"Pack Up your Sorrows," Richard & Mimi Fariña
This is the story of Raindrop. She rose from humble beginnings to respected status to the friend of dragons. Now she's out to right injustice in the spheres, even if it means confronting the gods themselves...
Some roleplaying games require you to have a good idea of your character before you can start. If you make a character for Dungeons and Dragons 3rd or 4th edition, you need a good idea of what you're going to do before you ever pick up a 20-sided die. Other games give you little or no control over what happens to your character. If you're playing Traveler, you get to make choices which influence the way they'll turn out, but not the specifics.
But there are games which take a middle approach. Here's one where coming up for the inspiration for a character is actually part of the process of character creation: Everway.
When you open Everway's box, you see something that looks like a game box, with slots for cards, and a character sheet that feels like it could be a game board (though it doesn't really act like one). I could go into the history of the game, but that's not supposed to be the thrust of this article. The nickel tour: It was put out by Wizards of the Coast before they bought D&D, when they were trying to produce a different roleplaying game.
The game has a New Age feel to it. Characters are described by their Fire, Water, Earth and Air skills, and rather than rolling dice, you draw cards from a "Fortune Deck," modeled on the Tarot, and filled with imagery of elements, planetary symbols, and gods and goddesses.
In Everway, your character plays a Spherewalker, who can travel from one fantasy world to another. It allows a lot of backgrounds, and a lot of freedom in character creation. It's also, unlike many games, a visually interesting process. If you learn the (fairly straightforward) system, you only need to look at a few beautifully illustrated cards when you're creating one, rather than flip through tons of rules and pages of charts.
I started out with no real idea for a character, and wound up with one I think is pretty interesting, just by following the steps in the Players Guide. This is how I made Raindrop.
The Vision Stage
The first setting, the GM sets the premise, and may ask for specific themes. Since this was a solo design, I sort of skipped that, and assumed that it's going to be a "you meet in a tavern while wandering the Spheres" type of game. Then you select five cards you find appealing, and decide how you want them to relate to your character.
The first two I was drawn to had weird animals, so I decided to make the third a dragon, and the fourth a man surrounded by animals. Originally I had a very patchy story to connect them, which I'll spare you. Here's the refined version of what I decided each meant.
She was a tiny child, the illegitimate daughter of the duchess' housemaid. She was named Raindrop for both her small size and humble background. And she might have remained that way, except that one day the duke's fae-cat got loose from his coach, and young Raindrop managed to calm the mystic beast and bring him back safely.
The Duke gave young Raindrop a job in his menagerie and she quickly became a respected member of the household staff. When she and the Duke's daughter were both teenagers, the duchess-to-be had her heart broken by a cruel prince. Raindrop gave her a box. "Cry into this and give it to me." The noble's grief did indeed go away, though for years afterward Raindrop found it hard to look at a boy.
When a dragon invaded the kingdom, Raindrop thought it, like the beasts she tended, might be lashing out since it was troubled. She sought out the wise and enigmatic imp known as The Toymaker, who told her of the curse the gods had imposed on the drakes. Raindrop used her talent to restore the dragon's speech at the cost of her own voice, but, touched by her kindness, the dragon returned her speech and left the realm in peace.
The final picture is not yet part of her story, though it could be. It represents taking on an epic, gorgeous project, going on a quest to rid the realms of sorrow:
(Janine Johnston Illustration)
Notes: While I was looking through the cards, the folk song "Pack up your sorrows" got stuck in my head, and I decided Raindrop could do just that. Here's Judy Collins singing the song, if you don't know it:
I included parts of the Identity stage above, but I'll outline them here, rather than how I ultimately decided what they came to mean.
Name: While Everway allows any name, they encourage you to use common words. The example character in the book is Fireson. I chose Raindrop because it's a small item, but it can be part of something much bigger -- a nourishing shower to feed the crops, or a horrible deluge. It's a name with a lot of potential.
Motive: I chose "Authority," one of the listed motivations, even though it's not quite why she's wandering the planes. But part of it is "eager to bring justice" and I see her as eager to end suffering throughout the Spheres, which she thinks of as bringing goodness and justice. (You're supposed to play a hero in Everway; though possibly a flawed one. Raindrop really wants to do good.)
Virtue, fault and fate: These are three Fortune Cards. When they get drawn from the deck, it's probably significant to your character, much the way that in some games when you roll the exact number of your skill or a natural 1, it's meaningful to the character.
While these are normally chosen based on symbolic meaning, I was drawn to the Dragon as her Fate card for narrative reasons. In Everway, dragons once rebelled against the gods, and they were punished by losing some of their gifts. Some lost flight, some lost speech, etc. Raindrop's very annoyed that the gods would punish immortal beings for eternity; it offends her sense of justice.
Symbolically, the dragon represents "cunning." Reversed, it represents "blind fury." Raindrop is treading a dangerous, narrow road.
Her flaw was easy too: Striking the Dragon's Tail. She's prone to leap before she looks, not ask if maybe there's a reason bad things happen to people.
Her virtue was hard. I ultimately decided on "The Creator," which represents nurture. She started out caring for animals, and has only growns since then. And it is a fine, chutzpadik name for someone who will challenge the gods for perceived slights against others.
If you're curious, here are my notes while I was working on her. You can see that the identity phase took up nearly half a page, compared to a few lines for the third phase, and a seven for the first phase:
I liked the concept of a modified sin eating, so I chose that as Raindrop's big power. When someone else has a problem, she can take it on, no matter what the cause. I think it's an ability that can be used frequently in the game, is powerful, and allows a variety of different effects, it's a 3-point ability.
Raindrop is also entitled to a free power, something that is not likely to come up much or make a big difference in play. I choose "stable friend," meaning that domesticated animals naturally find her likeable (it would not keep a guard dog from attacking, but a merely curious dog would likely give her the benefit of the doubt).
There are four stats in the game, Fire, Water, Earth and Air, and what they symbolize represent the character's physical and mental attributes. A genius with her head in the clouds has a high Air and low Earth. Someone who is full of Fire is energetic. I had 17 points to assign after powers.
Raindrop is Water 5; Earth 5; Fire 4; Air 3.
To use the book's adjectives, she's sensitive to strong energies; tough and energetic. (Her Air is average. I thought about lowering it to two and raising Water, but decided that might risk making her look Ditzy.)
You also get a Specialty for each element, something you're really good at. I chose "Animal empathy" for water, "Obstinacy" for Earth, "Herb Lore" for Air, and "Fiery Rhetoric" for Fire. Normally, that would be an Air specialty, since argument falls under that category, but because there's a Fire connection, she can put forth her causes as well as an expert promoter, even if she's average at most Air tasks.
Raindrop doesn't use magic, as Everway defines it. I get to skip this.
This really requires play at the table, when players ask about characters to refine them. I actually tweaked Raindrop a bit from the original. This would give me a chance to refine her more.
Everway also suggests you define their possessions. Here are a few of the things she carries:
- A loaf of bread, a hunk of cheese and a canteen of cheap wine, wrapped in a patterned cloth.
- A wooden flute. (She can play simple melodies beautifully, but nothing too fancy)
- Some sugar cubes, carrots, scraps of dried meat and other treats for animals
- An elegant clockwork rabbit, which will hop and wiggle its ears when wound.
- Some salves
- A charm bracelet. Most of the charms are cheap copper, but one is an actual dragon's scale.
Here's what her final character sheet looks like: