Kalaka frowned at the statue, spattered with the monster's blood. It was so utterly lifelike, with every hair and every vein looking like it was one breath away from coming to life. She touched the shoulder of the massive warrior, his ax upraised for a strike, and traced a sigil on it. Her eyes flashed with a touch of power from the charm, and she frowned.
"What?" Celindra asked, noting Kalaka's frown.
"This is no statue," she said softly, her eyebrows knitting together. "This man has been trapped in stone here for... many years."
"Can you free him?" Celindra asked.
"Potentially," Kalaka said absently. She traced the runes along his armor, noting the ancient alphabet that had fallen out of use centuries ago. His great size, and the too-long teeth, like something out of legends only half remembered by the sages. "Stand back."
She spoke the words of the incantation she'd prepared that morning, knowing the enemy they faced. The syllables rang through the air, and with every one that fell from her lips the stone seemed to shudder. To quake. As the last word rang, the stone cracked and fell away like an eggshell, revealing the man beneath. His roar, begun untold years ago, bellowed from his throat as he finally completed the swing. His ax smashed into the stone floor, the steel cleaving into the rock. He leaped back, yanking the weapon with him, and holding it in a defensive position as his eyes flicked from one woman to the other. He noted the headless corpse of the creature whose gaze had entombed him, but disregarded it as unimportant for the moment.
"Que la quora a-na?" He snarled, shifting his grip on the haft.
"What's he saying?" Celindra asked, keeping her hands visible, but near enough to her sword for comfort.
"It's Antarish, I think," Kalaka said. "I haven't heard it in years."
Slowly, ponderously, Kalaka worked through the forms of address of the half-forgotten tongue. The man's frown didn't leave his face, but he lowered his weapon. When he spoke again his words were slow and careful, recognizing that her grip on his tongue was tenuous at best. Kalaka's face shone with a combination of fear, and excitement.
"What are you smiling at?" Celindra asked.
"I can't be sure, but I think he's one of the Karashkala," Kalaka said. "If I'm right, then what he knows might be worth more than all the treasure in this place."
"If you can get it out of him," Celindra said, folding her arms.
"Him," the man said, as if tasting the word. He nodded slightly, as if storing it away for later use. Celindra jumped, but Kalaka just smiled. She had a feeling he would be a quick study.
Gone A Long Time
It is one thing to play a particularly long-lived character who has watched the world change around them over the decades and centuries (a topic I covered in 4 Tips For Making Long-Lived Characters Feel Old), but the Man Out of Time is the other side of that coin. These characters have been plucked out of their own time, and somehow placed into the far future where everything they once knew has been either lost, or relegated to the pages of dusty tomes of history known only to a select few scholars and a handful of particularly long-lived races.
|Sit yourself, my old friend. Many things have changed since last we spoke.|
Whether you've simply been gone for a handful of decades, or for centuries, the world has moved on since you have been gone. The nations you knew may have fallen into decay, or become mockeries of the things they once stood for. New countries may have risen, and new cultures born. Gods may have died, and new ones risen. You are truly a stranger in a strange land, attempting to pull together the skills and knowledge you still possess to explore this undiscovered country.
It's a concept that has often been attempted, but which can be difficult to pull off. Because while you need the method of your preservation, you also need to know in which ways the world has changed in your absence, and how that affects you.
Accident Or On Purpose?
The first thing you need to establish for your character is whether they went into their state of preservation on purpose or not. In the classic example of someone failing a save and getting turned to stone, they probably didn't intend for that to happen. The alternative is that your character was put into a state of suspended animation on purpose, though the reason for this might vary. Perhaps it was as a punishment, or it might have been as a protective measure against a foreseen apocalypse that may not have even come to pass. There's a lot of wiggle room, here.
It's also important to remember that something can be done as an accident or on purpose using the same mechanics with differing intent.
As an example, a basilisk or similar creature could be used as a way to preserve individuals of great skill and prowess until their services were needed again by a particular organization, like the Brim or the Aligned found in my supplement 100 Secret Societies. For a pop culture reference, this would be similar to how the Winter Soldier was only brought out of his containment when he had to assassinate a target (one of the many details I made sure to put in my Winter Soldier character conversion, for those who are interested).
Another solid choice, if you're playing Pathfinder, is to use the Awakened From Stasis background trait found in People of The Stars. For those who want something less sci-fi in feeling, though, you could instead opt for the strange difference in time between the material plane and time in the First World of the fey, as we find in stories where someone spends an afternoon or a day at a fey celebration and comes back to find they've been gone for 50, or even 100 years. Even something as simple as getting lost in the mists of the deep wild forests could have you step between worlds and times. For those looking for a reference, there are a handful of the options in 100 Encounters in a Fey Forest.
