I'm working on a character for an upcoming Pathfinder game. The idea is centered around a skill-monkey Bard with the optional Archivist variant from the Pathfinder Advanced Player's Guide (less prancing, more research).
This is a pretty tortured guy, who, before he went down the path of the pen and scroll, was party to a horrible atrocity of war. I wanted to explain the fact that this guy is a nice guy, but he's got some serious demons in his past. I also wanted to explain some of his (only adequate) martial proficiencies, so it didn't seem so odd. Here's the first draft I sent to the Game Master, hopefully with lots of good hooks for him:
Jon Percivale? Yeah, I served with him. Oh, not so much as an equal; my father was a failing tanner, his was an upper-class, well-to-do miller. When the problems with the succession hit Carse, I joined the Guardsmen as a simple trooper, and was grateful of the chance. Through his father, Percivale gained a commission as a Lieutenant, like so many other educated, second sons of wealthy families.
Being a member of the Guard wasn’t bad; we kept order on the roads outside the city, and what few rebels forces we encountered generally fled before us. When the Captain caught the bloody flux, Percivale took over the company. With him was the Color Sergeant, Jurrin Welche.
We hated Welche. He had transferred in to the unit for reasons unknown, and was a black-hearted, sadistic soul. He’d whip you if you so much as coughed near his tent. All the lads despised the sight of him, but he outranked us all, save Percivale. At least Percivale was kind and understanding, with an eye towards the welfare of his soldiers. He was also an inspirational leader, ready with the right speech to cheer up us soldiers or spur us on when it was needed.
By then, I was a corporal, and right proud of it. But the troubles of the Succession had spread, and our unit was called to battle. Titan’s Field wasn’t the largest battle of the war, but it was enough for me. We were ordered into a desperate charge, and…well, you don’t forget something like that. Men and horses died together in gouts of blood. The world seemed to go mad, and all I remember is hacking at whoever was in my way, desperate to escape through a crimson field of vision. We lost half of our men before it was all over, and many more would die of wounds along the trail. We numbered less than two dozen on the road back to Carse, bloody and broken.
Percivale took it the hardest, I think. He was our commander, and under his watch, we had been slaughtered. He rode in a daze, not responding to any.
Then there was The Bridge. A band of supporters of the Pretender, scarlet armbands still in place on some, poorly armored, perhaps only 3 or 4 weapons in the entire group. But there were others—old men and women, younger maids, and a few men on crutches, ex-soldiers who would fight no more.
They only wished to flee, of course. We didn’t know then that the battle had reversed course, and the Pretender lay dead upon the field, the rebellion crushed.
But that didn’t matter to Color Sergeant Welche. He rode to the front, and demanded of Percivale that he attack the refugee column. I began to ride to his side, but with an inarticulate howl of rage, Percivale drew his sword. That was all it took, for the troops did the rest. In a few minutes, dozens of refugees—traitors, they would say—lay dead upon the ground. I saw no one escape, except a young boy, no more than 10. He cowered under The Bridge, hidden, but as I rode down the slope, his eye caught mine. I never said a word, nor do I know what became of him. It is the only thing, I think, that may keep me from eternal damnation. Lieutenant Percivale was standing over a slain soldier, still screaming. I’ve heard creatures in the night, evil creatures most fat, comfortable townsmen will nervously call myth, but I’ve never heard anything so full of pure hatred and madness as that sound.
That was nearly a decade ago. We came home to Carse not heroes exactly, but respected for our part in crushing the Pretender’s Rebellion. Jon Percivale left the city not long after. A few years ago, while doing a stint as a caravan guard in Torm, I saw him, as a scholar, looking genial, pleasant, and well-kept, carrying a massive tome through the street towards an unknown destination.
I don’t know what gods you pray to, mister, but it was no coincidence that he froze in the street, turned, and looked right at me. He seemed to know me at once, and such a look of combined rage, sadness, and regret came over his features that I shuddered.
Apparently, Jon Percivale became a scholar. I learned while in the city that he was a peaceful, friendly man, who often plied his alchemical craft and a few petty cantrips he’d learned for the benefit of the less fortunate of the city. He was a regular dinner guest at the table of the Lord Mayor, and was often brightly talking about some great work he was writing. The people in that city seemed to genuinely like him, and were sad he had announced he was leaving for the north—more research to be done, he said.
A man can survive just about anything. But the scars never go away. And you can paint a black soul white for as long as you can manage, but it doesn’t change the fact of damnation, doesn’t it?
It always goes back to that Bridge, for me, that blood-covered Bridge. And in the nightmares that always come, Lieutenant Jon Percivale screams forever.