Saturday, September 12, 2009

Preparing the Campaign 2: Cast of Characters

The second part of preparing the campaign is the development of the main characters who will be present. Now, in a TV series, we typically have a number of main characters and then a larger number of peripheral figures. In Star Trek, for example, the three main characters are Kirk, Spock and McCoy, while we have a second tier of characters in Sulu, Scotty, Uhura and, later, Chekov. Then there is a third tier of recurring characters such as Sarek, Chapel and Rand. (There is also a fourth tier and even a fifth. The fourth tier are those characters who appear once only, but are rather important for their one episode. A good example is Khan. Fifth tier characters aren't even important in their brief appearances - they're the "red shirts" whose primary job is die horribly on some alien planet.)

In a role-playing campaign, the first tier main characters are always the PCs (or, at least, those should always be the stars). The second and third tier characters are Non-Player Characters (NPCs), and can be detailed here. (Fourth and fifth tier characters don't get write-ups until the adventure they appear in, if even then.)

The Second Tier

There are eight characters in the second tier. Actually, this is rather too many to be ideal, but it's also the minimum set I think I can get away with. The second tier characters are as follows:

Berthold "Nooseman" Agers (Protagonist)

Representing the 'everyman' within the Company of the Black Hand, Nooseman was a common thug for hire in Bilbali, who made the mistake of being on the wrong end of a gang war. When the dust settled, he found himself in the hands of the bailiffs, and scheduled for a short walk followed by a sharp drop. However, it seemed that Death didn't want him, because the hanging didn't take, leaving the powers-that-be unsure of what to do with a man they couldn't hang again (pesky legal technicalities) but couldn't set free. Enter the then-Captain of the Black Hand, and a solution. Nooseman has been a mercenary ever since.

Nooseman is a permanently dirty, louse infested commoner with a foul mouth and equally foul breath. He's also a first-class drunk, a terrible gambler, and a really good man to have around in a tight spot. He is of medium height, with dirty locks of black hair, an uneven beard, and the clear mark of a botched hanging around his neck.

Nooseman is intended as a friend for the PCs, someone to show them the pulse of the Black Hand, and also something of comic relief - every time the Black Hand goes into combat, Nooseman is going to find himself on the receiving end of a rather nasty injury.

Secret: At the start of the campaign, there is no great mystery about Nooseman. This is slated to change...

Klaus Cooper (Innkeeper, former Burgher)

Owner and proprietor of The Welcome Embrace tavern and house of ill-repute, Klaus is a giant of a man with a ready laugh and a booming voice. He's also the rather unfortunate victim of a terrible curse: he feels the need to help those less fortunate than himself. As a result, his tavern is doing poorly, he is constantly running into trouble with the powers-that-be, and yet he keeps on digging himself in worse.

Klaus is intended to serve as a grounding point for the campaign. Every campaign really needs a 'home base', and The Welcome Embrace is it. Klaus is not immune to the horrors that are to come, but he will also be one of the few NPCs who seem to remain upbeat despite what is about to happen.

Secret: In fact, The Welcome Embrace doesn't make enough money to break even, but rather is being funded by Lady Aum. Why?

Ulliana (Servant)

The Welcome Embrace has a staff of about twelve, all told, be they serving wench, stable boy, cook, barman, prostitute, or some combination of the above. However, only the owner Klaus and the serving girl Ulliana are of particular interest.

Ulliana had the singularly bad fortune to grow up with a dead mother and a drunk father. As she grew up, she first hated the nights that her father would stagger home drunk (for this left them with no coin), and then come to love them, because those were the nights he wouldn't beat her. Eventually, though, there came a day when her father found himself unable to cover his bill, and so he sold the only thing he had of any value - Ulliana. She was to be the bride of the ugliest man in Walkenberg.

But worse was to come, for no sooner had she married the man than the Witch Hunters came to town. Their inquisition found Chaos Cultists and mutants in the town, and her husband was both. He was burned at the stake, and she was disgraced, disowned by her father, but free. She was doubly disgraced a few months later, when her son was born.

Ulliana managed to avoid a life of prostitution, but only barely, and only through the good graces of Klaus. Unfortunately for her, she is now forced to accept whatever torments the patrons and employees of The Welcome Embrace decide to inflict on her, for she has a son to feed and nowhere else to go.

Ulliana is a girl in her early twenties. She is neither pretty nor ugly, but decidedly plain. She wears old but servicable clothes, and is rather too thin, choosing to feed her son rather than herself. She is seldom in good health.

Ulliana's campaign role is somewhat undetermined. It is usually wise to leave open the option of a 'love interest' in the campaign, although sure an avenue is rarely pursued by PCs. She also is the perpetual 'matron in distress'.

Secret: Ulliana's son, Thomas, is something of a few child. Could be have inherited the taint of Chaos from his father?

The Lieutenant (Duellist, former Sergeant, former Soldier)

If ever there was a man born to be a quartermaster, it is the Lieutenant of the Black Hand. Unfortunately, the very skills that make him an expert at tracking and scheduling the movements of equipment and people en masse also make him a terrible choice for any people-facing role, such as being the immediate superior of the PCs.

The Lieutenant was born and raised in a minor Estalian town, the son of a soldier, and destined for a life of soldiery. However, a mother who insisted he learn to read and count as well as fight put him on the fast track for promotion, and this gave him a taste of ambition. He quickly signed on with the Black Hand, and rose through the ranks.

