Friday, March 9, 2018

Do Clothes Make The Adventurer?

The man sitting in the chair near the fire in the common room needed no introduction, if one had eyes to read the signs. His surcoat was green velvet, finely cared for and tailored to his frame. The shirt beneath was silk, the cuff links glittering with emerald chips. His boots were well-made, and had been re-soled a time or two. Most tellingly, though, was the symbol that adorned his breast. A black heart, with a fire burning inside it. That badge, combined with the signet ring on his right hand, marked him as the Maester Arcanum to Lord Blackburn. A man, and a position, not to be trifled with lightly.

Don't even get me started on his bodyguard...
We've all had those moments when we sit down at a table, and describe to the other players what our PC looks like. Problem is, most of the time it sounds like a police description rather than a heroic introduction. We get ethnicity, race, hair and eye color, height, weight, and general description of what they're wearing and carrying. Which gets the point across, but it paints a pretty flat image overall. So if you want your PC to stand out, look at what they're wearing. Now give it a little personality, and maybe an Easter egg or two for the people with Knowledge skills to roll.

Going Beyond The Basics

What you wear says something about you, but the devil is in the details. For example, say your PC is a man with a shaved head, wearing a brown robe, and walking with a staff. Sure, that tells us the broad strokes, but what else do we notice? Is the robe a rough weave, indicating it was made by hand for utility rather than looks? Is it new, or old? Does it fit well, or was it made as a kind of one-size-fits-all garment? Does it have any adornment, such as a cloak clasp on the chest, or large pockets in the front? What about his footwear? Does he wear pants with the robe, or is that his only garment?

Once you have the answers to those questions, ask what the sum of those answers means. Is this the way peasants and farmers dress in the outlying provinces of a particular nation? Or is this the uniform of an order of monks who wear only plain, functional clothes? Or is dressing like this the mark of a pilgrim, showing that this person is likely on a religious journey? Or an arcane tradition that focuses on the ephemeral and internal by eschewing luxuries?

And how well-recognized is this attire by those who see you?
Everything your character wears tells a story, if you include the right details. As an example, you might have a big man dressed in fine clothes, and wearing rings and jewelry. However, the fine clothes don't fit him well, and he looks uncomfortable in them. If you combine that with a rougher manner of speech, scars, and sword-calloused hands, then you may have someone who's been knighted, but who was clearly not born to the aristocracy. You could also have the reverse, where the one-eyed mercenary in the ragged cloak speaks just a little too well to have been born and raised as a common sellsword.

That particular tell shows up more than once in my 100 Random Bandits to Meet list, for DMs wondering where they could incorporate those moments of surprise insight.

It's Not Just What You Wear, It's How You Wear It

There are a thousand little details in what your character wears and carries that you can use to help make it clear who they are. For example, say your character openly wears a rapier and dagger. Those choices of weapon make a statement, but what are the nuances beneath the obvious? Are the hilts fancy, or common? What sort of guards do they have? Do the weapons bear a maker's mark? Do you wear them forward on your hips, or back? Or do you wear the sword at your hip, and the dagger in an underarm brace for a faster, cross-draw? And are any of those things indicative of where the weapons came from, the style of fighting the character uses, or membership in any particular groups?

Every style tells a different tale.
The same is true for your armor, your jackets, your jewelry, and your other accessories; what do they say about you?

To help get your gears going, I'll give you a few more examples.

- Jerran Vand is easy enough to spot in a crowd, with her white breeches and cape. Cut high and tight, she strikes a dramatic figure. However, it's the braided red leather of her sword belt that gives most pause. The white marks her as a student of the Damari sword guild, but that belt names her a city champion who has blooded some of the most dangerous swordsmen ever to step in the square.

- Dane Hardwell looks exactly the way a man-at-arms should look. His tabard is clean, his boots shined, and his belt always square. His armor is always polished to a parade shine, and his face clean-shaven. It isn't all for show, though. Anyone who notices the medals stamped along his paldrons can tell at a glance that this man has seen his share of battles, and survived to tell the tale.

- Farran Emberwell is a squat, broad dwarf. Though he dresses in workman's leathers and wool, making him look almost like a common laborer, he wears a pair of ruby rings on the third finger of each hand. Those rings, clearly marked with the seals of Arendale, declare him a Master Transmuter.

