Designing the New RuneQuest - Part 8
By Jeff Richard
Jumping into the setting with Family Background
As talked about in the previous designer notes, I'm not a big fan of the "zeroes to heroes" trope. I prefer playing and gamemastering characters who start in media res - that is, they already have a past and have community ties, loyalties, and other passions, which can be used as roleplaying and campaign hooks.
This approach however creates two problems:
- How to come up with those ties and passions so that they "feel" right for your character and are not cookie-cutter passions like everyone else; and
- How to quickly grasp rich settings like Glorantha quickly enough to be able to do this in character generation.
To solve these problems, we've adopted the "Family History" mechanics from Pendragon and tailored it to Dragon Pass. It is quite reminiscent of the clan history process from the King of Dragon Pass computer game, except it develops your character, rather than your community!
In character creation, you can decide which grandparent had the most impact on your character's identity, and then determine what happened to him or her until 1606. Each of these end up being homeland specific, with different outcomes depending on whether the grandparent was from Sartar, Esrolia, Lunar Tarsh, Old Tarsh, the Grazelands, or Prax. Did your grandmother fight at the Battle of Grizzly Peak or plunder Boldhome in 1602? Was your grandfather killed when Belintar raised the Building Wall or did he follow Fazzur Wideread and fight in the Feint to the Sea?
After 1606, you can "retire" your grandparent, and move on to whichever parent most influenced your character. Did your father help the Lunars conquer Prax or did he participate in Starbrow's Rebellion? Was your mother killed by Harrek Berserk in 1616 or by Greymane's raiders the following year or by elf raiders? Did your parent die in the Great Winter making sure you were fed? And so on.
Your character may gain passions or even skill bonuses as a result of the deeds of your ancestors.
Finally in 1624, you may "retire" your parent, and determine what happened to your character prior to the start of play. Your character can't get killed as a result of their participation in the early Hero Wars (although they might have nearly died and gotten a distinctive scar), but it really helps ground your character in the setting. Did you fight in the Siege of Nochet or at the Battle of Pennel Ford? Did you witness the Dragonrise, the betrayal of General Fazzur Wideread or fight at the Second Battle of Moonbroth? Did you survive a murder attempt by supporters of King Pharandos or were you grievously wounded when Jar-eel appeared in the middle of Kallyr's Starbrow heroquest.
Here's an example of the Family History in play, using the examplar character, Fenerasa the Fierce:
Feneresa’s paternal grandmother was Ferendatha, a Sartarite scribe in the service of the Prince of Sartar. When she was a young woman, she rode to war alongside King Tarkalor and the Feathered Horse Queen. At the Battle of Grizzly Peak, she witnessed the death of her liege at the hands of the Lunar Empire. Ferendatha survived, and after the Battle of Alda-Chur, she witnessed the Alda-Churi acclaim Terasarin as Prince.
In 1597, Ferendatha traveled to the Holy Country in the company with a member of the Sartar royal house and witnessed his murder at the hands of Lunar assassins.
In 1602 the Lunar army invaded the kingdom of Sartar. Despite being a scribe, Ferendatha died with great glory in the Battle of Boldhome.
Feneresa’s father, Farnan was a temple orphan who married a wealthy farmer of the Ernaldori clan. In 1613, Farnan abandoned the plow to join in Starbrow’s Rebellion. After its defeat, he personally aided Kallyr Starbrow in her escape from Sartar and then returned to his wife’s farm.
In 1619, Farnan left the farm again to fight against the Lunar Empire. His young daughter, Feneresa, wanted to follow him, but she was too young. Farnan rallied to the rebel king Broyan of Whitewall, and fought against the Empire in the Hendriking campaign.
In 1620, Farnan was one of the volunteer defenders of Whitewall, then under siege by the Empire. In the Lunar assault on Whitewall, the Crimson Bat devoured Farnan, before it was defeated in turn by King Broyan. Farnan’s soul was annihilated and his daughter swore revenge.
