Saturday, January 19, 2019

The Bearer of Legacy

A murmur went through the crowd as the young man stepped into the circle. He was tall and rangy, with the dark hair and craggy face of a northerner. Though he was dressed in leather, it was the soft, supple sort worn by scholars and chieftains, rather than the rough hides of warriors. There was no mistaking the ax in his hand, though. It was old, and though marred from hard use, the runes along the steel were etched with acid, and scarred dark with fire.

"And who is this, that he has earned the right to carry such a Ka-Gar?" Arnault jeered from the other end of the dueling circle. "I see no Ravager before me. Only a pup!"

The young man smiled, and spoke a single, sharp word. The ax flew from his hand, whistling as it spun. Arnault didn't even have time to draw his sword before the edge slammed into his chest, biting deep between his ribs, and shearing through the organs beneath. He fell into a heap, blood spilling from his lips. The ax wrenched itself free, and spun back to its master's outstretched hand.

"Just because I don't fight like my father, doesn't mean you can best me," Skarne Spellhand said. With the bookmakers paying out wins and changing odds, the wizard stepped back out of the circle. He slid his father's Ka-Gar back through the loop on his belt, patting the weapon's old, heavy head. It had kept the old man safe... it would do the same for him.

Many warriors have wielded this weapon. And their names are written in blood.

The Bearer of Legacy

Most of us have played a legacy character at some point in our gaming careers. Even if it was just bringing in our hero's "son" because our first character got one-shot-killed in the first session, and all you did was change the name on the character sheet. However, to execute a child of legacy concept you need to be the latest chapter in an ongoing story. And while you don't have to play through the characters who came before them, it's important to have the legacy in place as part of the game, and to have it represented by something special, unique, or unusual about your character.

One of the easiest ways to do that is to give them something that's been passed down by a previous member of the legacy. A weapon, a connection to a particular totem spirit, a secret fighting technique... something that brings with it immediate consequences for anyone who sees it, and understands what it means.

For example, take the Godrick Hammer and its bearers. Named for Aemon Godrick, a common mercenary who rose to the nobility, he refused to take the sword of a knight as it was that blunt, brutal tool that had stood by his side and led him to victory. His first-born son Daedron chose the sword, but his second-born joined the clergy. As a parting gift, his father entrusted him with the hammer that had been his companion for so many years. Daedron wielded that weapon in the service of his deity, and in time the thunderous, bone-crunching sounds of that warhammer became the drum beat of fear in his foes' ranks. When Daedron's daughter Eliza was born, she was always fond of the weapon... but it wasn't until the strange powers of her blood fully manifested that Daedron realized his sorcerous offspring had bonded with the hammer, and that it was now more a part of her than a mere weapon.

And no matter how many times her father asked, she wouldn't stop cracking nuts with it.
While both of the above examples are familial legacies, those are far from the only options available to you. Learning an obscure fighting style taught only to a single champion (a la Iron Fist), or being chosen as the banner-bearer of your order to be given a sacred duty (only those who are pure of heart and accepted by the goddess can awaken the true strength of the Dawnblade). You might even be the most recent arcane student chosen by an immortal outer being to serve as its herald and companion (and if it takes a new form with every host, it might be trying to figure out how long its been since it was last on this plane, and what has changed).

Alternatively you may have a familial legacy, but have no idea who your family is. Your sorcerer's powers may bear the hallmarks of a bloodline thought wiped out, or which is only found on a distant shore. You may find that a sentient black blade has fallen to you as the last branch of a bastard line in a family tree. You may even find that due to promises your great-great-great forebears made, you are now saddled with fighting on behalf of a fey patron you didn't know existed, and which you can barely understand, but to whom your life has been sworn before you were even born.

The point is that the legacy's story, your character's story, and the ongoing plot story all have to tie together in some way, and have an impact on the world around you. And just like in Did Your Character Have A Former Life?, that legacy has to matter... otherwise it's got no teeth.

If you're bearing a notable weapon, for example, then it should get recognized from time to time. People might mistake you for one of the previous legacy bearers, or try their hand to see if you're really worthy to carry on that legacy (think how the Afro Samurai was attacked everywhere he went because he had the headband that told the world he was the second-deadliest fighter out there). Those who witness the manifestations of your strange magical heritage, or bond to a little-known outsiders, might spread the word that there is a new bearer. This could bring new allies to your side, or new enemies looking to destroy the legacy once and for all.

Inverting The Legacy

Legacies can change, too. Every bearer adds their own chapters, for good or ill, and you can flip it on its head if you try.

For example, say your sorcerer's powers bear the hallmarks of the ruling powers of hell. There is a long, dark legacy of tyrants, warlords, mad cult leaders, and wicked despots who came before you, all the way back to Azu-Sharack, Duchess of The Damned... but you will be different. Though these dark energies flow through you, you will use them to slay demons, to liberate townships, and to turn the very fires of hell against those who have caused untold misery, and brought so much darkness.

Of course, power is seductive. Perhaps those who came before you started out with noble intentions as well, but found themselves in hell with all the others.

Lastly, remember, you don't have to show up at level one as the new inheritor of this mantle. If there's a particular class feature, magic weapon, outsider bond, etc., etc. that would represent you officially stepping onto the legacy's path, you can enact that plan when you reach that point. Just be sure there's still plenty of play time left for that story arc to show up, cause trouble, engage the rest of the party, and hopefully to find resolution when all is said and done.

Until the next link in the chain of legacy steps up to the table, that is.

For those seeking further inspiration, check out A Baker's Dozen of Noble Families for some potential legacies you could pick up and run with!

That's all for this Unusual Character Concepts installment. Hopefully it got some folks out there thinking. If you've played a legacy character before, tell us about their legacy in the comments below!

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  1. "However, to execute a child of legacy concept you need to be the latest chapter in an ongoing story."

    Does this mean you can't play the second character in a line of them? That you have to make it so the new guy is the third or more?

    1. If the first chapter is all that is written, it IS the latest chapter.