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ZEITGEIST Designing Auryn

Lylandra

Adventurer
Hey folks,

some of you may or may not have read Tizbiz' Zeitgeist campaign (found over here) where I am currently playing one of two PC characters in a team of three constables (Replacement for Team 3).

So what is this thread about?

As I don't want to occupy too much space of Tizbiz' own thread and don't want to risk spoilering myself by posting my character creation/design thoughts and processes into his original thread, I decided to do some sort of spin-off he might link to. What I'm trying to do is to roughly describe how I used the unique Setting of Zeitgeist (using the Player's Guide and some additional info from my DM) to flesh out a character who can feel at home in Risur and Lanjyr and who has both strengths and flaws that are rooted in her backstory. So this is mostly fluff and almost no crunch.

Why am I doing this?

Because, honestly, I really like the setting. And because I enjoyed working through all the materials to get to the point where I ended up with a character I was really keen on playing. Plus I just... like to share my thoughts as they can maybe serve as an inspiration for others.

For all those of you who are playing Zeitgeist as a player and may have ties to the Vekeshi, my posts contain spoilers regarding the identity of Old Stag. So proceed with caution.
 

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Lylandra

Adventurer
Getting the background

When I first read through the Zeitgeist Player’s guide, I was instantly fascinated by the different peoples of Lanjyr and the premise of a philosophical conflict. Also, the promise of a deviation from a typical, pseudo-medieval European setting felt like a fresh breeze of air. So I wanted to take the deep dive into what made the setting special and was at first a bit torn between playing a Deva and playing an Eladrin. As I’m generally not that much interested in tech classes or themes (at least not in fantasy settings), going the mystical route seemed like a solid plan.

As my fellow player was drawn to the Deva as well, I opted for more diversity and chose the Eladrin. After reading a bit more about the race and their history, I didn’t want to go the easy route of playing a native Flinter, but instead took the full dive into Elfaivar territory. What hooked me up most was the backstory of the race: First the idea of a once proud “nation” that had been reduced to ash over a divine catastrophe and the internal strife that happened afterwards. Second the way that these people managed to survive and recover, by not choosing the cliché route of going down with a bang, but to liberate those who had suffered most after the Malice and to make them the pillars of their new revival movement. Third the possibility to play a daughter of a non-evil (but also maybe problem ridden) matriarchy with all its resulting social awkwardness should such a character come to a country like Risur.

I then started digging for more information as I needed to know about how such an enclave would work in the present time. Fortunately, my DM ploughed through all the adventures and gave me some hooks, although he ultimately let me design my own enclave, as long as it didn’t happen to be some big, influential city-state. After a bit of back and forth (and reading up on existing cultures with matrilineal or matriarchal structures), I came up with a quasi-clan like society ruled by a matriarch who was counseled by influential adult women (her daughters, nieces, granddaughters etc.). As having daughters was pivotal to the society’s survival, it was considered a woman’s first duty to give life to at least one baby girl. Consorts or husbands (one woman would have more than one at a time) were chosen by the council, depending on omens, contests or whatever reason the matriarch would deem important enough. And being chosen as a consort would be the greatest honor every boy or man would try to aspire to. As every woman was supposed to continue, and possibly broaden, the bloodline, she was held up to very high standards, as she had to train to increase her skills, magic and combat arts constantly. I wanted to portray a functional, yet far from perfect society which put the strains of survival on both men and women, albeit on very different levels. For the culture itself, I used the idea from the Player’s Guide and imagined a mishmash of a primal, arcane, Indian and Japanese inspired culture.

