[Fifth World] Cool character options

Early playtesting for my game, The Fifth World, has gone pretty well. The main thing missing right now, I think, lies with cool character options. This means a lot for any game, of course, but it goes double for this game. Most of the time, when you hear, “feral tribes living after the collapse of civilization,” you think of a desperate, miserable place. But my entire goal with this project involves presenting a hopeful vision for the future, where life has gotten better. I want a game that makes people excited about the possibilities the future really holds, not just in terms of the expansion of technology, but in the expansion of community. I took a lot of inspiration from Michael Green’s Afterculture, and he includes on that page:

The truth is that for the first time we are bereft of a positive vision of where we are going. This is particularly evident among kids. Their future is either [i]Road Warrior[/i] post-apocalypse, or [i]Blade Runner[/i] mid-apocalypse. All the futuristic computer games are elaborations of these scenarios, heavy metal worlds where civilization has crumbling into something weird and violent (but more exciting than now).

The Afterculture is an attempt to transmute this folklore of the future into something deep and rich and convincingly real. If we are to pull a compelling future out of environmental theory and recycling paradigms, we are going to have to clothe the sacred in the romantic. The Afterculture is part of an ongoing work to shape a new mythology by sources as diverse as Thoreau and Conan and Dances with Wolves and Iron John. The Afterculture is not “against” the problems of our times, and its not about “band-aid solutions” to the grim jam we find ourselves in. It’s about opening up a whole new category of solutions, about finding another way of being: evolved, simpler, deeper, even more elegant. Even more cool. Even very cool.

So, the challenge of “being cool” stands as a pretty tall order for this project, and I think Michael Green set a pretty high standard that I’ll have to live up to. But I could use some help. Does anybody have some ideas for cool character concepts that could live in the Fifth World?

I’ll kick things off with some of the things I have in already that I think look pretty cool:

[ul][]The Arcanists. Before civilization ended, we did create nanobots: powered by solar energy and run by artificial intelligence. Unfortunately, the AI didn’t always reproduce without errors, and they began to grow without limit. One of the original programmers has survived for 400 years, known in obscure legends only as “the Grand Arcanist,” he founded the Ordo Arcanum. Only they know about the nanobots. Only they know how they once proliferated to the point of nearly wiping out all life on earth, before the Grand Arcanist learned how to keep up with their mutations. The Arcanists keep an eternal vigil on the ever-mutating nanobots now. The little machines give them seemingly magical powers which they summon by spoken commands, but the constant mutation has made those commands an English-derived gibberish. They roam the world as the unsung heroes keeping back one of the last legacies of civilization.
]The Cult of the Fleshmongers. Somewhere between transhumanists, plastic surgery, and self-mutilation, you’ll find one of the Fifth World’s worst groups of bad guys. They generally lament the passing of the old world, and hope to restore humanity to its proper place—as living gods separated from the filth of other life, fit to judge who should live and who should die. To do so, they seek to restore the perfection of the human form to its godlike state, which they pattern, as often as not, on mannequins. The Fleshmongers perform hideous rituals to mold their victims into their twisted vision of divine “beauty.”
[*] The Undertaker. In the first land I developed, the Land of the Three Rivers, the Undertaker follows a buzzard familiar. He doesn’t stay with a particular family, but instead roams the land. The buzzard leads him when death is close, where the people will need him. Wherever he goes, death soon follows. He performs last rites, comforts the bereaved, buries the dead, and from time to time, settles restless ghosts[/ul]

Nice character options, the Fleshmongers give me the chills!
Here’s mine:

  • The Metalists. These guys can work metals and are a secret society within clan based peoples, the metals they work with most depends on what’s available from there bioregion so if near the ruins of cities or a landfill they cast aluminium bronze, while if near bogs and swamps then they make tools from bog iron. But they all share a common knowledge of making charcoal from coppiced woodland and how to use charcoal to get a hot enough fire to work their metals.

