In 1995, I created a series of fantasy characters using the Fantasy Hero system that was derived from Champions. Each character is in some way an agent for Duke Echarris, the“Black Duke” of the kingdom, the spymaster for the crown. Most of the characters do not make their association with the Duke widely known, while some are directly in the employ or service of the Duke under other circumstances. The campaign world was based on the land I created for my second short story sale, ‘Marching to King Death’s Drum’ but set more than a hundred years after.
I used these characters for two scenarios.
The first scenario involved them protecting the King from assassins hired from outside the kingdom. The assassins were zealous cultists who were part of a death cult, who would die rather than be captured and took their own lives when thwarted.
The second scenario involved a plot to release the demonic forces held beyond the Last Gates in the Shadowed Land of the dead. Twisted magical forces were at work in the mortal world caused by disruptions in the land of the dead, and the characters had to travel there, battle the forces at work, release King Death and return before the conjunction was over or else they would be trapped there forever. While there, they met the two main characters from the story above, who were now numbered among the guardians of the Last Gates.
Age: 25 years Common
Height: 5′ 11″
Weight: 155 lbs.
Hair: Black, straight, long, tied in a knot at the neck
Other: Tasant’s Symbol (black bird over light blue circle)
Public History: Andrianna is a minor priestess of Tasant, a minor goddesses in the officially recognized pantheon of the kingdom. Tasant is the goddess of birds and all other flying things, and, most importantly, of archery. Andrianna’s position in the temple hierarchy consists of training the temple levies in archery, as well as having a minor role in assisting in the temple ceremonies. She has acquired a reputation as one of the finest archers in the kingdom, and regularly defends that reputation at the quarterly games.
Andrianna’s parents were killed in a Norotai border raid when she was two, and she was placed in an orphanage because she had no other close relatives. The orphanage was run by the religious orders of the major female deities, and so she was introduced to the priestesshood early in her life. She decided to become a priestess at the age of nine, choosing Tasant because she began to develop her skill with a bow at the same time.
She continued to excel with the bow until she gained the attention of the Duke Echarris. Using his influence with the temples, he arranged to have her transferred to the Grand Temple in the capital, making her available for missions of state.
Private History: Because of her low birth, Andrianna was restricted to entering only the priesthood of the minor deities. She had attempted to join the priesthood of Keris, Queen of Stars, the principal female deity of the pantheon, but was refused because entry into Keris’ service is (unofficially) restricted only to the nobility. She has not forgotten that slight, and thus is very formal and cool towards all priestesses of Keris.
As a priestess of Tasant, Andrianna has had training in some of the minor magics of the priesthood, although her focus on archery allows little time for further study. She plans on devoting more time to the priesthood and qualifying as a full priestess when she retires her bow. A specialty of the priesthood is use of Levitate magic to allow its priests to fly, a spell Andrianna has learned, as well as use of some of the more obscure magics that deal with birds, such as the spell Bird Speech.
Being a priestess of Tasant, Andrianna is forbidden to hunt birds or eat their flesh or eggs. Special dispensation is permitted for the meat or eggs of birds that do not fly, such as chickens, but only after its ritual purification. She also may never use her archery knowingly for evil purposes.
Personality: Andrianna is tight‐lipped and conservative, cautious to an extreme, yet straightforward and unyielding when her mind is made up. A dismissing glance at someone, then quickly away, is, for her, speaking a volume. She has the nervous habit of running her left hand through her hair, which is usually draped over her left shoulder. Those who know her recognize that as a sign that she is worried and indecisive, not knowing which way to turn, which decision to make, when Andrianna is at her most dangerous.
Relations: Physically and psychologically she is the opposite of Tameron, being darkness to her light. Despite their differences, she respects Tameron, appreciating Tameron’s exuberant personality, and the two, while not being close, are good friends. Andrianna finds Thalaestros’ studied atheism both disquieting and slightly amusing, and maintains a carefully guarded neutrality towards him. She finds Mathi a mystery, and is somewhat in awe of his great strength and gentleness. She finds the twins Vargos and Dargan too grim and too flippant, respectively, but is comfortable in their presence.
Age: 29 years Common
Height: 6′ 2″
Weight: 202 lbs.