You can include as many, or as few, of these details as you want. But before you tell the table that your PC is a tall human wearing a chain shirt and carrying a short sword, stop and ask for more specifics. What kind of chain is it, and is it being hidden or worn openly? What else is he wearing in terms of accessories? Does he have a hat? Ear rings? Bracers? A necklace? And what, if anything, do the things he's wearing say about his past, his religious beliefs, his status, or his membership in any organizations legal, illegal, or otherwise?

For other thoughts on how you can get more specific with your character's looks and habits, check out What Is Your Character's Everyday Carry? (And What Does It Say About Them?) and What Do Your Characters Eat?

That's all for this week's Fluff update. Hopefully it got your wheels turning, and you're thinking about what your character's outfits, accessories, etc. actually say about them. For more content from yours truly, check out my Vocal archive, or head over to the YouTube channel Dungeon Keeper Radio where I and other gamers put together all kinds of different videos. If you want to keep up-to-date on my latest releases, then follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. Lastly, to help support Improved Initiative, head over to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to become a patron. Or click this link to Buy Me A Coffee! Either way, I'll send you some sweet gaming swag as a thank you for your help!

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  1. My son has a hobbit who wears a special medal marking him as a member of the Order of the Brass Dragon.

    Which is the name of the Brass Dragon pub’s darts team

  2. a small and seemingly childlike figure peers at you with the enlarged pupils of her deep blue newborn colored eyes, black hair cleanly falling down from her neck to her clavicle in a pair of twintails suspended by ribbons as her bangs cover her left eye.

    the small figure wears a simple but well kept longsleeve button-up shirt that is a bit to big for her small form, the cuffs of the sleeves hanging past her wrists to the point of almost obscuring her fingers.

    an indigo pleated miniskirt of similarly well kept status serving for a combination of mobility and highlighting her youth, worn with a black opaque pair of thighlength stockings, appearing a great deal older than the rest of her clothes which seem a lot newer by comparison, still in fine condition were a flat bottomed pair of leather boots held in place by a series of buckles from her ankles to her knees.

    as the small woman moves and her skirt shifts, a pair of holsters could be seen strapped to each thigh as well as a quiver at one of her hips, a satchel across one of her shoulders and a well spoiled shortbow across the other shoulder. at the hip opposite her double quiver, she has what appears to be a well maintained curved dueling saber sized for hand and a half use by a man roughly a foot or more taller than herself. possibly a family heirloom, her family signet concealed by her seemingly fine quality leather gloves.

    the satchel across her shoulder appears to be stuffed with all sorts of supplies worthy of a student of many trades. the ribbons adorning her hair glisten with sylvan runes embroidered upon the silk with void leaf cloth.

    a thick tome protruding from her bag, one would assume it to be a spellbook at first glance only to be decieved by their own perception, for it was no mere spellbook, just an enchanted diary.

    the small figure reeks of the potent scent of sickly sweet strawberries, seemingly powerful enough to knock out most wolves just from the potency of the sweetness of the scent alone.

    by her height of five feet and maybe an inch, with her petite figure, it would be logical to assume she was roughly barely older than thirteen or so. based on her attire, she appeared to be at least middle class and likely from some form of port town. wearing the garb of a merchant sailor from the west.

    the figure would be known by her reputation as a performer, one who performed ceremonial blade dances with a heavy amount of vigor and activity. a combat style native to a country that neighbored the country of the sailors whose uniform she wore.

    though her skin appeared too pale compared to one of those dancers for her to be one of them. though with her reputation as a performer, she may be older and more experienced than she appeared to be. likely a highly nimble combatant who could hold her own against a mercenary in a duel for the purpose of exhibition.

    from experiencing her demeanor in the tavern, she appears fairly sweet, optimistic, caring and trusting, being a seemingly highly amiable warrior.

    1. Respectfully,

      No one will read all that. It has to be one or two short paragraphs.

    2. that was a sample of my Mary Sue Half-Moon Elf that was a Dexterity based neutral good blade dancing Fighter in 5th Edition that had a tweaked version of the entertainer background, as well as spending her first 3 feats on skilled, prodigy and everyone's friend.

      she was able to use thieves tools, tailor's tools, disguise kit and herbalists supplies. in addition to being proficient in Acrobatics, Athletics, Insight, Investigation, Performance, Perception, Persuasion, Deception, Survival, History, Arcana, and Medicine,