Making Characters & a Town§
When you sit down to play, one person will play the role of the Host, and will be responsible for adversity, supporting characters, fairies and goblins, and orchestrating affairs. Everyone else will play the main characters. You should come to the table with no strong image of who you may play, as things work best when everyone makes their characters together, and fit them into the town where they will be living.
Once you’ve made your main characters to play, it will be your duty each to play those characters with integrity, saying what they say, do, hope, and feel. The Host will play the rest of the world with integrity, saying what the supporting characters say, do, hope, and feel, and how the world reacts to your characters as they try to carve out a space for themselves.
Decide on some facts about the world§
The very first thing to do is to decide, together, how your town views the revival of English magic, and who the revivalist was. This doesn’t have to take a lot of time or be a big question, but it will contextualize the rest of the choices you make.
Was the revivalist a gentleman of obscure birth? A lady of good family? A strange foreign man? A wild and mysterious old woman? Someone else?
How do people feel about the attempt to revive English magic? Perhaps it is a tragedy the Revival failed; England needs magic now more than ever. Or perhaps it is a relief the Revival failed; magic is a distraction and unbecoming. Maybe even the revival was a sham; the government wasted money on it and the military wasted time. Or the revival was a sham, because magic was always a sham; the stories of Myrddin and the Ladies of the Lake are unsubstantiated old legends. I ask only that you recall that English magic is not called witchcraft, and there is no Inquisition.
Make the town§
At the outset of the game, the characters all live in the same place, in a small town or village in England. While this may change over the course of play, it grounds the characters and situates them in a community. “Three or four families in a country village is the very thing to work on,” as Jane Austen said.
You can either use a premade town, or make your own. There are rules for making a town in Appendix: Towns, but for now, let’s assume you have a completed town.
A town provides three crucial things: families, connections, and geography. Your characters can come from any of the listed families, or one unlisted. Your character will have some connections, based on answering questions on the town sheet. Your character will live and travel in the geography described. The families and geography are intended to be suggestive, and allow for elaboration or alteration. The connections should be taken more or less as-written, though if you and the table agree that some question should be adjusted or slanted or altered, who am I to stop you?
Make the main characters§
Once you have a context, make your characters. The first step is to choose a role. If you are ready to be surprised by the character you may play, draw two at random, and choose one. If you know who you want to play, you may simply play a role of your choice. I encourage you to consider the first option.
Once you have your role, choose your given name and family name (perhaps using a family name from the town sheet), briefly describe your look, and choose your age, best accomplishment, and manner. Save your hope for later.
Take a look at your reputations. These will describe how society expects you to behave. Should you fail in this, you may earn a bad reputation, in brackets.
In coordination with the other players, now fill out your connections. If there are two main characters, answer all four questions for your role. If there are three or four main characters, answer any three you like. If there are five main characters, answer any two you like. You can answer with a mix of other main characters, and supporting characters you or the host make up on the spot. Many answers will suggest other supporting characters, too, which the Host will note down for their own record-keeping. One of your answers should touch on the magical: either the person or the nature of your connection should include a magical element.
Now that you know some of who you are and how you fit into the community, choose a hope. This is your heart’s desire. The thing you would give your very world for. The thing that makes it worth it for you to pursue the dangerous practice of magic. Choose:
- I hope to marry for love.
- I hope to be revenged upon (here name another character).
- I hope to have land or money enough to live on.
- I hope to know and be known by my family.
- I hope to have my love for (here name another character) returned.
- I hope to be showered with glory.
- I hope to see justice for (here name another character).
- … or something else.
It would not be wrong to say that your hope is necessarily in conflict with society’s expectations for you. Otherwise, you might simply achieve it, or be on the way to doing so. It should still be something you can maybe, just maybe, see your way to accomplishing, though.
Next, turn to the inside of your role book. Here you will find the personal and magical. First, your character has two boons: a star, personal to them and the moment of their birth, and a root, shared with their family. If you have chosen to be part of one of the great local families, mark the root that comes with them. If you have not, you and any other main characters who you share a family with should choose and mark one root together. Then, individually, choose and mark a star.
Finally, choose two spells. The spells are organized into arts, within which there are tiers. The first tier is the apprentice, then the journeyman, then the master. Choose an apprentice spell from each of two arts. Why are you a magician? What do you want, what are you that society cannot accept and that drives you to understand magic? How did you learn your spells?
Now, you should be ready to play.
Angelo, Bridget, Carl, and Dianne are playing, with Harper as the Host. They have decided that the attempt to revive English magic came from an academic at Oxford, a scholar there named Wycliff. He began as an historian of English magic, but succumbed to the temptation many before him have, and tried his hand at practical magic. Unlike all his predecessors attempts, it worked. He helped the government for less than a year before vanishing. All his papers were in a cipher, and half of them were missing, and so the government (and the country) have doubled down on practicality and the stiff upper lip, and given up entirely on magic. Most people think magic is a distraction, and that England has become better and stronger for its absence. Of course, perhaps people only think that because it has failed.
They have decided to play in the town of Little Norlea, in the Southeast, not far from London, but out of the way. Angelo, Bridget, Carl and Dianne now choose their roles. They all choose the random route, drawing two roles and choosing one. Angelo draws the Ward and the Officer, Bridget draws the Gentleman and Clergyman, Carl draws the Invalid and Lower Servant, Dianne draws the Dandy and Companion. After some discussion and figuring out which roles most appeal to each of them, and which dynamics between them are most interesting, they settle on these roles: Angelo as the Ward, Bridget as the Clergyman, Carl as the Lower Servant, and Dianne as the Dandy.
