When I set out to write this series of book I knew nothing of writing and how characters were made up. One thing that I did know how to do, however, was creating characters for my Fantasy Role Playing world. These characters are rich and complex and come with a background and a set of skills. In other words, they are sort of things that you want the character in a book to have.
I had a vague idea of where I wanted the books to go and, to give this best effect I needed characters from all over the area that the novels are mainly set in. I also needed a range of skills. Even though the characters do not know anything about Terra, most of their cultures come from there (and to avoid spoilers you will have to read the whole series to find out why). People have been gaming in my world for 20 years and I decided to incorporate some of the things that they have done over time into the back story of the world. Although this was mainly done for my own amusement, many of the elements add to the story and gave me reasons for things to happen as they did.
I started in Darkreach and randomly created a noble character (at that stage called Character A). To my delight they were very noble and this dictated some of the other choices. Darkreach is, to a great extent a multi-racial Eastern Rome (or Byzantium). For a variety of reasons I have done a lot of work on names and titles of that area, so this was easy for me to work with. My character turned out to be female and Theodora is one of the more common noble names from that culture (and the Empress is a personal favourite of mine). This became an easy choice.
Character B was determined to be from Haven. Haven is the premier place for mages west of the mountains, so they were destined to be rolled up as a mage, and probably a strong one. Usually I allow players to work out their own gender identity, but there is a very small chance of this being predetermined. In this case Character B was not only a strong female mage (itself a challenging thing in a fairly restrictive culture), but also same-sex attracted. At this stage I was not sure who to until I started actually writing the story of that character. Her name came from searching Bollywood actresses.
Character C was to be from the Caliphate. The Caliphate is the most likely place for an assassin (or Ghazi as they are called there) to come from, and so that was too good a chance to pass up. One back story item was that a Darkreach Princess had already married a Caliphate noble. Looking at Theodora, for a long time the only named character, it was an easy step to have her cousin concerned about her and so the idea of a guard being assigned to protect her developed. The Ghazi are good at guarding and protecting. Being female was randomly rolled and required some cultural adjustment. Being minor nobility helped and was also a random occurrence. One of my favourite writers is Henry Rider Haggard, so the name Ayesha was an obvious choice given, in addition, the cultural significance in Muslim culture of a woman who was obviously strong-willed and capable. After all, who doesn’t want ‘She who must be obeyed’ to be on their side?
Hrothnog, who is a complex character, was going to react in one of two ways to his ‘grandchild’ running away. I had only a rough conception at this stage of his motives, but the most likely course for him to take would be to allow her to leave and send someone with her to help keep her alive. Character D was therefore always going to be a protector of some sort. There is no equivalent to the Ghazi in Darkreach, but there is a police force. I randomly created a male character with some skills as a servant, an obvious undercover police agent. He had a mixed race background and a nice blend of skills. I chose the name of Basil from my list and started looking for a family name. There is a major Eastern Roman poem and song about a Digenes Akritas (or Two-blood Border Lord) whose real name is Basil. His father was born Muslim. I already had Basil as mixed race and so I could not resist this conjunction. He was the second named character.
My next character, ‘E’ was rolled to come from the small town of Greensin. The most noticeable thing about Greensin is that it is the location of an Orthodox Metropolitan and where a monastery is sited. This is one of the main places used by the Orthodox Church as a training site for priests. Every group of travellers needs a priest, or at least a competent healer and, as E was rolled up, it became obvious that he was getting the right skills to fill this roll. I already had written down a long list of Saints, their patronages and Holy Days. His name, Christopher, was taken randomly from this list.
I wanted one of the characters to come from among the Khitan, so I started work on ‘F’. Almost all characters there are tribesmen (or women) and I had already established a cultural tradition there that I could take advantage off. I didn’t want to use a shaman character as I still had not done enough in terms of background to work out how to write the character. I have also been collecting names from there for some time and so Hulagu was also randomly created and a name assigned.
Character ‘G’ – we won’t talk about character ‘G’ much at this stage. You won’t meet her until ‘Engaging Evil’ although she is doing things at present. Working her out was a challenge as a lot of the plot hangs on her and her motives. Enough said.
