Saturday, August 17, 2013

Tales of RPGs Past: "Of Sand, and Kytes, and the World Beyond"

In looking back at my neatly sorted collection of RPG documents, I've recently dusted off and rediscovered a treasure trove of written material from long ago and not so long ago. Much of this is original DMing material I still guard jealously to this day, but a goodly portion of it is character sketches and backstories I developed over years of gaming. Thus, I'll share a character each in narrative form (with graphics when I have them) in a series that looks back at my past roleplaying endeavors.

First up, the spellthieving caravan thug and Realms wanderer, Shaba of Biradoon.

In a time before the Godswar, dark-eyed and sand weary soldiers rode into, or rather atop, the steeped ridges and paths of Tel Badir, casting their long shadows over the populace there. Many months earlier, they had traveled from faraway Teshwave, an expedition sent by the Zhentarim to aid in the continued building of the Black Road. At their lead was a man by the name of Darev Nemetsk, a low priest of Beshaba. It was his duty to see the natives of Tel Badir employed as laborers for clearing the Road, as well as navigational guides during the long months, and indeed years, to come. His primary tactic was to use his faith in “Lady Doom” as a cattle prod to stir up the fears of the local D’tarig people. When a well went dry, the goats died, or pigments used to make black eye turned out to be poisonous, Holyman Darev was always conveniently there to point to Beshaba for succor. In no time, the Zhentarim’s sway held out and they received the help they needed.

As for Darev, his appetites were of a more carnal nature. When he wasn’t torturing the D’tarig by withholding their rations of water, he would take their females to bed in return for water. Out of one of these meetings a child was conceived. Nine long months of unyielding labor kept the poor mother on her feet, and, when the time came for the baby to be born, it proved to be too much for her. Beshaba’s grace spared the boy, despite the mother’s death, and though there would be no love shared between father and son, Darev was proud to have made something his in the lifeless desert—a boy named for the deity Darev so revered (nay, feared), Shaba’d-at Voonsyr.

And so the formative years passed. A sisterhood of D’tarig wet nurses sought to the baby’s early needs, weaned on a daily diet of goat’s milk and sand grains. As the Road progressed, ever leering away from the broken earth of the Plain of Standing Stones, Shaba learned to walk. His first words came when Zhentarim blades flashed against the encroaching threats of Bedine and barbarian alike. At each oasis they came to, Shaba learned more and newer methods of discovery, from identifying eatable grasses and vivid flowers, to shearing crag sheep for wool, and reading the signs in the stars. But his father gave the most important lesson he carried with him: “Bad things happen to everyone,” his father had told him, “and only by following Beshaba may a person perhaps by spared the worst of her effects.”

When at last the Black Road had reached the eaves of the Greypeak Mountains, Darev’s quest was at an end. All that remained now was to return home, but before plans could be made to prepare to leave, a Bedine raid left the Zhentarim caravan leaderless. Bad things happen to everyone, and that included his father, Shaba realized. Afterward, the soldiers fled or were killed, and the D’tarig laborers were caught in the middle with nothing keeping them any longer. Hundreds of miles from home the journey would prove hazardous. One after another D’tarig corpses marked their path, while the dangers of the desert tested their every resolve. During this trying period Shaba grew to learn of a power welling inside him. The “Maid of Misfortune” had not fully forsaken Shaba, awakening a fraction of magic inside him that had lain dormant since his turbulent birth. It was that measure of magic that saved his life so many times, causing the fearful and superstitious Bedine to run rather than face him.

In the end, Shaba was one of only two of his kind to make it back to Tel Badir alive. The world had changed in all that time—with the appearance of the City of Shade and an unstable climate to say the least—and Shaba no longer had a place in it! He would have to put what he had learned through a life of travel and avoidance of danger to best use if he was going to survive. And survive he would!

Playing on his ties to the Zhentarim, Shaba became a commodities gopher, easily moving between Zhent strongholds along the Black Road and native villages throughout the Sword. He became what the D’tarig call a “desert walker,” trading Zhent metal for camel-loads of collected resin from the Bedine. Once he learned the difference between loyalty and reliance, Shaba began to view people’s worth by their individual skills, rather than by blood, or alliances. He never came to be marked by friends, but was always friendly to any marks that he came by. Soon, he grew bored with life in Tel Badir, and joined the D’tarig trading caravan, Biradoon. Driven by Master Drover Urshek (NE male human [D’tarig], Exp 4/Ftr 2/Rog 2, age 42), the traveling village of Biradoon trolled the tumbleweed valleys and dunes of Desertsedge, the perilous rim of the Great Desert that marked the edge of the world.

Shaba’s time spent in Biradoon was the easiest of his life, "easy" being the only word Shaba knew to express happiness. He developed a fondness for daggers, and an aptitude for close-quarters knife fighting. And it was during this time that he came to know Samhein Jirnwal (CN male dwarf, Clr 5 of Shaundakul, age 319), and of the “World Beyond the Sand.” This outside world intrigued Shaba, but also frightened him. One day, Samhein gifted Shaba with a strange red gnomish device called a “kyte.” Samhein showed him how to operate the device and Shaba was amazed. Samhein also told him that if he wanted, Shaba could take flight and leave the confines of the Great Desert behind, much like the kyte. This idea thrilled Shaba, but would the Maid of Misfortune approve? Shaba looked again up at the kyte and thought something was missing. Later, alone, Shaba added a paired grouping of crooked black streamers to either side of the red kyte. His symbol to Lady Doom was complete, but would it fly again? The next day, Shaba went out again to see if the thing would fly. As he watched its red underbelly soar in the wind—By At’ar’s Looking Glass!—he knew he had Beshaba’s blessing. After a minute of this, Shaba noticed a brown hawk with silver-tipped wings swirling about the kyte. When the kyte came down, Shaba found it curious that talon scratches were faintly noticeable on one side.

Since then, Samhein has made secret midnight forays across Desertsedge to spy on the lands beyond. Occassionally taking Shaba with him, Samhein explains that he is “scouting the horizon.” Samhein has long claimed he will be moving on soon in an attempt to appeal to Shaba’s capricious nature, to which Shaba always spits and curses, “Outlander tales!” in jest. Until then, Shaba works hard to free himself from any remaining debt or duties he owes in Biradoon before collecting his things and following Samhein’s example, or until some other lucrative venture presents itself in the wide desert. Keenly aware of his surroundings, and the freedom it permits him, Shaba despises boundaries and always seeks to overcome them. After all, “Beshaba provides!” (misery and misfortune)—the very things Shaba of Biradoon does not seek.