The Ward is Sophia Bellamy, daughter to the late Captain Lucas Bellamy and granddaughter and ward to Squire Jonas Bellamy. She is pretty but not fashionable, has just turned nineteen, lighthearted and good at dancing. All of this paints a shallow picture of her so far, but Angelo has ideas: she has grown up with stories of her father’s daring in the wars, and wishes to follow in his footsteps, if only she could.
The Clergyman is the Reverend Mr. Coape Nightingale, freshly down from Oxford and given the living of St. Albans by the Squire. He will surely have stories of the late Mr. Wycliff, though whether he will choose to tell them is another matter. He is young, with sharp features that could become handsome as he grows into them. He is twenty four, dreamy and lost in his books, and a scholar of languages. What relationship, if any, he might have with Mr. Wycliff’s work remains to be seen.
The Lower Servant is Benjamin Cull, groom to Squire Bellamy. He is fit from his work, and cannot keep an ironical smile off his face. He is eighteen, caring (though often more for the horses than for people), and good at listening. He spends a lot of time with the horses, and should someone ask him, would have to admit that he first learned magic from them.
Dianne’s Dandy is Mr. Oliver Hawkes, cousin to the Norlea Hawkses, who has come to stay with his poor relations for reasons that certainly have nothing to do with fleeing creditors in London. He is the very pink of fashion, but his face is marred with a couple scars from some sword-duels he has fought. He is twenty-two, passionate, and a masterful fencer. Dianne hopes that he will draw the eye of Miss Bellamy, though Mr. Hawkes could not see her as a marriage prospect.
Now, while everyone’s very excited about these characters, it does lead to a problem: there are three men and one woman. Harper will have to be sure to make some more female supporting characters to ensure that there are ladies in Miss Bellamy’s life, and to ensure balance at dinners and dances.
After much conversation and back-and-forth, the four players of the main characters fill out their connections. They only need each pick three from their respective lists, since there are four players.
Angelo chooses to answer these three: Who is your guardian? Squire Bellamy. Who is courting you? Mr. Nightingale (with Bridget’s consent; they agree that an engagement would be unlikely, but think the tension will be fun). Who do you trust? Jane, my ersatz lady’s maid. Now, one should be magic-touched, and Angelo thinks that if Jane hears things from the fairies and goblins, that would be interesting.
Bridget chooses to answer: Who comes to you seeking religious guidance? Mrs. Lavinia Bellamy, the Squire’s wife. Who thinks you’d make them a good match? To avoid making things too convenient with Miss Bellamy, Bridget answers Miss Elizabeth Hawkes, the Dandy’s cousin. Who gives you respite from your duties? Here, Bridget wants to bring in the Ellicots, who have been untouched on the town sheet so far, and says Miss Kitty Ellicott is always willing to listen, offer insight, and share a good Latin pun. Of these, Miss Hawkes has been learning all she can about the work of the late Mr. Wycliff, to impress Mr. Nightingale with her knowledge of practical magic.
Carl’s Lower Servant has the following connections: Who is your master? Well, Squire Bellamy. Who is your sibling? My sister, Jane, is in service here, too, and imagines herself a lady’s maid to the young Miss Bellamy now. Who is your confidant? Rhadamanthys, the Squire’s prize gelding and best courser. Obviously, that we talk is both magical and secret.
Finally, Dianne’s Dandy answers these: Who is eligible here? Miss Kitty Ellicott, of course. The Ellicotts do not have the money they once had, but her aunt is a wealthy childless widow, and she may be set to inherit. Who gives you the best gossip? Jane Cull, though we must meet in secret. She seems to know things even the most astute servant wouldn’t hear, and have smelled the smell of goblins about her more than once. Who is your valet? Carver, and he is my trusted factotum, too.
All that remains: hopes, stars, roots, and spells.
Angelo chooses “I hope to get the chance to prove my valour on the battlefield” for Miss Bellamy. Because she is a Bellamy, her root will be Holly, per the town sheet. Her star is Mars, which fits with the themes of the character so far, but may be unlikely to come up until she approaches her hope. She will start with the apprentice spells of Clarity and Glamour, and hope to learn Affray some later day. She learned her spells through her father’s ghost visiting her in dreams.
Bridget chooses “I hope for glory and recognition for recovering Mr. Wycliff’s work, and restoring English magic again.” Though he never knew Wycliff, he has absconded from Oxford with some of the man’s ciphered journals, and hopes to use his skill with languages to unlock them. His root is Rowan, his star is Jupiter. He has learned magic from the few pages of Wycliff he has translated so far, and understands the apprentice spells of Supremacy and Weaving.
Carl chooses “I hope to be revenged on Squire Bellamy”. This comes as a surprise to the rest of the table at first, until Carl explains how Benjamin feels that the squire mistreats all below him: Benjamin himself, his sister Jane, his horses, even his wife. He sees him as a cruel man who uses his power to the inch. His root is Willow, like the Ellicotts (but as none of them are main characters, this is acceptable), and his star is Luna. Benjamin learned his spells from Rhadamanthys, who taught him first the apprentice form of Therianthropy (to speak with beasts), then the apprentice form of Navigation.
Finally, Dianne. She chooses “I hope to be rich as Croesus.” Mr. Hawkes is ultimately that simple: he enjoys the material pleasures of life, and resents the time he has been dependent on others. His root is Hazel, as he is a Hawkes, and his star is Saturn. He learned magic from the lifeblood of a man he killed in a duel, as it ran out onto the grass and spelled words only he could see. He learned the apprentice forms of Necromancy and Cursing this way.
The whole time, Harper has taken notes on all the supporting characters created, the dynamics, histories, and relationships. They take a brief break, and Harper considers where this story might start. As they reconvene, their Host begins: “On a charming summer day in 1814, in the village of Little Norlea…”