Update: I’ve received the picture I ordered of Varian. I think it’s turned out really well, and I’ve added it to the post. For details on the artist, see the miscellaneous information section below.
Well ladies and gentlemen, I’m back. I’ve actually been back from down the coast for a while now, but have been run ragged by training my replacement at work, settling into my new role, and getting back into the gym. Throw in a bit of illness over the last few days, and I’m wrecked.
To top it all off, the work I’d done on finishing off the back story and so on for Norva Wintarius was lost when my computer crashed while I was writing it up. Combined with the fact that the friend I built that character for has now dropped out of my Skulls & Shackles game (meaning Norva got only one appearance as a PC), I’ve kind of lost interest in finishing her off for now. I still plan on going back and fixing it up at some point, because I really like the character concept, but it won’t be for a while.
Instead, I’m moving onto the second installment of The Unusual Suspects. This time around we’re going to take a look at my character from a weekly World of Darkness game I play in.
So, let’s meet tonight’s guest…
The lights dim as you find your way to one of the few empty seats left throughout the bar. There’s a low murmur of conversation, and the sounds of the bartenders hard at work, but most of the crowd are patiently watching the small stage setup at the rear of the room. The stage itself is almost bare, containing nothing more than a wooden stool. The spotlight is focused on the stool, but no one is taking to the stage. After about ten minutes, a member of the crowd gives a small cry and points to the stage. On the stage is the widest grin you’ve ever laid eyes on… the only problem is, it isn’t attached to anyone. A few seconds later, a pair of golden eyes start to fade into place above the grin. Like the Cheshire Cat, the face itself starts to appear, then the rest of the body, faster and faster until there’s suddenly a whole man sitting on the stool. As the tumultuous applause rises from the audience, he stands and produces a fine silk top hat out of thin air. From within the hat he pulls a black cane topped with a silver skull, obviously far too long to have actually fitted in the hat. There’s an easy grin on his face as he surveys the crowd, his lean, angular face cocked slightly to one side. His expression seems somehow amused, as if he’s enjoying his own private little joke. For a moment, it almost looks as if there’s a pair of black feathered wings spreading from his back, then it’s gone, and you realise it was just a trick of the shadows behind him.
Clad in well made, tailored clothes from head to foot, he looks every bit the stage magician. Black suit pants with a white linen shirt, the sleeves rolled up neatly to just above his elbows. A black and white checkered silk tie in a perfect full windsor knot, held in place with a silver tie pin shaped like a stylised eye and tucked neatly away beneath his red and black brocade waistcoat. The top hat sits on his head now, with the cane held loosely to one side. His shoes are polished black leather loafers. What few accessories he wears appear to be of exquisite craftsmanship. Around his wrist is a braided leather thong holding a charm in the shape of a bee, while two silver chains leading to the pockets on his waistcoat hold a pocket watch and a monocle.
He looks to stand around five four in height, and has a slim, athletic build. His hair falls around chin length, slightly curly and black as midnight, except for two streaks of white hair that frame his face. A light stubble covers his jaw. The more you look at him, the more you realise that the seems to be something almost primal about him. His teeth seem slightly sharper than they should be, and his nails almost look like the beginnings of claws. There’s a surprising amount of hair on the backs of his hands and forearms, and the tips of his ears can just be seen through his hair… they look to be slightly pointed. Then of course, there’s those golden eyes. Given his reputation though, you’d be disappointed if he didn’t look a little bit different.
As the applause slowly dies down, he sweeps the top hat from his head and takes a bow. After standing up and replacing his hat at a jaunty angle, he leans on the cane and introduces himself in a smooth, sweet voice that sounds like it’d convince time itself to stop and listen…
“Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to this evening’s show. My name is Varian Blackthorne, and tonight it will be my pleasure to entertain you all with illusions the likes of which you will have never seen before… Why, you’ll almost think I could really perform magic…”
Varian Blackthorne is one of my favourite characters. I’ve not had him for long, and from a mechanical point of view I didn’t actually create him, though I have mostly taken over the development of his abilities in-game now. The reason I didn’t create him myself was that he was being built for a fairly high power level game set in the New World of Darkness, and my familiarity with World of Darkness was almost entirely with the Classic setting at that point. So, I built a concept, personality and back story, then handed it over to one of my friends who was much more familiar with the New WoD games than I was. So, let’s get into some of the details of the character.
