Thursday, 31 May 2012

Nissa: an Introduction and a Goodbye

For the last two years I've been lucky enough to take part in a tabletop RPG run by my friend Trent. It finally ended on Monday, after three years, well over twenty characters (not including cohorts), at least fourteen players at various times, two dragons, three mass battles, appearances from various gods and a  storm that destroyed the whole world forcing us into the place under the world where the scary things live.  And also that time we cast exploding runes in a paper fortune teller to kill a major boss. And that other time our ranger accidentally derailled a session by playing a prank that ended up setting the whole city on fire. And the time my character tried to explain feminism to a troll chieftan, without either of them actually knowing what feminism was (different world and all that). It's been a hell of a ride.

Two years of (intermittently) pretending to be someone else is going to have an effect on anyone. For me it sowed the seeds of a novel. My human ranger character Nissa is the most glorious ball of dysfunction, archery and barely compressed rage this side of Sherwood. She's an interesting character to write because she's as much defined by the things she doesn't say, the secrets she keeps, the fights she picks because it's easier than opening up. She's also very easy to play because she tends to keep out of the discussions and do what she's told during the fights (in-game she's spent time as a mercenary, you see). She's tough and closed off and walled in and kind of beat up (though not beaten down) from a life of sleeping in a different place every night and fighting three different monsters before lunch, not to mention since she ran away at fifteen, everyone she ever trusted has either died or walked out on her.

So it was nice, after we won the day and were given or heart's desire by the god we helped resurrect, when she did this:

GM (as Arodin): And you Nissa, what do you want?

Me (as Nissa): Well, um, a lot of us lost our families in the storm that engulfed the world. And I was wondering... I don't suppose... is there anything you can do for them?

[It's a tribute to Trent's storytelling that I can see this happening. What with the party being so large, me being so shy and Nissa being so reticent, I don't roleplay much but her words are coming out of my mouth and I can see her as she says them. Nissa looks dishevelled and blonde and not at all like me and she has this small, worried look on her face, as though Arodin's already apologising and talking about the natural order of things. Only he doesn't say that.]

GM: Certainly. Do you want them whole, or alive, or dead...?

Me: Alive please. [There's this hope on her face which is beautiful to see and a little part of me feels bad for all the crap that happens to her in the novel.] I'd like them to be alive.

And he said yes. Just like that. And I feel this massive weight lifting because the whole time I've been rewriting Nissa into my own setting (and it's a fairly different setting at that) and fleshing her family out into real people instead of unnamed characters in a backstory I've been dogged by the reminder that in-game all these people, parents and siblings and love interests and even the horse traders who took her in, are all dead.

Only now they're not. So when I got back in on Monday night I sat down and wrote myself a mini-epilogue. And everything fit together perfectly. The reason Game!Nissa always seemed older and more jaded than Book!Nissa: because the book, even the sequels I have sketched out, happened before the game. Why isn't Guy (her travelling compainion and kinda love interest) in the game: because he was one of the unnamed corpses of her former adventuring party they found when they discovered her.

So, while it feels counter-intuitive to introduce Nissa as her story in the campaign is ending, here is my take on What Happened Next:

Nissa tipped her head back so her hood fell back onto her shoulders and just stood, feeling the sunlight on her face. Every second she'd been in the Underdark she'd been antsy and unable to settle. She'd lived once without sunlight already but there had been survivors still down there and she was the only tracker. It felt strange to be needed. Stranger to be liked.

'It's safe,' she said quietly. Too quietly for human ears, but the elves heard anyway and passed the message back. Nissa noticed a lot for a human but half of that was because she was always on edge. For them it was always effortless. If a few years ago some god had stepped across planes and asked her what she wanted, elf senses would have been top of her list. Then a magical storm had engulfed the world, everyone but a few ragged survivors had been wiped out and Nissa had spent every night thinking of every place she'd ever been that could have still supported human life and if any of her family could be in them.

Then a god had risen and asked them what they wanted. Nissa had chosen her family. She'd been afraid it was too much but Arodin had just looked at her as though he'd been expecting something bigger and nodded once. And just like that, Nissa could sleep again.

