For almost 15 years, I’ve been working hard to eliminate the device of “character generation” from my roleplaying games. The tradition, like an awful lot in RPGs, comes from wargames, where your choices about your character at the outset are strategic decisions that affect the outcome of your tactical decisions in play. But if our play is not about optimal tactical decisions, surely those initial choices can be something other than optimizing resource allocation.
By contrast, in fiction, the process of establishing the “normal” for the character, as well as what they want and why, is called “character exposition.” With fiction once again as our model, let me explain where I’ve gone and where I want to be for A Traveler, Alone and Shock:2.
The Gulabadam sat at the newborn campfire ruminating, his prodigious jaw grinding slowly at the plain, salted barley flatbread that he found so delicious. His tail wrapped around his waist, sitting in his lap like a pet, and his huge, bovine eyes glittered in the firelight and dawn gloaming.
Eshud-Numash is carrying the Last Tusk of Grandmother Thunder, the ancestor of his people’s herd of Lumu, (which we know as stegatetrabelodon). The tusk will be: Old (Grandmother Thunder lived to 180 years. There have been two generations of the Lumu herd since then); Mighty (It’s a tusk. It’s also wielded as a weapon); Known to All (It has been carried by the scion of Eshud for centuries, as their badge of office); and Generous (From the open end of the tusk issues water, if it would save a life).
An illustration from my upcoming story, City of the Worm King. Up in the bow, you can see probably the best picture we’ll ever get of the traveler’s face. He doesn’t like for people to remember who he is, and I’ll respect that wish of his.
Adabi’s feet rested on the saxboard of the river boat, Thirsty for the Sea, as she tied a knot in an end of one of the boat’s lines. In her linen-draped lap lay a worn cedar box, its top the span of a large hand, tied on with simple twine. The boat’s owner, now paddling at the stern of the eye-prowed vessel, watched her with curiosity while his son, a boy of nine named Kaal, watched Adabi’s hands. The boy’s head was shaved where his father’s was close-cropped and black, spattered with grey at the temples. His skin like his father’s: dark as a cloudless desert night sky, and marked with gold stars, as was the tradition of his people when they ventured across land and sea. Kaal watched her nimble fingers with his warm brown eyes as she finished the elaborate knot, then whispered to it. He reached out his hand in curiosity and Adabi let him take it from her calloused fingers.