Yesterday we started the process of describing a prisoner from the Wild West (see it here). We gained some details using the process in Insta-NPCs #5: Prisoners and Escapees but left it in an incomplete state… So let’s see what we can do about that.
- Who: Undetermined
- Real/Imagined: Imagined
- Crime: Breach of Contract
- Sentence: Months (2)
- Intent: Complete task
- Cell: Walls
- Cell mates: 4
- Conditions: Rat infestation
Sidebar: A Discussion of Brainstorming and Abstraction
A gender of “undetermined” can be interpreted in quite a few ways. The individual might be masculine or feminine in terms of features. The determination may be broader as in sexual roles as described in LGBTQ+ or heterosexual terms. Or it may just be that the role hasn’t been determined in the context of the story – because the character role is not dependent on such a description.
Sometimes stories call more strongly for one character type or another. When I’m brainstorming, the casting call notice (using a screenwriting term) is usually more fluid and abstract. Some characters are definitely your red-blooded male stereotype. Others are definitely a strong female or femme fatale role from the beginning. But many are left to be determined by the situation surrounding them.
Continuing the Process
Perhaps if we work through this individual’s cell mates, we can get a better picture of who this person is. For example, I suspect that jails in the Wild West (of most genre timelines) were segregated into male and female populations much as they are today to avoid some of the shenanigans that might occur otherwise. So let’s see who these other four people were that shared the cell.
I rolled four d6s to see what I would end up with – I got (5) “Alien”, (4) “Inhuman”, (3) “Undetermined”, and (1) “Male.”
Well, isn’t *that* interesting.
Here’s how I’m going to interpret it… It’s a bunch of guys. One comes from south of the border (the “Alien”). One is a monster of a man (“Inhuman”) the size of Andre the Giant. The “Male” is obviously just your average run of the mill guy. And the other “Undetermined” will also be male. Our two “Undetermined” may be red-blooded American males with some vaguely feminine characteristics, but for this particular exercise we don’t need to get that detailed.
If we roll for the rest of the details for each of our jailbirds, we have:
- Who: Alien, Real/imagined: Real, Crime: Rebellion, Sentence: Life, Intent: Complete task
- Who: Inhuman, Real/imagined: Imagined, Crime: Adultery, Sentence: Years (d10 = 3 years), Intent: Love
- Who: Undetermined, Real/imagined: Imagined, Crime: Treason, Sentence: Decades (d10 = 3, 30 years), Intent: Publicity
- Who: Male, Real/imagined: Real, Crime: Counterfeiting, Sentence: Decades (d10 = 2, 20 years), Intent: Escape, Attempts: Failed
This is quite a rogues gallery.
- In the “Alien” case – I suspect that it’s a Mexican national who decided to try and free a town from the yoke of oppression. That didn’t work out so well, so he fled north into the United States. There was a warrant out, he got into trouble, and was arrested at the behest of the Mexican government. But he wants to get out and finish what he started back at home.
- Our “Inhuman” Andre the Giant character is a lover, not a fighter. He was arrested on trumped up charges of adultery and beat the men who tried to haul him off to jail. He loves his boss’s wife, but never acted on it. He would protect her with his own life. And he hopes to return to set things right when he’s done in prison.
- The “Undetermined” case is a spy who sold government secrets to some European conglomerate. He slipped up and the U.S. caught him. He should have been hung, but powerful people kept that from happening. But he’s intent on escaping to spread the word of his mistreatment and how the U.S. can’t be trusted by its own people. (He’s the Wild West version of Edward Snowden.)
- And our last rogue is simply that… a rogue. He’s been printing funny money and living high on the hog. He really doesn’t like prison. And eventually he’s going to escape, even if it kills him…
The question is how our PCs will encounter our prisoner (or his “friends”)? In his case, I’m going to say that he’s done his time and will run into the PCs in a saloon getting a drink. I still don’t have a good feel for what’s going on, so I’m going to do a bit of a Hail Mary.
I pull out the Big Book of Little Spaces: Haunts and use the sense tables. I roll on the “Senses” table (p5) and get a 7, which means I get to roll twice: Hearing and Touch. Then I roll over to those tables (p13 and p15) and roll a d100 on each. I get (42) “Deep” on the Hearing table and (20) “Chilled” on the Touch table.
Something clicks and I write this:
“As you sit at the bar, you notice the usual suspects but are drawn to the deep voice of a stranger wrapped in furs at the end. His head is adorned with a worn ‘coon skin hat and nursing a joram (drinking bowl) of hot whisky while he spoke to the barkeep. Even with the furs and hot drink, he’s shivering beneath all those clothes.”
This particular individual could be working with early refrigeration somewhere or delivering ice for a living. He could be suffering from some form of disease or virus. Or perhaps (in the urban fantasy sense) he’s been dealing with the side effects of a particular form of magic, on his own or working for a wizard of some sort.
In any of these cases, the character is unusual and worth investigation by the PCs. And if they get to know him, they might later on run into some of his friends from his time in prison, which can lead to all sorts of other intriguing stories.
The fun part about randomness and brainstorming is that I never know exactly where it’s going to lead me. In this case, it took some exploring before I had something potentially useful with leads later on.
Nothing says the PCs will ever follow up on this man’s strange story, but the threads are there to toy with anyway. The PCs may encounter this individual again, speaking with a human mountain or any of the other folks who escaped. The *POTENTIAL* is there for some fun stories to play with. 🙂