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Let Me Tell You About My Character

Cosmo Ophidian, Swashbuckler

by Chad Underkoffler
Jan 23,2003

 

Let Me Tell You About My Character...: Cosmo Ophidian, Swashbuckler

by Chad Underkoffler

Count Cosmo Ophidian
(Genre: Swashbuckling)

Duelist, spy, and patriot, Cosmo is descended from the noble merchant House of Ophidi. One of the lynchpins of the Empire, House Ophidi has provided numerous skilled spies and assassins for use against the enemies of the Throne; they have grown quite powerful in doing so. That means Cosmo is heir to all the perks and drawbacks of influence: arrogance, prestige, debauchery, and ruthlessness.

His Uncle Ignacio is the House Patriarch. When Ignacio dies (probably in the near future, given his health), the responsibility of administrating House Ophidi's business, political, and internal concerns pass on to Cosmo's cousin "Little" Ignacio (also known as Ignatz). This means that since Cosmo is not in the Patriarchal line and tied to House management, he gets to do whatever he wants, and can fully enjoy his power, wealth, and freedom.

He received the best education money can buy in the Empire, attending University to learn the physical, mental, social, and spiritual unities. He also wasted a small fortune on gambling, women, and swords. Indeed, during his first student duel, an amazing talent with the blade revealed itself. Cosmo immediately built upon this strong foundation by hiring the best fencing masters, attending the finest salles, and fighting in back alleys every chance he got. Today, he is possibly the best swordsman the Empire has ever known.

Which is all to the good: Cosmo grew up on the tales of derring-do and dastardly deeds performed by his ancestors, and wishes to emulate them. For good reason: in a dream, the Family Genius -- that is, the guardian spirit of his House that stands in the Heaven Court of the Lord of Emperors -- appeared to him, and told him that the Empire's fate would one day rest in his hands. He does not carry this destiny lightly; after all, he is a patriot, an Imperial citizen, and -- above all -- and Ophidi. To do less would shame his House.

Upon graduation from University, he presented himself to his father Umberto -- the lieutenant of the Emperor's spymaster, Drago Lepidus -- and asked how he, too, could serve the Empire. Umberto's advice: Prove you can discover secrets, hold them close, escape with knowledge, and return to inform us, without being detected.

Thus, Cosmo has purchased a small, fast trading vessel (The Viper) for some "adventure trading" -- buying goods in the hopes of selling them in another port, with no assurances, only risk. It's an adequate cover for a spy. Not perfect, but adequate.

In terms of personality, Cosmo Ophidian has more than a few quirks that grew out of his upbringing.

First, he's arrogant as hell: when you're rich, powerful, and deadly, you have every right to be. He comes on strong and confident, but is intensely self-interested. He has an unreasonable intolerance of "foreigners" in general, seeing them as uncouth barbarians lacking honor. He can be a bit of a bully.

Second, he is a gentleman: well bred, socially nimble, possessing exquisite manners. He understands several languages and is literate; however, he strongly prefers to use the language of the Empire. He is adept in the "Riddling Dialect" -- a roundabout patter used in Court that rarely says anything clearly or directly, opting to veil discussion in analogy, drape it in metaphor, and drown it in allusions. Proper names are never mentioned in the Riddling Dialect; one must only reference the subject of an anecdote -- even oneself -- as "a certain person," through allusive epithet, or by indeterminate pronoun ("one" or "they"). If Cosmo wished to say something like, "Gosh, I think that girl, Rose, over there is pretty" in this cant, one way to represent it would be "By the Throne! A blade has never seen the sun break through yonder window like that delicate flower!"

Third, he is a compulsive gambler; risk energizes him, and that is why he seeks out dangerous pursuits -- dueling, spying, adventure trading. If a day passes without some formal (with cards, dice, or other games of chance) or informal (proposition bets, participating in risky physical contests, taking risky actions) hazard, Cosmo gets depressed and cranky.

