I was digging around in my old emails, and I found something that I feel like sharing with my LJ readers.
I've been part of a weekly D&D group for several years. This group isn't serious about role-playing or even terribly serious about hack and slash; it's a social thing. But since I have no social life, I play. At some point, Sue told the group an old joke, but one that I barely remembered, and for some reason it really amused me. It amused me sufficiently that merely repeating the tag line of the joke was enough to make me sputter for several weeks thereafter (it's not so much that the joke itself is that funny, but it formed a strong association with being amused, and repeating it made me remember it.)
The joke goes something like this (I'm sure Sue told it better than I will here, but this is just to remind you of a joke you've probably heard before): One time a yokel in the rural Northwest bagged a crow, and discovered that it had a band on its leg marked with the letters WASH. BIOL. SURV. He served it to his family, and they all thought it was terrible. When he told his friend about it, the friend told him that it was a science thing and he should report it to the government, so he got in touch with the Washington Biological Survey, and told them he had a complaint. "I shot one of your crows a couple weeks back, and I prepared it according to the directions on the leg, and it was awful!"
Anyway, after several weeks of being greeted by a teasing "Hey Phil! Wash, Boil, Serve!" every week, we reached the end of one campaign and had to come up with new characters, and I came up with an idea for a new character that I thought was cool, and also got back at the group a little bit for their teasing. Here is the background I prepared for that character, which was what I found in my old email:
A very long time ago (perhaps before the founding of the LCE), a wizard who worked for an organization with the mysterious name of the Washington Biological Survey took an interest in the behavior of certain birds. He would catch a bird and place a small metal ring around one leg which had an enchantment which allowed him to easily locate that bird through scrying. He learned much about the ways of birds, but he became frustrated when some of his more interesting subjects were shot by hunters. Out of a desire for revenge, he started also enchanting a curse on the rings, which caused anyone who killed one to feel empathy with the slain bird and birds in general through recurring vivid dreams of how it felt to be a bird. The rings were plain base metal, with the runes "WASH BIOL SURV" cut into the outside of the ring.
A remote ancestor of my character found one of these rings on the long-dead remains of a hawk he ran across in the woods one day. He learned that the ring was magical, and that the runes referred in some way to a wizardly organization. No one he offered the ring to was willing to buy it, so he kept it as an interesting curio. It passed down from fother to son, and what little the family knew of it mutated into a family legend that the runes were the name of a powerful wizard who had woven a spell of luck and protection over the family, and the ring itself was the focus of the luck.
My character's father was a young man, newly married, and a very minor courtier at the Imperial court of the LCE when he was caught in a political intrigue and he and his wife were cast in irons and sent to the bleak northern provinces. They were sent to work in the mines. The work was hard and the conditions were grim, but the slaves were given enough to live on. The couple had a son -- who would grow up to be my character -- and they named him Wash-Biol-Surv after the powerful protector in the family legend. He often helped his mother with the laundry in the slave barracks, so his childhood nickname was Wash Boy.
When Wash Boy was just 6, and before he ever really learned the story of how his father had fallen from grace, there was a cave-in in the mines and both of his parents were among those trapped. The other miners worked heroically to try to rescue them, but they were too late. One of the other slaves recovered the ring from Wash Boy's father's hand and gave it to the boy to remember his father by. Wash Boy continued to live in the mine slave barracks, and the other slaves cared for him as best they could.
With no one to comfort him, Wash Boy was very miserable for the next few weeks. He spent hours just sitting around, staring at his father's ring and being sad. Perhaps the psychic energy of its wearer dying in the fire had awakened the ancient wizard's petulant curse, or perhaps it was merely a coincidence, but as he sat and concentrated on the ring, Wash Boy's imagination turned toward birds of prey. He would imagine that he was a falcon, flying free and graceful through the skies. One day, the Baron and some of his guests rode past the slave barracks, out to hunt with their hawks. The Baron's old falconer was in the party, and Wash Boy watched him in fascination. The man's leathers and hawking implements seemed grand, and Wash Boy saw how the nobles respected the falconer, though he was a commoner, and how the falconer seemed to have the trust of the birds. And what glorious birds! In that moment, Wash Boy decided that that is what he wanted to be.
Wash Boy sought out the old falconer in the Baron's mews and asked if he might watch the falconer work in exchange for helping him with his chores. At first, the old falconer was mean to the boy, making him do the messiest chores for long hours, sending him away if he complained at all, and showing and telling him little, but as the months went by, he came to see that Wash Boy was truly fascinated by the birds, and furthermore, that he understood them better than the courtiers whose toys they were. The falconer realized that Wash Boy had the makings of a useful assistant, and further that he was an appropriate age to be apprenticed. So the falconer made it known to the Baron that he would be willing to take the boy on, and the Baron, glad to be rid of the problem of what to do with the orphan, quickly drew up an apprenticeship agreement.
A few months later, relations between the falconer and his Baron became strained. The Baron, a compulsive gambler, wagered a favor to a local merchant in a card game, and lost. The merchant knew that if he claimed too great a favor, he would find himself swinging a pick in the mines, so he asked the Baron to find an apprenticeship for one of his bastard sons who so far had shown little promise. The Baron dumped the new boy on the old falconer, who was not happy. "I already have an apprentice, and already he is getting good at the work. I am old and have no wife. How am I to cope with two boys?" The Baron, unsympathetic, told him that he would be glad to send Wash Boy back to the mines. Reluctantly, the falconer accepted the second apprentice.