Varian grew up in Sydney on the streets, after running away from several foster homes in quick succession. He never tells anyone his birth name, instead he goes by a name he chose for himself after reading about the exploits of a character named Varian in a book he stole around age 10.
Having never known his family, he was shocked when he experienced his first Change into a Werewolf, under a crescent moon on his 17th birthday.
Because he didn’t really have anyone to explain what was happening, he had to rely on instinct to get through it. He quickly discovered that he had an affinity for the spirits that he had started to see after his change, and learnt that he was able to bind them. While experimenting with this, he came to the attention of Andre Blackthorne, a loner werewolf who was also a shaman and spirit binder. He took Varian under his wing and taught him the proper rituals for dealing with spirits, as well as the drawbacks and benefits of being a werewolf. Although surprised at the strong potential power in Varian, he kept him separate from the Uratha, or Forsaken, and their secret war against the Pure Tribes, though he did give him a basic understanding of the history behind it
Around the time Varian turned 19, Andre was murdered by a pack of Bale Hounds. Varian was able to defend himself using Andre’s desert eagle, killing all bar the leader of the pack. When he was grievously injured during the last part of the confrontation, he succumbed to the Death Rage and experienced his first transformation into Gauru, or War-form, before tearing the final Bale Hound to shreds. After this, Varian took Andre’s surname for his own as a sign of respect and love for his mentor, and began to travel Australia again, continuing to expand his knowledge of rituals and shamanistic magic. He created his totemic fetishes – his cane, that allows him to create illusions; his monocle, that allows him to see through concealments and glamours; his bee charm, that increases his dexterity; and his silver tie pin, that increases his accuracy with his gun. He also bound a spirit into his gun, turning it into a weapon attuned entirely to his own nature. He avoided other werewolves for the most part, only treating with them when he had to in order to get access to information he needed. During this time he also began to practice as a travelling illusionist and magician, using it as a cover story for his travels and as a way to earn an honest living – What none of his audience ever suspected was that the illusions were real magic.
Shortly after turning 21, Varian ran into Luna, a dancer. He discovered that she was a Bard, a human whose creativity and inspiration was so great that it had allowed her to transcend her humanity and become something more. Although he had heard of other supernatural creatures, and had met one or two vampires, this was the first time he had ever encountered part of the wider supernatural world. They began travelling together, and when she advised that she was heading back to the USA to rejoin a group of other supernatural creatures she normally travelled with, Varian decided to follow in order to continue his studies. Shortly after arriving in the United States, he fell in with Luna’s group of friends and began to treat them as his pack. He also became acquainted with the vampiric Prince of Gallows Bay, and the leader of the local Pure pack. After a few brief clashes with the Pure, he was able to convince them that he had no interest in the conflict between Forsaken and Pure, and obtained a measure of acceptance due to his willingness to discuss the academics of shamanism with their elders. After he and his friends managed to destroy a grave threat to the city of Gallows Bay, he was accepted as a member of the Prince’s family and court, earning the right to live and hunt in Gallows Bay with the rest of his pack.
Insatiably curious, charming, but willing to stand his ground in defence of his beliefs and morals. Doesn’t always understand people well, and can be a little intimidating due to the fact that there is something literally primal about him that people seem to pick up on subconsciously, but his quick wits, friendly demeanour and generally charming attitude help minimise the effects of this. He is fiercely loyal to his “pack” and treats all he deals with honourably, including the local Pure (who are technically enemies of all the Forsaken) and the spirits he interacts with on a regular basis. Although heavily involved in academic studies and experimentation with supernatural elements, he enjoys physical activities, and can regularly be found hunting in wolf form. He enjoys a good fight, especially a fair one, so he can often be found wading into a pub brawl, using no more than his normal human capabilities to try to come out on top. The only thing he enjoys more than a fight is flirting with and seducing attractive women (for the most part), this is one of the few things that can be relied upon to cloud his judgement at times.
Since I was joining the group after the game had already been in motion for some time, I’d build a character that covered some aspects the group didn’t have yet. The group already consisted of a Changeling, a Promethean, a Hunter, a psychic, and a couple of homebrewed templates that my friends had made, such as the Bard. I decided to do something a little different, and went Werewolf. The group didn’t really seem to have an occult specialist at the time, so it was decided to make my character an Ithaeur (Werewolf who first changed under the Auspice of the Crescent Moon) Ritual Master. The other idea was to make him a heavy hitter in combat, at least from a range, so we gave him a spirit bound desert eagle. Story-wise, I wanted him to be a sort of unknown quantity to most of Werewolf society. Raised outside of the usual social strictures, unaware of large parts of their law but still strong due to natural talent. I knew I wanted him to be young and cocky, confident in himself but aware that there was still more he could learn. His vice (all WoD characters have a Vice and a Virtue) is Lust, hence his love of flirtation and seduction. His virtue on the other hand is Fortitude, hence his willingness to stand his ground and act in a way he considers honourable, even when it makes life difficult. Admittedly, the Uratha have a different idea of honour and morals to humans, so some of what he does might still be considered wrong by most people.
