Posts Tagged ‘South Pole’

One of my Exploration Age campaigns is coming to an end… and a new one is about to start! My friend Andrew Kane is DMing us through a campaign based in Exploration Age’s South Pole. The story deals with a cult he created that’s devoted to The Lingering Havoc. Badass! I finally get to step into the role of player which will give me time to focus on publishing the Exploration Age Campaign Guide and allow me to be engaged with the game in a new way. It’s been more than six years since I was a player in a sustained D&D campaign!

As our current campaign ends, Andrew has asked us to submit character backstories so he can begin working those details into the story of the campaign. I thought this would be the perfect opportunity for me to discuss what makes a great character backstories. Here’s a few tips followed by character’s backstory as an example!

Ask the DM

Before you put any work into creating a character’s backstory, ask the person running the game if there are any parameters. Are the character options (like races and classes) restricted? What sort of world are you playing in? A jolly halfling rogue with a passion for lemon cakes and celebrity gossip isn’t something you’d find in a post-apocalyptic setting. Once you have that information from your DM, give them a quick description of your character. It doesn’t have to be more than a sentence or two. Mine was something like, “My character is a half-elf bard who travels the world searching for ancient troves of lost knowledge. He loves discovering new or forgotten ideas and is particularly interested in necromancy and magic that can extend a person’s life.” This got the approval from Andrew. (Side note: I figured having a knowledgable character would help me roleplay since we’re playing in a campaign setting I created.)

Use What the DM Gave Ya!

Once you know about the world your character inhabits, think about how you can tie your character into the setting. As a DM I find it a lot easier to work a character’s backstory into the game if they already have some connection to the story I’m trying to tell. In my case, I picked a character that has an interest in necromancy because Andrew has told us his campaign is centered around a cult of The Lingering Havoc (which is a massive pile of bodies with one mind). This makes it much easier to draw my PC and other elements of his backstory into the campaign. For instance, if my PC is in The South Pole looking for The Lingering Havoc and an old enemy shows up with an axe to grind, it makes sense that the enemy would know to find him there, since my character has a known interest in necromancy.

Just how did I know The Lingering Havoc and South Pole are playing a big part in this campaign? Why the DM told us of course! In fact he sent us an awesome map and campaign primer. Check out both below!

The South Pole: A Primer

Reminder: All the dark gray spots are unexplored terrain. This map made using Hexographer.

All the dark gray hexes are unexplored terrain. This map made using Hexographer.

Closed Point of View

It’s best to use either first person or limited third person points of view (as opposed to omniscient) when writing a character backstory. This allows for the DM to harvest your story for hooks and adventure ideas more easily than if you provide every detail.

Consider this example. Your PC is fighting their nemesis and mortally wounds the enemy before the baddy gets away. An omniscient narrator might then inform us that the nemesis drank a potion of healing and swore to get vengeance on the PC someday. That’s a good hook, but wouldn’t it be more interesting if you as a player don’t know the outcome and leave it to the DM? Then the possibilities are endless. Maybe the nemesis was healed, or maybe with their dying breath the enemy swore an oath of vengeance to a dark god is now an undead revenant stalking the land! Or maybe the nemesis’ much worse sibling or parent found the body and is coming after the PC. Maybe law enforcement found the body and the PC is wanted for murder and doesn’t know it! Maybe the PC is wanted for murder because the body was found AND the nemesis rose as a vengeful wraith (a double surprise). Heck, the DM could tie this thread into another PC’s backstory or the main story! Maybe your nemesis is now a henchmen of the campaign’s main villain! As you can see, a closed point of view allows for more interest storytelling possibilities.

You might consider getting creative and writing your PC’s backstory from another character’s point of view. Maybe a spouse, lover, best friend, parent, or bard tells the tale. Whatever you do, keep the point of view closed so the DM can have a little fun.

Dangle A Few Threads

Leave a few plot threads hanging for your DM to pull on and weave into the story. Your character’s story is just beginning. If all your problems are taken care of at the start of the adventure, then there’s nothing from your backstory to work into the campaign. There’s many possible open threads! Maybe your character agreed to take over the thieves’ guild once an ailing parent/guild leader dies. Maybe someone stole a family heirloom. Maybe your PC wants to learn more about magic so they can return to their farming village to end a years-long drought. Don’t go overboard here. Your DM has other characters and their own story they’re trying to tell. One to three open threads should be enough.

