Tuesday, November 06, 2012

In Which the Warlock Pencils a Potential Plotline...

It's been a while since I've jumped in on the RPG Blog Carnival, but this month's entry gave me some special impetus:  it's being hosted by Lindevi, over at TripleCrit.com!

In light of NaNoWriMo and the concurrent-running NaGaDeMon, DigitalKat posits the following question:

So what about you, RPG Bloggers?  Why do you write about games?  In what form does your writing crop up in your campaigns?  What's your process, your stumbling blocks, your passion?  How has writing helped you or your table?  Or is writing more like a CR 8 Succubus whose torturous siren song hurts so good and dominates your very being?

Writing is part and parcel of my gaming 'process', as you probably could imagine.  Between my work on Cold Steel Wardens and the various convention games I've run over the years, it's been my continual effort to provide a series of adventures and materials to serve as my role-playing "legacy".  While doing so can sometimes be tedious--writing up stat blocks is a particular bugaboo of mine--there are quite a few tasks that I particularly relish.

One of my favorites is the "character vignette".  Usually stemming from an NPC's contact with given PC, these vignettes flesh out the world at large by speaking within a character's voice.

Case in point:  my "Tear of Ioun" campaign from a few years back.  Chris II's character, Martook, came in a veteran of Blackfall's most elite guard, tasked with the unenviable task of securing and destroying evil artifacts.  Chris depicted Martook as a grizzled veteran and family man, on his last mission before retirement from the force.

However, when the group's mission went afoul and the PCs were accused of a series of murders which touched off a small-scale war, Martook and his compatriots had to flee to another plane.  Upon their return to the Prime Material, Martook received the following from his wife:

Dearest Martook— 
I don’t really know how to say this.  I’m going to do my best to not cry as I’m writing this, but I can feel myself already welling up. 
When you told me that you were being recruited to work in The Vaults, I didn't want you to go.  We had just started to raise our family.  We were only married two years when you started there, and Maximilian was only six months old.  But, I let you go, knowing you’d come back to me.  
When you were promoted to Field Agent, and you were sent to find these…things…I didn't protest.  That was last year, and Maria was just a bulge in my belly.   I let you go again, and I knew that you would come back to me. 
When you left to look for this Tear of Ioun, I didn't object.  Maria had just been born, and I was getting back on my feet.  Little Max was only 5, but he was helping around the house as much as he could.  The neighbors helped out, too.  I let you go one more time, knowing you’d come back to me. 
And now?  I have Cathedral Agents at my door, telling me that you’re wanted for murder and treason.  I have Max asking me if Daddy is ever coming back, now that the King’s Men are waiting for him.  He asks me, “Mom, what did Daddy do wrong?  Why does the King hate him so much?”  I don’t have an answer for him.  Little Maria barely knows you.  She’s three now, and caught Gray Fever last winter.  She wheezes at night still, but the clerics of Erathis are confident she’ll recover sooner or later.  
I've been waiting for you most of my adult life.  We've been taken care of, thanks to the Cathedral, but that doesn't mean that we have everything we've ever wanted.  The kids want a father.  I can’t say I blame them.  I want a husband again. 
But now, with you being hunted…I just can’t wait anymore.  There’s been someone else, Martook.  You know him—Dengild Oathhammer, from across the street.  He helped fix our roof about a year ago, after a snowstorm and I asked him to stay for supper and then one thing led to the next and… 
I told myself I wouldn’t cry. 
I can’t even tell you what I want right now.  I've stopped things with Dengild, but my children—our children—need a father, and I need my husband.  I just can’t manage to let you go, the one time where it might matter. 
The kids and I are about to leave Blackfall for a while.  We’re going downriver, to a cottage my parents had east of Kasserine.  I gave this to the priestess Valandor, at the Cathedral, and she promised that she would get it to you.  I’m not sure how, because they say that Wellspring, the town you were at, is in ruins.  I hope it gets to you.  You deserve to know, at least. 
I’m sorry, Martook.  I really am.  Please forgive me. 
Obviously--just take a look at my picture up yonder!--I'm no scorned woman, much less one with two children to take care of and an illicit relationship with her next-door neighbor.  But, being able to write as such a character allows me three primary benefits.

Firstly, it allows me, as a GM, to immerse myself in my own world.  Did I know about Kasserine or any of the other characters in this letter, prior to writing it?  Absolutely not!  But, by including them, I can help flesh out my own world, building in people, places, and ideas that normally would never make an appearance.

Secondly, this provides me an opportunity to directly address a PC's background.  When our group was galavanting through the Shadowfell, it became hard to justify any expansion on Martook's relationship.  But, by including this vignette upon their return, I've not only shown that time has passed (in the fact that Martook's wife has moved on) and hooks him with a personalized side-quest:  make it back to Kasserine to make things right with his wife.

Finally, this allows my player, Chris II, the opportunity to expose the other players to Martook's own personality.  While we can see Martook's personality in the context of the group, there are aspects to his personality which would only emerge when in the presence of his personal friends and family.  Our identity, many philosophers have claimed, is mutable over time--who we are varies based on the course of our lives, the experiences we've had, and the memories we retain.  As such, our group experienced a side of Martook that they might never see otherwise...

While I don't use the character vignette often--maybe once or twice a campaign per character--it provides ample opportunities for both myself as a GM and as a player.  Plus, since it usually takes up less than a page, it's quick!  Try it!  You'll like it!


  1. Impressive piece of work, especially the emotions in the letter.
    I've written short props before for the PCs, but never a character vignette.
    It's indeed helpful in fleshing out the world and the PC's background.
    I think I'll use it.


  2. Glad to see you liked it, Tom. I'd love to hear how it worked out in your own game, if you post!

    Thanks for the comment!