The Lieutentant is a fussily neat and organised person, who always knows exaclty where everything and everyone should be. He always has the answers, and is decisive to make choices where they must be made. He also, unfortunately, views people as entirely interchangeable. Thus, he never bothers to learn the names of the men under his command, only their skills, and is never satisfied with results. He's also an ambitious man, who believes he should be the Captain of the company, and who chafes at the promotion of the now-Captain instead of him. Not that he would ever show it.

The Lieutenant is intended as a foil for the PCs early in the campaign, and is destined to become a real menace later.

Secret: He has a name, surely?

Neidart (Racketeer, former Thug)

The self-styled crime lord of Walkenberg is actually but one of several gang bosses in the town, but the one who will feature most in the campaign, at least until the PCs take action. A small man with small ideas, small ambitions and small desires, he would be tolerable if it weren't for his need to ensure that nobody else does better than he.

Neidart was a childhood bully who grew up to be a thug, who then became the leader of other thugs when he turned his boss over to the Witch Hunters as a cultist (he wasn't, of course). Neidart grew up around Ulliana, and was galled to find he didn't have anything to offer her father when he was in need of a sale. Still, that problem was soon fixed, and now Neidart has his sights set.

Neidart's current plan of action is to drive The Welcome Embrace out of business. He has a three-fold plan. Firstly, he runs his own prostitutes, undercutting the prices that Klaus requires his girls to charge (so they can eat, you know). Secondly, he plays up Ulliana's bad reputation to try to drive away more business and/or stir up trouble. And thirdly, he's on the lookout for any opportunity to turn Ulliana's protectors in to the law. He'll find a way...

Neidart's campaign role is to force the PCs to act, one way or another. They might join him, rival him, ruin him, or kill him, but they probably can't ignore him for long.

Secret: None, really. Neidart is a straight-up villain, someone to be opposed, or rivalled, or eliminated.

Joffrey Lamb (Watchman, former Jailer)

And on the other side of the equation, we have Joffrey Lamb, the law in these parts. A (mostly) fair-minded man, Joffrey resents the use of mercenaries in the town. As such, he has a promise from the Lady Aum that should the Black Hand cause trouble he is permitted free reign to control them. As such, he has made it his mission to be there should toruble arise.

Joffrey Lamb is a tall man with a beard that refuses to be tamed. He wears the uniform of the town with great pride, and carries a cudgel not a sword. He also knows the law only too well.

Joffrey's campaign role is initially to be another foil for the PCs, and to restrict their actions against Neidart (despite his own hatred for the worm). However, as time goes on, he will become something worse, as his obsession with the Black Hand grows, and he becomes determined to ruin them.

Joffrey and Klaus treat each other with cool reserve, or avoid one another entirely. Why?

Captain Reinholt Aurus (Captain, former Knight, former Squire)

The third captain of the Black Hand in as many years, Reinholt is convinced he won't be in the role long. In truth, his tenure has been something of a disaster, as his morals required him to turn down several commissions in the summer. Now, desperate, he has been forced to sign his men into the service of the Lady, knowing full well that her motives are dubious at best.

Reinholt is a good man, in a world of bad men. He's also a man trapped by his duty to his own men, knowing that the Lady's commission is all that will see them not starve over the winter. He's a son of the Empire, born and trained in Altdorf itself. He was once a knight, but saw a chance to better the morals of a mercenary company, a move he now sees as a mistake.

Reinholt's campaign role is a tragic one. The events of the campaign will not be happy ones, and he will be forced to give some terrible orders fairly soon. That will prey on him terribly, and lead to disillusionment, disgrace, and insanity.

Secret: The Black Hand has a secret purpose beyond simply being a mercenary company, and the Captain is the keeper of that purpose. That is why he took the command, and it is why he has led the men here. But, what is that purpose?

Lady Felicia Aum (Noble)

The matriarch of the Aum family, the guardian of the heir of Larstein, and the undisputed power in Walkenberg, Lady Felicia Aum is a cruel and terrible woman. A whip-thin lady in her mid-sixties, she has fiercely grey hair, grey eyes, and black clothing. Her fingers seem abnormally long.

Felicia Aum watches over Walkenberg with a steely eye, and she has divined that she will be in need to mercenary forces in the days to come. She doesn't quite know why, only that they will be needed. And so, she has summoned the Company of the Black Hand, and how puts them to use for her benefit, and for the betterment of her town.

Felicia Aum has no morals at all. She is quite happy to order the deaths of hundreds, and of men, women and children alike, if doing so will fit her agenda. She is even aware that there may come a day when she has to kill her own grandson and those two cousins, in order to preserve her rule. If necessary, she'll do it herself.

Lady Aum's campaign role is as patron and villain. She will be the one ordering the Black Hand to act, and will take a particular interest in the PCs (but of course). She may seem quite the benefactor, but she most certainly is not.

Secret: Just why does Lady Aum visit the Asylum so often? And why does she help out The Welcome Embrace? And what is her ultimate purpose for the Black Hand?

The Third Tier

The third tier are less important characters who will nonetheless recur throughout the campaign. These characters get a name and a brief description, but not a full assignment of careers, nor a secret. Those characters are as follows:

Claudette Larstein: Larstein cousin, noblewoman, noted beauty
Felix Harvester: Farmer's son. Thinks he's a big, tough guy
Gallina Wheat: Pickpocket and guide
Gustav Harvester: Felix's cousin. Also thinks he's important. Good singer
Humphrey Larstein: Larstein cousin, fancies himself a deadly duellist, pompous ninny
Imhol Pimcher: Drunk of The Welcome Embrace
Nan: Halfling master-chef, friend of Klaus
Thomas Black: Son of Ulliana, waif and stray of Walkenberg
Treaker: Soldier of the Black Hand

And those are the characters, at least as far as they have to be defined at this time.

More to come...

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