Palladium Fantasy: My turn behind the dice ~ The Mercenary

The Mercenary:

Throughout most of my time as a player, I have eschewed playing non-humans as a character. While I did have a few half-elves in the very early days, I quickly felt a sort of dissatisfaction with this as, for the most part, it was more being human-in-a-rubber-suit than representing a different species and culture.

To be clear, that is a result of my interests and of how I play. I learned early on that I am more interested in exploring other fictional cultures and species through the lens of an outsider, than in portraying them and attempting to experience them from within.

For me then, in those early days before I chose to play humans only, the decision to take non-human races for a PC would have been for the simple reason of trait differences or specific natural abilities, and that just wasn’t very satisfying. There are exceptions, of course – such as Melniboneans in Stormbringer/Elric!, but those were few and far between. Let us not speak of such things now.

The Problem of Race:

As I mentioned in the previous instalments of this series, I have decided to play characters I would not normally play, and so it seemed like I should take a look at some of the alternate intelligent species I could take on in Palladium Fantasy. I quickly discarded the elves and dwarves because they are essentially just humans with perks. In play, I would pretty much forget that I was not playing a human unless we entered an area where the species I took tended to be faced with prejudice. That idea got me thinking further.

If I chose something like an ogre, or heaven forfend a troglodyte, I could get loads of racism, discrimination, attention from slavers, and let’s not forget disdain, but not much deep interaction.  Worse, as this was to be troupe-style play, the character would perhaps have little motivation to ever associate with the other two characters I had generated, thereby increasing the workload of the GM, unless I were to somehow make them a fish out of water in their own culture. I couldn’t really find a species to which this would not apply, unless it could pass for human – such as a changeling – and that would obviate the point of the whole exercise entirely.

The Answer to the Problem:

The answer, obviously, was to play someone who was able to/interested in associating with humans, my two other characters in particular, but who would still generate an interesting response from the NPCs we encounter beyond simple ‘racial’ dislike/distrust. I get enough of that in the real world.  I decided I needed something that people wouldn’t see every day, and that they would definitely have an opinion about, ranging from Kill it! to WTF?!? to Run! I felt it was necessary to make an impression.

Obviously, that could mean only one thing: a Syvan…  Psych! I am kidding. Playing a member of the wolfen species was an option, but due to the nature of the campaign, it would not make an impression, and more importantly, it would lessen the impact of where I believe the story will go, and so… no. So, it meant playing a titan…  got, you again~  No, actually it meant playing a troll.

Actually, I am not kidding with that last one. I decided to play a troll, and I decided to turn my previous experience of  ‘guy-in-a-suit’ to a positive thing in so doing. I decided that in order for the character to fit the group in the way it should, that the character had to be, for all intents and purposes, human in outlook or at least upbringing. As I write this just now, I guess the easy way to describe this is the character of Worf. Hmmm… some of the gloss just came off of my idea~

Having a good personality and being fun to be with:

Anyway, from that point on, it was both predictable and easy to generate the character. The hardest part was in refining the motivations of important characters in the back story.

What I determined was, that the character would be a foundling, raised by a human soldier who was nearing the end of his service, and intending to retire in the Eastern Territories, in a rough and tumble town where his skills could be put to use in a support role. This retired soldier would be a tanner, and maker of armour and other leather travel gear.

Obviously, the initial stumbling block would be – why on Palladium would this man take on the burden of an infant troll? Why would anyone?  We will come back to that later.

Generating the character was very easy from this point in terms of mechanics. The range of skills and training options were limited, and the idea of becoming an apprentice to the town baker or troupe of village mimes seemed too outré, so mercenary soldier appeared to be the best fit – not only in terms of sensible and logical choice of occupation, but in terms of learning self-defence against neighbours with torches, pitchforks, and closed minds.

Rolling traits was amusing compared to doing so for the human characters, and getting a maximum score for one of them was a real surprise, in fact I didn’t even realize it until I tried to look up its bonuses. I haven’t seen one of those since my university days. A troll would stand out regardless, but this troll was definitely slated to make an impression.

So once the quick generation process was complete, the fun part began: personality. Who would this troll be, and what approach would I take to playing him? As I pondered the question, my initial instinct was to make him Scrupulous, and to have him be somewhat shy in terms of personal interactions. As the following morsel of needless fiction will attest, however, my imagination was beginning to stir, although it is clear that I was beginning to lean in the direction of using Frankenstein’s monster as a basis, but without all the screaming and accidental death.

Warning: Unnecessary fiction!

Pride would not let the powerful war horse beneath him cease its high-stepping march down the rough, dirt lane. Although tired beyond measure, Hammer would never stoop to plodding along like some draft horse or wagon-puller.