Hair: Blonde, long, pulled back in a braid
Skin: Dark Tan
Other: Long, curling blonde mustache, short beard
Public History: Dargan is the younger (by two minutes) fraternal twin of Vargos. Their parents were trusted stewards of Duke Echarris’ family castle in the Raylwood province, and so were trained by the Duke’s family’s own tutors, along with the Duke’s family. Their rapid progress attracted the attention of the old Duke himself. He saw to their advanced training, once their talents and abilities became known. Once when they had finished their training, when they became members of the household of Duke Echarris.
Dargan was introduced to court at the relatively early age of seventeen, and quickly became a visible (and trend‐setting) figure among the younger nobility and their hangers‐on. He stays away from court politics, relying on his relationship with the Duke to divert most others’ campaigns against him, preferring to enjoy the care‐free life of court while he can.
Dargan has very few equals in the use of a sword in the kingdom, although he is always willing to put that skill to the test. He will fight according to the rules of the setting: to the death if necessary by whatever means necessary in the back alleyways of the docks, or to first blood and honor according to the cultured dueling rules at the Court.
Private History: The Duke himself, as well as a dozen other weapons masters, all combined to teach Dargan everything when they knew of swordplay. From them he has learned to use several weapons, but his favorite has remained the saber. It was during this time that he fully learned to be his own individual, and not to be dependant on the presence of his brother.
Dargan had a tragic love affair with Naliss, daughter of the ambassador from the Kerdish Isles. In spite of his cultured diffidence, he fell madly in love with her, only to have her refuse his advances. No matter what he did, she would not even acknowledge him, and finally, when she and her father returned home, he tried to follow, only to be thrown off the ship in the middle of the bay and forced to swim back to shore. Ever since then, he has remained cold and distant towards every woman he meets.
Personality: Vargos and Dargan are known as “Night and Day”, because of their widely different personalities. Dargan is bright, cheerful, dashing, and courtly, except when in combat, when he is coldly calculating. He is always laughing and joking, trying especially to make his grim brother laugh. He presents the perfect picture of the laughing cavalier, in usually dressed in dashing court garb, the fancier and brighter, the better.
Dargan does not respect anyone except for his brother and those his brother respects, which are very few. That few includes the Duke Echarris and the ones the Duke has chosen as his agents. Those others that cross his path he will ignore or treat with scorn, as the occasion demands.
Relations: As expected, there is a bond between Dargan and his brother, and the two are most at their ease in each other’s presence. Dargan is respectful towards Thalaestros, because of the power of magic at his command, and at the legend surrounding his past. He treats Mathi as a boon drinking companion, taking him whenever he and his brother Vargos spend an occasional evening carousing among the taverns of the shipping quarter. He is cool, almost indifferent towards Tameron and Andrianna, remembering his earlier love affair, and not wanting to repeat it, although he will defend them to the death if necessary.
Notes: Dargan has the nervous habit of twirling his mustache when deep in thought, and chewing on the ends when pensive.
Age: 28 years Common
Height: 5′ 2″
Weight: 110 lbs.
Hair: Sandy brown, medium length
Public History: Generally, an established bard can find themselves a position in almost any location, at almost any level of society, whether it be the glittering royal court or the rough inns of the countryside. However, there are the rare few who hear the calling of the road and answer that call.
Jervon’s father was one such bard. Kellat Silvertongue wandered the length and breadth of the land many times during his lifetime. Jervon accompanied his father in his father’s later years and learned his trade at his side. Now Jervon, like his late father, is known throughout the kingdom (and farther). He wanders the land, too, singing his songs and meeting friends old and new, but only rarely these days, spending most of his time among the various social levels of the capital city.
Kellat was the one who composed the original song about Thalaestros’ contest against a powerful demon, and the song still remains one of Jervon’s most requested songs to this day.
Private History: What is not known about Jervon is that he is an assassin as well a bard. That was his father’s real profession, and his father’s before him (a family tradition.) Duke Echarris has called upon his skills several times in the past, and will probably do so in the future. The wandering career of a bard is a perfect cover for such a practice, being a profession that can go almost anywhere and gain entrance to almost any level of society.
Aside from that, Jervon is also a very useful eye and ear throughout the kingdom for the Duke. The Duke and Jervon are careful to keep their relationship a secret known only to a few, and the fact of Jervon’s second career is known only to the two of them.
