We do this these days, right?
We talk about our D&D Characters?
I am a firm believer in the idea that when you present a character to the players at the table, they need a handle on the character. They need to be able to grasp the character quickly so it’s often best to start with a basic archetype or story point. You want to occupy the space in the story, you don’t want to have to explain that place you want in the story.
So when we sat down to play our Gladiator Mercenary gang game, I sat down with Shen Marrowick. Shen’s character sheet showed that he was a fighter-bard with a prestige class, and the picture of him was a blonde anime boy with a braid and a red cloak (and I think this was after Fullmetal Alchemist first aired), but when the time came to explain his backstory?
“Do ya remember the name Armin Tamzarian?”
We were told, at the outset, that we were going to be making a Gladiator stable in an interplanar gladiator ring in a Sigil-like city. One of our players we nominated to be the Team Dad, a hard-done by serious man who had once been the leader of a mercenary crew. We called them the Iron Wolves, and when he disappeared, the Iron Wolves broke up.
And from there, I wrote this backgrounder on the character they were going to know as Shen Marrowick.
For twenty years, the Iron Wolves were the finest mercenary warband ranging anywhere from the Danube, Kyngdom border clean through to the edges of Shadarfan, Kryphaneos. Without a fixed address, the Wolves were the orphans of the storm. They needed no home, nor did their homes need them. Most of the Wolves were people whose lives had passed them by, or who had to right some terrible wrong.
The Wolves were employed primarily by nobles of Symeira, and amongst their number was Shen Marrowick – a fey-blooded man who showed no signs of an inherited frailty. Tall and broad, with a surprisingly gentle voice, Shen was the front-line warrior of the Wolves, and never shirked from any conflict. A living legend, the Wolves would say.
Then, Shen died.
It wasn’t an impressive death. There was no glory, no valour. He was struck down from behind by a goblin sniper who got a lucky shot off, and it fell to the group’s neophyte bard – one Edulsirn Calmwillow – to take his gear home to his mother.
A half-elf outcast, hated by his family as a memory of his mother’s illegitimate dalliance, Edulsirn’s duty rang strangely with him. Here he was, coming to another man’s home, to speak to the only family that he had – a family that was hoping, praying, and begging for him to return home safely.
When Shen’s mother opened the door, a cane in hand and her eyes bound by blindfold to protect her near-blind eyes, Edulsirn made a decision and never looked back.
Masquerading as Shen, Edulsirn cared for Shen’s mother, Sara Marrowick, and even assumed Shen’s old role in the community, at first – as the community had to grow to trust him – as the town’s beadle, then eventually, the sheriff. Winning over the people was not easy; but Edulsirn nee Shen had a winning way with people – and his training with the wolves, and his ultimate care for the good mother Marrowick made the gentle lie he implored of the community all the easier to swallow.
Shen’s life was, in his own mind, more or less perfect. He had a family that loved him – even if it was borrowed – and a town he could care for. A home. And he defended it rigorously. So when the Boyar Dan Shadarfan attempted to extend its territory to include their sleepy town, Shen sent three ears back to the Boyar. The first, of the messenger who informed the town of its state. The second was of the messenger’s mount – a hellish half-dragon beast the Boyar had spawned. The third ear was the tip of Shen’s own left ear.
Shen included the message “Your men took this much of me, whereas I have more of them than I know what to do with. You can have these tokens back.
“They did not die hard.”
The effect – intimidation – was magnificent. As soon as the message arrived, the Boyar knew he had a true adversary on his hand. And so, he plotted how to best destroy the town of Marrowick – or at least, its plucky sherrif.
A month later, Shen was called out of the town in the middle of the night to rescue a child plucked from its home by an unidentified Shifter. With the child in his arms, he returned home, to find his home – the home he shared with Sarah – ablaze.
When Sara died, the conceit continued. Nobody in the community knew their Sherrif’s real name. Nobody cared. He’d proven his worth to them again and again. Shen trained with his forebear’s sword, and cultivated the art of ending a fight with a stern word and a well-placed remark. And ultimately, he had to sacrifice this home he had made for himself in order to protect it.
The Shifter who had stolen the child away – Byrin, a warrior gifted with the Rapture of Erathaol – actually became Shen’s deputy, and her mother, a Shifter druid of some skill, knew of a way to conceal Marrowick from the Boyar for good, in the form of a magical incantation that could forever protect and hide an object.
This incantation, the magic of the Mists, was one of those strange forces; neither arcane, nor divine, Shen mulled on it for quite a time before determining that the potential risk was worth it if it kept Marrowick safe.
The incantation required a twofold sacrifice; Shen would have to give up that which he treasured most to protect it and would have to expose his very life to danger. He may well die. He deemed this sacrifice worthy, though – and so, it was with a heavy heart that Sherrif Marrowick left Marrowick for the final time, after bestowing Shen’s shield to Byrin. While on the borders of the mists, in the Demense of Gorkov, he recited the incantations that would forever conceal Marrowick from the hands of the other Boyars. As the incantation was completed, he marked the ground with his own blood, raised his hand to the heavens…
And the mists rolled in.
Now you might wonder, okay, how much of a dork was Talen about this character sheet? How hardcore was his dorkitude?
Well how about the fact that I wrote up Shen’s feats, and gave each feat a unique text description to reflavour that power to Shen himself.
I loved this character, even if he was basically Sexy Ravenloft Escapee Edward Elric Seymour Skinner.