Hello, Starfleet Design fans! Today wraps up my series on preparing for Dead Suns. Two weeks ago, I shared my character build with you, and last week I showed you all the physical preparation that I like to do in readying my characters for a game. This is all well and good, but it does leave one rather large hole in my preparedness—just WHO am I playing?
Well today, friends, I am going to share with you my final process—the one that I use to design my characters. Let’s crack our knuckles and get to it, shall we?
Why Yes, I DO Roleplay, Thank You!
One of the common misconceptions that I get from fans often is this weird idea that I’m not a roleplayer. “Alex!” they say, “You build all of these cool charactes and are a literal wizard at rules design. Surely you’re a heavy rules guy who doesn’t care much about roleplaying.”
Au contraire, mon ami! I LOVE roleplaying, and I actually put a lot of work into my characters. (When I was in High School and getting ready to play my very first game as a high school junior, I famously got all of my Computer Business work done before the Christmas break so I could sit and work on my character’s backstory in school. By the time our first game rolled around, I had a 12-page backstory in size-10 font that included a hand-drawn map of the city my character, an elf rogue/wizard was from. But we don’t talk about early Alex’s character writing anymore….)
I’m sharing this because I wanted to point out that this sort of character building is SUPER important to me as a player and 100% part of my character-building process. Typically, I come up with a build idea first and build my character around it, as I showed you in these articles. I like making sure that I have a character that will be fun to play, and try to use the playstyle I crafted to inform the character’s backstory and history. But enough of this, let’s get to the character!
Usually when I have a character I need to build a personality for, I start by looking at whatever inspired me. Sometimes this is a mechanic, and other times this is holistic “sum of the options” sort of thing. As an example, when I first designed Kyr’shin (the kitsune I put on ALL of my Everyman Gaming stuff) for Justin’s campaign, his entire “idea” was “How can I make a martial with a high Charisma and not suck?”
For my Dead Suns soldier, my starting point was actually an anime that I REALLY like. James and I have been doing anime nights for the past year now, and the first anime he exposed me to was Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans. Although he isn’t the best role model in the world, I absolutely fell in love with the show’s depiction of Mikazuki Augus, and I knew right away that I wanted my Dead Suns character to channel some of that character’s grit. So with that in mind, I started brainstorming a list of things that I liked about Mikazuki, which looked something like this:
- He’s serious; very no-nonsense “get the job done” type.
- He’s ruthless towards his enemies, but kind and compassionate towards his friends and fellowship.
- He’s loyal and follows orders.
- He’s goal-oriented to a fault—he keeps fighting for this “promised land” and is willing to sacrifice everything to get there.
Since I knew that these four things were what I liked in Mikazuki, I knew that they were what I wanted to bring over to my character’s personality. In my opinion, characters work best when they have two to four definitive traits like these, and such traits usually work best when they have contingencies. When I say contingencies, I mean that characters don’t ALWAYS act in one specific fashion like robots; they’re flexible, able to change their behaviors based on their environments. Before I figured that out, though, I decided it was time for a name.
So we as humans are AWFUL at naming things; I did an entire article about it. In most cultures (English being an exception), traditional names were basically nice-sounding words for other things that mothers gave to their children. This is exceptionally true in Japanese, for example, where most given names match something in nature. Since my source character, Mikazuki, has a Japanese name, I wanted to use similar naming conventions for my soldier’s first name. I even had a place to start — it’s a minor plot point in Iron-Blooded Orphans that Mikazuki’s name is a Romanization of the Japanese word for the crescent moon, and since my source character’s name has a very celestial bent to it, I wanted to do the same for my character.
I went to Google Translate and messed around with a few English-to-Japanese translations until I found one I liked. The Japanese word for “eclipse” is “Shoku,” and I liked the sound of that. There’s another reason that Shoku was the perfect fit for my character’s name, but it needs some prior knowledge. As you may or may not know, most Japanese words are written using one of several differenct character systems (kanji is the most famous one, but Japanese has roughly three different written languages). Written in Japanese, “Shoku” is represented by one character: 食. Similar to how English combines syllables to make words (Ha-pee makes Happy), Japanese combines their characters to make longer words. And “Shoku” just happens to be half of the word shokugeki (食戟), which is one of several Japanese words for “battlefield.” Yes, you read it: half of my soldier’s name is the word for “battlefield.” Japanese is SO cool like that. (So complicated too, of course. But also cool.) This convinced me that Shoku was the perfect name for my character.
So now I had a name and I have a general temperament. The final thing I need is a backstory to help introduce my character to the story. One thing that I really like is the idea of Knife Theory (credit goes to Jimbaby on Reddit), which is basically a way of saving, “Your backstory needs to have ways for your GM to create conflict for your character. The link I provided has a great list of them, but I’m going to summarize the ones that I used here. Generally, you’re going to want to have five to seven knives—fewer then that and you’re not giving the GM anything work with, more then that and you’re getting excessive.