Then I needed a reason why a member of such a society would end up in a foreign country and especially be a member of a special CIA-like institution. First, she had to move out of her enclave. Again, I wanted to avoid clichés like being married to dudes she didn't like or being forced to live a life she didn't want to. I came up with the idea that an only daughter whose parents had been chosen by mystical signs and rudimentary "genetics" would maybe face a lot of pressure to be "the perfect daughter", albeit in a different sense than it is often used in tropes (think of Azula in AtlA minus the crazy dictator dad). But I didn't want the pressure to mainly come from her environment. Instead, she herself would be her greatest critic, trying to be an Exemplar of the Eladrin and (in her opinion) failing to be one. So in the end I made her run away from a situation she created herself. This way I was able to let her stay rooted with her culture and even fondly remember those she left behind.

Next, I had to figure out why such a character would forge such close ties to Risur and Flint. I deduced that honor and duty would be important values to my Eladrin and so I thought that she would certainly want to repay any debt she'd owe to someone. Another possible approach was a true identification with the foreign values and the foreigners themselves. And then I came up with the idea to combine both aspects into one storyline. Turned out that I was also lacking a bit of drama (I really like drama AND flawed heroes), so took a bit of a risk and went the "trophy wife" route. Kind of. I realized that I wouldn't be too happy if my character had been sexually or violently abused for years, or even decades, so I thought about why not have someone who, at first, simply wants to own an Eladrin woman because having one would be among the greatest status symbols one could attain. As I imagined my character to be a great negotiator (I'm also really into the diplomancer approach), I then asked myself why she wouldn't be able to simply set a price for her freedom and succeed. So I made the relationship between captive and owner both personal and obsessive in a way that he would want to keep her at any cost, yet still feel the need to keep his promise that he wouldn't do her any harm. Not that this wouldn't mentally hurt the character (who still was used to be treated like a future matriarch), but this way I could avoid the all too common tropes.

Now for the Risuri and Auryn's reason to connect with them... I was discussing this matter with my DM for quite a while and at first I suggested that a really wealthy noble or industrialist could have bought her from her captor (back then I wasn't that settled on the obsessive route and her captivity could alternatively have been a very brief experience) and we kind of agreed on a certain Guy Goodson to be her benefactor. I asked him a bit about Goodson's personality and role in Risur and everything was fine until... I decided that I would want take the Vekeshi Mystic as background feat (my DM wasn't too fond of the Skyseer and the other player wanted to play a spirit medium) and realized that choosing Vekeshi plus Goodson would easily lead my Auryn into conflicting loyalties. When he explained that, at least in Flint, there would be only Goodson who would be wealthy enough to even consider buying an Eladrin, I had to think of a different plan. My DM was then suggesting that maybe a Vekeshi or a soldier from Flint could have freed her in an undercover or commando mission and I happened to really like that idea, as it would open up a possible hook-up point for other players. He then came up with Old Stag whom he described as the powerful leader of the Vekeshi conclave of Flint and whom he could imagine of putting off such a feat. As he researched a bit further, he revealed to me that using Old Stag would actually make perfect sense if I wouldn't mind having a major character reveal before the campaign even started. I agreed, as long as it wasn't some major plot point which could have upset my other player. The resulting reveal that Old Stag = Rear Admiral Dawkins wasn't too bad, in fact, it suited my story perfectly. I quickly envisioned a tale of the last Yerasol war where Dawkins was still a captain and he "coincidentally" had to conquer an island from Danoran occupation. Well, turned out that he also heard from a fey that a certain Eladrin woman was being held there against her will and, being both a Vekeshi and a true Risuri gentleman (as my DM envisioned him... and I happen to really love his characterization), he decided to give the island top priority. This way I was able to beat two flys in one stroke: Figuring out why my character would feel indebted to Risur and why and how she would join the ranks of the Vekeshi.

Last but not least, I had to think about her way to join the RHC. She had to somehow feel more than just a debt, but also a love for the Risuri. I thought about giving her the need to build a network for personal safety as she now understood that an Eladrin was very vulnerable on her own. I figured that the Docker community would openly welcome a talented artist and that she would be able to greatly expand her repertoire and knowledge, thus easing her need to be perfect. The same reasoning could be applied to her ability to lead, protect and negotiate and her wish to join the RHC. As she knows that she'll live for centuries and will eventually lead her own enclave, she kind of sees her time in Risur as some sort of internship. She... just happened to have a bigger heart for the people than she expected.
 

