Character Backgrounds

Jack's picture

Once upon a time, Columbia Games had a contest for HarnMaster character submissions. I won with the following entry. (Clearly, there must not have been many entrants. LOL) After that, I was asked to create 24 NPC's for a publication tentatively titled HarnFolk. I completed 20 before the project was cancelled. It was a great learning experience, even though nothing was ever published. I'm not up on the legal stuff - I don't know if CG has some "rights" to my submissions, though I doubt it since I was never paid for them. In any event, here's my very first serious attempt at FRPG writing . . .


Lernis of Tanyd was born into a family of Burzyn day-laborers, the fourth and last son of an abusive and alcoholic father. His mother succumbed to pneumonia when he was seven and with her died any chance of a reasonably happy childhood. By the time he was fourteen, Lernis had taken all he could from his father and brothers, and fled Burzyn by hiding under the tarp of the last wagon in a small northbound caravan. He was discovered at the end of the first day, but by then Chybisa was far behind, and the caravan master was too decent a man to abandon the boy to the wilderness. The fact that Lernis had filled out young and asserted that he could work for his passage may have influenced the decision. The master gave Lernis a spear, a shield, and every miserable detail he could devise, slowly realizing that the boy had endured far worse.

Lernis spent the next six years as a rough-and-tumble mercenary guarding caravans along the Genin Trail, and (by coincidence) found himself in Thay just as the Orbaalese attacked. He was pressed into service along with every other mercenary in town and lived every soldier’s nightmare on the docks. As a bearded and braided Ivinian warrior swung an ax, Lernis parried with his sword, which broke cleanly at the hilt. Dumbfounded, Lernis had no time to react to the next blow, which severed his right arm halfway between the shoulder and elbow.

Afterwards, time passed in a haze of infection-induced delirium, but Lernis experienced one crystal-clear vision repeatedly, the only memory of that time he would retain. In it, a white-robed young man spoke earnestly to an older woman, dressed in simple, modest clothes. The man gestured at Lernis, and seemed to be arguing on his behalf, though Lernis could hear no words. The woman seemed indifferent, and refused to look at Lernis, which tore at his heart for some unidentifiable reason.

Lernis awoke a month after the battle, still weak, but healing. He found himself in the Peonian temple / hospital in Thay, and, even after recovering, never left. Instead, he became a humbled lay adherent of Peoni, accepting every task without complaint, wanting to feel redeemed and accepted by the woman in his vision. As the years passed, the tasks assigned by the priests taught the simple lessons required of the newest acolytes (humility, perseverance, honesty) and Lernis’ religious instruction was underway. Seven years later, Lernis left Thay as a newly-inducted Reslava, traveling the rural areas of mainland Melderyn, visiting parish priests, and learning more about the ways of his new life.

rbs's picture

The character background idea

The character background idea sounds pretty handy. But... if I were GMing these days, I would also be looking for character stats to go with the profile.

Then again, if you're good at whipping up stats (HMG preferred, of course) to go with a profile, you might contact Jeremy to see if you could assist with fleshing out supplementary material to go with potential KP releases. :)

Jack's picture

Some GM's might want stats

Some GM's might want stats and some might not. Consider that not all GM's use HMG (or any other version of HarnMaster, for that matter). One of the founding principles of HarnWorld is its status as a generic environment for any rules system. Also, my stats for Lernis might not be appropriate to your campaign if you have a lower or higher power or magic level than that for which I'm creating stats. Ultimately, you would have to tweak the stats to fit...

...and then quite possibly not use them at all. How often do we as GM's need stats for the walk-on, walk-off NPC's that our PC's encounter? My (perhaps poorly-expressed) intent for the character backgrounds topic was the exchange of ideas. The most valuable thing that GM'ing has taught me is that two heads are better than one. I've almost never been able to stump a group of players. It's not that they're smarter than me - there are just more brain cells attacking the situation than were available to create it.

Many people out there would have never thought of a Peonian priest with one arm and a background as a mercenary from the ranks of the urban poor. I'm interested to see what ideas others have for characters, too.

Speaking of ideas, have you ever met a half-deaf, mentally-retarded city guardsman?

Jack's picture

Tollem of Arnog

At the end of one of the countless alleyways of Tashal stands a ramshackle four-story tenement filled to the brim with the fifty-one members of the Arnog clan, a rowdy group of urban laborers. The current pride of the clan is twenty-two year-old Tollem who has “made good” by landing a crown job with a fine salary, Tashal City Guardsman.

It is said that when Tollem was born, his mother’s screams could be heard across the river and past the east common. The baby was huge, weighing about as much as a new paving stone. He was also hard-headed; when his father spanked him, he often tried to hit back. By the time he was ten, Tollem was almost as big as a full-grown man and nearly as strong. Unfortunately, he contracted a fever one summer after swimming in the Kald. (Jumping from the Balasa Bridge and swimming to the boat stage is a popular pastime for boys during the warm season.) It was almost six months before the lad recovered, and by then the fever had spread through his brain leaving him somewhat simple-minded and hard of hearing. Tollem’s bout of sickness had no long-term effect on his muscles, however, and at twelve he joined the older clansmen in their daily search for work. By his sixteenth nameday, the young man was famed throughout the city for his strength, and was winning fair contests regularly. He was also becoming increasingly well-known as a brawler - the clan line had bred true once again.

In 718, a grizzled veteran of the city guard jokingly suggested that since the guard couldn’t beat Tollem, they might as well join him, or vice versa. The idea took hold as the sergeants of the watch imagined patrolling the rougher parts of town with a giant to cover their backs; they convinced the watch captain to approve it by the end of the year.

It took some time (and some help from Tollem’s great-uncle), but the concept of stopping rather than starting fights gradually worked its way into Tollem’s consciousness. The mechanics are the same in any event and Tollem is remarkably effective at his new job; most combatants help each other flee at his mere approach. He has also proven impervious to bribery - he cannot grasp the idea of working for more than one employer at a time. This has been a disappointment to the Lia-Kavair and some of his co-workers, but while the crime rate in Tashal remains steady, the crime rate in Tollem’s vicinity tends to decrease rapidly as non-law-abiding citizens migrate to another part of town for the night.

Most of the city guard rotate shifts and assignments, but Tollem never seems to pull gate duty and only works the market during the busy summer months. Most of the time, he patrols the slum districts and taverns, reminding everyone who sees his head bobbing above the crowd of the importance of keeping the peace, lest he keep it for them.


Tollem's original statistics included a height of 6'-8" (200 centimeters), a massive frame, and a Strength of 20 on a 3-18 scale. For HarnMaster, a high Stamina and Willpower (read: Endurance) would also be appropriate.

jrpurvis's picture

Are stats needed?

Providing stats with a character can be helpful, but most of the time I'd prefer to see that space taken by more description of the character. If the character is printed in an adventure, give the stats, otherwise a general description. Tell me he is good with a spell and an excellent horseman rather than give a percentage. Let me decide what good and excellent means in my campaign. Don't tell me every skill he has, just the important/interesting ones. The minor skills I'll determine as needed by the story.

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