Fourth, he has a strong sense of duty. In Cosmo's mind, the order of priority of his duties is, from most important to least: House Ophidi, the Empire, his honor, his comrades, his business concerns. He wishes to not merely meet his duties, but exceed them.

Lastly, he is ruthless. To Cosmo, the ends justify the means. He will do anything in pursuit of his goals, so long as it doesn't utterly betray another aspect of his personality. Resolute, ceaseless, and morally flexible, he cares about getting not just results, but stellar results.

Pseudo-Stats

Cosmo:

  • Possesses a Good physique and mind, but is especially Expert in nimbleness, both physical (dexterity) and mental (wits).
  • Is personally wealthy to the Expert level, and has access to Master level funds if pressed.
  • Is a Master of swordplay -- indeed, he's one of the three best fencers in the entire world.
  • Is Good at spying, and getting better.
  • Is an Expert in Imperial social situations (like attending Court or a formal dinner); but Poor at interpersonal interaction (like being polite in casual conversation).
  • Is a Poor merchant and trader. (Or is that just a dodge?)

Goals

  • Hero: Cosmo wishes to eventually take over his father Umberto's (or even Drago Lepidus') role in Imperial Intelligence, in order to safeguard the Empire.
  • Star: Cosmo wishes to take over from Lepidus as Imperial Spymaster, in order to help the Empire run more smoothly.
  • Villain: Cosmo wishes to remove Lepidus, take his place as Imperial Spymaster, to position himself for the Throne.

Adventure Seeds & Plot Hooks

  • Cosmo makes a ridiculous wager with a PC or PCs, like being able to pink each of them in a fencing bout while remaining unscathed. He wagers heavily on himself, of course. If he loses, he laughs it off; if he wins, he laughs at them.
  • House Ophidi has charged Cosmo to deliver a secret message to a foreign minister. Unfortunately, there have been past "interactions" between a certain Imperial "trader" and the minister's staff (the PCs).
  • Cosmo has fallen in love with a young noblewoman of House Falmari. While he can be charming and suave at an official function (since he knows the forms), his quick wit and sarcastic tongue (not to mention his condescension) get him into trouble in more casual environs. Can the PCs help the duelist make a good impression?

Alternate Worlds

  • Fantasy: A large part of Cosmo's write-up can be kept unchanged for most fantasy campaigns. If magic is a widespread phenomenon, however, Cosmo should have some low-level magical ability. While not a wizard by any means, he would arm himself with useful cantrips and talismans when necessary.
  • Science Fiction: Make The Viper into a starship, add blaster skills to Cosmo (possibly replacing fencing, if force-swords are out of idiom for the campaign), and you're good to go.
  • Superhero: Cosmo works best as a government agent superhuman, a mercenary-type, or an honorable villain. Likely powers would include increased agility, increased intellect, flight, a couple sneaky powers, and a single, potent, precise energy attack.

Inspiration(s) & Miscellany

Inspirations for Cosmo:

  • An NPC from a space-fantasy campaign I ran about 5 years ago.
  • Lord Rochester (Plunkett and Macleane, Alan Cumming)
  • Rene Belloq (Raiders of the Lost Ark, Paul Freeman)
  • Evil Prince Ludwig the Indestructible (Black Adder II, Hugh Laurie)
  • Prince Barin (Flash Gordon, Timothy Dalton)
  • The Centauri, from Babylon 5
  • Vague ideas conflating Venice and Constantinople.

As noted above, this character started life as an NPC in my GURPS Great Sky space-fantasy campaign. (I used to have webpages up about it, but took them down after Yahoo acquired Geocities, and never put them back up. Indeed, I probably won't ever put them back up.)

One of my players wanted his character to have an Enemy/Rival, someone to contend against. I came up with Cosmo (or Connor, as he was known once). Statting him up was pretty simple, if I recall correctly: I just took the PC's stats, copied them, and then adjusted due to differences in home culture and a few different Mental Disadvantages. What this gave me was an NPC of equivalent power level to the PC. (Of course, after the campaign started, they followed different developmental paths.)