So from all of these factors, we ended up with Varian Blackthorne, the Werewolf in a Top Hat – Yes, that is an intentional reference to Penny Arcade. His name is a reference to one of my favourite characters from the Pathfinder Tales novels, Varian Jeggare, the Half-Elf Wizard. I guess I should also admit that, apart from the top hat and accessories, his costume is based on what I normally wear to work, or when I’m dressing up to go out somewhere nice. I’ve got a real love for waistcoats, and I do own a red and black one similar to what I described above. I also have the same tie, and I favour black leather loafers. So there’s a lot of me in this character as well. Even his hair is close to how I used to wear mine before I started losing it, but I’ve always found it helps me get into a character if there’s some aspects I can identify with.
Since starting to play with Varian, I’ve tried to build some strong character development into my role-playing. I’ve deliberately played up his Vice and Virtue whenever I think it fits. Because WoD is a more story driven game rather than a heavily mechanics driven game like Pathfinder, things like inter-party conflict aren’t so much a problem as a chance for further character and story development, so this actually works quite well. For example, in our last session, the Promethean in the group demanded that I summon a spirit of despair for him to use. As my character sees himself as something of a guardian of both the spirit and human realms, I refused to do so until he had shared his plans and assured me that what he intended would cause no harm to the spirit, or to the humans involved. In another instance, while trying to find information about a fugitive vampire we were hunting, he was so distracted by trying to get a date with an attractive receptionist at the hotel they were looking into, that he failed entirely to notice any of the hints that she was a member of the fugitive’s cult.
Mechanically speaking, I’m developing the character along a couple of paths. He’s slowly improving his skills in general, shown by my spending the occasional experience points to increase a few skills here and there by a single point, but for the most part I’m trying to develop his Werewolf abilities in a few specific directions. Currently he has some ability to interact with the spirit world, and has further developed his shape shifting ability to only partially shift. The goal is to have him able to leap back and forth between the two worlds, taking passengers with him. In terms of shifting ability, he will at some point be able to take the form of any beast, to change his teeth and claws into silver, and eventually to change into Primal Form, a dire wolf-like form that stands 8 feet tall at the shoulders. Here and there I’m taking other abilities as needed, such as new rituals that the party might find helpful, and gifts that allow me control over the elements.
So, that’s a bit of a look at Varian Blackthorne, the modern-day werewolf shaman.
I’ll do my best to get another update up quicker this time. Not sure what it will be just yet. I’m not really ready to get started on Cooking the Cosmos again just yet, so odds are it will be either another update for The Unusual Suspects or something like a review of some source books for Pathfinder.
Until then, take care, and keep the dice rolling.
Written while listening to Second Sun, a local band from Canberra. They’re an acoustic rock band with a bit of a folky sound to them. They’ve got a self-titled album out, and a second album on the way sometime this year hopefully. I only came across them on Monday when I went to a burlesque show with some friends, the band played a few sets throughout the evening. The keyboard/backing vocals are provided by Marc David Myles, the singer from Barrel of Monkeys, one of my favourite local bands.
You can find Second Sun online at http://secondsun.com.au/
Barrel of Monkeys you can’t really find online much these days, but you can find a few of their songs here and there. I highly recommend having a listen to Scare Tactic. They still play gigs now and then, in fact if I hadn’t been ill tonight I’d have been at one of there shows.
Artwork: Many thanks to s_mcdrawpants (obviously not his real name) for his fantastic artwork of Varian. If you’re interested in having some work done by him, you can find examples of his work on his Fiverr page, and can order your own images there. His prices are incredibly cheap, and his work is consistently excellent. For $5 you’ll get a quick sketch of your character with a simple background, for and extra $5 you’ll get a second character or a more detailed background (I chose this option here), and you can add further extras if you want a fully inked and coloured image, or something particularly detailed. Personally I really like the sketch style he uses, so I don’t tend to choose the inked and coloured options. Expect to see more of his work on this site soon.