Tuesday, 11 August 2020

Sofinho and His Heteronyms

Throne of Salt recently made a post titled "All My other Characters" in which a list of characters played by the blog's author was provided, as a kind of testament to their journey through RPGs.

Others followed, including The Mad Queen's Court, Of Slugs and Silver (Ancalagon) and Lapidary Ossuary. It was a really interesting insight into the minds and the makings of those authors, or at least one aspect of it.

I think that's what got me thinking about Fernando Pessoa and the concept of the heteronym. Pessoa was a Portuguese poet who more commonly wrote "poets" rather than poems (of course, those poets then went on to write their own poetry...), and as such is often described as the first postmodern poet: Pessoa's ouvre raises questions about the relationship between the author, the reader and the text.

One of Pessoa's heteronyms was Alberto Caeiro, which inspired my own heteronym, Sofinho Caeiro.
I wrote a long post about this, then lost it, along with my assorted character list. Intermingled within were various flippant asides regarding my own mental health and identity issues which I shan't re-insert, because this is an RPG blog not therapy. Broadly though, the very simple (and somewhat hackneyed?) theme of that post was this: a character is an extension of the author. It is a mask, but a mask can also present a hidden (or not-so-hidden) facet of identity.

By laying bare the small clutch of characters I have played I show a little bit of my soul, and it is dull for its blandness. But the hidden story is that I rarely had a chance to play, and for a long period, did not play at all.

1980s

Various FF Books
  • Notably Demons of the Deep and Sword of the Samurai. In both instances went through the book multiple times, but playing as different characters. Can't remember names. 
Male Human Fighter (D&D, Moldvay basic)
  • Male human fighter, can't recall name. He was shot by a kobold with a shortbow and died. I then took over one of the retainers.
  • My friend's mother ran that game. She really emphasised the sort of gameplay that is described in the Old School Primer, but back when "Old School" was just "School!"
In a curious of foreshadowing of what was to come, I rarely had a chance to play again as I started to run my own custom D&D games, inspired by the paltry notes I took from Moldvay.

Even Heroquest I only had a chance to play through once (as a player)!

1990s

Squad of Dark Angel Deathwing Terminators (Space Hulk, solo)
  • Played this solo mostly, so I got to give the squad names (culturally insensitive ones probably, given the unusual choice of the Dark Angels' homeworld being based upon indigenous american cultures). They had dreams and ambitions and relationships between one another. 
  • Looking back this was an excuse to continue playing with figurines when I was repeatedly told I was too old to continue doing so, The structure of the board game gave me  a framework to justify the activity, as though I was playing chess but secretly imagining the inner struggle of each of the pieces.
Fighter in the Redbox
  • You know, this guy:
  • The solo adventure in the red box gets a lot of praise but actually I think it harmed my approach to D&D by demonstrating a rigid framework with finite outcomes (none of which involve Aleena surviving).
  • There was no development as no tools were provided for generating a continual solo campaign, it was designed (I think) to give the DM a chance to feel what it's like to play just once before accepting their fate at the end of the table!
The figures from Advanced Heroquest
  • They had names (Magnus and Heinrich seem familiar) but again, I was playing by myself and the solo rules were not that great
Looking back it might seem quite depressing but actually I was fortunate to have those games. They weren't cheap, and until I was 13/14 I had no income of my own, so I should be grateful for the generosity of my parents, who didn't have a lot of money.

Once I had a Saturday job my citadel & TSR habits were entirely funded, and it gradually became eclipsed by my vinyl and drug habits. Still ran D&D campaigns (BECMI + rules cyclopedia) but again, never got to play.

2000s 

There was a very long break... and then I discovered play-by-post...

Myla Ulriksdottir, (female human wilderness rogue L1, 3.5e)
  • A semi-feral village girl who spoke a lot like "the moles in Redwall", which meant I was typing my accent reasonably well. 
  • Ghosted by GM after an exciting intro trailed off (ghosting is a recurring theme in PbP).

