Writing A Player Character Part 2: Stats and Backstory

Posted on February 13, 2012


In Part 1 of this series we discussed a general outline of writing a character and went ahead and wrote down some initial concepting of the character. This post will be much longer, because I plan to include the actual story I wrote and discuss bits and pieces as we go along – just a fair warning.

To start with, we’re going to make the character sheet. I’m not going to post all the details of mine, but I will mention a few pieces that are important later on. We are playing a 3.5e campaign, and I wanted to design a character around the Tome of Battle feat “Song of the White Raven”, which allows any multi-class initiator (which is any class from that book) / bard activate their music as a swift action, more or less. I wanted Snowflake Wardance as well, since I knew this character would never reach high level, and this will allow me to make a solid damaging character while still focusing on charisma for my bardic abilities.

Already I’m starting to dip into a point I wanted to make with this. Many people will tell you that Min/Maxing a character doesn’t leave room for good role playing – to this I must say you are truly mistaken. Min/Maxing is compatible with role playing, and I hope to show you this by the end of this post. That is not to say that Min/Maxing is for everyone.  It puts a strain on the DM to be able to continually challenge you. It puts a strain on other party members to keep up with you. It puts a strain on you – trust me, you have not known tedium until you’ve tried to really Min/Max a 20th + level wizard or something complicated like that. But, if it does work for your group, it can be a very rewarding and fun experience.

Back to the topic at hand – there were a few other minor things I wanted about the character, such as using kukri, that I worked into my character sheet before I went ahead and wrote my story.

To preface this story, I will first introduce you to the campaign. We play in Forgotten Realms, in Cormyr. The campaign started about -2 DR. Our main characters are all in the level 19-23 range, and are famous throughout the land. Our DM asked us to make a few level 2-3 characters that we’ll likely play to level 4-6 before we go back to our mains. The year is now 26 DR (for both characters), so we have the ability to write bits of our characters together with a campaign that we’ve already enriched. It was quite fun. I will denote several things in the passage to explain links and reasoning.  Without further ado, here is the story.

The Huntcrowns are a Cormyrian noble family based out of Suzail. She was the youngest child in her family. She wouldn’t get to know most of the rest, however.

Alesia was born in 3 DR1. Ondeth Obyskar sat as Steward to a nation that had not yet had a king2. Many people outside the borders would not call it a nation at all, but those who were citizens of Cormyr knew better. They had seen the War Wizard tower erected in Arabel3. They had seen Purple Dragons dispensing fair justice in the streets. They had seen a few farming communities grow and work together to build one of the most powerful economies in the world, forging alliances with Baulder’s Gate, Neverwinter, and even the reclusive elves of Cormanthyr4.

Alesia was told these same stories, by her mother. She doesn’t remember her much – she was only seven when the monster came5. She lay under the bed, praying to Mystra and Tymora to send an angel to save her mother. That angel never came, and her mother was eaten from the inside out6. When the monster was done, he turned his gaze towards her, and smiled – as if amused by the fact that she was too terrified to cry. He reached into her mother’s pouch and pulled out two gold coins, and transformed himself into the form of a human, save for a long tentacle potruding from his shoulder which he used to toss the bed across the room.

Alesia sank back into the corner but the monster crept closer anyway. He closed his fists, a coin in each hand, and spoke in a hauntingly terrifying voice.

“A man once told me that fate is not some predetermined destiny. It is not a line that we are forced to follow, but is instead a line that is drawn as we make choices. I wonder, sometimes, how true that is. Because I wonder, I will give you a choice. In one hand I hold life, and in the other, death. You do not know which is which, yet you must decide. Cruel is it not? Do you feel as if your life is worth more than the toss of a coin? I suppose you are still to young to understand the gravity of this.”7

The man’s tongue elongates and without needing to take a step forward he likes Alesia’s cheek.

“I can taste the fear on you, its quite exquisite. Perhaps you are old enough to comprehend the concept of death. Do you see that woman there? That husk of a being that was once a loving caring mother? Your mother, I presume. Should you chose the wrong hand, you will die just as she has. If you chose the right hand, you will not. Well, at least not by my hand.”8

He left that night, and it wasn’t until the next morning that Alesia’s father found her sitting in that same corner, sobbing, with a smattering of her mothers blood across the side of her face. No one believed that Alesia had anything to do with her mother’s death. At least, not purposefully. But her refusal to speak amped her father’s frustrations, and many believed a curse would follow her.