Personality: Jervon is a very outgoing and personable individual; always quick with a tale or a song. His grandiloquence and expansive manners endear him to almost everyone he meets, and he has a number of friends and acquaintances almost everywhere he goes. He will often act as a peacemaker should his friends get into trouble. When challenged, he will insult and deride his opponent(s), making them appear to be foolish; his resemblance to a small yapping terrier is most pronounced at these times. All of this braggadocio covers his deep fear of fighting.
He really loves his ‘cover’ profession, and infrequently wishes that he could devote the rest of his life to it, but lacks the will power to go against the family tradition. He prefers to think of his real profession as a necessary evil, rationalizing that if someone has to be assassinated, then it should be by someone who does not take any special pleasure from it.
Relations: Jervon is not well known to the other agents of Duke Echarris except by reputation; likewise, he does not know many of them and relies on first impressions to guide him. Mathi he finds imposing, Tameron amusing, Dargan a possible conflict, Vargos a kindred spirit, Andrianna a blank, and, lastly, Thalaestros possibly threatening as being the only person he considers intelligent enough to divine his hidden profession.
Equipment: The Catsclaws are a set of gloves with hidden knife blades in the fingertips which can be extended or retracted from the tips by flexing the fingers, much like a cat’s claws, and are coated with a pair of different sleeping drugs. The Cat‐scratch poison is composed of both drugs mixed together. The Razorwhip is a short, wide, extremely sharp knifeblade attached to a very resilient cord, spring, and pulley arrangement, usually concealed on the underside of the right arm. It is used by flipping the right arm forward, releasing the blade, which springs out towards the target and then retracts against the arm when the arm has stopped.
Notes: Jervon is very “fussy” about his voice, and will complain loudly in intemperate weather about colds and worse. He also suffers from a runny nose and a cough in such circumstances. He always carries a pouch of herbs from which he will brew a tea to help his sore throat; other herbs in the pouch can be used to brew a variety of poisons, as well. Jervon does not drink alcohol under any circumstances.
Age: 23 years Common
Height: 6′ 10″
Weight: 285 lbs.
Hair: Brown, straight, down to his shoulders
Skin: Medium Tan
Other: Slave brand on left shoulder
Public History: Mathi is an imposing figure of a man, though some say (but not within his hearing) that his heritage is not entirely human. Standing a head above almost everyone else, and broader by half than most, he stands out in any crowd.
Mathi is a member of the household of Duke Echarris. He was bought as a slave by an agent of the Duke in a far‐off land, then made a part of the Duke’s household when he landed in Na’rheth. When not serving as an agent for the Duke, Mathi is bodyguard and one of the trainers of the Duke’s children. He is silent about any part of his past history or family.
Private History: What Mathi does not tell of his past is this: he is the second son of Price Domaris of Ek’warith, although rumors abounded after his birth that his mother, Princess Asart, who died at childbirth, had lain with a demi‐god and conceived him. Those rumors are partly true. His full name, Maithoniway, means “favored by the gods” in the Elder Tongue of his native lands, and he still worships his native deities.
Unfortunately, the “favored of the gods” also could be termed the “cursed of the gods”. Mathi has been the bane of almost everyone close to him. First his family, starting with his mother dying at childbirth, through his older brother Shallis whom he killed in a fit of anger, to his father, who had to banish his only other son for the crime of murder, then to his companions on his travels who always seemed to encounter runs of bad luck, and finally to the pirates he joined, only to have his mistake lead to the entire band being captured and sold into slavery, those that escaped the noose. For obvious reasons, then, Mathi is loathe to make any lasting friendships or relationships.
Personality: Despite his size and strength, or perhaps because of it, Mathi is surprisingly gentle and courteous. He is very soft‐spoken, and never talks about his past or his parents. Contrary to appearances, however, Mathi is not dumb or foolish, although he will act so at times to confuse or trick enemies. He still remembers the fit of rage that his brother goaded him into, and also its result, and tries continuously to hold his anger in check.
Mathi is proficient with his preferred weapon, the great axe, and refuses to use any of the more conventional or accepted weapons of the nation. He is also experienced in hand‐to‐hand combat, particularly wrestling.