What Makes You Strange?
Once you've figured out how you survived from a time long past into the current era, the next question you need to ask is what makes you strange or unusual in this setting? Do you have unique skills or abilities that were lost to time, representing a character class or archetype that is considered particularly rare (or even non-existent) in the current setting? Do you lack a traditional shared language, needing to communicate in older tongues like high elven or infernal (or even to use magic) in order to make your way in this new age while you learn its ways? Do your traditions, fighting style, or other skills make you stand out among those who have the knowledge to recognize what them, and when they're from?
|It took me several months, but eventually I learned to make myself understood.|
What Connections Still Exist?
Another aspect of the character concept is to ask yourself which things have remained the same, as well as which things have changed. If there's a particular style of brewing they enjoyed (perhaps a certain elven mead or dwarven ale) that's still around, it could act as something for them to cling to in a world of change. Perhaps certain plays or music that was fresh and new when they first walked the world are now enshrined as classics, allowing them to have some kind of cultural touch stone they can share with those in this age, even if so much else has changed.
Bigger aspects to examine would be if this character's god is still part of the setting (doubly important for divine casting characters), and whether any orders or organizations they'd sworn allegiance to are still around. A church, a knightly order, or even a mercenary company with a storied history could provide a bedrock for the character to build a new foundation on.
|The years have waned, but the strength of my oath has not.|
If the character was gone for decades, or even centuries, it's possible there will be old companions or commanders who remember them. People who can act as a reference point for the character, and who can help ease them back into the world. If they were gone for longer, and are a part of an organization's history instead of its living memory, then they could be treated with a kind of reverence as a time capsule back to those older times. Someone who was there in its early days, and who can tell today's aspirants and acolytes what it was like, would be unique indeed.
If their Small Legend is large enough, it's possible they may have been noted in song or story during their original days... and depending on how much time has passed, those songs may have blown their true deeds a little out of proportion. Perhaps claiming they slew dragons when it was merely drakes, or that they stood and fought alone for days and nights to hold back an army when it was more like fighting against a small force for an hour or so with stalwart companions at their side.
While you can sever all connections and drop the character into an alien setting John Carter of Mars style, it's a lot easier if you carve out a small niche for them to step into in the setting. Especially if it turns out that their nemesis, rather than an old friend, is still walking the world. This is particularly good for wizards that have become liches, or evil dragons that have grown to great wyrm status who defeated a champion once, but who did not slay them. Perhaps as a form of cruel vengeance, or perhaps because they were wounded by the battle and left to tend their hurts without checking to be sure the job was done properly.
Whether your character is a noble knight who was turned to stone, an alchemist whose experiment went awry, an assassin preserved in a frozen state to prevent their aging between assignments, or simply someone who ran afoul of a fey queen and returned home to find time had passed them by, there's a lot of potential with this concept. If you're looking for additional inspiration for organizations you can anchor yourself to, or other aspects of your backstory that could make the character feel more organic, check out the following.
- Who's in Your Rogues' Gallery?: Your enemies can define you, and if you survived into the modern day, it's entirely possible some of your most dire foes have, as well. So consider a nemesis as your new point of reference in the world.
- 100 Fantasy Battle Cries (And Their Histories): A battle cry is like a maker's mark for a warrior, and someone from a time that's passed into memory may have a particular war cry that sends shivers up the spines of foes who thought all of that blood and nation had gone down to dust.
- 100 Knightly Orders: With storied histories often stretching back as long as a nation or royal family, knightly orders tend to be where many heroes come from. And if they have lost all other sense of direction, it might be the order to which they return in a new world.
Like, Follow, and Stay Tuned For More!
That's all for this installment of Unusual Character Concepts. Hopefully this one gave you something to chew over, whether you're a player, or a dungeon master.
For more of my work, check out my Vocal and Gamers archives, and stop by the YouTube channel Dungeon Keeper Radio. Or if you'd prefer to read some of my books, like my sword and sorcery novel Crier's Knife or my most recent collection of short stories The Rejects, then head over to My Amazon Author Page!
To stay on top of all my latest releases, follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter, and now Pinterest as well! To support my work, consider Buying Me a Ko-Fi, or heading to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to become a regular, monthly patron. That one helps ensure you get more Improved Initiative, and it means you'll get my regular, monthly giveaways as a bonus!