Thursday, February 19, 2015

Character Lines: Karasu and Onward

Karasu, Heigou, Acacia and Sa are four of my characters that started off the same branch.

Karasu was the first of the characters, created for a Ranma ½ Next Generation freeform game that did not last very long. The basic concept was that Kodachi Kuno went traveling stumbled upon Jusenkyo and the twin water. After a fight, her magical twin was further doused in raven water creating a raven-Kodachi hybrid, which the frantic teen then decided to seal away in a magic crystal egg. The egg was then stolen. Kodachi went on to study magic and ended up accidentally opening a gate to hell in the basement of the Kuno mansion. She manages to keep it closed save a crack and builds and maintains a small army to guard against demons coming out of it, but the gate is tied to her blood and with it siphoning off her strength, she can’t close it completely. Pass some fifteen or twenty years and the egg appears in an antique shop where it is broken and the Kodachi clone is released. She makes a beeline for the Kuno mansion and ends up getting badly thrashed after which Kodachi has one of her servants drop the girl off at the Tendo-Saotome dojo. The clone takes the name Karasu. Kodachi begins to try and manipulate everybody else to see her as a villain and uses the gate as a bit of a bargaining trip along the lines of “Kill me and the gate opens. Take me out of the Kuno mansion and I’ll probably die, and the gate opens. And only I can close the gate, it’s my blood.” Planting the idea that Karasu should study magic so they can get her to close the gate. Why Kodachi takes this route instead of just explaining things? Pride probably, didn’t want to admit the mistake. The story arch never completed before the game stopped.

I tried to play a version of Karasu in a one-shot D&D game later. I forget exactly which race I used to make her a winged person. She was a rogue primarily though. Had something of the same background. Then I created her again as a rogue in another setting for a longer campaign, however, as the gm didn’t allow for winged characters, I changed her race to tiefling. The character felt too different to continue calling her Karasu, so I went into Mystic China’s name generator and came up with Heigou, Black Dog which made me think of the idea of the Celtic Black Dog story and how in some cases, the Black Dog was a protector of the innocent rather than an evil itself, even though it remained a terrifying creature.

Heigou had a different history than Karasu. She had been the daughter of aristocracy that had gone out to explore a nearby forest as a child and was captured by a crazy witch that performed some sort of dark ritual on her, changing her into a tiefling. In this version, she was on the point of death as her blood was being drained and replaced with…something and she heard two voices whispering at her. One was cruel and vicious while the other was soothing and gentle. She eventually went toward the gentle voice and rejected the vicious one. Upon waking up she found herself no longer human and still in the power of the crazed witch who took her for a daughter. In this version, she was placed in the magical prison as a punishment, sort of like a psychotic timeout, and a group of adventurers managed to steal it from the witch (I left whether the witch was dead or not up in the air). Sometime later, the artifact was broken, releasing the tiefling child and she wandered as an urchin for a time before a monastery of some sort took her in. I’ve recreated Heigou a number of times and the exact religion that took her in has varied but it has ranged from Catholic to the following of Ilmater (in the latter case, the evil entity had been Shar).

Heigou’s tiefling marker came in the form of black tattoos all over her body. Only her hands and face were clear. The tattoos showed demons and other evil beings performing acts of horror and terror with the exception of the tattoos on her chest and back over the heart, which showed a stronghold of virtue besieged by evil. The tattoos changed whenever nobody was looking at them. The idea was that the images of evil would start to change as Heigou would grow more comfortable with herself. They weren’t so much representations of actual evil as they representations of Heigou’s self-image, with the stronghold at the heart being her core goodness (which she herself rarely if ever accepted).

Heigou has been redesigned for D&D, Freeform, Changeling, HERO and Fate. She also appeared briefly in City of Heroes as a Dark/Dark Defender known as Shadowpact who did not get played as much as I would have liked.

Most of the later variations of Heigou added an older sister who had tried to escape the witch and was killed. This older sister haunted Heigou, though Heigou herself never saw the ghost, people around her would. It is likely this ghost that caused the accident which broke the egg releasing her sister in the first place. The ghost appeared as a little girl and never talked but would only communicate in gestures. Depending on what sort of emotions the sister was operating as, she would appear as either a healthy but somber little girl or else a bloody, brutalized phantom. She also tended to get more bloody the longer she remained manifested for any one particular instance.

Sometime later, I wrote up the Zodiacs setting and in designing the setting and central campaign scenario, I went back to the original Karasu and borrowed that storyline. I had written up a brief idea for a City of Heroes gothic-horror zone sort of based on the same thing earlier than this and had already used the names Adrastreia and Acacia. For Zodiacs, Adrastreia was entirely amoral, considering herself damned and thus no longer caring about the moral implications of her actions since “you can only be damned once” and she felt the original act that she considered to have damned her was worth the cost. Nor does she believe that she will defeat heaven, but rather expects that she “will be stopped, eventually”. In this case, the Acacia is a result of Adrastreia stumbling upon a zodiac creation facility and accidentally triggering the process of cloning a new zodiac from her blood. Since Acacia comes directly from Adrastreia, she also bears the genetic markers of being magician (inherited ability in Zodiacs’ setting). Since Acacia was cloned prior to Adrastreia turning evil, she was essentially the precocious young girl resisting the terribly sexist attitudes of her society. Acacia also ended up locked in a stasis device.

