Following on from the Brymstone town map, here is the introductory spiel for one of the player-characters in the Brymstone campaign. I just handed each player a background and let them work it up from there. Don't always do it that way - in fact, at no other time - but this was an experiment. The player in question was Ian Marsh, of Dragonlords and White Dwarf fame, who now runs Fighting 15s. The character was inspired by Vina's fate in "The Menagerie" - what if you got put back together by beings that didn't understand all the mortal components? I explored the theme again in my Knightmare novel, Labyrinths of Fear. (I don't think there was even a single labyrinth in it, but the title came from marketing. Surprising they'd know a word that long, actually.)
I did two versions of the character intro. One was all Robin of Sherwood, the other a bit weirder. Can't remember now which I gave to Ian, so here are both:
When you were young, you made a mistake that changed the whole course of your life. You killed a man.
The reasons do not matter now. Only the fact that you were once a fifteen-year-old boy with a bloodied sickle in his hands, standing over the body of a freeman. Your parents had died years before, and you had nothing to hold you to the village to wait for such justice as the lord would dispense. You stole a horse - second heinous crime - and fled to the wildwood, to become an outlaw. A wolf's-head. You have killed many times since then.
You thoughts stray back to that distant time. A long-ago night in another world, through which a terrified youngster rode from his pursuers. You pulled the horse about, trying to get it to leap a narrow crevasse above a stream. Snorting, it threw you. You plummetted down into darkness -
- you have been wandering for a long time in a lightless wood. Your hands grope blindly around the stunted boles of dead trees. A faint glimmer of starlight reaches your eyes, but as you make for it a tall figure steps across your path. You have a burnt stump of wood in your hand. You cannot breathe as the figure approaches with silent tread. A gleam as he smiles - a faint, ironic smile that does nothing to reassure you. He strikes his knuckles together hard, and a spark flies from them. It touches your torch, which bursts alight. You look up to thank the man, but he has gone. The torch burns brightly, giving you a hot red light with which to see your way from the wood. You make for an open field, feeling the heat of the burning torch on your face.
You woke then from the dream which has recurred so often since. Someone was standing over you in the darkness. Through all that long night you stirred fitfully, gripped by a fever, rising momentarily into consciousness and then sinking back into delerium. As dawn broke, the figure who had attended you throughout your ordeal laid his cold hand on your shoulder. "Sleep now," said he, "for I would have no ill befall thee."
You slept through much of the day following, wondering half in sleep about the strange man who had rescued you. He had brought you to a rough cave beside a river, a place which stank of herbs and earth. You rose to walk about the small cave, but found that your legs shook with weakness. You slumped back on your pallet of logs and stretched hide, waking again at sunset to find the tall man there again. He wore green, and his white hair, gathered by a silver circlet, touched his shoulders. He beckoned you to follow him to the mouth of the bower, pushing back a net of creepers. A pack of wolves waited in the gathering dusk for their master, crouched low and watchful.
"Thou art healed." The tall man turned to you, holding out a longbow and quiver for you to take. "I am Anath. Tonight we hunt together, my son."
You took the bow from his hand. His smile was like an icicle in winter sunlight.
It was at the turn of the year that you stood,
overshadowed by trees stiff with hoarfrost,
waiting for three lords baleful with ire to speak.
A green-garbed lord leaned forward on his throne of oak:
"Hearken to us, you who share the mortals' breath,
who choose to walk upon the earth broken by plough,
to drink the water plundered from ancient wells."
It was in the cold moonlight that you waited,
caught in a web-tangle of wooded shadows,
listening to three lords solemn with portent.
One spoke to you from his root-twined seige:
"Year has piled upon year since Kernac worked his magic.
The Shapeless One has long been fettered,
yet now men have forgotten those chains that are to break."
The third lord sat in silence
while the winter wind stirred his grey cloak.
A bittern boomed as the moon escaped from cloud.
He then said: "Surrender to sleep, you mortal's son.
Already the winter has stolen you from the old world,
licked your flesh with its barbed tongue,
filled your lungs with its cold laughter.
Awaken with the reborn land, go into the east.
Join battle with the ancient foe, the skulking one,
the stealer of gifts most precious and true."
With sweeping cloaks all three rose to stand in starlight.
Faces of ashen grey stared from under elfin hoods.
All spoke together:
"The days on middle-earth for all
are numbered; he who may should wrest renown,
steal from Fate his fame; that is a hero's sweetest solace,
his best memorial when he has departed from the world."
You wake up in a wooded bower. The forest around you is ablaze with the colour and sounds and scents of a glorious spring morning. The words of the poem linger in your mind like the fragments of a dream, but you can remember nothing else that happened since you rode into the wood. That must have been months ago, for it was close to midwinter then!
Of the two versions, I have a feeling I used the second one to start with because it dropped in that hint about the Shapeless One, who was the campaign's Big Bad, a shapechanger called the Brollachan. Well, I say he (it?) was the BB, but actually he only catalyzed the existing tensions that were building up between those loyal to the local lord and the freemen of the town. It was a riot - literally.