Arnaud Grognon (Male human swashbuckler 4, cleric 2,3.5e)
  • Former charismatic swashbuckler afflicted by charisma-reducing curse, now seeking atonement.
  • This campaign was marketed as like some mega-assembly of PbP luminaries and I found it very disappointing that we were expected to stick to the rails.
  • Also got complaints about m French accent, which even though it was typed still managed to annoy the players.
  • I left because of this and annoyance with another game and ending up ghosting a lot of people. I'm still sorry about this!

M/engá (male 0-level human, 3.5e)
  • Part of an inspirational coming-of-age campaign set in a fantasy afro-paleolthic.
  • M/engá was a charismatic storyteller who would have probably ended up as a bard if he'd been given a chance to survive his trial through the desert!
  • Probably wouldn't have started playing around in paleolithic and neolithic settings if not for that campaign: Kittenmancer (GM), if you're out there, I'm eternally grateful!
Mac (male Scots-Irish American gumshoe, CoC ?e)
  • I honestly had fun making this character and sending around NYC shaking down minor hoodlums, anticipating what a recovering alcoholic and Presbyterian would make of the Elder Gods but...
  • ...it wasn't to be! I was really pissed off with the PbP community and left the entire server, ghosting this game completely, again to my discredit. 

Trethemwe (female half-elf rogue, 3.5e)
  • Rolled her up for a 3.5e game of The Burning Plague. It never got going but check out this cliché-ridden and overly-long backstory:

Trethemwe is about 5'4", perhaps a little heavier set than most half elves but still slender by human standards, with particularly sharp features and narrow, grey-green eyes. She has long, straight, silver-blonde hair which she keeps tied up in a bun at the back of her head. Her thin lips are permanently pursed in a wry smile, though she rarely laughs, seeing almost every situation as only mildly amusing. She has a small scar above her left eye, having fallen from a tree whilst a young girl, attempting to emulate her elven cousins. Trethemwe wears sturdy, outdoor clothing in dark colours adorned with an array of pouches, belts and other items for holding her adventuring items. When on the road she likes to wear a heavy cloak hewn from the hide of a dire wolf, but she prefers to keep this wrapped up in her travelling sack. On her wedding finger she wears a silver ring to deter the advances of would-be suitors: in reality she is not betrothed to anyone, it is a family heirloom given to her by her father.

The wry smile worn by our protagonist hints at her slyness and cunning: Trethemwe is the very definition of crafty, and is adept at winning people's favour. Her short life on the road as won her many acquaintances: though she would describe none of them as friends, she regards many of them with affection. Ultimately Trethemwe is out to satisfy her own curiosity about the world, to experience adventure and maybe make some money. She's not interested in love or justice or truth, but is attracted to the unusual, the obscure and the challenging. Her father told her tales of adventure in her childhood, and this has granted her a particular fascination for shiny things. She is fluid in her morality, but finds out-and-out evil distasteful. Beneath her surface desire for adventure and wealth Trethemwe's only true passion would be to explore her elven heritage, a culture she associates with her father but from which she feels excluded.

Unusually for a half-elf, Trethemwe is technically only quarter elven, her father being half-elf in the true sense of the word. Though raised in an elven community her father was granted a human name-Askuth- and upon reaching adulthood left his elven brethren to roam the world as a ranger, defending the natural world from wrongdoers.

After many years adventuring Askuth felt a growing need to settle down, eventually taking a human wife in the next valley along from Duvik's pass. Trethemwe was born during this period, and can recall many happy childhood memories of her father regailing her with tales of daring-do. Of particular interest to Trethemwe was a lady whom Askuth described as "lithe and nimble... like a cat... who could get whatever she wanted", and Trethemwe spent much of her childhood re-enacting her exploits in the wilderness around her home. Her mother, Elena, would shake her head and smile knowingly.

Sadly, the marriage did not last: for Askuth- a half-elf ranger now working as a carpenter in a two-horse town- the call of the wild pulled him back to his elven roots. Fortunately the small town was particularly liberal, and Elena was granted a divorce, later remarrying the village miller. Askuth maintained contact with his daughter, visiting every year to take her on short trips, sometimes back to the forests where her elven brethren dwelt.