Character ‘H’ or Stefan. A lot of the gaming in my world starts from Evilhalt, as it is central to the continent, and random rolls for origin often place people there. Stefan was randomly created and is almost an everyman in some respects. He is the most stereotypical fantasy character in this regard as the new tradesman who is restless, a person who finds adventure almost forced on them by what is happening around him. He is eager for this to happen, but if these people had not wandered into his tavern at just the right time, his story would have been very different.
Character ‘I’ was another random roll and I took her peculiarities and her origin and created a cat woman, a real cat woman who purrs and laps drinks. Her people are rarely armsmen, but almost always traders and scouts and hunters, so that is what she became. Her flight from marriage, rolled as peculiarity, became an ideal plot hook to send her out into the world. Her impulsiveness comes from being one of the smartest, most attractive and most skilled people in her home area, and yet being expected to conform to a set, and very loathed, set of roles. I saw her as being as frustrated and pissed off as it was possible to be. She wants more and she wants it now. Her name supposedly means ‘Divinely Beautiful’, and this seemed appropriate. She is not named after anyone real of fictional.
I have had lost Dwarvenholme as a story element in my game for some time and so, when I rolled Character ‘J’ as a Dwarf this became set as a major plot point. How so you will have to wait to find out. Thord, as a name, was again chosen randomly. You will find out an answer to the question of Dwarven women in these books, and Thord will help you find it. The Dwarves are one of the few races that are not inter-fertile with Humans. You will have to wait to find out why that is the case.
That was going to be all of the characters, but I realised that I lacked two things. I did not have anyone from the major culture west of the mountains and I did not have anyone along who was really qualified to look after the horses. She randomly rolled that animals like her and Character ‘K’ quickly became Bianca and her story was one of the first that I wrote (although it has been re-written many times). Her life became darker when I developed PTSD and she is one of several characters (the others are in the next book) who helped me work out my response to this (and this is an ongoing project as anyone with this condition will tell you). To a great extent the direction of the story was established by her and what she found out. For many years I have made mock of writers saying that they have little control of what their characters do. Bianca taught me that this is in fact the case. I did not mean her to go where she goes, but she went there anyway. I started writing one night when I couldn’t sleep well and wrote the basis of that chapter. There are several times when what happened to her and what she did were nearly thrown out, but it has all stayed … and she has kept surprising me.
What I have tried to do with the characters is have all of the information about them that I can. This means that I don’t have to think if it comes to them doing something. I know their strengths and their weaknesses. I know what they can and cannot do and I have to work within these limitations. None of them are infallible superheroes, they all have flaws and, I hope, they are all human.
The game that Warriors of Vhast was developed with is deliberately a fairly complex one. It does take some time to create a character, but once it is created the player should be able to, as long as they know what their character can do, almost forget the rules and act naturally. If something should work in the real world, it should work in Vhast (and there is magic as well). The whole section on rolling up is included to show people how the characters, even some of the minor ones, were created.
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Everything we are going to discuss in this section assumes that various dice rolls are required. These are not just the dice based on the Platonic solids (4, 6, 8, 12 & 20-sided dice). Any good gaming shop will stock all of these. Various abbreviations are used for these dice:
d2 Anything that gives a high / low or heads / tails result.
d3 3D printing can give you one of these or you can use a d6 and halve the answer.
d4 A roll on a four sided die.
d6 A roll on a six-sided die with results varying from 1 to 6.
ND A roll on a ‘normal’ die. This is a six-sided die with results of 2, 3, 3, 4, 4, 5. You do not need to own one of these, just use the right number of d6 and call a roll of ‘1’ as ‘3’ and ‘6’ as ‘4’.
d8 A roll on an eight-sided die.
d10 A roll on a ten-sided die. A twenty-sided die may be used instead and the ‘tens’ ignored.
1d12 A roll on an twelve-sided die.
d20 A roll on a twenty-sided die.
d30 A roll on a thirty-sided die.
%D A roll on a hundred-sided die or using two ten-sided die of different colours to denote tens and units or using a set of percentile dice.
KD A dice roll of 1-1000. This is usually done with three ten- or twenty-sided dice of different colours.
A dice roll may have a number before it, this indicates the number to be rolled. For example 4d6 means roll four six-sided dice are rolled and their results added together (ie a range of 4 to 24). An addition or subtraction may also be specified. Thus 2d6+2 is two six-sided dice plus two or a range of from 4 to 14. If, instead of a number there is a letter from ‘A’ to ‘G’, this indicates the numbers 10 to 16. Thus Bd6 is the same as 11d6.