Roleplaying games. For some of us at BLP, they’re our bread and butter (I’m one of those lucky jerks who gets to play them as part of my day job). For some of us, they’re a recent discovery. Psychodrama, the performative act of becoming someone else in mind, and sometimes in body, is an ancient one that galvanized culture and led to most forms of art and entertainment in the present day. Roleplaying games connect us to aspects of other people and ourselves, and helps open our eyes to new perspectives. This week’s Going Around poses this prompt to our team of contributors: Tell us about an RPG character (tabletop or otherwise) who has stuck with you after the game is done.
As I comb my memories trying to decide upon the right choice for this prompt, I’m a bit dismayed at how many details have slipped away from me about the multitude of characters I’ve penciled onto paper. Perhaps that realization is what helped decide, because I haven’t thought about this particular character in a long time, and by no means should they fall into obscurity.
So, I’m here to tell you about my 30 characters. Sorry, what I mean is one character, but thirty people. So there was this time when I was in a game of 3.5 DnD, and the GM’s guidelines for character creation were more or less “if it’s written in an official sourcebook somewhere, go for it”. There were also like a dozen people playing in this game, so the “party” (or hoarde, whatever the more fitting definition at that point is) was host to angels, pixies, factotums, Worms That Walk and all kinds of other wonderful horrors that crawl out of the obscure corners of 3.5 supplements. I wanted to be quirky and unique too, but how?
The rules for swarms caught my eye. Working with my DM who has an encyclopedic knowledge of these rules, we figured out that based on my ECL and power level allowed for this character, I could have a swarm composed of 30 small-size creatures. Thus came into being the Children’s Choir of St. Jezebel, a swarm of David Copperfield-esque orphans who alternated between monster levels in Swarm and class levels in Cleric of their patron saint (their verbal and somatic components were reciting hymns and nursery rhymes).
Being a swarm, the group was hive-minded together, and could communicate telepathically as long as they moved about in a group. This mostly meant they would occasionally be talking to other characters in their endearing false-cockney accents, and then all suddenly stop and, in unsettlingly-perfect synchronization, deliver a message from their spiritly patron, and then return to their usual business, often asking the people around them why they suddenly look so terrified.
While I wasn’t able to play the character for long enough to see this particular perk play out, if I leveled up the orphans as a swarm, I would be able to double the maximum size of their group. Each orphan was one hit point which could not be recovered by normal healing means (and yes of course I named each one individually so I could roll randomly to see who died). But this meant that whenever we entered a city or other place where one usually finds young street urchins, I could send out my kids to do some “recruiting”, increasing the size of the Choir accordingly. If this character was able to achieve their full potential, you would have had a veritable Children’s Crusade descending upon unsuspecting cities and absorbing thousands of their youngsters, like some Pied Piper force without the adult supervision.
Of course, it never escalated to that point, because twelve-player games don’t really last beyond a few sessions. But what I really enjoyed about that character was how much everyone else enjoyed them. I knew I didn’t want to create a munchkined Mary Sue to try and compete with a dozen others, so why not create a character that everyone else loves to interact with and is incredibly fun to play, even though they don’t get much time in the spotlight?
Fascinated as I am by Faerie tales and folklore, I am a huge fan of the World of Darkness setting Changeling: The Lost. In a nutshell, the concept of the game is that the titular Changelings were regular people who were stolen by the Fair Folk, but managed to escape. Only, they came back different, warped physically and mentally by their time in Arcadia. The setup is dark and rich, and an absolute goldmine for vibrant character concepts.
My first Changeling was a librarian named Walter Ward. Walter was a bit stuffy and self-conscious, but always even-tempered and well intentioned, dedicated to helping those around him to the best of his ability. He liked Frank Sinatra and dark coffee. He was a very likable person, except for one detail: he was a writhing mass of centipedes. One of the great things about changelings as characters is that they can embody both the bewitching beauty and alien grotesquery of the Good Neighbors, but I wanted to lean as hard as I could on the latter.
Scriv: Picking a single tabletop RPG character of mine to write about for this Going Around is difficult, and prompted or not, you’ll probably read about many of them in the years to come; I’ve already written about Red the Firbolg, and certain authors in my Books In The Wizard’s Library series were once characters I played, with stories of their own that reach far beyond the boundaries of their literary accomplishments. Today, though, I’ll write about Juliana Lafreniere, the character I played in a Changeling: The Lost game alongside Feryx’s centipede gentleman Walter Ward. Juliana had one of the more satisfying emotional arcs amongst characters I’ve played, and long after her story came to an end, she still inspires me.
During character creation, I took a bit of a risk and decided to make a World of Darkness character with absolutely zero combat skills. Juliana had good support and healing spells, but in a scrape, the only thing she had going for her were some dots in Stealth.
In her life before the events of our game, Juliana had it made. The daughter of a French-Canadian immigrant and the mayor of Seattle, she embodied the spirit of the roaring 20’s, right up until her lifestyle brought her into the arms of a mysterious gentleman at a party to celebrate the completion of Charles Lindbergh’s circumnavigation of the globe. The gentleman whisked her away to the realm of the True Fae, and ninety years later, Juliana escaped onto the rain-soaked streets of the city, molded nearly beyond recognition by her Keeper, to find that the world had moved on without her.
At the start of the game, Juliana had re-established herself as the owner, operator, and house band of the Santiago Room, a drinking establishment named after her vanished mentor. While Juliana had made a place for herself in the Spring Court of local changeling government, the Santiago Room acted as neutral ground between the Courts and the anti-authoritarian Courtless changelings who controlled the south side of the city. As tensions built within the Courts and between the Courts and Courtless, and while her more combat-capable friends went out on sorties against Hedge creatures and Fae loyalists, Juliana played peacemaker and spokesperson, cozying up to Spring Court royalty and Courtless insurrectionists and toning down the rhetoric between Winter Court higer-ups and various self-styled changeling nobility. Everything seemed to be going smoothly until the quarterly Changing of the Courts ceremony. The events of that evening deserve their own post, but they ended with the death of Althea, Juliana’s bouncer, at the hands of the Smiling Prince, a True Fae (who are never, ever supposed to show up outside the realm of Faerie).
After the mayhem, Juliana retreated from her friends and drowned her grief in a bottle. Her desperation and addled state led her halfway across town to the Space Needle, where she knew there were people who could give her a way to exact vengeance on the quasi-divine being that had killed her friend. Riding the elevator all the way to the top, Juliana slipped into an extraspatial Goblin Market by slipping over the side and appearing to fall to her death. It was here, in this gray market amongst the clouds, that she found a weapon against the Fae: a goblin contract that would let her strip all magical protections from an enemy, in exchange for the memory of Althea’s face. She took the contract, and found herself back in her loft above the Santiago Room.
From there, Juliana gathered the forces of the Courts and Courtless against the Smiling Prince, and when the time came, she began the salvo of attacks against the Prince himself by sundering the same protective charm that had resulted in Althea’s death.
Juliana completed that game by assuming the mantle of Queen of the Spring Court. In a political environment rife with fractionalism and misconduct, her dedication to the principles of unity and mutual understanding of shared trauma allowed her to knit together forces that would have been otherwise divided, and was one of the first roleplaying experiences I had where I got to solve most of my problems by talking rather than fighting.