"Well, well, well, what do we have here?" Ludoc asked with a sneer as he rode his stallion in a circle around the small flock of travelers. "Tannis, what are these people?"
"They look like pilgrims to me," Tannis said, idly resting his hand on the pommel of the cutlass on his hip.
Most of the travelers shied back from Ludoc's horse, clutching their gray robes more tightly, and looking down at the ground rather than at the gathering of men hemming them in. All but one of them, at least. He stood before the others, a short, thick walking staff resting loosely in his hand. His robes were older, their edges ragged, and Ludoc noticed a leather cord hanging from his neck. There were seven stones on it; one for every year he'd made the journey to the holy city, and knelt before the rock of the prophet. The man glanced up at Ludoc, and the bandit leader drew rein. A shudder ran down his spine.
Ludoc realized he had made the mistake of merely looking at the trappings the man wore. Now, looking into his eyes, he saw the man for who he was.
"I think your eyes see true enough," Ludoc said, wheeling his horse. "And fortunate for them, as pilgrims rarely have aught of any value. Go on, then, and keep a wary eye so none take advantage of you down the road!"
The pilgrims stared at one another, whispering. Ludoc's men were just as confused, their smirks vanishing as they looked at him, and then at one another. Ludoc caught Rand and Petor's eye, and ran the tip of his thumb from the corner of one eye, down to his chin. Their eyes widened, and their faces went pale. Tannis half-turned toward him, words beginning to leave his mouth, before Ludoc booted his horse in the ribs.
"To me, dogs!" he yelled, trying to make it sound like a call to battle, rather than a retreat from one. His horse's hooves pounded along the dirt road, and he strained his ears, listening for the others to mount up and follow him. When he heard hoofbeats, he risked a glance over his shoulder. Rand and Petor were on his tail, with most of the others following them. Tannis brought up the rear, his face a dark thundercloud of anger. Behind them the pilgrims had resumed their journey, many of them with hands raised to the sky as they gave thanks for being spared from the depredations of the highwaymen. Their leader stood, his hands still on his staff, watching them go.
There would be questions, of that he was sure. Their belt pouches were thin, and their larder nearly empty, but as far as Ludoc was concerned he'd rather live to boil his belt for soup. It would be better than lying dead in a ditch, with ravens fighting over which of them got to eat his nose.
Because Ludoc had seen eyes like the pilgrim's before. They had stared out from under a black-visored helm at a field of corpses, and the man who bore them had turned away, spilling even more blood like he he was going to grow a murderer's crop. Ludoc didn't know what a man like that was doing wearing the stones of a penitent and walking lambs to the holy city... but he knew that just because a wolf put on a sheep's skin, that didn't mean it had forgotten how to bite.
The Journey Out of Darkness
Our game worlds are filled with those who've done terrible things. From cult-trained assassins who've slain hundreds of targets over their years of service, to child soldiers who spilled blood before they were old enough to shave, to vicious pirates and brigands who killed, maimed, and did worse in their pursuit of profits, there are plenty of people with blood on their hands.
Some of those people see no reason to change their wicked ways. Others, though, have an awakening. They realize how far down in the well they are, and that if they ever want to be able to see the sun again (and wash at least some of that stain off of themselves) then they're going to have to start climbing. And like any pilgrim their journey will be long, hard, and fraught with temptation to simply take the easy way out. But that's not who they're trying to be... not anymore.
For an example of this, consider the character of Garion Red Hand, whose tale is told in Secrets of The Shadowed Heart below (the story itself found in the forward of my latest supplement 100 Dark Secrets). If you enjoy this little audio drama, pick up a copy of the supplement, and check out the Azukail Games YouTube channel for more!
Designing a pilgrim is a three-step process. The first step is to ask yourself what their particular brand of sin was that they are trying to atone for. Were they a killer? Did they abuse their power to sow misery among people they should have cared for? Did they let their greed or ambition blind them, hurting those around them in the process?
Once you have that question answered, ask what their moment of awakening was where they realized they had a choice to make. Did they look up from a man they'd killed, only to hear the cry of a child, and realized it was now lost and alone, just as they had been when they were snatched up by the cult, or the army? Did a priest forgive them with his dying breath, making the soon-to-be pilgrim feel shame for the first time? Perhaps even triggering a vision from the priest's god, and making them realize exactly how small and petty they've been all their life? Were they stripped of their noble regalia, and now with no one to recognize them, were given kindness by a common person the noble would have thrown into the cold for a single coin more in their coffers?
Those looking for inspiration here might also want to get hold of 100 Character Goals and Motivations for inspiration.
Lastly, ask what form your character's pilgrimage is taking. If they're the ones who slew the priest, do they take up their holy symbol and try to live their life according to that priest's beliefs? If they made an orphan out of a child, do they try to raise them, and to be the kind of parent they would have wanted to have? If they fought for plunder and personal gain, do they attempt to live a more peaceful life, burying the cutthroat they once were?
There are no right answers to these questions, nor any required classes or abilities for this concept. The only thing you need to do is work out with your Game Master what the elements of your story are so that it can be woven into the plot as the campaign progresses.
And for extra points, did your character have a particularly dark reputation that's now following them around? Something which I covered in Character Reputation in RPGs: The Small Legend.
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That's all for this week's Unusual Character Concepts post!
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