- When Shoku was young, he was on a ship traveling through the Disporia with his parents. The ship was raided by pirates, and his parents were killed. Shoku was sold into slavery, where he eventually became an errand boy to an amoral military company operating on Akiton. That’s how he met his comrades. +1 knife.
- As a youth, Shoku underwent extreme cybernetic surgery at a young age to make him more employable as a soldier by unscrupulous people. It’s largely the reason why his Strength score is so high at a young age, but the experience was traumatic. +1 knife.
- There’s an entire company of his comrades on Akiton that need Shoku to find them employment. This includes his best friend, Chosuy. +2 knives (his family is a big knife, as is his loyalty and obligation to them).
- Shoku has a favored gun, a pistol, that was pivotal to his comrade’s coup from slavery. +1 knife.
- Shoku gets a lot of flak about being a child soldier. (He’s 17, but he’s been a soldier since he was 10 or so.) Civilians pity him, and adult soldiers / bounty hunters / mercenaries tend to patronize him. +1 knife.
- Shoku murdered a bunch of people to free himself from captivity, and that could come and bite him in the butt. +1 knife.
So with all this information, I can finally sit down and craft my backstory. I won’t make you read it if you don’t want to, so let me close out my article by saying that this part of character building is really the most fun part—number crunching and tweaking is great, but they’re just numbers and ideas until you have a face and personality attached to them. I am REALLY looking forward to playing Shoku in Dead Suns, and here’s hoping that you’ll get to hear more about our spoiler-free misadventures on Know Direction: Beyond! So until next time, I’m Alex Augunas and I’m always here for YOU when you need a little bit of Guidance. Take care!
Alexander “Alex” Augunas has been playing roleplaying games since 2007, which isn’t nearly as long as 90% of his colleagues. Alexander is an active freelancer for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game and is best known as the author of the Pact Magic Unbound series by Radiance House. Alex is the owner of Everyman Gaming, LLC and is often stylized as the Everyman Gamer in honor of Guidance’s original home. Alex also cohosts the Private Sanctuary Podcast, along with fellow blogger Anthony Li, and you can follow their exploits on Facebook in the 3.5 Private Sanctuary Group, or on Alex’s Twitter, @AlJAug.
Bonus Content: Alex’s Finished Backstory
N male human soldier
Shoku doesn’t remember much of his parents, as they were killed by Disporian pirates in a raid on a transport ship passing through the Lost Ones. The ships took anything of value they could find once they had dispatched the ship’s occupants, and that included Shoku. After all, there was always scum on Akiton looking to buy slaves. He was brought to Akiton and sold to a wealthy man living in Arl, but Shoku didn’t stay long. Traumatized and ferocious, the youth broke his ‘master’s’ shin within a few weeks and ran away where he lived off the streets for three years. As an urchin, he pick pocketed adults and mugged wealthy kids for money and valuables, selling the latter to anyone willing to purchase pawned goods. At the ripe old age of eight, Shoku enlisted with a shady military company called the Arl Peacekeeper’s League (or APL for short) as a laborer and errand boy. After only five months of labor, Shoku was promoted to APL’s newly established Youth League after he killed his first man—an operative who snuck into APL HQ to assassinate the company’s boss. Scarcely nine years old, Shoku nevertheless gained a reputation for being one of APL’s most ruthless soldiers, a reputation made all the fiercer by his willingness to undergo risky cybernetic surgery to further enhance his strength to that of a boy many years his senior.
Over the years, APL’s Youth League grew, and Shoku with it. Three months ago at the age of 17, APL came under fire when the company’s head CEO, a ysoki named Sluv, offended a Veskarium warband during a game of poker. In retaliation, the insulted vesk leveled APL HQ in fire and steel. At first, the vesk thought to spare APL’s Youth League, seeing no honor in killing manling young, but their minds changed when the youths—led by Shoku—managed to slay several of the warband’s soldiers. The vest were especially impressed by Shoku’s ferocity, where his strength and raw skill earned him the nickname “the Blade of Hell,” the source of his now-surname. Sluv ultimately perished in the attack, and with their objective complete, the vesk negotiated an armistice with Chosuy, Shoku’s best friend and defacto leader of the Youth League. Shoku and his companions were spared, but the vesk unceremoniously slew the remaining adults in the company for having employed youths as soldiers, and took much of the company’s remaining wealth as compensation.
After the vesk left, Chosuy assumed control of APL, renaming it the Iron Lotus Brigade (ILB). As the youths scrambled to fortify their new company and earn their keep, Shoku was sent along with several ILB of representatives to Absalom Station to look for potential investors and clients off-world. When he arrived, however, a pick-pocket stole Shoku’s favorite gun, so while his teammates search for economic opportunity in Absalom, Shoku’s first order of business is to reclaim his gun and kick the @$$ of whomever took it from him.