Friday, December 26, 2014

Character Building: Swords Without Master, Christmas Edition!


First things first, if you haven't played Swords Without Master, you need to. It's a sword-and-sorcery RPG that draws on the roots of the genre, and it's the most evocative game I've played, fantasy or non-fantasy! Here's what you need to know, first and foremost: it's a game of perilous deeds, mighty Rogues, and wondrous adventures. And we're going to create a character for it, a very...special character. After all, it is the Christmas season...

Kicking Things Off: Simulacra
Swords Without Master is a remarkably unique game, because character creation starts with something that I've never seen in any other game, ever. Most games have you bring a character concept to the table, or they have a list of character classes for you to choose from. Swords Without Master tells you to use a piece of artwork. It can be a song, a picture, a video, a bit of literature--anything which could remind you of a heroic character. Ostensibly, this is the work of art that reminds you of the Rogue that you're going to be playing. It's what inspires you when you're writing your character. Have a look at some of the examples here!

In Swords-speak, this is called the "eidolon" or the "simulacra". You can use whichever term; they really just denote a change in perspective. For this character, I'll be calling it a simulacra, because it's an approximate representation of my character. And I'm using a fairly well-known poem as my Rogue's simulacra, let's see if you recognize it...

He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot;
A bundle of toys he had flung on his back,
And he looked like a peddler just opening his pack.
His eyes—how they twinkled! his dimples, how merry!
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,
And the beard on his chin was as white as the snow;
The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
And the smoke, it encircled his head like a wreath;
He had a broad face and a little round belly
That shook when he laughed, like a bowl full of jelly.

That's right. We're making Santa Claus.

Naming Names
After I've found an eidolon/simulacra for my Rogue, I need to name them. That's pretty easy--I've settled on Claus the Red as the name of my Rogue. Next, I need to name the things which matter to the Rogue--everything I list is under my Rogue's protection, and nobody else can use them in the game (or permanently harm them!) without my permission. Of course, they're free to be threatened by the perils which face my Rogue as well. Their lot is mine. This is where I should draw some inspiration from the poem, but also cast a bit further afield--All That Deserves a Name can cover prized possessions, important relationships, a homeland, a particular spell, or some similar thing.

Here's what I'm thinking...

  • The peddler's sack, filled with innumerable strange devices.
  • Soot, my stumpy pipe.
  • The Northlands, my icy home.
  • The Nordalfr, my magical assistants.

With that set out, my Rogue is off to a good start! Next up is the most defining bit, though: Feats Heroic.

Claus the Red
All That Deserves a Name
The peddler's sack, filled with innumerable strange devices.
Soot, my stumpy pipe.
The Northlands, my icy home.
The Nordalfr, my magical assistants.

Feats of Derring-Do and Such
The heart of a Rogue, at least in terms of the action, is their Feats Heroic. They allow you to completely change the tone of your action, as your Rogue does something singularly meaningful and remarkable. Feats Heroic are spotlight moments, those bits of the story where you stop and marvel at what just happened. (In fact, you can only use one Feat Heroic in a session!) A good Feat Heroic is packed with meaning, drawing attention to itself because it is so substantial. For instance, "I cry to the Heavens, unleashing a torrent of rain" would be one good Feat Heroic, as would "I beat the dance of battle on my drum, and my allies leap into the fray". Feats Heroic are what tell us what your Rogue is like. So let's have at it!

Feats Heroic come in two tones: Glum and Jovial. These are open to interpretation, but the game also offers a particular level of explanation on them. Glum is cold, quiet, gloomy, dark, or ironic. Jovial is warm, loud, joyous, bright, or mocking. The contrast between these two tones is what drives the game, and a Rogue needs one Feat Heroic from each tone. Let's have at it!

The question the game poses to us is this: imagine a dire situation; what is a Glum way your Rogue deals with it, and what is a Jovial way? So I'm going to put down a couple things, trying to draw from that simulacra again...

Jovial: I laugh, and the very ground shakes like a bowl full of jelly.
Glum: I puff on my pipe, and exhale ashes and soot in a cloud, covering everything in a dark fog.

And suddenly, our Sword & Sorcery Santa is taking shape!

Claus the Red
All That Deserves a Name
The peddler's sack, filled with innumerable strange devices.
Soot, my stumpy pipe.
The Northlands, my icy home.
The Nordalfr, my magical assistants.

Feats Heroic
Jovial: I laugh, and the very ground shakes like a bowl full of jelly.
Glum: I puff on my pipe, and exhale ashes and soot in a cloud, covering everything in a dark fog.

One Last Trick
To wrap things up for the Rogue, you have to choose a Trick. Tricks are like Feats in D&D; there's a list of them, and each one does something unique. A Trick does something very particular, and it's also something that generally only gets used once, before being replaced. (You wind up rewriting a lot of things about your character from session to session.) The Trick isn't necessarily a character-definer, but rather a way to do something neat in the story. There's a lot of things I can think of, but we'll go with this one...

Inevitable Foe—Write down an enemy you wish to face. An assassin stalking your rogue. A winged beast of frost. A band of brigands led by your brother. Before the Overplayer chooses a new phase, you may demand that it is a Perilous Phase and your foe is the Storm.

And I think "King Ebenezer" will do quite nicely as my Inevitable Foe. And with that, Claus the Rogue is done!


Claus the Red
All That Deserves a Name
The peddler's sack, filled with innumerable strange devices.
Soot, my stumpy pipe.
The Northlands, my icy home.
The Nordalfr, my magical assistants.

Feats Heroic
Jovial: I laugh, and the very ground shakes like a bowl full of jelly.
Glum: I puff on my pipe, and exhale ashes and soot in a cloud, covering everything in a dark fog.

Trick
Inevitable Foe (King Ebenezer, lord of ice)—Write down an enemy you wish to face. An assassin stalking your rogue. A winged beast of frost. A band of brigands led by your brother. Before the Overplayer chooses a new phase, you may demand that it is a Perilous Phase and your foe is the Storm.