Hey! Thanks for reading! Just a reminder that I wrote this some years ago, and may have much more complicated feelings about this topic than I did when I wrote it. Happy to elaborate, feel free to reach out to me! 😄
🎵 The song for this post is Zangief's Theme, by Yoko Shimomura for Street Fighter II 🎵
New game! The game Fin was part of is wrapping up, and as you might imagine, a lot of us are able to play more frequently than normal. A friend is DMing a game in the campaign setting Blades in the Dark, which describes itself as:
a tabletop role-playing game about a crew of daring scoundrels seeking their fortunes on the haunted streets of an industrial-fantasy city. There are heists, chases, occult mysteries, dangerous bargains, bloody skirmishes, and, above all, riches to be had — if you’re bold enough to seize them.
The "industrial-fantasy city" is Doskvol:
An industrial world under perpetual night, long after some great catastrophe has relegated the sun to storybooks, and resulted in the ghosts of the dead lingering in the world. With players taking the role as members of a criminal organization such as thieves, smugglers, or merchants of some illicit goods. Players grind their way up the criminal underworld by seizing money, territory and infamy.
So this character:
- Is part of a "crew," which has its own mechanics, richer than the standard "adventuring party."
- The crew are criminals who hope to score enough to Retire And Be Legends, Man.
- Each playsession is a "score," a job the crew does to increase their reputation or notoriety. You gotta watch out for the feds ("bluecoats") and also manage relationships with other crews and turf.
- You tend to need a nickname, mine has two for reasons that'll become clear.
Some background: despite most of my other characters I'm playing a martial character for a change. "It's not a Pablo character if they don't die to a hard punch," so this one is intended to get bruised up (but survive!) pretty often. Our crew does all sorts of jobs, but specializes in smuggling cargo of the "occult" or "weird" variety. Also, Cosimo is another PC, we agreed to link our backstories.
Anyway, meet Sioqur, cast an André the Giant in my head (for now, not super sure of that choice):
Sioqur "The Liver": Backstory
Virtually everyone living in the Imperium has stories of when the environment imposed a hardship on them, and Sioqur's family was no exception. A modest-but-comfortable fishing family, he was used to eating his fill on fresh catch, and had fun as a boy wrestling heavier specimens that tried to jump off the boat back in the water. But some hunters were chasing an aggressive Leviathan far too close to their Dagger Isles port, damaging their infrastructure and killing (or scaring) much of the sea life for miles. His family was forced to work for an outpost of neighboring turf, owned by a Mondvelian noble.
They were not kind. This outpost was run by the third Mondvel son Armas, who took them in and put them to work, but only giving them access to scraps, rotting inventory, and entrails. Sioqur was often pushed into violent enforcement work on behalf of the landlords given his obvious strength (maritime diet is high-protein and low-calorie, after all!) while the rest of his family did more traditional fishing work. When another family in a similar serfdom-like situation accused his brother and father of stealing from the landlords, they were sentenced to brutal punishment: his father was thrown into a dungeon, and his brother into "short-term jobs," so-called because the work was suicidally dangerous, and few lasted long doing it. As they were getting carted off, his brother told him "use the chum to catch the prize" with a wink, referring to cutting and dropping a recently-caught fish back into the ocean to lure a better one. Sioqur knew what he meant: "we're done for, use us as chum to leave this fate."
Sioqur took all his contraband savings from his hidey-hole, bribed a few of Armas' men, and executed a heist of one of their fishing boats, stealing it with other laborors Seskel and Zayin. The three sailed toward Doskvol. Knowing a) they didn't have enough money to start a life on the other side, and b) the boat was "hot" and in pursuit by the Mondvel family, they sold it off to start anew. Zayin, the most entrepreneurial, started busking, then asked the other two to do sketch shows.
It was a disaster! Their comedy was bad! But the fight scenes drew a crowd. They started staging more elaborate ones. Sioqur became a crowd favorite under the guise "Cirrhosis," dropped his Dagger Isles identity in favor of a "wild horse man from Severos" identity (he'd cover himself in animal blood), and their "fight shows" drew pretty consistent crowds. They branded their fights as "The Dream Pits," with a campy "fighting tournament, winner gets a wish granted!" narrative.