Stick To The Basics And Defining Events

Don’t feel like you need to describe every detail of your character’s life. Answer the basics. Where are they from? Who is close to them? How did they get their talent for fighting, magic, roguing, rangering, etc?

After you answer those questions, you need only describe the defining events in your character’s life. What events made them the person they are today? In fifth edition D&D you might look to your personality traits, bond, ideal, and flaw and ask “When did my character develop these?” Put those moments into words and use those events to leave your dangling threads. That way when your past comes back at you during a game, it’ll be even more meaningful.

Secrets Are Fun

It helps your party members if they know a bit of your backstory, but keep a secret or two for just you and the DM. The secret should be something important that your PC wouldn’t readily share, even with the other party members. Maybe your character is secretly royalty, was once part of a demonic cult, has a secret love child, or accidentally murdered someone. Many of these secrets are shameful to characters, but there’s other reasons a person could keep a secret.

Maybe your PC keeps a public figure’s shameful secret in order to extort them for money. Maybe your PC keeps ties to certain friend or family a secret so enemies don’t exploit loved ones. Maybe they have to keep a relationship a secret because if their father finds out, they’ll lose their inheritance. There’s tons of reasons to keep secrets out there! Give your character a good one… and don’t be surprised when the secret becomes exposed!

Heroes Are Good, Chosen Ones Not So Much

Your character should have some fantastic deeds or moments in their backstory. The first time they cast a spell. The first monster they vanquished. Though remember that this PC is meant to be a part of a group of heroes that is stronger together. You’re character should not be the only person on earth who can slay a world-consuming monster. Not only will it be sad for the world when your PC is killed by a kobold at level 1, it also takes too much importance away from the other characters!

We Knew Each Other Before This

It’s always a good idea to tie your backstory into at least one other PC’s backstory. This makes it easier on the DM to bring people together. Plus it gives you another character you already trust and care about! You might even consider sharing any secrets in your backstory with them.

A Word on Length

When it comes to character backstories, I don’t care much about length as a DM. I’ll read one paragraph (or a list of bullet points) and I’ll read a 30+ page history. Check with your DM before you write a novel. They may not have the time to read it all while they’re worldbuilding and living life, no matter how well it’s written.

Example Backstory: Ramus Verbosa

The link below is the example backstory for my PC, Ramus Verbosa. I’m keeping it in a link since it’s got secrets and I don’t want my fellow players (who sometimes read this blog) to get any spoilers. Happy writing friends!

Ramus Verbosa Backstory

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You ever look at the North Pole and ask yourself, “Why in the Hell would Santa want to live there?” The answer is simple – his operation is so confidential he went to the one place no one could find him. Even if you know exactly where his operation is, good luck braving the elements to get there. I feel bad for the person who has to deliver all those letters to him. Seriously, a man with the power to see us at all times of the day should have an email address.

Exploration Age has blank spots on the map beyond The Damned Lands and Verda. The harsh environments of Glacius and the North and South Poles of Canus have kept even the toughest explorers at bay.

Glacius

Map of Glacius

Map of Glacius

Just North of Findalay lies a continent about the size of Parian covered in snow and ice. Glacius is one-third frozen ocean, one-third snow-covered plains, and one-third mysterious ice-covered mountain range with the occasional volcano and aberrant ruin thrown-in.

The snow plains of Glacius are a near constant blizzard, but thanks to the Society of Seekers and The Explorers’ Guild most of the area has been mapped. For those with the stomach for it, the snow plains offer some of the most spectacular sights in all of Canus. Rare beasts, a strange aberrant ruin full of mysterious labs, and bizarre weather phenomena make Glacius unlike any other place on the planet. All of these rarities are not as strange as the seemingly abandoned tunnels dug into the frozen snow. Where exactly the tunnels lead and what their purpose was is up for debate, as no expedition deep into the tunnels has ever come back.

Glacius’ frozen ocean is the most dangerous place to get rich quick. Frozen within the ice is gold dust. Ice-breaking ships manned by all-or-nothing crews make their way through the sea, trying to find the best places to saw out blocks of ice flecked with gold. These blocks are melted aboard the ship and the gold is then harvested. Of course, the frozen ocean has many of its own hazards such as weather, thin ice, hidden icebergs, polar bears, krakens, ice pirates, and more. Boats can get stuck inside the frozen ocean if they venture too far into the ice and the sea freezes their path behind them. In this case the crew can starve and freeze or abandon ship and try to survive out on the ice – a miserable existence. Perhaps the most frightening hazard upon the frozen ocean is The Undead Miner Army. Sailors tell tales of a greedy legion of wights who met their fate mining gold on the ice. These undead are always looking to increase their ranks and horde of gold by attacking the crews of the living. There may be truth to these rumors, since destroyed mining ships have been found with all their gold removed and not a single corpse ever in the bloodstained area.