Both Acacia and Adrastreia suffered decades of isolation Adrastreia’s magical nature was discovered shortly after Acacia was cloned, which marked her as divinely chosen but also traditionally required her to abandon her former identity. Adrastreia, however, faced isolation whilst amongst her people and only found acceptance with an outsider warrior and another noble daughter, whom Adrastreia’s brother was supposed to marry. Adrastreia loved both man and woman, and they loved each other. The sorceress considered trying to keep the warrior for herself but decided she loved her near-sister/friend more and arranged for the two of them to escape the oppressive culture and be happy with each other. Unfortunately, Adrastreia’s jealous brother tracked them down and murdered the woman and their children while the man was away. In response, Adrastreia tortured her brother to death over several weeks (while claiming to have already killed him and undergoing the rituals of purification for the act).

Acacia, meanwhile suffered decades of literal isolation in a timeless void where she couldn’t keep track of time. By the time Acacia was released, she was just as bitter as Adrastreia had become, but hadn’t lost her moral center and general nobility. Adrastreia had a demon gate similar to Kodachi in the original storyline but it hadn’t been created in accident. It was part of a gambit involving tracking down the lost artifact that held Acacia and arranging for a hero to recover it and be around when Acacia was released. She plans for Acacia to be the her that should have been and for Acacia and her companions to defeat her so that she might fake her death and disappear into the world within the body of another girl. Once unlooked for, she could quietly exist, moving from body to body and prolong her descent into whatever punishment the heavens had in store for her. Meanwhile, Acacia would be the start of a new race of zodiacs that were almost entirely magicians.

Sometime after writing Acacia I was starting a d20 modern game and decided to use the Heigou concept. Since this was non-supernatural campaign, I adapted the storyline yet again. In this case, the childhood captivity became a serial killer that wanted to leave behind a legacy, a protégé that would carry on his work, and in order to find the perfect person he had collected children that he thought held potential to be excellent killers. The character and her sister being two such children. He then ran basically an academy for serial killers in an isolated facility somewhere in the lightly-populated wilds of mid-west United States. Since the character would be significantly different from Heigou, I renamed her again, this time going for the name “Sa” which is the Korean word for “4” which is itself related to the word “death” since the two words are homophones (Korea, China and Japan all have this 4=death concept). Somehow, Sa managed to survive in the academy, mostly killing in self-defense, until she was able to slaughter the teacher and remaining students in her early teens in order to escape. In this case, her sister’s ghost is a hallucination that only she can see. She is intellectually aware that it is a hallucination but part of her also believes it to be really her sister. After escaping she began to drift from place to place, doing part time jobs here and there, rarely living anywhere for long. Often times stepping in as a sort of vigilante when she encounters evil men and women.

Some of the themes of the character line have remained the same, isolation, hatred, doubting one’s humanity, difficulty trusting others, struggles for self-acceptance and the effort to recover from a terrible thing done to them.

In the case of Karasu and Acacia the hatred is mostly focused on the individuals that accidentally created them while the presence of a large group of comrades or even friends keeps their self-hatred limited. They are both aristocrats that are having to get used to the fact that they can’t order people around. They also both have a link to their past to latch onto (an older Ranma in Karasu’s case and an older version of the warrior in Acacia’s case). They also both have a set quest in front of them and both are intended to be more in the way of a magician than a warrior. Also, both Acacia and Karasu are constructs (magical for Karasu, cloned for Acacia) that retain the memories of their originals.

Heigou and Sa are both alone, though Heigou’s sister remains around her and Sa has her hallucination. In both of those cases, the companionship is limited: Heigou is unaware that her sister’s ghost haunts her while Sa is aware that her sister’s ghost is simply a hallucination. Both Heigou and Sa had literal tortures deliberately performed on them, while much of Acacia and Karasu’s trauma was accidental or incidental in creation.

While all four doubt their own humanity (three them literally aren’t human from a species stand point), Heigou and Sa both feel tainted and unclean by their experiences while Acacia and Karasu have little to no such impression (though Acacia’s status as a magician would make her feel an outsider given her culture’s views on such things). From a design standpoint, these doubts and beliefs of being tainted are considered, for the most part, irrational. They were created with the idea that all four are essentially good people that have had terrible things happen to them. It is harder to see with Heigou and Sa, due to their more violent tendencies. It is hardest of all to see with Sa since Heigou at least had the support of a tolerant religious order to tone down her feral nature somewhat. Sa has lived completely on her own since escaping the academy and fairly often finds herself stalking some criminal or killer that she has stumbled upon in her wanderings. Which leaves the one who is still human in species as the least human in attitude and behavior.

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