Katra Alterian, the latest character to occupy my mind. As with other characters, she has been telling my imagination her story, and it’s a rather complicated tale at that, but we’ll get to Katra’s story soon. So, how did this new imaginary friend begin to invade my head?
My eldest kid (EK) has been running our D&D campaign for the last couple of years and is ready to play again; playing god in a campaign world is a lot of work, and his real-life career is demanding. Anyhow, Grandson (GS) has decided he wants to try his hand at running a game, so he’s putting a campaign together that will have us playing in the Forgotten Realms world. I started thinking about what role I wanted to play in his campaign, which led me to “what challenges will that character face?” I decided to explore a character that never really got started. And this character is from somewhere else.
A little backstory on Katra’s origin: the game I play online is set in the Eberron campaign world (created by Keith Baker and Wizards of the Coast®), a sort of early-Steampunk-ish, D&D noir setting. A magical event on that world grabbed my fancy with a great, big, bunch of “what ifs…?”
- What if a family group of young half-elves finds themselves in a magical cave of crystals when this magical event occurs?
- What if the magical event and the magic of the cave combine to suck the consciousness (soul?) of each family member into a crystal?
- What if some of those family members are deposited Elsewhere along the Astral Plane?
- What if the gods are watching and make a wager on their survival?
I know that’s a lot of “What ifs…,” but it got me thinking about how to approach the stories of the various characters. What choices would they make otherwise if exposed to a different environment with different conditions? How much of their original selves would they retain? Where would their individual personalities lead them in the worlds in which they find themselves? These are all questions that rumble through my brain as the characters tell me about themselves. Over time, you will begin to see stories of these siblings and cousins of the Alterian family.
And this leads me to Katra.
Katra was born and lived the first fifty or so years of her half-elven life on Eberron where she was a successful rogue. She was with other members of her family when a magical event called The Mourning crashed down on her home country. Her soul was absorbed into the Astral Plane to be deposited in Faerûn at the wishes of Olladra and Tymora, the respective worlds’ Goddesses of Luck and Good Fortune.
Katra’s story rises out of her struggle to survive as the now-cleric of Tymora.
Now, GS has some of Katra’s backstory, and his devious little mind is already spinning this twist around into something I can’t even begin to fathom, but that’s the job of the Game Master. Some of what Katra will have to deal with will be her own inner stuff. She was a rogue on her home Plane, and now she’s a cleric of all things! She, one of the least pious among her cousins, is now a gods-beholden healer … and not sure she likes it.
See, as part of the wager, Olladra insisted she retain her memories of Eberron and her life as a rogue. But in exchange, Tymora declared the girl be blessed with the abilities required of the clergy and the wisdom necessary to perform those abilities. They both knew it would be up to the girl, herself, to overcome her worst impulses. After a god’s week of haggling, the goddesses agreed on the conditions of their bet. And, so begins Katra’s story in Faerûn.
She lands near the campfire of a young thief hell-bent on escaping the demands of a local street gang in a nearby trade city. He has heard of steady work in an infamous metropolis a thousand leagues to the west and north and is on his way downriver toward the nearest port city when Katra appears near his small camp a few days from the port city.
How did I arrive at this story? It’s a complicated tale that involves not just me, but my friend, Fricko. He plays computer games as part of his stroke recovery therapy. (He’s not the first person with whom I’ve played who has been prescribed online role-playing games after a traumatic brain injury such as a stroke.) Not only that, but Fricko is also reaching the age where the ol’ memory ain’t what it used to be, and he’s struggling to write—which frustrates the bejeezus out of him. (And I can somewhat relate because I’m not that far behind him.)
We had planned to join a group to play Neverwinter, but the group didn’t gel, and our characters never got off the ground. However, I liked the idea of a changeling child. Fricko and I had talked about his character, Sam, and I was able to get the bones of a story written up for his character, so I sent it to him. He filled in the blanks which provided a lot of the detail we hadn’t discussed, and we had the first part of our story.
I’m using this start as the launch point for this new character and campaign. And while I’m making a few changes to the journey by starting the characters out along the river closer to the port city for the sake of the story, the result will be the same—they will reach the port. In this telling, they will become separated, because Sam is a vehicle to get Katra familiar with the world in which she now finds herself. In the original story, Sam and Katra would end up a team, and they would go on to save the infamous city. But in this campaign, Katra stays in the port city to team up with the rest of the players in GSs campaign.
See, some of the information you read in these posts will not be written in the actual story, but the material is vital to the bones of the story itself. Oh, there will be hints, like when Tymora speaks directly to Katra, but most of this background is invisible, and necessary for the framework because, at some point, it might drive the action.
Now, I realize that a lot of the plot for the upcoming story will come from a tabletop Dungeons & Dragons game, and what happens during the story will come from the random dice rolls that will occur while playing the game, but if you have ever played a casual D&D game, not as much role-playing happens as you might think. In fact, most D&D games I’ve been involved with over the years have not been role-playing heavy—as in, as long as we are at the table, you ARE the character you are playing, no slipping back into real life stuff. (I played in a group like that once, it wasn’t as much fun as I thought it would be.) A lot of the story I write around the game comes from my observations at the table and the notes that come from each player, along with the help of the GM to fill in some of the world and scene backgrounds.
Being the game scribe, I collect everyone’s gaming notebooks and character sheets at the end of each session and transcribe the content onto my computer, all the while recalling the gaming session we recently played. I have an active imagination, so as I’m copying, I replay in my head of what was going on from that character’s point of view. I take that visual and run with it, beginning to form the story from that person’s POV, and finally typing that perspective onto the screen and bringing the character to “life.”
In my writing world, that is how a character is “born.” Mostly as I’m playing a game and creating a character, something fascinating grabs my imagination and the character begins telling me her or his story.
I’ll explore the storytelling aspect next time in Tell Me a Story.