Alesia wasn’t so sure they were wrong. She kept the coin with her every day. It was a strange coin, not like any she found when looking through her father’s stores. The monster had never told her if she had chosen the right one. He only said “One way or another you should cherish this coin. Should death come for you, it will collect this coin as a toll after Selune has cried with her eye wide open thrice. Should you choose life, it will have been the coin that saved you.” Then he smiled, and slunk into the shadows.

Alesia watched her father struggle, day after day looking for something that could help him find out what happened to his wife. She knew it frustrated him that she wouldn’t speak about the monster, but she was afraid if she spoke even a whisper of him that he would come and eat her too.

One night, while Alesia lay in her bed unable to sleep she noticed it was unusually bright for night. She looked to the sky and saw that Selune was full, and the Tears of Selune9 shone brightly behind it. Her heart began to beat quickly as she realized this is what the monster had meant. But was this the first time since then?Alesia knew nothing of the stars…for all she knew, this could be the night.

Terrified, she opened her window and ran…she ran and ran and ran until she was completely exhausted10. She stopped in an alleyway, where a woman was out sitting near a door to a very loud building. Alesia was dirty from her falls, and obviously tired and scared, so the woman took her in11. The monster never came that night.

Since she never spoke, nobody at the brothel was ever able to figure out where the girl came from. Alesia had decided not to go back home. If the monster was going to come for her, it was better that she was away from her family. Instead, she stayed and helped at the brothel, cooking, washing the women’s clothes, helping them keep the patron’s wine glasses full, and keeping the gate clerics from falling asleep.

She stayed here for several years. During this time she acquired some books on astrology and learned from a War Wizard that the night she ran away was the first that Selune and her tears would be completely visible after her mother’s murder.  It happens only once in roughly 5 year cycles. The third night would be the night of her 18th birthday12. On the second night of her countdown to doom, she went to the roof of the brothel to watch Selune cross the sky, to try and remember her mother and father, her brothers and sisters. But they were all faded memories. The brothel was her home now, the courtesans her family. Danela, a local theif girl came to join her on the roof. Danela had lost her whole family on the sea, but that never scared her. She still had every intent to be a sailor one day. She had come tonight to say goodbye13.

Danela was a few years older than Alesia, and she had secured herself a position with a ship. A ship was in harbor that was on its way to the Pirate Isles in the Sea of Fallen stars. Danela would be trained as a deckhand for the pirate vessel “Under the Queens Dress”. As Alesa looked to the bright moon, a sudden urge washed over her. It was something she hadn’t felt in years. It was…comfort. She knew she was destined to die, to be eaten alive by that horrible monster, in only a few years14. But what good was hiding in this brothel going to do? It wouldn’t change anything. She spoke for the first time ever since that night. She said “Screw it, I’m coming too.”

The captain of the “Under the Queens Dress” was, unsurprisingly, a loud, foul mouthed, fouler smelling drunk. But his crew respected and even loved him. His first mate was almost the opposite. He was quiet and clean. He hailed from the land of Kara-Tur, and was a master with more weapons than Alesia even knew existed to that point15. He was also a musician. The first mate, Xian Xui, protested bringing Alesia on board at first, but the captain disregarded his thoughts. A 13 year old can still swap the decks, he said. And so she cared for the men the same as she had cared for the women at the brothel. Cooking, cleaning. It was something they weren’t really used to, but they didn’t complain.

Alesia would always sit on the deck of the boat listening Xian Xui play his music. Just as he had mastered many weapons he had mastered many instruments. One day, she was in a particular mood and began to dance to the music. Xian Xui just kept playing, watching her move gracefully across the deck of a rocking ship.

When he finished the song, he spoke to her – “You move like a snowflake on the wind. It is beautiful. It reminds me of a dance back home, a dance for warriors. Would you like to become a warrior?”

Alesia accepted the offer and began training with Xian Xui. She learned the basics of many weapons but her favored blade was the Kukri. It was light overall, which suited her smaller stature, but the ends were heavy to empower her swings. Xian Xui taught her to incorperate that dance into her fighting, floating like a snowflake across the battlefield.

It was one of these nights that her 18th birthday came. Alesia had told Xian Xui of the monster that was destined to consume her on her 18th birthday, and Xian Xui said if fate chose to be so cruel that he would sacrifice himself to try and stop it. The night passed and the monster never came. It turns out, the whole time she had chosen the right coin. She still carried it with her every day. Still nobody could identify its origins16.

As she grew older she became a productive member of the ship, and it flourshied quite well until the captain tried to raid a ship flying the flag of the “Roaring Winds Trading Company”17. A Cormyrian war wizard was aboard, and easily disabled the “Under the Queens Dress.” The crew was captured and arrested, and brought back to Cormyr for trial. Danela, Xian Xui, the captian, everybody – they were all sentenced for execution. While Alesia stood in front of the Purple Dragon judge, a commotion came from the rear of the crowd. Someone was pushing their way to the front. Finally, Alesia’s father burst to the front.

