Saturday, May 30, 2015

Nerida, Give Me Strength: A Reflection on the RPG Characters I've Played and What They've Meant to Me

When I create a character, either in a fictional universe of my own design or a fictional universe created by others, that character comes from a part of me. My life experiences up to that point, my opinions, my tastes in music, my external life outside of the character, all of this comes together to create this character. As such, every character, even the throwaway ones, become a symbol of what my life was at the time, or at the very least, a reflection of my decisions at the time.

This is very much a personal post, so please bare with me as I delve into my history through the lens of my RPG characters.

Let's begin with my first RPG character: Lina Svana

Lina Svana was a bard in a home-brew Viking campaign using the D&D 2nd Edition combat system. Her talents were archery, magic missile, and astrology. Her name came from a brief Google search of "Female Viking Names" and I picked the two I liked. Svana is nordic for "swan." As I was the only woman in the party, I wanted to highlight my character's femininity, but not become the damsel in distress.  There isn't much to speak about her, but she's important because she is the starting point in all of my other characters.

Next character: Maria Ava

Maria Ave was a cleric. This was a situation where my exlover's friend's stepfather wanted to lead us in a one-off D&D campaign and gave us already generated character sheets. My first sheet listed my gender as "male", though my second sheet when we played a second time was "female." Her name came from the song "Ave Maria" and me being like "my character is religious, Maria is a religious name, let's call her Maria!" Maria's skills were as a healer, though she had a few other talents as well, particularly with a short sword and with the flame blade and fairy lights spell. She was also chaste, and stated, when she was stranded with her male cohorts, that she had no intention of sleeping with any of the characters (which is hilarious since the only reason I was there was because I was sleeping with one of the players.)

Next character: Astrid Blane

Astrid Blane was a level 6 ranger in a 1st edition D&D campaign that I played all throughout college. She was one of the longest lasting characters as she survived for a year and a half (the average life expectancy for the characters in this campaign were 3-4 months) and she became an integral part for both the campaign and the universe the campaign was set in. She was the first character I had ever written an intense backstory for (she changes her name a few times, has a lesbian relationship that gets her exiled, worked security for a bard troupe, and kills a town guard) and I even worked with the DM to see if we could incorporate elements of her backstory into the campaign (unfortunately, she died before we reached that point). Her talents included archery, long sword, tracking, and various other I'm neglecting. Her name came from a quick Google search looking for "medieval women's names" and I pulled it from a list of Elven names, even though she was a human. Astrid and my time playing her in the D&D group heavily defined my first two years in college. She died in one of the first campaigns back from summer break from junior year and it hurt me deeply. Like, I had to go to Flaco's Tacos, buy some nachos, and watch some cartoons with my boyfriend. Astrid was a deep part of me and I became very invested in her.

Next character: Clara Orbsen

Clara was a ghostbuster in a one-off game of Inspectors (a game where the players improvise everything and the DM just rolls with it). Her talents included "being cute." Her name came because in the ballet the Nutcracker, the lead girl is always named either Clara or Marie. I already played a character named Maria, so I picked Clara. 'Orbsen' came from the fact that in professional ghosthunting, orbs are the little circles that appear on photographs as proof of ghostly apparitions (which in reality are probably dust particles or bugs, but that's a story for a future article). With her fellow team of incompetent ghostbusters, she pushed off a potential rapist and helped to prevent the Chilean apocalypse.

Next character: Morwen Elvenstar

Morwen Elvenstar was a street samurai in a small Shadowrun Campaign. This was a mixed campaign as the DM intentionally kept saying her name wrong ("Morrowind" he called her) and it was right when my problematic relationship with an ex-lover really began to show the cons outweighing the pros. Morwen was more defined by her backstory (an escapee of the Elven Mafia and estranged daughter of a corrupt politician) than the events of the campaign. Her name is the Elven word for "dark woman" and elvenstar is a direct reference to her Elven heritage. Her talents included street smarts, particularly in Elven Mafia matters, gymnastic abilities, and kicking butt. She had a small addiction to Bliss, cybernetic enhancements that boosted her fighting abilties, and she was allergic to animal dander.