The Metalists are split into two groups:

  • The Fire Roarers. They are the Elders of the society, they live in very small bands away from the main villages. They are surrounded by coppiced woodland and bee hives and have very deep relationship with both. They coppice the woods to feed their sacred roaring fire who in return helps them turn metal scraps into beautiful tools. The bees give them wax (for lost wax casting) and powerful medicines (honey for healing wounds and the bees could be used for Acupuncture). Only on a clear night of a full moon can metal work be done. They are highly respected by the other villagers for their ability to make metal tools and there powerful healing abilities but are fearful of offending them so they only go to them when they’re very sick or wounded. Once a year the Fire Roarers visit the other villages to trade their tools and to hand pick new Metal Stalkers.

  • The Metal Stalkers. They are the initiated and may one day become a Fire Roarer but only if they survive the final test. They are first chosen in early childhood because they have an unusually strong relationship with the fire spirit, during childhood there taught the songlines of the different metal spirits and there previous relationship with the Earth Mother before she was gutted by the ancestors. Bloodmetal (Copper) comes from the wounds of the Mother and has such a powerful spirit that men are forbidden from touching it and women can only handle it after there first moonbleed. Moonmetal (Aluminium) a gift to the Mother from her partner Moon. Dreammetal (Iron/Steel) held the ancestors world together but when they stopped dreaming their strange dream it turned back into red earth. Bonemetal (Lead) seams like the perfect metal for making cups and bowls with, but when the ancestors stole the Mothers bones she cursed them to poison everything they touch until they’re returned deep within her body. During early adulthood Metal Stalkers stalk metals across the landbase even making deals with outsiders to keep the Fire Roarers with metal. When the Fire Roarers think a Metal Stalker is ready to become a Fire Roarer they have to return from the final test. They must find a deep wound in the Earth Mother and enter it alone with all the Bonemetal they can carry, if they return they will become a Fire Roarer and the entrance will be marked with the sign of the worst curse (radioactive symbol) to warn others not to enter and if they fail it is said that they have joined the bones of the Mother.

Nice ideas. I already had taken a lot of inspiration from the stories of Wayland Smith, with people who could work bog iron as some of the most rare and venerated of wizards, but this definitely expands that with some interesting directions.

The Metalists are lifted straight from the mythology I’m working on for the Hebrides of the west coast of Scotland. I’ll add it to the other locations of the fifth world when I’m happy with it, you’ve set a high standed with the land of the 3 rivers. 8)

When I said that metal work can only be done on a clear bright night, I meant to say that hot metal work (foundary, forging, tempering) was usually done by the smith/foundaryman during a bright night so they could better see the precise colour changes that indicated the metal was ready to be worked and that cold working metal can be done at any time.

Also I found this interesting regarding the deep relationship the smith had with the furnace in Chishinga culture: “The furnace . . . was regarded as the smelter’s wife for the period of the work and to sleep with his human wife meant . . . adultery . . . to commit adultery whilst the wife is pregnant means . . . that the child will die, and so by analogy the furnace would not produse good iron.”

It was common in other cultures as well for the furnace being regarded as female and the bellows as male with the act of smelting/casting conceptualized as a procreative act.

So with the Fire Roarers I have the men operating the bellows while the women pour the metal into molds with both sexes being celabate during the casting process.

I posted a thread here on aluminium bronze that you might be intrested in.

I’m not sure if it fits within your positive future scenario, but I came up with a more villainous faction, inspired by one of your essays, as a matter of fact, and tempered the horror you describe seeing in those people, with the degeneracy found in H.P. Lovecraft tales. They exist more as an antagonist ‘race’ than anything, really, but I can’t think of any RPG written yet that doesn’t have a set of antagonists. Take ‘em or leave ‘em; I certainly won’t be offended.

Note: I took a number of liberties with the setting, since I’m unfamiliar with the game in anything but a broad, conceptual way. I use a lot of ‘terminology’ that may or may not exist for you, but include it more as flavor-text than anything else.