During one of their traveling shows, he built rapport with one of the stage hands building a temporary stage named Cosimo, the only one who was curious rather than disgusted with Sioqur's organ-heavy, overseasoned diet. Cosimo and Sioqur became friends, "two large guys bein' large." Hearing he was an occasional vagrant and knowing that pain, The Dream Pits let him travel with them when he needed a place to live.
Their show was no stranger to the underworld—illicit betting, drugs, vice, bribery—Sioqur and Zayin worked to keep it extralegal but professional. "Believe it or not there are rules to this shit," one gang member told him. They lost Seskel to a stage trick gone wrong which turned out to have been orchestrated by one of his debtors. And they were extremely careful about the Mondvel family's presence, of which the Dagger Isles port was only an offshoot.
But he often thought of his family. He thought of the hardship the other families endured. He had nightmares of Armas frequently, and wanted to burn his docks to the ground. He remembered: Armas had a fondness and a hobby for the "weird," and would trade with people in Doskvol for new occult oddities. Sioqur kept his eyes open for work in that trade. If he played his cards right, he could decorate with (and perhaps dine on) the guts of the man who crushed every life around him that mattered.
Like a luchador: grapple/striking-heavy styles (no blades, weapons might be, like, a chair or a ladder). More acrobatic than his size would suggest (flying leaps!). His persona on stage is "Cirrhosis," so his nickname in the group is "the liver" (he also got pretty hooked on animal entrails as a food, and eats organ meat whenever he can). He, naturally, uses different masks for his stage persona and his heist work.
Heritage: Dagger Isles, but pretends/exaggerates the horse nomad "wildness" of Severos.
Close Friend: Zayin, fight promoter/organizer/producer for The Dream Pits.
Rival: Armas Mondvel (or really anyone from the Mondvel family).
Vice: Obligation, but not family or church, but his "second crew" of The Dream Pits. He really, really needs the thrill of performance and a crowd to properly de-stress, will seek out "violent drama" if left alone (bar fights are a favorite).
- Sioqur: Large man, happiest when he's sweating, mouth usually isn't closed.
- Cirrhosis: covered in appropriative "tribal markings" and animal blood, sometimes wearing a large skull as a helmet, or a bone in his hair, loincloths. He plays a few masked characters too.
There is honestly something wrong with you if you can't appreciate elements of Lucha Libre.
I started with the idea "if I had to play someone huge/strong, who am I excited to play as?" and frankly, that's a luchador.
The family's story is very "Grapes of Wrath dustbowl." The brother saying "leave us behind" comes from a novel I read where the protagonist effectively sentences his family to death by betraying the rich family he worked for. The failed sketch comedy before showfighting had me thinking of Rainer Wolfcastle's "that's the joke." "Believe it or not there are rules to this shit" is said by a crime-lord antagonist in Netflix's Luke Cage.
The Dream Pits is very "King of the Iron Fist tournament" from the Tekken games, with touches of Bailando por un Sueño, which aired when I was finishing high school. But it really (and Sioqur's arc, generally) fits in my mind like a Twisted Metal game, where the Dream Pits is where they tell Calypso contest narratives, while he himself is in his own. Doskvol being dark and moody was a bit of a challenge for me, but I remember loving the way Twisted Metal: Black did it. Here's Mr. Grimm's story, for instance:
Professional wrestling is fucking wild, man. From a raw spectacle + performance angle, as well as gettin' swole. You could really do worse than read this award-winning essay on the labor issues involved, or see this Last Week Tonight episode.
Additionally, wrestling as storytelling is something powerful. I almost got a tattoo saying Kayfabe since I think it's a distillation/explanation of forces that guides most of our lives. See this explanation here, but this pull is a good summary:
Although the etymology of the word is a matter of debate, for at least 50 years "kayfabe" has referred to the unspoken contract between wrestlers and spectators: We’ll present you something clearly fake under the insistence that it’s real, and you will experience genuine emotion. Neither party acknowledges the bargain, or else the magic is ruined.
To a wrestling audience, the fake and the real coexist peacefully. If you ask a fan whether a match or backstage brawl was scripted, the question will seem irrelevant. You may as well ask a roller-coaster enthusiast whether he knows he’s not really on a runaway mine car. The artifice is not only understood but appreciated: The performer cares enough about the viewer’s emotions to want to influence them. Kayfabe isn’t about factual verifiability; it’s about emotional fidelity.
Anyway, here's hoping I don't die too soon 😛
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