Relations: Mathi has a secret crush on Tameron, although his faith considers the Elven race to be of demonic origin (untrue). He enjoys the company of Dargan and Vargos, especially for a night’s carousing, finding it easy to avoid fights and brawls by simply standing up. Since Mathi is from a relatively magic‐poor area of the world, he has not had the exposure to great sorcery that is common to this country, and so regards magic and its practitioners like Thalaestros with awe. He is uncomfortable around Andrianna, finding her silence that mirrors his own disquieting.
Shandar of Eastdelve
Age: 22 years Common
Height: 5′ 5″
Weight: 97 lbs.
Hair: Black, cut short
Other: Medallion: Gold eight‐sided star inside a red circle
Public History: Shandar is a warrior of the Guardians of the Gate sect of the Way of the Circle, a philosophical system of faith whose followers were granted permission to settle in Na’rheth, mainly because Circle teachers are very well educated and much in demand among the nobility. The sect teaches that upon death their best warriors will be granted the honor of guarding the gates of the Land of the Dead in the Shadowed Land, protecting the living world from the demons that are bound within. Thus Shandar has worked ceaselessly in becoming the finest warrior possible.
Other than that, there is very little to know about Shandar except what Shandar’s accent and personality allow. Born in the Human quarter of the Dwarven tradetown of Eastdelve, worked as apprentice in a variety of different trades (as is the Dwarven custom until a profession is selected) until the age of sixteen, then followed a warrior of the Guardians of the Gate, becoming the warrior’s apprentice, and, finally a true warrior of the sect.
Private History: Shandar has a secret: Shandar is really a woman. Since women in the tradetown would not normally achieve any great status, her father and mother conspired to hide her sex and were surprisingly successful at the endeavor. However, Shandar herself felt constricted by the demands of her parents and followed the first escape she found. She has found that she likes her accidental profession, and always seeks to improve her standing and ability within the sect.
The warrior she followed was known as the Dragon of the Gate, one of the most famous (although she didn’t know it at the time) warriors of the sect, who took a liking to the serious and studious apprentice for reasons of his own. Not surprisingly, the sect does not normally take women, so her disguise helped her even there. The Dragon found out early on that she was a woman, but had been impressed with her drive that he kept her as his apprentice. Other members of the sect, however, are not as broad‐minded. It is customary for members of the sect to take on the name of a mythical or magical creature when reaching the full potential of their power; Shandar is years away from achieving this goal but has already selected the Firecat, a half‐mythical beast, for her name.
She first met Duke Echarris when fighting in a tournament during the Harvest Games. He was intrigued by her particularly non‐violent fighting nature and, after some investigation, offered her a position as one of his retainers. She accepted a position for a short duration, found that it did not conflict with her primary goals of becoming a better warrior, and has decided to stay for a longer period.
Personality: Shandar is quietly observant, especially of any form of combat, and hopes someday not only to be acclaimed as a master, but to teach as well. Part of the teaching of the sect is that all of life is a game where the players do not nor can ever know the rules. As such, Shandar is fascinated with games of chance and skill and participates in them regularly.
Relations: Shandar is the newest of Duke Echarris’ agents and has not had the chance to meet any of them or make any lasting friends or acquaintances among their number.
Tameron the Golden
Age: 25 years Common
Height: 5′ 9″
Weight: 105 lbs.
Hair: Red‐gold, curly, loose down to her shoulders
Eyes: Gold, slanted
Other: Pointed ears
Public History: Tameron is descended from an Elven family who became rich through the breeding of horses for the military. Five generations ago the family moved to Na’rheth to be closer to the center of power. Since that time the family has fallen on hard times because of poor political alliances, which led to severe financial reverses, and generation by generation, made its way down the social strata, until the last generation finally wound up on the streets, from which Tameron has emerged to make her fortune.
Tameron makes her living collecting and selling information, always for a price. She has a reputation for being reasonably honest: once paid, she will fulfill her part of a bargain. She is also not above a little burglary or pocket‐picking to supplement her income.
Private History: Her parents sold her to a street gang when she was 13. Among her other duties for the gang, she was repeatedly used and abused by the gang members. She received a rough education of the streets, and she proved to be a quick learner. She broke free from the gang after two years, physically and mentally toughened, but emotionally scarred.
When she finally broke with the gang, Tameron managed to apprentice herself to a hedge‐wizard. This relationship protected her from the gang, and allowed her to learn some magic. She became interested in spells that control the mind, and so specialized in this subject above and beyond her familiarity with magic. She also has learned a few of the simpler spells of this category.