Ysterwald patted it’s glistening neck affectionately and muttered, “Are you tired, fella?”

The derisive snort in return made the young warrior smile, and look for a good place to rest along the side of the road.

Turning into a smallish lane, the warrior realized he had entered a local cemetery of sorts… perhaps for peasants and the working classes. The ground was rocky, but well-kept. Few graves had anything but the most simple of wooden markers, most without names.

He froze, as a massive shape rose up out of the shadows cast by an ancient, moss-covered tree. He relaxed instantly however, as he took in the body language of the thing… as it knelt once more, placed its gift on a neatly tended grave, stood, bowed a moment, then moved on into the darker shadows of the forest.

Watching it go, the Palladin spoke again. “A man has not yet begun to understand the wonderous complexity of this world, Hammer, until he sees a troll lay a wreath of flowers on the grave of an old man,” the young warrior spoke softly to the spirited horse.

The horse kept its thoughts to itself.

Once I had all the book-keeping out-of-the-way, I saw the question of building a persona in a different light. What I really had were two choices of direction.

The Choices:

As I was now quite deep into the Land of the Raging Archetype, and huge bus tours of rabid stereotypes were at every rest stop and attraction in that land, I decided to take my own advice and just go with it. I started to think about the group I was building, how that group would fit together, and what sort of trio they could be…

My first reaction, as I was in ‘gentle giant’ mode, was this: 90’s buddy comedy.  Things seemed pretty clear if the mercenary troll could be Hooch, Ysterwald could be Turner, and Cohan could be Sutton… or the vet… Sutton. Palladium Fantasy, meet Turner & Hooch. Could this work? All the key points were there, reviled and brutal-seeming character (Hooch) with a loyal and tender heart, paired with clever and dedicated character (Turner), plus fun-loving, cheerful observer (Sutton).

It could work…

As soon as I started thinking in that vein, however, another idea sauntered in, slid a cold glass of my usual across the table, and started whispering about revolution. That idea was one of deception. What if the trio were more like Angel Battista, Deb Morgan, and… Dexter? What if the troll were able to wear a civilized face, hold a job, and keep his urges to collect tolls under bridges under wraps… most of the time. What if inside, he were really a troll, who acted like a troll raised by humans to be human, who looked like a troll, and acted like he was hurt by the mean things people say, but in reality was just waiting for the right moment to serve up a little retribution with a fine Chianti?

That could work, too…

I had a choice to make, and to be honest, I haven’t fully made it yet, even though the criterion for its resolution is simple: play something new.

As I tend to go for anti-heroes with indifferent attitudes, the latter idea, despite the greater opportunities for in-depth roleplay, would actually be straying truer to type, and would be wasted in interactions with myself. Do I really need to sit at my keyboard, pretending in one character entry to not know that the troll butchered and killed the innkeeper who cheated us, while in the next entry, I am the troll who butchered and killed the innkeeper who cheated us? Is there fun in that somewhere?

Still… there is that lingering problem of ‘guy-in-a-rubber-suit.’ If I pick Hooch over Dexter, the troll is really a human with wildly different stats.

I have time before I have to decide. What do you think I will choose?

Final Stages of Initial Character Generation:

I decided to make the troll a decent linguist, and ensure he had the sort of domestic skills he would have to have had developed in living the life he would have to have lived. I figure he has a fine stitch, and may at some point turn his attention to such things as boot-making. As I started thinking about the languages he would learn, I had a quick flash of inspiration and decided that he would have been named for a sound he often made. I decided that sound would be ryarrll.

I named him Ryarrll Tanner.

Taking this idea further, I have concluded that this sound was really a word… ‘baby’s first word!‘ and that as an adolescent student of the language of his ancestors, young Ryarrll would have learned that his name… properly spoken with a very guttural R and a triangular motion of a jutting chin, means – depending on context – hungry, or Hell.  You have to either laugh or cry.

In reviewing the budding concepts with the GM, it turned out that he had been planning the death of an NPC as an initial element of the campaign. He determined that having Ryarrll’s adoptive father be that murdered man, might be advantageous to setting the stage for the three characters to come together. While I felt sorry for Ryarrll suddenly being orphaned for the second time in life, I had to agree. It was for this reason that I quickly penned the short scene inflicted upon you earlier in this entry.

More or less coming sort of closer to almost wrapping this up:

Other skill choices were simple when I considered the life of a retired fighting man, and the simple realities of racism, interspecies interaction, and violence in the Palladium world. He would be a soldier through and through, but without an army, and used to a life of hard work and hardship… but perhaps with the soul of a poet… or the soul of a bridge-lurker beating people up and taking their milk money.

Decisions, decisions.

Thoughts, Gentle Reader?

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