I love people who put a lot of work into their backstories. And I dig that you thought about and rejected the more obvious and cliched character hooks, and thus came up with a more nuanced and detailed history.

I'll feel really bad if something I wrote kills your character.
 

Tizbiz

Explorer
I'll feel really bad if something I wrote kills your character.

What Lylandra did not mention is that we use an other NPC as her former captor and tormentor. I changed the name of Mr. Pemberton (hope i spell his name right and please no spoilers about who Mr. P really is!!!!. If someone wants to comment about that i will be happy to hear your thoughts at my thread about changing NPC Roles.) to Mr. Fordren and placed him to be one of the most wealthy danorian industrialist with international economic influence in Risur. This has lead to one very interesting encounter already and i expect to have a lot of fun in the future. *evil grin*

My players character concept as an eladrin woman and male deva from Crisilyr was at first a problem as both players agreed that they would have avoided each other as much as possible despite working at the RHC for several years. But it has worked out since really nicely and i am happy that after 11 days of actual playing it still enriches the campaign. I hope both will find their work rewarded.
 
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Lylandra

Adventurer
I love people who put a lot of work into their backstories. And I dig that you thought about and rejected the more obvious and cliched character hooks, and thus came up with a more nuanced and detailed history.

I'll feel really bad if something I wrote kills your character.

Thanks, I'm glad that you like it :)
I'm trying to keep her alive as much as possible and she doesn't really have suicidial tendencies. She's already taking far more risks than she was taught to, but mainly because she cannot simply watch while other people sacrifice themselves.

What Lylandra did not mention is that we use an other NPC as her former captor and tormentor. I changed the name of Mr. Pemberton (hope i spell his name right and please no spoilers about who Mr. P really is!!!!. If someone wants to comment about that i will be happy if you hear your thoughts at my thread about changing NPC Roles.) to Mr. Fordren and placed him to be one of the most wealthy danorian industrialist with international economic influence in Risur. This has lead to one very interesting encounter already and i expect to have a lot of fun in the future. *evil grin*

I'm not done yet, my dear ;)

But I really appreciate that he's using my/our concepts and tries to incorporate them into the campaign. Mr. Fordren was originally planned as part of her backstory who could or could not be used as a hook for a future side-quest or a cameo. Putting him into the role of a recurring NPC (who seems to be in a position where Auryn cannot get rid of him too easily) might lead to a far more interesting and complicated scenario.
 

Lylandra

Adventurer
choosing classes and other details

Regarding her class and role, I thought about which attributes could define her strengths and what would be suitable for a character that had a very obvious fey background. I imagined an exotic, unnaturally beautiful, really clever and agile woman who would have refined her movements to such an extent that every combat could look like an easily performed, perfect choreography. I thought about the things she could have learned in her enclave and concluded that combat-wise it would be self-defense and the ability to lead and organize other combatants (as women were usually guarded by a small squad outside the enclave). Adding the strengths of an Eladrin (high cha, high dex) on top of that resulted in a combination of the bard and swashbuckler classes. I chose the flamedancer archetype for the bard as the "flaming retribution of the goddess" was already a signature move of the Vekeshi and I wanted to delve deeper into that theme without taking the Vekeshi prestige class (I'm not really a fan of PrCs). In coordination with my DM, I decided that her bardic magic would not be solely music-based, but instead a trait of her fey heritage which had been triggered after her unusual "trial of flame". Which also means that I would preferably choose spells that match the fey theme. Turned out that he liked my approach and approved it.