She met the Duke Echarris when, on a dare, Tameron impersonated an Elven noble woman, infiltrated a masked ball which he attended, and picked his pocket while she danced with him. Since the dare didn’t mention anything about keeping what she stole, she then returned it. The Duke was impressed and intrigued by her brazen and carefree manner, and arranged a meeting with her for the next day. She turned the tables on the Duke again by appearing inside his carriage after he gave up waiting for her and left. The Duke laughed and offered Tameron a deal where she would assist him whenever he needed her talents, and he would do likewise for her as much as his office and contacts would allow, which she accepted.
Personality: Tameron is a classic fiery‐tempered red‐head. She is impulsive, daring, and supremely self‐confident. However, she secretly feels the need to prove herself better than any one she encounters or competes with, especially in her chosen profession. Very few men, or anyone else, for that matter, have earned her respect.
Her childhood has left her deeply insecure about trusting others, which led to her interest in domination spells. If she has one fault, it is that she places too much trust in these spells, and prefers to use them in place of making lasting friendships.
When it comes to matters of faith, Tameron is not so much religious as superstitious: she pays homage to a half‐dozen half‐forgotten deities, all connected in some small way with spying or stealing. She will do strange or obscure things to honor these gods: not stealing on certain days, wearing red or green ribbons around her ankles, etc. Despite her faith, she receives no benefit from this activity. She will also have in her possession several (worthless) good luck charms (small metal trinkets, unusual‐colored stones, and bundles of feathers, among other things), and, while not gullible, will purchase or otherwise obtain others on occasion.
Relations: Curiously, perhaps because of their total dissimilarity, she has the best relationship with Andrianna. Tameron knows that the conservative Andrianna will never compete with her in any way, and so feels the most comfortable around her. She tolerates Vargos and Mathi, knowing that neither is not directly in any competition with her. She is neutral towards Thalaestros, seeing his mastery of magic as both a possible threat towards and an assistance to her. She does not respect Dargan, with his studied indifference towards women (her included, which annoys her), considering him an ineffectual court dandy while ignoring his considerable fighting expertise.
Thalaestros the Mage
Age: 52 years Common
Height: 5′ 9″
Weight: 175 lbs.
Hair: Brown, balding
Eyes: Blue (left) / Brown (right)
Skin: Light Brown, wrinkling
Other: Limp, 3 parallel scars diagonal (r‐l) on forehead
Public History: Among his nomadic people, mis‐matched eye colors are the mark of either a madman, or a great magician. Thalaestros is the latter. He was apprenticed at an early age to the legendary wizard Balost, and has spent his life learning magic, finally being accepted as a senior member in the Royal League of the Arcane at the relatively youthful age of 40. He is respected as an excellent teacher and researcher, yet he, unlike many of his fellows, will break from his teaching and researches to aid the Black Duke as one of his agents.
That is because he owes his life to Duke Echarris, a tale neither will relate, and works to repay that debt with life‐long service. The Duke, on his part, calls on his services only when they are needed the most. Part of that tale, so it is whispered by apprentices of the League, concerns the scars on his face and the twisted left foot that forces Thalaestros to limp, clutching his wizard’s staff as he walks. Thalaestros refuses to explain, and ignores any questions about them.
In addition, Thalaestros is widely known as “The Demon‐warder”, part of a tale often sung by bards throughout the land. When he was only a journeyman, Thalaestros defeated what he thought was only a minor demon, saving the life of the father of the Queen. For that act he rewarded with a Royal patent of Baronet (the lowest noble rank), although he rarely uses the title, and it has no lands or income associated with it, which would only have had to be turned over to the League, anyway.
Private History: The debt he owes Duke Echarris is indeed his life. When Vorpatris, a wizard enemy of Duke Echarris, sent the spirit of the Duchess Echarris to wander the Shadowed Land of the Dead, the Duke and Thalaestros sent their own spirits into that fearsome land to retrieve her. Thalaestros was early into his journeymanship at this time, and was almost lost, but returned to the land of the living with the assistance of Duke Echarris. He then recognized a life‐debt to the Duke, a debt which he can only repay by continual service until the death of one or the other.