Survivors were streaming out of the tunnel entrance, small children running ahead, anxious parents calling them back. Nissa stepped out of the cave and drew her bow. She had no idea what was even living up here after the world had been restored but there was no way she was bringing the survivors all this way back to the surface only to have them mauled by a bear.

There was a man coming out of the trees. Nissa lowered her bow, put a hand out to Aramis' shoulder then dropped it halfway. She didn't need a spyglass to recognise that limp.

'I'm going to scout ahead,' she said instead, and set off down the hill.

He's dead, her mind screamed at her with every other step. He died. You buried him.

I don't care, she answered.

By the time she reached the bottom of the hill she was running. She forced herself to stop twenty feet away, bow ready in her hand.

'You were dead,' she told him.

Guy looked down at his hands, turning the over as if he expected to see something else.

'I was,' he said. 'I suppose I still am. I mean, I saw you get frozen. Which afterlife is this?'

'I'm not dead,' Nissa replied, stumbling over her words. 'The dragon didn't kill me only... I escaped but you were dead. I'm really sorry. I paid the temple to keep a candle burning for you, but the place would have been raised with the storm and...'

'Nissa,' Guy said sadly. 'If we're alive then what happened to the world? It's empty.'

'A lot's happened these last few years,' Nissa told him, closing the gap between them, shouldering her bow. She took Guy's hand and guided it so it was pressed against her heart. The pulse at her throat or wrist would have made her point, though not half so well. Guy's hand was warm and she could feel the ligaments under the skin, stiffening in shock. 'But I'm still alive. See. And so are you.'

Guy grinned and wrapped his arms around her, lifting her off the ground and spinning her around. Nissa laughed and wrapped her legs around his, sending them both crashing to the ground because Nerissa of Hartly wasn't the sort of woman you could just pick up and carry off, even if you had just been brought back from the dead by a newly risen god. Guy yelped, tried and failed to flip her onto her back and Nissa strongly suspected that there might be tickling in her immediate future.

She looked up to see a circle of drawn swords.

'It's okay,' she said, standing up very quickly, her face burning. 'It's okay, he's not attacking me. I know him.'

Her party stared at her. The silence stretched.

'I should hope so,' Fauna said at last as Nissa helped Guy to his feet.

'So that's the person she's been blowing you off for,' Alphonse announced in the loudest stage whisper she'd ever heard, at least since her shirt got soaked fighting that water elemental that one time. 'You should be ashamed, brother.'

Aramis rolled his eyes. 'You're one to talk.'

Nissa didn't flatter herself that they'd have bothered if she hadn't been one of only two women they knew who wasn't related to them.

'Oh be quiet,' she told them. 'Some women like a man who'll remember their name the next morning.'

'I can do that,' Guy said. 'You're called Missy, right?'

Nissa kissed him so hard he nearly lost his footing again.

Faintly she could hear Gideon shepherding the others away. The Du Preyers were laughing amongst themselves and Elijah had a newly animated girlfriend of his own to contend with. Nissa ignored them all.

'Your friend seemed not to like the look of me,' Guy said when they broke apart. 'The youngish one with the swords.'

'Keth?' Nissa asked. 'He just thinks he owes it to me to save my life.'

'Did you save his?'

'He stabbed me,' Nissa told him. 'Five times in the chest. It was an accident. Well... an accident and a giant spider. And some hallucinogens.'

Guy cocked his head to look at her.

'What have you been doing while I've been gone?'

I've killed monsters, faced armies and fought the Queen of Cheliax. I shot the Spider Witch in the hand and stood before the gods more than once. I've ridden halfway across the world, been through the Test of the Starstone, escaped a castle as it collapsed around us.

'I'll tell you later,' she said. 'In a minute I'm going to have to go scouting.'

There was a lot you could do in a minute. She kissed him again. Somewhere her family would be coming back to life and Arodin had given Guy back to her. Above them the newly made sun shone in a clear sky.

I'll leave her there for now, because it's the happiest ending she's going to get. (I do have ideas for two others but one is bittersweet and the other starts with her getting punched and goes downhill from there. And since I'm not sparing her any trauma in the actual novel I'm going to leave her happy in the campaign.

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