As soon as the most basic story was set in stone, I simply added some other NPC to later add details to her characterization. First, I thought about her direct relatives: Mother Galadin (a druid/master of Eladrin ceremonies), plus her three husbands Thorandil (ex-veteran turned peaceful artist), Estelar (ambitious, stern wizard) and Kalaren ( hot-blooded barbarian type fighter/defender). I also introduced her cousin Zahir who may or may have not secretly loved her ( actively opted against having him as an official love interest as this would have been too much drama/cliché), accompanied her and died defending her from pirates (left his fate up to my DM but he said he's food for the fishes) as well as said pirates who kidnapped and sold her (another source for hooks). I also wrote some minor characters for Dawkin's crew to whom Auryn feels attached to, as well as some contacts she made in Flint over the last seven years (mostly university students and dockers). For her captor, I envisioned an eccentric danoran businessman named Francis Fordren who's really obsessed with collecting beautiful things. As Tizbiz already mentioned, he later decided to replace "a roughly matching recurring NPC" (seems like he was originally named Mr. Pemberton) with him and I'm really looking forward to have the two confront each other on a different ground some day.

Last but not least, I fleshed out her characteristics and mannerisms based on all the information above. This was not really the last thing I did, it was more like an ongoing process, adding ideas and quirks here and there, rewrote them based on new story deviations etc. In the end I came up with the following list for the start of the campaign:

  • She's torn between an almost neurotic perfectionalism and the need to "let it go". She's regularly smoking leaf of Nicodemus or similar weeds to relax
  • She has a hard time bonding with others (due to Zahir's death), but has a special relationship with Dawkins
  • She is a somewhat archetypical immigrant who wants to integrate into a new society but also tries to stay rooted in her traditions. Which can easily lead to cognitive conflicts. (i.e. finding a job, accepting male authority figures, learning that not all Crisillyiri are evil clergymen...)
  • She has to deal with being a person who's both young and old in her new surroundings. (As an Eladrin of 75 years, she is still a youngster, but she has lived far more years than most humans)
  • She's wearing masks. Both literally (as she's created the alter ego of the masked artist Calla Aurea and is attending the Vekeshi meetings) and figuratively (as she's trying to play nice and hides her eladrin heritage out of caution)
  • She is very cautious and knows that her survival is pivotal to the survival of the Eladrin race. Still she has a hard time letting others risk their lives for her.
  • She despises bloodshed and sees killing someone as kind of last resort or something that should be reserved for those who commit really despicable acts. (she killed some of the pirates in a blood-rage though)
  • She's interested in studying the different philosophies as she's questioning the teachings of Seedism after the "meaningless" death of Zahir. She takes a liking in the Panoply and some theses of Millerism. She rejects Eschatology, danoran Rationalism and the Clergy.
  • She likes botany. She has learned to arrange flowers (like Ikebana) as well as to grow them and care for them.

Oh and I also developed some of the following Eladrin-isms along the way which she uses regularly:

  • Branched brother = cousin
  • Being worthy of being called an esteemed husband/consort = behaving like a gentleman
  • Hitiko /unblossomed one = not fully mature woman
  • Blooming woman = fully accepted adult, may have husbands
  • Time of the mad kings = era of chaos and decay before the liberation of Vekesh
  • Cursed devil = tiefling (rarely used)
  • Gremlin = swear word, used like "bastard"
  • She uses "after the Malice" or "after the grand catastrophe" for naming dates and despises "A.O.V."
  • Her enclave does not use surnames, but traces relationships through the maternal line (like dwarves often call themselves "son of father X, son of grandfather Y..." they call themselves "daughter/son of mother X, daughter of grandmother Y...). She prefers being called by her first name though.
  • I also tried to give her a proper Elfaivaran accent and tried to accentuate the vowels. The result sounds more like a french accent than an east asian one though.
 

Tizbiz

Explorer
[*] She's wearing masks. Both literally (as she's created the alter ego of the masked artist Calla Aurea and is attending the Vekeshi meetings) and figuratively (as she's trying to play nice and hides her eladrin heritage out of caution)
[*] She despises bloodshed and sees killing someone as kind of last resort or something that should be reserved for those who commit really despicable acts. (she killed some of the pirates in a blood-rage though)

Adapting the Setting to the characters is new to me and had some surprises. The vekeshi in Flint are not the murderous bunch that are the norm elsewhere. It always seemed odd to me that avengers would name themselves after a man who preached to live for a better tomorrow and tried to stir emotions to a more productive way than revenge. The vekeshi as a whole have still a very bad reputation.

