen anyone escape the wall – they have never seen anyone transpire through the wall, and have never heard tales of one coming back. This absence of information is taken as evidence. Because people seem trapped in the wall, clearly they are; because they haven’t been seen to claw their way out and escape to the world of the living again, clearly they can’t.
The truth is much more sophisticated.
Beyond the wall lies the Land of Free Souls. Beyond that wall lies truth – a people who are plagued not by the unity of form, nor the tyranny of gods. Aeons past, a human clawed his way out of the wall, by pure force of will drawing himself into the realm that lay beyond. His name was lost to history, but he is known in the modern society of Souls as Daishinryuusei Yamasenken-Tenryuusei – the leader and founder of the society. He took matter from the wall, took thoughts and dreams and life, and he crafted them into buildings, into shelters, into a society. There, there is life; plants, trees, and the joy of freedom.
Those who die and escape the wall never do so into the realm that Toril’s denizens see. They flee instead to the safe side, the side where life blossoms, the side not shackled by deities. And once they do, they are given choices, choices ineffable to most. Of these, many spend their time running the length of the wall, rescuing souls that have lost hope, or questing back into the mortal realms in ineffable guises, protecting mortality from entities they will never see nor ever know.
However, they have schools. They have libraries. The collected knowledge of strong, willing souls that knew hope is pooled their, with all the time in the world to collate information, to collect and explore truth. Philosophers born thousands of years past one another, philosophers who denied gods, banter in the town squares, and great truths are discovered.
But most importantly, there are the Squads of Shinigami. Self-monikered ‘Gods of Death’, each one carries within himself a duty to protect the souls of the living from the actions of those who would influence them – possessing agents, rampaging powers, and of course, gods. The Shinigami train in varied means of combat, but to a man, all are tutored in the use of a sword or other weapon. Whispers are made of those who wield weapons crafted from their own souls, and the most common compliment to a sword is not a shield, but magic…
The Nothing Of Deism
…They are not gods. They are as we are – squalling, stupid, ignorant children, to whom their passions and their own one-eyed goals are greater than the pursuit of any ideal. The god of justice and light claims to hate the god of crime and assassins, yet both unite against the goddess of vigilante justice. They have no ideals, no morals, no true authority – they are merely factionalised gang leaders. And a humanity unites under their banners, they blur the line of truth – and that is that they are all factions of one.
You would call this a god? You would grant it fealty? No. They are just like us – and in that, they are clearly no gods. They tell us lies to control us, whether they think it for our benefit or theirs. Where is the god of death? He is a man, one who had to take his role at the point of a sword because not one of them was willing to take responsibility.
You know what they call a group of people interested in themselves with no sense of responsibility?
The Free Souls will have none of this. We are our own people, and whether we’re believed or not, whether people follow our path, whether the gates to the Realm remain closed indefinitely, we do not care. What is important is that we live our lives proud, with our eyes open and our hearts pure…
The Knights Phantom
… In my squad – I say my squad – our training begins with a regime of arcane study. You have to be able to master the whisper between words before you can take up arms. In our parlance, it is believed that the sword is an extension of one’s soul – whether one wields sword, staff, club, or some other weapon is immaterial to the metaphor, and the word sword has such portent by now – and to know a sword, one must know your own soul.
Most of our number were, in life, good men, in armies, squads and other serious forms of life such as those.
The first technique you have to master is a technique called ‘stilling the moment’. Magic is fragile, and very powerful – in this regard, it’s like a sword made of glass. Simply flinging around magic is one concern, and many wizards have mastered it despite a general lack of other positive traits to recommend them.
Stilling The Whisper is a technique that requires one to perfectly replicate a spell, without the use of somatic components. That’s no mean feat for many, and takes training – but for the technique to count, you can’t use the normal methodology of increasing the spell’s Circle.
You might think this makes the numbers of Shinigami in our service to be fewer than elsewhere. Not particularly – we do, after all, have much time to complete this work.
Once you’ve Stilled the Whisper, we begin the lengthy process of exploring one’s swordsmanship – part of which is horseback riding. It began as an odd tradition, but over time, it was realised we counted a number of knights, chargers, and other tenders to horses…
… the curiosity after this point is that many of our men, when they express themselves onto the mortal plane, as ghosts or phantoms themselves, take the form of horses. Talk is amongst us, some feeling that the life of a noble steed is superior to that of an overly worried, concerned human. It has cast my own view of horses in a particular light…
… at which point, swordsmanship becomes second nature. Over time, magic and the blade blur together, until one is simply an expression of the other, together forming a more sophisticated expression of oneself upon the universe.
Such matter is, I fear, far too simplistic to write an actual paper on, and therefore, not worth the university’s time