[u]The Nothing Men:

Tall, gangling horrors skulking in the shadows of those Places Long Forgotten, the Nothing Men bide their time like spiders within a rotting, once-decadent lair. Products of a long dead age, the Nothing Men cling to the shadows of their forefathers’ former lives, and attempt to emulate their deeds and lifestyles, but the Age that had supported the Nothing Men has long ended, and certain… peculiarities have begun to surface.

Nothing Men dwell within the places abandoned by the bulk of humanity when the last Age ended. When the food stopped showing up magically on the shelves. When the planes stopped painting the sky with their poisons. When the stars finally came out again. However not all of humanity left those places that needed the poisons and the suffering and the slaves to survive. While a vast majority of Those That Stayed perished from conflict, starvation, and disease, a few survived in sparse pockets forming bands of their own. Deep within concrete canyons once called by magical names, and Dead places where the very ground no longer lives; the Nothing Men haunt the abandoned buildings and underground places like hungry ghosts. Even the Fleshmongers avoid these places. During the day, these places lay utterly silent – birds do not sing here. Occasionally, and especially towards dusk, a faint sound almost like music can be heard coming from darkened windows, or through open doors swinging in the breeze-- certainly enough to draw the foolishly curious too close. Few who venture into these lands of the dead escape without stories to tell of the Nothing Men, much less with their lives. Needless to say, a run-in with a Nothing Man is enough to fuel campfire ghost stories for generations. Existing stories tell of faceless, silent creatures leaping from deep shadows and overtaking tribe-mates; dragging them screaming into the night – the screams never last long. Other stories tell of Nothing Men attacking each other, scuffling in an utterly silent, but mortal combat until one falls, and is summarily eaten. One or two heroic tales describe a band of hunters or scouts actually fighting off an attack from a Nothing Man, only to claim an empty, dusty suit for a trophy. Whatever the Nothing Men are, or have become, or once were, only one thing is certain – they are no longer human beings.

Some notes on the Nothing Men:
• All Nothing Men are between 7’ and 7’2” – there is very little height difference between them as a whole.
• The Nothing Men look very much like present-day depictions of Scarecrows; long, thin limbs, with bulbous heads and featureless faces (aside from the lack of a mouth, and no ears, each is entirely unremarkable and exactly alike). Their hands are very bird-like, and usually clenched into a clawed shape. Their skin is sallow and unhealthy-looking, though their actual skin tone can vary widely. None of the Nothing Men has even a single hair on their entire body.
• Each Nothing Man is dressed more or less the same, as well; each wears the remains of a gray business suit, scuffed designer shoes, and a tattered white dress shirt.
• Many times these creatures are encountered singly; rarely do the Nothing Men hunt in packs. In fact, rarely do the Nothing Men hunt at all – most of the time when they are encountered, they are scavenging for god-knows-what, but if an opportunity for an easy meal presents itself, a Nothing Man will immediately look to ambush its target.
• All Nothing Men are male – attempts to observe individual bands of Nothing Men that have not been met with cannibalistic failure, have otherwise failed to note any females at all.
• While not strictly nocturnal, the Nothing Men prefer to roam at night, although a darkened building, or underground area with no light suits their purposes as well. While daylight has no appreciable effect on them, they do avoid it whenever they can. They appear to have no difficulty seeing in even near-perfect darkness.

So, the Nothing Men can be left as purposefully ambiguous as they are described above, or they can be any number of finite creatures, including just crazed human beings. I had imagined them akin to tales of Wendigo spirits that haunt the boreal forests of the far north – they attack with claws that are real enough, but their physiology simply defies what we know of living beings (combined with the fact that they leave physical evidence behind, but nothing that gives any real clues about them). On that same note, they can simply be some manner of vengeful ghost, similar to horror stories from Japan and China.

The real horror behind the Nothing Men, though, is that their origins, motivations, lifestyle, and general modus operandi are completely unknown to the players. I hope to post my own “artists’ rendition” of one soon.