Next character: Loralove Lunadash

Loralove Lunadash was part of a one-off campaign in a D&D-like game from a company with a name similar to "Old School Games." I think I had her playing a ranger type, but I honestly do not remember. I do remember that she was talented with a dagger (she stabbed a fairy) and became very protective of a baby puppy she had found (that was later eaten by a landshark). Her name came from the fact that I had been watching a lot of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic (and I wasn't the only one, another campaign member managed to get our DM to have our story take place in Equestria and he stated that his character was basically Twilight Sparkle. This person is one of two people from that friend group I'm still in contact with).

Next character: Svana Brookstanton

Svana Brookstanton was an assassin that took Astrid's place after Astrid was killed. Svana was also Astrid's lesbian lover (a character I had written in my backstory long before and was made an NPC until Astrid had died). Disgraced by her lesbianism, she had left her rich home and joined an assassin's guild. Unfortuntately, being raised as an upper class woman poised for marriage, she wasn't a very good assassin, though she did have a few successes (including one where I happened to role a critical hit and I backstabbed an animated skeleton, shocking the DM and everyone else at the table). However, because I had never played an assassin before, I wasn't very good at it, and that was Svana's downfall. I have no doubt that in more experienced hands, she would've lived.

Next character: Marigold Faerydae

Marigold was an elven ranger that took Svana's place. Marigold was basically an Astrid clone, except more feminine and less efficient. She lasted three sessions before she was killed by mind controlled slugs who turned the party against each other.

Next character: Chandra Rivendell

Chandra was another elven ranger who came and took Marigold's place. She was a combination of Marigold and Astrid, but she had a bit more spunk to her and was less likely to take peoples' bullshit. She and Marigold were classmates and she came out searching for Marigold, not knowing that Marigold has been killed. Chandra never learned the truth as I had graduated college and never went back to the group.

Next character: Nili Unicornstorm

Nili is a dwarven ranger in my current D&D 5th edition campaign. She has had animal companions, she's estranged from her matriarchal mother, she loves a good drink, she has a charisma of 6, and she is talented in archery, short sword, and axe swinging. Her name comes from a list of "female dwarven names" I googled. She's also a lesbian and has tried, with no avail, to hit on women she finds attractive (remember, 6 charisma). Her story is still in development, so there is not much to talk about for her at the moment.

Next character: Lillianth 'Lesbiana' Wenchdyke

Lillanth is my lesbian bard that I bring out D&D 5th edition one-offs. She basically Lea DeLaria in D&D character form. I haven't played a whole lot as her, but it's been fun doing disguises and flirting with everybody, so we'll see what becomes of her.

Final Character: Nerida Fforesston/Neriluna - The Spirit of the Moon

Nerida is very important to me and there's a reason she's the one who is referenced in the title of this blogpost. Last August, I went to my first LARP session where I played a NPC. I had a day off from telemarketing and had my job interview for the Planetarium. I went in, played my NPC, and I loved it. It was so much fun, the people were great, it was just fantastic. So, I immediately began creating a character. She was taken from Chicago as an 8 year old, raised amongst the mermaids and eventually became one, was betrayed by one of her slaves, turned into his slave and used as a political tool by the Petty Ffiefdoms government, escapes, falls in love with water elemental, is rejected, tool used by Ffiefdoms government for her slavery is handed to the big bad in Chicago, goes to great lengths to eliminate said tool and ends up losing her ability to speak, uses her new found free will to defeat the wind of the Chicago and become the Spirit of the Moon, and helps defeat the big bad and helps to free the Changelings of Chicago. That is by no means a comprehensive summary, but you have to understand: Nerida was a character I created out of frustration with sexism and body negativity. I created Nerida out of feeling stuck and scared and useless in my own life. Like, that my decisions were not my own to make. I mean, yeah, she disappeared in 1969 and I used many musical theatre and Beatles references in order to create her, but the bottom line here is that Nerida overcame that struggle, she became strong, she became the moon... AND SHE STILL FELT SAD AND LONELY. It didn't matter what her triumphs were, Nerida couldn't let go. But she still kept going. She still kept fighting, despite the sadness and lonliness. She still did her duties as the Moon despite feeling like she was empty and wasn't good enough. Something in her helped her along the way. That's why she's inspiring, that's why she's strong. I created her from my own securities and frustrations, and she blossomed into something much more symbolic and greater than that.

That's why I love RPGs and why I love my characters. They reveal deeper parts of you and they eventually become a part of you. It's a never ending loop: they come from you and they come back to you, but different, and then you're different for having experienced their experiences with them. It's a deep connection and it has made me stronger overall, even on days when I don't feel strong.

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