I thought I would talk a bit about the Koln campaign.
Back in the 80s, my friend Caius ran a campaign on his homebrew world that included a significant NPC by the name of William von Koln. (This was, by the way, the campaign in which I ran my favourite character, the name of which eventually became my internet alias).
Koln arrived on the scene on the very first session, and stayed with the party more or less throughout the run of the campaign. There was a period when Caius and one of the other people in our group were switching off as DM from time to time, so from time to time Koln was run as a PC, but he never really lost that NPC feel, and most of the significant events for Koln occurred off-screen.
Koln was a half-orc fighter who could pass for human. He had been dispossessed of his birthright, and his major motivation was a desire to reclaim it. I can’t remember exactly what his birthright was, if I ever knew, but I think he overshot the mark to an degree, because he ended up conquering the entire of alternate-universe Germany.
The campaign was a long time ago, and I have forgotten most of it, but we must have played White Plume Mountain at some point, because Koln ended up with the soul-sucking sword Blackrazor. This was a big point of contention between Koln and my character, Beoric, because Beoric objected to the use of the weapon for that purpose, and where and when Koln used the sword drove a lot of the interaction between the characters. Koln and Beoric were friends and allies, and Beoric often struggled with Koln’s amorality.
Koln always wore green plate and a horned helm, and had an aspect of the wild hunt about him. When he was a PC, the other DM gave him the ability to shapeshift into a wolf, for what reason I have never been clear.
I think Beoric started out as a houseruled ranger/thief. The thief component was added because in those days (the campaign started around 1984) it was the only way your woodsy ranger could stalk prey or climb a tree. He was a half-elf because only non-humans could multiclass. What I really wanted was to make him a gish, and Caius eventually made a houserule for adding classes which worked reasonably well, so I added magic-user (that’s “wizard” to you young ’uns) to the class mix.
We travelled with Donovan, a duelist who eventually multi-classed to duelist/assassin; Richard Kaylen, a fairly combat focussed cleric; and Raymond, an irascible old magic-user. There may also have been a paladin or paramandir called Edmund Radon, and a crazy cleric named Baltor, in the party; I can’t remember if they were from that campaign or another.
Anyway, after Caius had played a few sessions as Gaius Cannith, and started to get used to the fourth edition system, he asked if we could reboot Koln, in Eberron, as a full PC. Oh, and could he please have a dragonmark. I agreed, because I thought it would be fun to run a campaign where I already knew the PC very well and could easily predict his choices (and therefore avoid a lot of wasted prep).
So this is what I had to work with. I knew Koln was a half-orc, and that he had been dispossessed of his birthright. He needed a dragonmark, which was by default the mark of finding, which meant he was connected to House Tharashk. Oh, before I go on…
CAUTION: Spoiler warning! Use your mouse and click and drag over the block of gray to reveal the spoiler.
As a member of House Tharashk, the easiest way for Koln to be dispossessed is for him, or his parent, to be excoriated from the House. But that did not fit with a big part of Koln’s story, which is that he reclaimed his birthright by force of arms. So I conceived of a backstory to allow for that.
Koln’s mother fell in love with a member of the Karrnathi aristocracy. Under the Korth edicts, she had to give up her membership in the House in order to marry him. Koln was conceived during the engagement, but his father broke off the engagement before Koln was born. As a result, Koln was dispossessed of two birthrights, his noble title and as an heir of House Tharashk. Since he can’t have both, he will eventually have to choose between them.
This fits with my general approach to running a campaign for Koln. Koln’s alignment was neutral, but he tended to move back and forth between good acts (he was loyal and trustworthy) and evil acts (like using Blackrazor). Since as an NPC he didn’t have to face a lot of tough choices, as a PC I want to really stress the tension between the differing aspects of Koln’s personality, and his conflicting desires.
For example, there is a conflict between Koln’s desire to be a leader of men (which he can pursue if he chooses his aristocratic heritage), and his affinity with nature and the hunt (which is strongly associated with House Tharashk). Likewise, I have given him two weapons, one of which is a soul-sucking equivalent to Blackrazor, the other of which is the opposite.
I also wanted Koln to have to face the sorts of choices that he did not previously face, either because (a) he was an NPC, or (b) we were playing this in our teens. More than 30 years later, I want the reboot to have a level of nuance and sophistication that we were not capable of back then.
So I gave Koln a family. Moreover, I spent considerable effort in characterizing his family members, and gave them a big role in his life. I mean, the bulk of his motivation is related to his birthright, so shouldn’t family be important?
Nor are they just McGuffins; most of them have a significant role to play in many of the encounters. I have really enjoyed the interaction between Koln and his little sister, as well as Koln and his mother. The scene where Koln’s mother’s secret was finally revealed to him was particularly poignant.
Assuming Koln ever makes it to Karrnath, I am really looking forward to him meeting his father. Whom he will eventually learn is now a vampire, with no intention of ever giving up his title to Koln.
I have had to make significant changes to Beoric, now that he is not a protagonist. Previously, Beoric’s defining characteristic was leadership, and I can hardly having him drawing up battle plans for Koln, or directing him in combat. The result is that he is a lot less earnest than the original incarnation, since he needs to be fairly relaxed about letting Koln take command. In terms of class, it is much easier to get what I want in 4e than is was in 1e, as a result of which he is now a Cunning Bard, on his way to becoming a Resourceful Magician.