The PCs first met Connor randomly, got suckered into a wager, which they won. Connor immediately challenged Piter to a duel, claiming his honor was besmirched for losing so badly to a barbarian. They agreed to fence to "second blood." Piter pinked Connor first, the Connor slashed Piter back. First blood, on both sides. Then they both lunged, and touched each other simultaneously: a draw. This pissed them both off -- Piter had been built to be a badass swordsman, Connor was an arrogant SOB. They stalked away from each other, growling insults.

Flash-forward a few sessions: the PCs find some artifacts of the Empire on an adventure, and at the nearest neutral port, return the goods to the Empire's ambassador. The Empire checks the artifacts, realizes they're legit, and finds itself in the unenviable position of having to reward foreigners for rescuing Imperial treasures. They send Connor with the reward (and the strong hint that if the PCs can be made to look bad or ungracious, all the better).

Connor shows up with a booby-trapped purse of gold, which he lobs to Piter. Piter grabs it, but the purse is enchanted to be impossible to hold, so he drops it. The pouch bursts open, flinging gold everywhere. As the passersby scramble to collect these pennies from heaven, Connor spins the situation such that Piter purposefully threw the Empire's gold away. They fight again, and this time, Piter wins, but gets pretty messed up. Connor gets dragged away for healing, cursing his rival.

In the middle of the next set of sessions, Connor pulls at least one, possibly two, fast ones on the PCs from offstage; collecting a resource their Prince had sent them to get.

Ahead another few sessions: in trying to negotiate a secret treaty with the Pirate King for a big lump of orichalcum, Connor shows up, also seeking the magical metal. The Pirate King decides the two duelists should race their skyships, and he'll treat with the winner. Piter wins. After they disembark their ships, he and Connor begin tearing into one another verbally, when they both shout simultaneously (and in actuality, the player and I did say this at the same time): "But you have no honor!" Both characters stop, pause, think -- then they laugh. They both have honor, but a different type, appropriate for their home culture. The relationship shifts from the Enemy end of the spectrum to the Rival end. Having gained respect for one another, their subsequent interactions lean more to banter than invective.

At the climax of the campaign, Connor, Piter, and a few other NPCs/PCs banded together to fight a common threat to their worlds. By the last session, they were friends.

The entire ride rocked, and taught me an important thing about GMing NPCs -- they're great fun when they're just as competent as the PCs. If you go less capable, they're not really a challenge; if you go more capable, they become a significant obstacle. Exactly as capable gives the PCs something balanced to strive against.

Connor lost a few, won a few, and came back for more. He started off as a character the PCs hated, then they loved to hate him, then they liked him -- he was the familiar foe. A good chunk of that was that his nature was enough like the PCs' to have commonality, but different enough to provide conflict.

It's a narrow path to walk between "Player Favorite NPC" and "GM's Pet NPC." The key for me was listening to the players talk, in and out of game, about Connor. When they were very angry with him, I resolved the next time that he showed up, he'd display a courtlier and honorably side to them. When they liked him, I let him get devious and nasty. Lather, rinse, repeat. This kept interest in him high, and the equivalent stats neither let Connor ride roughshod over the PCs nor be ridden over himself.

Make NPCs memorable.


Chad Underkoffler is a freelance RPG writer. His "Campaign in a Box" column appears bimonthly at Pyramid Online. TQo0~^DҒt< ek&Ǿ$\۵ZFȃuwݝIŃU QYir2HR2.u3MFoعq]4#A`pP5(b& )b)ⰾp7(i<[-2gL#5[f g?*rVGf8*)s'+20ϟ̑F}KB<7wSL\gbvm9WiRބYŜvd y0'p2I_Fc2>#o A )VL[Qk?3`)<У[(*W.JH ?tXCt谙 X:@ \0w ~LqĤE-rFkYœj4q 5AQ6[AxG [>w|?( fХθY䝛$c=_qNĦoǸ>O_|&/_Mi7"宥CЧk0dӷLh;TmuCGU-!Ul{ h<\bQX.~"O2*yPcz!ŠGg

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