“It is you, you’re alive!”

Her father spoke with the knight in private for a while before he returned to deliver her sentence.

“Due to your display of considerable skills in combat, and your legitimate claim to a Cormyrian noble house, your sentence will be service in the Purple Dragons for no less than 5 years18.”

She never did get to see her third family again….

1: The first thing I did was set up the time line. I chose to make her a bit older than your standard starting adventurer.

2: This is part of canon Cormyr history, their first king is Ondeth’s son who takes the throne in 26 DR.

3: My first character was a Wizard and constructed the War Wizard tower in Arabel. Always great to throw a shout out! It reminds you that you’re a part of this world and that your actions affect others.

4: Another shout out to a (nearly disastrous) session where we reached a trade agreement with these nations.

5: The monster described here is a Malaugrym. He is a chronomancer, and a recurring anti-villain in our campaign.

6: Our campaign has revolved heavily around bringing worship of Tymora to the area, but Mystra has always been a mainstay in Cormyr (at least during the early days)

7: Its never made clear who this man is, but there are many possibilities. My main character is also a chronomancer, and a chosen of Laboles Onereth, the elven deity of time. It could have been a conversation between any of those parties, or even more – as much of the Malaugrym is still a mystery to us. It is a minor plot hook for the DM to use. The nature of time is something that the Malaugrym and my character have spent much time deliberating about as well.

8: One of these coins is the one that marked Alesia’s mother for death. At one point in time, the Malaugrym had arcane marked a large chunk of our gold to be able to scry upon it. As part of the solution to that adventure, we agreed to allow the Malaugrym to live in Cormyr and eat one person on each full moon. That person would be chosen by us, however, by ensuring that they possess one of three coins we forged from that gold. Later in the story we lost control of the coins, but at this time they are still in our control – which means for some reason, my main character had marked Alesia’s mother for death. The other coin will come into play later.

9: Selune is the name of a goddess and the moon, which provided a riddle that was just complex enough to challenge someone young like this. The Tears of Selune is a constellation of asteroids that lies behind the moon.

10: I have just provided for the first part of one of my goals, I gave her a reason to be gone from her noble life. Now, though she is of noble blood, she’ll be able to live the life of a peasant.

11: The brothel she ran to was actually started by another party member, who was building a powerful trading company at this time.

12: If this seems like an all-too random coincidence, it’s because it isn’t a coincidence at all. Remember the Malaugrym is a time traveler, he likely knew exactly what would happen that night well before he acted.

13: It’s important to bring NPCs into your story as well. Danela is a new one created just for Alesia. I never detailed her any more than in this story, leaving plenty of room for the DM to work with her.

14: Though she didn’t realize it at this time, she had a very negative outlook on life. She was convinced that she was destined to die that night, even though statistically she had a 50/50 chance. She planned for the worst, which is why she ran away.

15: This is setting up for some other points from the character sheet I wanted to hit later.

16: This has taken care of many things now. For starters, my strange character build is now completely justified by my unique background. In addition, I’ve left my DM a huge plot hook in this unidentifiable coin my mother had. Why did she have it? Where did she get it? Where is it from? Why did the monster give it to her? Many, many openings for the DM to use. Now, I’m nearly finished. I’ve taken care of most of my goals, I just need to get myself back to Cormyr and in the Purple Dragons.

17: Since we are now several years later, this is the trading company that is owned by the same man that owned the brothel I worked in. The connection is completely unknown to her, however.

18: Now I have in a simple manner solved how she got into the purple dragons despite never wanting to return home.

As you can see from the story, I’ve left my DM a lot of plot hooks. This works to help make my character a part of the world. You’ll also notice a distinct lack of detail in many areas. This is also helpful for the DM, as he can take something that was not really fleshed out and make it fit perfect for his game. Finally, I’m sure you’ll notice that it isn’t very long. This character’s life has not been all that long, with long periods in the same place doing the same thing. There’s no need to go into detail of your daily life at any point – if it comes up in play, you can simply make it up as you go along. You’ll also notice how I referred to my character sheet and to those concepting goals that I created as I decided how to proceed in the story. This particular story I wrote from start to finish, however you needn’t necessarily do that.  For another character I’ve drawn up outlines and time lines and thought bubbles, but these are really only necessary for more complex characters.

Now you might think with your back story and character sheet done that you’re ready to play. Not quite yet! We’ll discuss the next part in Part 3 of this article.

Posted in: Character