Personality: Thalaestros gives the appearance of being a querulous, crotchety, slightly befuddled old man, but underneath it all is an intelligent, inquiring, and inquisitive mind. He is possessed of a wry sense of humor, given to complicated puns in multiple languages and archaic references.
Thalaestros is also an atheist, and has little respect for most religions and priests in general, a position different than from the rest of the League, many of whom are followers or priests of Dom the far‐seeing. “The gods that Man makes for himself,” he has been known to mutter at times. This position, though not officially stated, is probably the reason for Thalaestros not being selected to sit on the official Council of the League. The only god or power he recognizes is King Death, the ruler and sole power of the Shadowed Land.
Relations: Of the others of Duke Echarris’s agents, he is closest to Vargos, recognizing a dedication to healing that parallels his own dedication to magic. He is constantly amused by Tameron’s superstitions, and has at times revealed to her forgotten or far‐off gods just to see whether she would take up their worship. He considers Dargan to be dangerously unstable and violent, and Mathi to be too somber and cheerless. Andrianna has earned his respect, at least by her application of the magics she has learned as a priestess of Tasant.
Vargos the Healer
Age: 29 years Common
Height: 6′ 0″
Weight: 175 lbs.
Hair: Dark brown, straight, cut short
Skin: Light Tan
Other: Healer’s badge (green hand on white circle)
Public History: Vargos is the older (by two minutes) fraternal twin of Dargan. Their parents were trusted stewards of Duke Echarris’ family castle in the Raylwood province, and so were trained by the Duke’s family’s own tutors, along with the Duke’s family. Their rapid progress attracted the attention of the father of the Duke himself. He saw to their advanced training, once their talents and abilities became known. Once they had finished their training, they became formal members of the household of Duke Echarris.
Vargos was trained by the priesthood of Kez, healer of the gods. Although he is not a formal priest of that order, he follows many of the precepts of that faith. He has been accepted as the personal physician of the royal court, and so maintains a practice among the nobility. Having to treat a number of foreign ambassadors at court, Vargos has found that he has a skill with languages and is fluent in three other tongues than his own.
Private History: The period of Vargos’s training was the only time in his life that Vargos was separated from his twin brother. During that period he discovered the talents within himself that have made him a Healer. It was during this time that he fully learned to be his own individual, and not to be dependant on the presence of his brother.
Vargos believes that he is the only person besides Thalaestros and Duke Echarris who knows what debt Thalaestros owes the Duke, and why Thalaestros limps to this day. He found this out by piecing together stories and obscure references they would use when they spoke about old times. Vargos is sure that Thalaestros does not know that he knows, although he suspects the Duke of knowing. The Duke is like that.
The debt Thalaestros owes Duke Echarris is his life. When Vorpatris, a wizard enemy of Duke Echarris, sent the spirit of the Duchess Echarris to wander the Shadowed Land of the Dead, Duke Echarris and Thalaestros sent their own spirits into that fearsome land to retrieve her. Thalaestros was early into his journeymanship, and was almost lost, but returned to the land of the living with the assistance of Duke Echarris. Thalaestros then recognized a life‐debt to the Duke, a debt which he can only repay by continual service until the death of one or the other.
Personality: Vargos and Dargan are known as “Night and Day”, because of their widely different personalities. Vargos is dark, sober, almost grim in his stoic silence, passive except when protecting himself or his patients. He rarely laughs or makes jokes, which amuses his brother Dargan, who tries to make him laugh. Vargos will, however, sometimes accompany his brother and Mathi on their nocturnal carousing, not truly taking part in them, but still enjoying a measure of release from his duties and responsibilities.
Vargos is bound by his oaths as a Healer not to refuse aid to anyone who seeks his help. Refusing to aid someone who requests it, even an enemy, could result in the temporary or permanent loss of his healing talents. He is also pacifistic, rarely fighting except to defend one of his charges or one unable to defend themselves. He relies on his brother Dargan to do the fighting for the both of them, and Dargan is quite capable of fighting for two.
Relations: As expected, there is a bond between Vargos and his brother, and the two are most at their ease in each other’s presence. Vargos also respects Thalaestros’ command of magic, Andrianna’s skill and devotion to her goddess, and Mathi’s quiet strength and gentleness. He at times worries about Tameron, seeing her brash and confident personality as hiding a terrible and painful secret, and wants to help and heal her, but will never do so unless she asks first.