Imagine… a legion of this guy!

The Ice Ranges of Glacius are the unmapped area of the continent. The ice-covered mountains have peaks higher than 20,000 feet. As a result, no one has ever ventured beyond the outer-most mountains so what occurs within the Ice Ranges remains a mystery. Occasionally a white dragon can be seen flying toward the mountains and those with keen ears can hear thunderous booms erupting from the inner peaks through the howling blizzard winds.

Two active volcanoes live in Glacius. Mt. Steam sits on an island in the frozen ocean. Some sailors claim to have seen a massive red dragon coming from or going to Mt. Steam, but those rumors have never been corroborated. The other volcano, Mt. Hyrias sits on Glacius’ coast and seems to constantly spew ash and lava into the sea. Mad soothsayers claim that the aberrants buried a weapon beneath this lava flow long ago and are soon going to return to use it and cover Canus in ash and fire.

The Poles

If Glacius is remote and dangerous than Canus’ poles are the hardest-earned suicide mission Exploration Age has to offer. Barely explored, and less often survived, few know what the poles have to offer. To some that is a reason to stay away, but for others the challenge has become a draw. The Society of Seekers and The Explorers’ Guild have a bit of an unofficial race going between them. The Society has an independent pet project of exploring the South Pole while The Guild is exploring the North. Both are hoping to prove their superiority over the other by filling in the blank spots of their pole’s map first.

While both poles are cold, icy masses of frozen ocean with treacherous terrain and more dangerous weather, each does have its own unique hazards. The North Pole’s winds are stronger than any other on Canus. Whirlwinds of snow and ice can kick up at any moment, or gusts of wind could blow so strong that a traveler without ice cleats may be lifted off of the surface of the frozen ocean and carried into the air. Flying is not an option on the North Pole for any but the most powerful creatures.

Below the surface of the North Pole swim predatory creatures known as ice-breaker sharks. These crafty beings use the bony growths upon their heads to weaken the ice in a given area then surprise their prey by either breaking through the weak spot or allowing their target to fall through it before attacking. Either way ice breaker sharks can sense footsteps through the ice from up to a mile away and will begin preparing a hunting ground with plenty of these weak spots. They often allow their prey to travel far into the hunting grounds before attacking so they can surround the victims with weak spots, giving no option for easy escape.

Who wants to snuggle?

The South Pole is just as deadly as the North Pole. Winds are not as fierce, however the snow falls so heavily here it forms massive dunes that are treacherous to climb. The snow is uneven and could collapse at any moment, burying a traveler. As if the snow and weather weren’t enough, earthquakes constantly shake The South Pole, threatening to level and reform new snow dunes constantly, not to mention bury and knock adventurers off their feet. But the worst of the worst hazards in The South Pole is The Lingering Havoc.

No one is sure of The Havoc’s origin. Some say it is an ancient remnant of aberrant societies, some say it migrated from The Damned Lands or mysterious parts of Verda, and others believe there is a darker force somewhere deep within the South Pole controlling the force. Few have seen The Lingering Havoc and lived to tell of it. Those who have their minds permanently warped. Yet all those who describe The Havoc have a similar story to tell. Either coming out of the snowy depths or rising through the broken ice, a massive creature, more than 500 feet tall by many accounts. The Lingering Havoc is a hulking mass of bones and corpses of various humanoids, animals, and monsters that have somehow formed together into one colossal engine of destruction.

Other than their ongoing competition, why would The Society of Seekers and The Explorers’ Guild continue to risk it all over two seemingly worthless hunks of ice? Because there could be profit, adventure, glory, and discovery to be found over the next snow dune. Aberrant ruins that have yet to be picked over, a new race of intelligent beings, portals to other worlds, and more endless possibilities live in the minds of adventurers and PCs. It’s my promise to deliver on those expectations, provided they survive the harsh cold… and the ice breaker sharks… and The Lingering Havoc… you get the idea.

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