One of the ideas presented in Faerie Tales & Folklore which may seem the most odd to those familiar with the OSR format will be the idea of an “introduction line”. What is this odd bit of both fluff and mechanics? What is the intended purpose of this simple and often formulaic line? How does it benefit the character a player hopes to create, and why is it considered by me, the game’s designer, to be one of the most important portions of character creation? In this blog post I will dig into the ideas behind the introduction line and how it allowed the game to cover a vast array of human cultures and archetypes in a simple, efficient way. The outline for creating an introduction line is as follows (a player need not adhere to this outline, as it is intended as a suggestion for simplicity):
“I am (name) of (hometown or nation), child of (father’s or mother’s name). I am a (alternative class name), and a (profession) by (birth, oath or trade)”
The introduction line, in one aspect, can be used exactly as it sounds, to introduce the character to whom it belongs during appropriate moments within the game. However, this is more a byproduct of what the line actually intends to accomplish, instead of the focus of the line itself. Within the written rules of the game there are but three lineages, three classes, and about a dozen backgrounds a player can choose from. Tying to stuff the whole of human experience, even in a fantastic environment, into those choices would be an exercise in futility without some further differentiation. If you intend to create a fighting-man, of what sort are you thinking? A knight in shinning armor? A noble and highly educated samurai? Maybe you wish to take the role of a vicious Norse berserkr? This line is how you make that choice clear to others in the game. If you are creating a common man, who is he or she? A Roman senators child? A fisherman from Huxia? Or maybe a Mayan boy raised during the time of the Spanish invasion? Your introduction line tells the other players of such choices. The introduction line is more still however. The introduction line forms the thematic basis of a character and will define what they know, and the trappings of culture they bear. (Continued below)
This line becomes the summation of who and what a character is. It takes the basic choices of creation and breathes life into those simple choices provided by the mechanics of the game. A samurai is likely to posses a set of skills and knowledge that a berserkr has no use for, and a Roman will have different cultural trappings then a boy raised in the Mayan culture. Instead of relegating all the particularlies of these choices to large, complicated skill sets and lists of minutiae obsessed equipment, this line offers a simple and effective method to use in place of such unnecessary detail. When a player tells you:
“I am Mourdagos mac Morrígan, clibanarii of the Sarmatian Auxilia, only heir of the Great Queen, and outlaw bardd of the Gaels.”
You have a relatively clear understanding of who is standing before you from the way he was introduced. You can easily surmise the man is of mixed heritage, Sarmatian and Gael are named. As a member of the Auxilia, he is likely more Roman then he is purely “barbarian” and the title of clibanarii is a cavalryman who utilizes both missile and melee weaponry. Less obvious is the otherworldly lineage of a high man, referenced by the association to Morrigan, The Great Queen. He is likely highly educated and possibly possessed magical skills as a bardd. In game terms, the character is a fighting-Man and magic-user of high man lineage who is both bardd and outlaw by background. Still this introduction line says so much more. It is likely this man bears lorica hamata, and carries a horse bow, spatha and lance, all common for the clibanarii. For those who really know their history, it would be likely he was trained at the Bremetennacum near the border of the Pictish lands, and his year of birth will be within the 2nd century of the Common Era. One who hears the introduction may even notice the not so faint slight at his father by using his mother’s name after the word “mac”, or “son of’. That might indicate some unresolved issue with his Sarmatian family. All of these things can be said within a well written introduction line.
Yet this line still covers even more ground. In my last blog, “My Skills are Fuzzy”, I gave a deeper look into what I termed “fuzzy skills” and how they are used within the game. This line offers a more complete understanding of what a character’s fuzzy skill set may include, and it is here that the introduction line takes on a more mechanical value. This line will imply an acquired amount of knowledge and a reasonable set of skills. This will be the basis of a character’s professional skills and thus, in situations where the dice are used to determine an outcome, if the character may use their skill bonus to affect the outcome of the roll. Any character should be given a fairly wide berth in what sort of knowledge will be contained within the combination of class, lineage, and introduction line. The referee and the other players can help impose limits on this in favor of reason over convenience. The primary objective being to provide a relatively justifiable amount of knowledge and skill without creating false limitations, nor bogging the game down in the complexity of its own mechanics.
The introduction line should even affect a character’s initial equipment and property. A long sword carried by a Roman is likely to be a spatha. However, if the character is from Huxia, the same long sword would likely be a jian. The Roman will likely live is a home that is quite different from the character born in Huxia. Even the tools used by various professions are likely to be culturally different. In most instances, Faerie Tales & Folklore will make use of a standard silver based monetary system, but there will be exceptions to this for game’s set in the Stone Age and those set in later, more modern centuries. This will be one of the few cultural elements that will not commonly be defined by the introduction line of a character.
The idea of the introduction line was inspired by some of the more creative “aspects” of recent evolutions in-game design and is intended to offer the player a greater amount of control in defining who their character is. One of the primary intentions I had when writing Faerie Tales & Folklore was to create a game that was heavily multicultural from the beginning. To this end, I had to find ideas that aided in providing the flexibility to define and redefine things on the fly. As a fun experiment with any character you create, trying changing their introduction line and name to see how that can completely change the character. Simple alterations to those two elements of the character you created will often change everything about them. It is within this simple bit of language that three lineages, three classes, and a dozen backgrounds or professions is allowed to truly come alive. You do not need to be a writer, just follow the simple formula provided in the rules and begin play. It as easy as that. Enjoy you time at the game table friends!
(Note: This article reflects minor language changes coming in 5.6)