As soon as she was initiated as an adult, Fenerasa left her mother’s farm to seek to avenge her father against the Lunar Empire. In 1623, she followed King Broyan to the metropolis of Nochet, where she joined its defense during the siege of that city by the Lunars.
She spent a full year in Nochet and when the Lunars broke camp, Fenerasa joined the pursuing army. In 1624, at the Battle of Pennel Ford she fought with great glory and gained the attention of Argrath. When Orlanth’s Ring rose in the sky, she devoted herself to the returned God. She followed Argrath into Dragon Pass and when the White Bull summoned Jaldon Goldentooth, she swore undying loyalty to the Argrath.
In 1625, Fenerasa joined the army of the White Bull in the liberation of Pavis. Pursuing honor again, she fought with great glory at the Second Battle of Moonbroth, and was nearly killed (receiving a nasty scar across her left eye) in the process of killing a Lunar priestess. After the Dragonrise, she returned to her mother’s farm to recover.
In 1626, Feneresa was one of the thousands of people who participated in Kallyr Starbrow’s failed Lightbringer’s Quest. She fought in the Battle of the Queens and was badly wounded trying to defend Kallyr Starbrow.
After the Battle of the Queens, we know Feneresa’s past and have a good idea of her direction. Her current skill and passion bonuses are:
Devotion (deity) 70%
Hate Lunar Empire 90%
Love (family) 60%
Loyalty (Ernaldori clan) 60%
Loyalty (Colymar tribe) 70%
Loyalty (Sartar) 80%
Loyalty (Argrath) 70%
For the player (this was created by one of my playtest players who was not very familar with Gloranthan lore), she immediately "got" got the character after doing this - and all before determining any other stats. She knew who she was playing, who her character's most important loyalties were, etc. She knew her character really hates the Lunar Empire with an overwhelming passion and is also a strong Sartar nationalist. She's also as loyal to Argrath personally as she is to her tribe - and more so than she loves her own family or clan! Finally, her character's extremely high honor means her demand for honor is going to drive her behavior whenever applicable - she'll keep her word even unto death, but also react extremely towards dishonorable actions!
Another player in the same group decided her character would be Ferenasa's half-sister. Same mother, different father and different influential grandparent. Although her events were linked, she ended up with a very different character:
Yanioth's grandmother died at Grizzly Peak defending the Feathered Horse Queen, and her mother (Orioth, a wealthy Ernaldori farmer) stayed completely out of the next twenty-years of conflict. It was a great shock to her mother that Yanioth accompanied her half-sister to Nochet, where she gained the blessing and favor of Queen Samastina of Esrolia. Yanioth was present at the Battle of Pennel Ford, accompanied Argrath to summon Jaldon, and helped acclaim Kallyr Starbrow as Prince. She participated in Kallyr's Lightbringers Quest and fought at the Battle of Queens, where she was nearly killed by Lunar Sorcery. Her current skill and passion bonuses are:
Devotion Ernalda 80
Loyalty (Colymar Tribe) 70
Loyalty (Ernaldori Clan) 60
Love (family) 70
Loyalty (Argrath) 60
Loyalty (Feathered Horse Queen) 60
Loyalty (Sartar) 60
Loyalty (Queen Samastina) 60
Hate Lunar Empire 60
Again, the player knew after this process what kind of character she wanted to play - and knows how her character fits with the other character. Yanioth is driven by her devotion to her goddess and her loyalty to her family and tribe. She has loyalties - possibly conflicting - towards many of the key players in the Hero Wars.
This process takes about thirty minutes to an hour - depending on how much detail the GM and the player wants to go through, but by the end, the player is well-grounded in the Gloranthan setting, and their character is tightly tied into that setting. The Family History not only makes it far easier for the players to jump into the setting - but for the GM, it creates a set of potential campaign twists, where these passions could be put in conflict, offering game possibilities and opportunities for roleplaying.