The new boy was just short of Wash Boy's age, and he was dreadful. He was lazy, clumsy, and devious, and rather than being interested in the hawks, he was terrified of them. He was as bad an apprentice as Wash Boy was good, but the old falconer did his best. He trained them how to care for the birds in the mews. He took them into the field and trained them to hawk. He took them to the wilds farther from the village, and taught them a bit of woodcraft, and about how to climb to a nest on a cliff or great tree and steal a downy eyas, and how to take the chick back to the mews and train it to stay with a human. Wash Boy drank the knowledge down eagerly, while the merchant's bastered choked and sputtered. Eventually, the boys reached their 15th year, the end of their lawful apprenticeship, and the falconer called upon the Baron. "I have taught them all that I can," he said, "the one, because he knows all that I do, and the other, because he will not learn."
It was just a few days later that the old man, whose health had been failing for some years, came down with a deep, dry cough. The healers tried, but perhaps because the falconer was too old, and perhaps because the Baron was too cheap to provide the medicines they called for, they could not save him. At the funeral, the Baron took the falconer's badge of office from his chest, and rose to speak. "My good falconer has passed on, but he has left me two more, newly trained. I am glad that my birds will be in good hands, for the old man told me himself that he could not teach either one anything more. Since I cannot pass a trusted position in my household to the son of a slave, you shall be my falconer." And he gave the badge -- as Wash Boy looked on horrified, to the bastard. Wash Boy said to the Baron, "I am a man as good as any, and a real falconer, unlike this fake. I swear on the memory of my father that I will see you regret this choice." Then he turned and left the chapel and the Baron's household.
Over the next few months, Wash Boy tried to find other ways to support and better himself. He joined with some hunting parties to firm up his woodcraft skills and to gain training in real hunting with the bow, for he knew well that hawking was a game for nobles and not a practical way to gather food. A few close calls on hunting trips showed him that he needed some formal combat training, so he joined with the militia, went through a quick basic training where he learned the basics with sword and shield, and then went out with a few patrols. In his militia group was a sorcerer with a raven for a familiar, and Wash-Biol-Surv (who no longer thought of himself as Wash Boy) was fascinated by the sorcerer-familiar relationship and with the spells the sorcerer cast. He learned that if he became a sorcerer, he would be able to call a hawk and form such a bond, and that he would eventually even learn magic that would allow him to take hawk's form himself. This appealed to his heart almost as much as becoming a great falconer and winning true respect, and he resolved to study sorcery next.
After surviving a run-in with rather too many ogres, the patrol returned to town and he began learning sorcery. He went to the woods and performed the ritual to call a familiar, and then held up his father's ring and concentrated. The old vision of the beautiful falcon formed clearly in his mind, and he imagined himself flying over the hills and calling. As he concentrated, he heard a joy-filled call of "Kree!" from high above, and he opened his eyes to see a large falcon diving toward him. He held out his arm, protected with the heavy leather falconer's glove, and she landed as surely as if she had been trained all her life. As soon as his gaze touched the bird's, he knew that this bird was special. As deeply as he loved birds, and raptors in particular, he knew them too well to hold any illusions about their minds; yet he saw almost-human intelligence in this bird's gaze. And as he gazed into her eyes, he felt a rapport form. Wordlessly he asked, "Will you join with me, and be my companion and familiar?" and wordlessly the bird answered, "Surely I shall, for we are destined to be together, and I will never leave you."
In the weeks that followed, Wash-Biol-Surv and Kree grew even closer and more comfortable with each other. She would ride on his shoulder as he went about the town, and she never was unruly or did what captive birds usually do at the most embarrassing moments. She would wait patiently as he practiced with his new spells.
Then came the day when the baroness' beloved kestrel was injured by a wild hawk. The baroness was disdraught, for though a cleric had cured the wound, the little bird had lost several primary wing feathers and could scarecely fly. Worse, it seemed to have been traumatized in some strange way and would not even try to fly. The baron asked his new falconer to help, but the fake could do nothing. "Take it to that slave Wash Boy, he's really better with the birds than I am," he told the Baron. So the Baron sought Wash-Biol-Surv's help. The baron offered a generous payment, but Wash-Biol-Surv refused, demanding instead that the baron apologize for his past treatment and publicly, before the whole court, acknowledge that Wash-Biol-Surv was as good a man as any other. Rather than endure his lady's distress, the baron gave in to this extortion, the kestrel was saved, the baroness was consoled, and the baron was humbled before his court. Wash-Biol-Surv thought that now he would receive the respect he deserved, but of course what he really earned was the enmity of the baron and a reputation for reaching beyond his station.
Shortly after the episode with the kestrel, a mysterious gate was discovered in the mines in the mountains, and the Baron attached Wash-Biol-Surv to the party of conscripts who were tasked with the investigation. The Baron described the situation to Wash-Biol-Surv with a nasty smirk, for it was clear that he didn't think they would return to claim the promised fee. Wash-Biol-Surv was terrified, but he merely bowed and thanked the Baron for the chance to prove his worth.
To explain this in game terms, Bruce (our DM) had directed us to come up with characters who were level 1 in each of 4 different classes. We got to start with all 16s for stats, and we were all the children of slaves in a remote part of the Large Corrupt Empire (Bruce isn't any better with names than I am) who were all being sent, whether we liked it or not, through a gate that had been discovered in the mines. Bruce had modified the standard Expert class to make it more playable, and I used it as the basis for a Falconer, so my character was an Expert/Ranger/Fighter/Sorcerer. I make more of an attempt to role-play my characters than most of the group, so I try to come up with at least a little back-story to flesh out the character. This is one of the more interesting characters I've come up with.