Thursday, November 22, 2012

Player's Story: Avatar of the Archive

In the midst of a discussion with a friend about character options and how I found certain new role-playing game dissatisfying, I began to realize that my process for creating a character (as a player) was not quite in sync with that of a number of my peers. As I had the possibility of participating in new Dungeons & Dragons Fourth Edition campaign (likely set in the default setting of the Nentir Vale), I thought I would take some time to demonstrate how I go through the process of creating a player character for myself.
Person made out of Psychic
Crystals. Seriously?

The DM mentioned an interest in a story involving psionics. I wanted to create a character that had a distinctly psionic focus, although I was not sure how I would potentially accomplish that. One distinctly psionic thing in Dungeons & Dragons that I have yet to really work with was the Shardmind, a Player's Handbook 3 race that has never found its way to a table I play at. This seemed like a good place to start. Now, I simply had to decide how I could make a shardmind into an interesting player character and not a ridiculous novelty.

Reading over the shardmind entry in PHB3, I continued to get a sense that an individual shardmind is not a person, per se, but a little different. In a certain sense, the entry gave me the distinct impression that every shardmind was a specific instance of a larger thing.
Shardminds are sentient fragments of the Living Gate, which once stood at the pinnacle of the intricate lattice of the Astral Sea. Beyond that gate lay the alien Far Realm, and the gate’s destruction during the Dawn War resulted in the rise of the mind flayer empire.
Although I was not particularly enthralled with the idea of "sentient fragments of the Living Gate," it did get me thinking about each individual shardmind being a specific instance of a greater intelligence or sentience. To that end, I found myself thinking of Gene Roddenberry's Andromeda and, more specifically, Rommie, the Andromeda Ascendant's robotic avatar.

I assume every warship looks like this on the inside.
As I tried to think about how the shardmind would become associated with a ragtag group of adventurers, I realized that this character would need to be tweaked a bit. I had originally looked at this character as a separate avatar of a larger psionic entity. However, after giving it some thought, I thought it would be much more interesting if I made this shardmind more like a specific unit or process of a larger entity now separated from its greater whole. Instead of Rommie without the Andromeda, I thought it more like a Borg Drone without the Borg Collective.

I can only imagine Gene Roddenberry's disgust at my
brutal hacking of his creative universes...
This idea, and the inherent quest for identity, seemed to fit great for what I wanted. The shardmind was a physical instance of an old, psychic archive created by an ancient civilization. With the psychic archive facing destruction (or, even more interestingly, corruption), this shardmind was separated from the whole to save the last fragments of that civilization. As a potential future plot hook, it potentially carried some vital piece of knowledge that others would stop at nothing to acquire, although I know enough not to over-specify a character at creation. Either way, its crystalline structure was more than just a novelty. It was the last vestige of a fallen civilization.

Of course, I'm difficult. This wasn't enough. I did not want to make another robot finding a soul. That has been done plenty of times already. I wanted something more interesting. I wanted my character to have a personality and that personality was a problem. I also wanted to be able to tie my character to another player in an interesting way. For a moment, it seemed like I was asking too much. Nothing would satisfy my character concept. Then I remembered Winifred Burkle. Or, more appropriately, Illyria.

I always assumed Cthulhu looked like this
in human form. Didn't you?
I liked the idea of somebody important being consumed in the creation of this shardmind character. For this to work, I needed a second character. I would begin the campaign as a relatively mundane fighter, wizard, or whatever was needed. We'll call this character Bob (for now, anyway). The important thing about Bob is that Bob is a brother, husband, or lover of another character in the party. I even planned the first adventure (yeah, I'm that kind of player) where the party would discover the psychic archive as it began to finally collapse. Bob would approach the primary control interface only to be annihilated by psychic energy, a rather unfortunate outcome of the archive improperly trying to communicate with the adventurers. From this, the archive would know enough to create its final avatar, the shardmind. The shardmind would guide the adventurers to safety as the archive collapsed, earning a measure of trust.

So what's the point of Bob? Bob is there for dramatic effect. Bob's memories, emotions, and personality were imprinted on the shardmind (albeit accidentally). As with Fred/Illyria, the rest of the party would have to deal with this strange creature (who they realize to be important) but who continues to exhibit signs of the person they lost. Perhaps, over time, the personality of Bob would become more manifest, creating essential character drama in season 3 or 4. Or, perhaps the shardmind would begin to look like Bob. Time would have to tell on that one.
Part Bob. Part Psychic Archive.
Of course, I haven't even gotten to stats or powers. That's usually the smallest part of my character creation process. The power-point psionic classes are interesting as I have never played one as a player and they're sophisticated enough as to not bore me (like the Elementalist did). Of course, since the shardmind is only "stat-synched" with one of the psionic character classes, how I deal with it is a story for another post.

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