For Trethemwe, life in the village was staid. Her stepfather was a pleasant enough fellow- pleasant enough to provide her with two younger half brothers, anyway- but he was a dull and simple man. The wider world seemed to beckon her: when she felt ready, she sought to follow in her father's footsteps, despite her mother's warnings that the adventurer's life was not all glamour (what did she know anyway?) and soon Trethemwe found herself on the road.

After a brief apprenticeship acting as a guard-come-scout for trade caravans through the region, the promise of silver and the exploration of caverns soon brought Trethemwe to Duvik's pass. She arrived to find a town beset by plague and sickness. She had no care for the sickening fate that had befallen the people: rather, she saw the quest to remedy the plague as a chance to carve out a legend of her own, to begin her own adventure...
I mean... I know this sort of thing was encouraged in 3.5e but it's a bit on the nose, isn't it?

After leaving the PbP server I didn't really play again for several years, in fact not until I travelled to Vietnam in 2014. I didn't play in a face-to-face game again until 2018! Naturally, I was the GM...

Earlier this year I returned to the UK to take up a new job, and in the few weeks before I started work, I joined a local rpg group and played a few sessions of a 5e Planescape campaign as a drow... rogue I think? His name escapes me, but I tried my best to make him as un-edge-lordy as possible.

Then the world went weird.

A few weeks into my new job COVID became a real thing and the UK was in full lockdown.

The upside of this seemed to be every getting into ZOOM RPGs...

I'd just met David Blandy at an exhibition in Brighton, and was lucky enough to get a place in his livestreamed game The World After which was can be viewed her here

Urk/Horribly-Rides-Stingray (Nautian Shifter, The World After)

  • A public art event hosted by New Geographies, the game The World After is set on a future version of Canvey Island close to where I grew up and site of my own graduate major design project.
  • This was my first game in a livestream, but for many involved it was their first ever game! It was immense fun.
  • Urk was small and shy, and a little bit dependent on the two other Nautians in our group, whom he regarded as older sisters.
  • He turned into a snake, and was thrown over a stockade by Chipoh Glowstone.
Ivan Babienko, (Kislevian zealot WFRP 4e)
  • Hosted by Alex on the Garblag Games discord, I got to indulge my childhood fantasy of playing a character in the Old World of Warhammer.
  • We did some sewerjacking, and Ivan ruthlessly dealt with a host of cultists using only a flail and his powerful faith.
  • Would loved to have played more but time is limited (he says, writing a blogpost during office hours...) and I was unable to continue n the follow-on campaign.
Fasilides the Unwanted (Sorcerer 3, Pathfinder 2e)
  • Volunteered to play in Garblag Games' regular Tuesday night Pathfinder campaign,  Path of the Pilgrim.
  • I'm still trying to find my way around Fasil, as the original concept I had for him was maybe too subtle... he's sort of turning into a combination of Klaus from Umbrella Academy, Super Hans from Peepshow and Basquiat (from real life).
  • Mostly this manifests as substance abuse, pan-sexuality and orange-blue morality.
  • He has marid bloodline and was abandoned by his sorcerous parents as child, so my have some repressed memories going on.
  • Apparently has to sisters, Masika and Medina, but they may just be imaginary.
  • It's a great game and I'm largely helped by the rest of the cast, who seem to have much clearer ideas about their character's identity!

Conclusions


  • This was even harder to write the second time around.
  • I've played a lot of male humans. How original!
  • I have never played a proper wizard.
  • I have always wanted to play a female human wizard and have made probably hundreds of NPCs corresponding to variations of this archetype.
  • I left out quite a lot of characters from smaller PbP campaigns.
  • I decided not to include all the characters I play in real life.
  • Myla was named after a brand of architectural drafting film (Mylar) . I recycled her into a late 21st century homeless psychic in a comic book treatment. Her name derives from her ability to see through layers of reality, stacked on top of one another like an architect's drawings. She was probably my favourite in this list.
  • This exercise has left me feeling weirdly depressed and I'm not sure why... you should try it too!

References


A play-by-post site https://www.rpgcrossing.com/

New Geographies https://newgeographies.uk/
Canvey Island through my psychocartographical eye http://psychocartography.blogspot.com/search/label/Canvey%20Island

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