A consequence of "our" changes is that the plot to kill Rock Rakus in adventure three makes no sense in our campaign. I am struggling to find an other target yet Auryn would really smell that something is wrong right away. Even a order to kill her archenemy Forden will not work anymore because she already spoke to her mentor about him being in town.
 
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Tizbiz

Explorer
Listen, Rock might just have it coming for his musical proclivities.

I tried that already and Auryn's player just replied "Really? Your kidding?". We agreed to cancel that plot because Auryn would never believe that the big leader would order her or anybody else to kill Rock Rackus because of his music. She would at least question her mentor personally before accepting any fishy assignments.
 

Lylandra

Adventurer
So, it's been a while now and I can say that I'm pretty happy with the way Auryn turned out. We're currently at the beginning (I guess?) of adventure 4 and she's still alive and kicking. She even got used to having a Deva as her constant partner and regularly uses his wisdom for counseling.

Anyway, I'm devoting my newest (and possibly last) entry on Auryn to her physical appearance as I finally got a matching picture of her drawn by my very talented sister :)

So what I envisioned was an Eladrin who had a very exotic bloodline and therefore an exotic look. Not that Eladrin don't look foreign to our (western) eyes, but I thought about what would look unusual in a society based on asian cultures? So I came up with very light silver hair with some darker, more golden-blonde strands and violet eyes with small golden streaks.

She also got a scar-like mark on her neck after being forced to wear a tight golden choker during her time of captivity (not that she really got scarred, but the metal irritated her skin and it didn't return to its original color yet). Usually, she's wearing colorful silken scarves or very soft necklaces to hide that imperfection (and protect the spot that still feels vulnerable). What you can see in the picture are some of her leisure clothes in an eladrin style which she likes to wear at home. She also likes the colors gold, turquoise and red and she dislikes white as this color (plus red or black ornaments) is usually worn at funerals.

Auryn_2.jpg
 

gideonpepys

Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.
Now THAT is a fabulous image. Your sister is indeed talented. Makes me feel a bit silly for posting my scribbles a few weeks back. Jealous. In a good way.
 

Lylandra

Adventurer
Now THAT is a fabulous image. Your sister is indeed talented. Makes me feel a bit silly for posting my scribbles a few weeks back. Jealous. In a good way.

Nah, don't feel jealous. I took the opportunity to peek at your scribbles (and tried to avoid the rest as well as possible to avoid spoilers :D ) and I really like them. They got much personality. And my sis does illustrations for a living, so she got plenty of practice ;)
 



Anyway, I'm devoting my newest (and possibly last) entry on Auryn to her physical appearance as I finally got a matching picture of her drawn by my very talented sister :)


View attachment 88236
Lylandra, I just remembered this lovely piece of art. I'm not sure if I asked before, but do you think your sister would be willing to let us use it in the upcoming ZEITGEIST setting book? If so, could you email me at ryanznock@gmail.com? We'd just want her to sign a contract to make sure she's cool with us using it (in this and maybe future books).
 





MrsMongoose

Villager
so you can do a drawing and the free version lets you upload 4 (private) pics a month and AI tinker with it to morph it into something else

or you can pick one already there - I just searched for one a bit like Dani from GoT for example), pick another one and let them have "kids", or just adjust things like eye colour etc...
the portrait function doesn't let you put pointy ears on though or horns, (so it put my own tiefling pic I was wanting to straighten out more human), so you'd have to use one of the other ones like "characters" or "anime" I guess...

Artbreeder

1611729298433.png


1611730289247.png

see, it redid the solid eyes and removed horns and ears on mine in the upload... (pre-tweak)
1611730186096.png
 
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