Saturday, July 7, 2018

The False Noble

Reginald "The Lightning" looked every inch the noble warrior. Clad in a shirt of chain that sparkled silver in the light, his long hair blowing in the breeze, he was a sight to behold. His sword rang as he drew it, and his cavalier smile was enough to set hearts ablaze... either with love, or with envy. He flourished the silvered steel, and bowed to his host. It was low enough to be respectful, but not so low as to make anyone think he was a servant.

"My lord, it is an honor to be a guest in your home," Reginald said, sheathing his blade without giving it so much as a glance.

"No, the pleasure is mine," Count Kargo said, clapping the younger man on his shoulder. "It is a rare thing, indeed, to have a visit from our brethren from the northern hills."

"And an even rarer pleasure to visit," Reginald said with a beaming smile.

"My lord," Shadrick Vain protested to the count. "I've been trying to tell you, there is no record of this man-"

"Shadrick, books are not all there is in the world," the count said, brushing off his seneschal's protests. "All you need to do is look at Lord Reginald, and see that we are of a kind, is that not so?"

"Indeed it is," Reginald said, the corners of his mouth curling roguishly. The seneschal was too perceptive by half... he would need to keep this visit brief, if he could.

Regrettably I can only stay a few days... oh provisions and an escort? Well, if you insist...

Talking The Talk

Fantasy is filled with noble heroes. And why not? Nobles are the ones who have all the free time to dedicate to learning the art of swordplay, mastering magic, or understanding the will of the divine. They have no crops to grow, no trade to focus on, and they tend to have access to wealth, tutors, and opportunities that others may never see. Not only that, but nobles are accorded respect wherever they go. Merchants show them the finest wares, innkeeps offer them private rooms, and in many cases people will shower them with gifts and praise in hopes that they will look upon them with favor.

Who wouldn't want that life?

The False Noble is a character who camouflages themselves so they can walk in the world of titles and prestige. Whether it's a common warrior putting on fancy armor and claiming a knighthood he was never given, or a silver-tongued sorceress using her magic and force of personality to slip into positions of power and authority, this concept can take several different forms. However, it also requires a great deal of thought to make it work.

First, you need to work out your cover story. Are you claiming to be part of an existing noble family, or are you going to make one up from whole cloth? If the former, are you claiming to be part of a very important family, or a more minor house? On the one hand, bigger lies are harder to get away with, but you are accorded a great deal more respect if people think you're the king's nephew than if they think you're the scion of a forgotten duke somewhere. Additionally, are you attempting to steal the life and identity of someone who already exists (the baron's wayward son whom you know is dead, and whose place you're trying to claim), or are you inventing yourself from nothing? Do you know the proper forms of greeting and speech, do you have the bona fides that validate your claim, and do you look the part? The last can be especially important, since you are attempting to fit a pre-conceived notion of what family you're trying to belong to.

It's important, in this stage, to also introduce a few inconsistencies to act as clues. For example, if you have a character who is unlearned in history and nobility, then you might be able to explain it away by saying that you spent little time in the library... but it should still be suspicious if you get caught out not knowing obvious things. A brand or tattoo might reveal your actual past, and thus would have to be covered. Even something like hair color or eye color might require regular disguise checks to keep under wraps so you can maintain your cover. This matters, because if you fit the role you're playing perfectly, then it's not really all that different from just playing a noble. The goal is to run a double-blind, where you're actually a low-born mercenary, a common farmboy, or a conman who is pretending to be a noble for their own purposes. Purposes which you should know, and which will need to dovetail into your campaign's themes and overall goals.

Lastly, you need to ask how you're backing up this scheme in game terms. For example, do you have a signet ring, appropriate clothing, etc. so that people think you're a noble before you open your mouth? Do you have the appropriate social skills and knowledges so that you're not caught off-guard by something a person in your position should know? Are you using magic to maintain this farce, keeping important people's minds foggy and their attitudes friendly? If so, how do you hide the spells you're casting? And what do you do if, one day, your target resists hard enough to break the illusion you've woven over them?

Most importantly, is this your first time running this claim, or are you known as a lord in other places? And does your history play in your favor, or against it, when you try to make this claim again?

The challenge of playing the False Noble is that you have a long-running secret. However, as with any other secret you keep in-game, you should also have some idea of when it will come out, and what impact that will have on the game. Because if no one ever finds out your secret, and it has zero impact on the game, then what's the point of having it at all?

Also, if you're a fan of the False Noble, then you might want to check out A Baker's Dozen of Rumours (And The Truth Behind Them), as there's an entire plot in it based around this character concept. This is a book I just finished for Azukail Games a little bit ago, and it contains 13 rumors that are substantial enough you could turn each one into a full session! They've also recently added my Baker's Dozen of Noble Families, if you're looking for a family to claim to be a part of, as well as 100 Nobles to Encounter, if you're looking for specific people to imitate, or to claim relation to.

Additionally, if you'd like to play genuine noble characters, you might want to check out the Inspired By Heraldry feats from Flaming Crab Games. These feats allow noble characters to gain powers derived from their family crests in an almost totemic like fashion, with natural attacks, natural armor, flight, and dozens of other potential powers on the list!

That's all for this month's Unusual Character Concept! Hopefully it gave some folks out there a few ideas. For more work by yours truly, check out my Vocal archive (or just head to my Gamers page), and stop by the YouTube channel Dungeon Keeper Radio where I help out from time to time. To stay on top of all my latest releases, follow me on Facebook, Tumblr and Twitter! Lastly, if you want to help support Improved Initiative so I can keep making great content for you, become a patron on The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page, or Buy Me A Ko-Fi! Either way, there's some sweet swag in it for you.


  1. i'm surprised you didn't bring up Kikuchiyo from the 7 Samurai, who fits this role to some degree. in that he was a commoner who was claiming to be a Samurai, with a scroll holding his "family tree" to back it up (he is singularly ignorant of its contents however, as the individual he claims to be would be a third his age)
    since in japan Samurai filled the role of nobility, it is a fairly apt example.. though Kikuchiyo proves himself just as talented a warrior as a true samurai is in the end.

    one thing that might be an interesting twist would be to claim you are a nobleman from a distant nation.. which would certainly make it harder for people to disprove your claims. an example drawing on history would be claiming to be from Prester John's Kingdom in the middle ages.. a kingdom purported to exist in the 'mysterious east' on the otherside of the islamic lands. widely known at the time, and beleived.. but utterly fictitious. (at best, it was based on mangled stories of india or perhaps ethiopia)

  2. Father Brown encountered a false noble who came back from the war and actually was basically identical to the man he was impersonating, who had been the impersonator's good friend, and who had begged the impersonator to take care of his aging mother and their estate. But the impersonator had written a letter explaining everything, and never had the opportunity to use it until a burglar attacked the mother and she found the letter while scrambling to defend herself, and, feeling betrayed, framed the impersonator for the burglary. Thanks for sharing this idea... I'd forgotten about that character.

  3. As a player, it's worth noting that you don't just have to be a false *noble* to work with this archetype. I'd been on the cusp of impersonating a minorly famous, once-mad artist when our Strange Aeons campaign folded, and certain characters do very well faking it until they make it - just remember that, to the average person, one rank in a skill is more than any of them have got! ;)

  4. In a recent Star Wars game, had one player impersonate an eccentric Corellian noblewoman. It was made much easier by the fact that the PC was a Clawdite (shapeshifter) who stepped into her life when she died at an old age.