Sunday, July 25, 2010

Roll up a backstory - BoL style

Keroki captain of the inner palace guards slowly let out along breath as he knocked his bow and sighted on the target down range.The crowd was still as he drew back the cord and then in one smooth moment left loose. The shaft sped forward and smashed directly into the centre of the target.Around him the crowd - courtiers and commoners alike burst into applause.Grinning maniacally the brawny soldiers began to saunter up the stairs to where the king or Urceb and his inner council awaited.Keroki had served as captain of the inner guards for three years now, just as his father had done before him. An unpopular figure at court, despite his family connection, he knew the courtiers mocked him as a comic, uncultured figure.He knew they called him ‘‘the butcher boy’’.But nothing mattered today, he mused, as he strutted forward - barely noticing Tor the Axonian, the newly appointed captain of the middle guard, taking his place on the shooting platform.The brawny soldier hawked and spat in contempt for the barbarian who had appeared suddenly and wormed his way into the palace guards’ ranks.Still intent on walking towards the royal box where he would be acclaimed champion of the New Year Archery Competition Keroki was oblivious to the commotion as Tor aimed and shot – knocking his own arrow out of the way.As the crowd laughed at chanted he turned bright red and watched in horror as the barbarian mounted the steps to take the winner’s chalice.Everyone knew the barbarian could swing a sword, shoot a bow and throw a javelin better than any of the other guards - but to reward him like this was too much.

So how do you kick off a BoL campaign? It’s far too convenient to have your pcs meet over drinks at the local tavern and decide to go a-adventuring.But Howard rarely started his Conan stories with the Cimmerian looking for adventure. No, Conan normally started as captain of the palace guard, a mercenary working the supply routes or a new in town thief looking for extra coin.I’ve knocked up a quick and dirty ‘‘starting occupation’’ table.You’ve decided to start a nice little campaign in Parsool - but what are the pcs doing in Parsool and how do they get involved in the quest to find the ancient relics, save the beautiful priestess from sacrifice at the hands of crazed cultists and broker a treat between warring clans?Simple - roll up a nice little starting occupation. The idea is not to replace the careers but I figure it’s a good idea for getting started. If the pcs roll up a couple of soldiers and then a no good sort, it’s pretty easy to decide that say the two guards captured the thief breaking into the palace but the trio decided to work together, etc.1) the pc is new in town and makes for the nearest tavern to hear the latest gossip and wet his whistle2) the pc has entered the area with a trade caravan - either as a caravan guard, a merchant, a general all rounder or a teamster3) the pc is involved in the local fleshtrade. Either as a prostitute - high class or common street walker - or a pimp operating a stable of girls (or boys). Maybe the pc in fact stands guard for the brothel or works as a stand over man4) the pc is a cop with city watch or town guard - walking the beat and keeping the peace5) the pc is employed by a wizard or sorceress or alchemist. But in what capacity? Apprentice? General Dog’s Body or test subject?6) the pc is a sellsword looking for work - with sword in hand the pc has arrived in the region looking for work and spends his or her day hanging around the market, the hiring halls and soldiers’ flophouses and taverns looking for employment7) the pc is an enlisted man with the local army or a common sailor in the fleet. You’re a grunt, perhaps drafted or maybe a volunteer in the irregular company8) the pc is living off the land - maybe they own a farm or they are working as a farm hand, cutting wood and clearing brush for their keep9) the pc is employed in an honest trade - blacksmith, metalworker, tanner, etc10) the pc is an officer - maybe the first mate of a ship or captain of the palace guard11) the pc wakes up in a cell - have they been thrown in the palace dungeon caught inciting a riot? Involved in a drunken brawl? Mistaken for a master criminal? Or maybe you’ve woken up deep in the bowels of the thieves’ guildhouse? Or a cult’s secret lair?12) the pc has somehow ended up as a noble of the kingdom? How? You decide...


  1. Very nice, amigo. It's a good twist and makes for much more Howard-esque beginnings. I know my players almost always start out as sellswords, but it would be great to pick up with them having worked as caravan guards or something of the like.

    Great thinking!

  2. Cheers guys.

    I was thinking much the same thing - it's easy to have them just start as sellswords looking for work.
    But why not add a little bit of extra roleplay and motivation by having them start as - well, a randomly determined thing...