Thursday, December 25, 2008

Background: Ainsley Anklam, Rifts

To help keep things from getting stale around here, I'm going to post a few roleplaying character background stories. Don't worry, I won't be offended if you don't want to read them. I figure a lot of people out there are about as interested in my character stories as I am in stories about sports games (that is to say, not at all).

The story of Ainsley Anklam -- a Temporal Wizard in a Rifts game that I played for a few months -- seems like a good place to start. It doesn't have very many gaming terms at all in it, it's short, and it's a demonstration of how I use character backgrounds as a way to experiment with different narrative styles and voices. I would never write anything of any serious length from first person with such a casual tone, but it works for a background. It helps me cement the character in my mind, and it gives the gamemaster a good idea of what he can expect from me.

Rifts is a post-apocalyptic fantasy/sci-fi game that takes place in a future Earth with magic, monsters, robots, all sorts of crazy stuff. Rifts are magical portals that stuff can travel through. DeeBee is slang for Dimensional Being (any species not originally from Earth). Other than that, I think I kept the terminology at a minimum. So, Merry Christmas, and if you know someone who might like to read this, feel free to re-gift by giving them a link ;)

My Daddy was a grifter. We were always on the move and he was always doing little things to get stuff for free. Free meals, free lodging, free money. Sometimes it was honest stuff, play up on peoples’ sympathies and they’ll help you out of the kindness of their hearts, but most of the time it was straight-up scam artistry. I helped a lot. After all, what better to set people at ease than a cute little red-headed girl with a smattering of freckles? It varied whether I was an actual participant in his grift, or just an adorable presence at his elbow, smiling at the mark.
Sure, I remember a lot of the ploys we used to use - but I sure ain’t gonna tell you. Trade secret, you know.
Daddy had a lot of good words for advice. He’d tell me things like “Honesty is a virtue in other people and a weakness in yourself” and “Look both ways before crossing the street” and “Never eat expired ham.” But his favorite thing to say, above all else, was “You can’t con the con man.”
He should have listened to his own advice. He always thought that it meant that no one could con him and he never stopped to think that maybe he should be careful to make sure he wasn’t trying to pull one over on someone even trickier than him. One day he tried to pull off a huge scheme on some other guy. I don’t even know what he was doing, or how he messed it up, or what the terms were, but apparently it was some sort of bet that he lost, and I was the wager.
So that’s how I found myself, at the age of 10, as the property of some ugly whatsit who liked to be-bop around in time and space. No kidding.
I went from assisting one con to assisting another, but my master wasn’t a small-timer like Daddy. He did big jobs. Sometimes he tricked people out of stuff, but mostly he just took it. I learned a lot from watching him, ways to distract people and then just pick something up when they weren’t looking. Fun stuff. He taught me some important stuff, too, like how to speak a couple languages and even read Euro, and how to do math.
When I got old enough, he taught me all kinds of skills that he found it helpful for me to have. Every now and then, he’d steal something big, like a vehicle, and we’d need to break it down to parts. Then we’d have to find buyers. Mostly the boss-man would do that, but sometimes he’d let me tag along. I got to know a thing or two about buying and selling and being sly about it. One day he caught me palming, and gave me some exercises that would teach me how to “do it right.” He also gave me some locks to play with. Daddy would’ve been proud, I think.
Sometimes, when he didn’t want to travel ‘round with his magic, he’d let me drive. I got pretty good with cars and hovers; anything else he’d pilot himself. Just because I crashed that one tank into a building in the middle of our great getaway...
Things weren’t too bad with him, all told. Sure, he wasn’t loving like Daddy, and he had this bad habit of wanting to be all “mysterious” - bastard never even told me his name, so I started thinking of him as “Big Ugly,” though I always called him Boss or Master. He liked that. Anyway, he took pretty good care of me. There was always food, and decent clothes, and when I was 12 he gave me my first gun. He did keep me pretty busy with chores around his “lair” (ok, so it was a nice apartment, but lair sounds more impressive), and sometimes helping with jobs.
Wasn’t until I was 15 that I realized that he’d actually wanted me for something more than housework - ugh, no, not like that you pervert. Truth be told I don’t even know if he was a he. But anyway, I was about 15 when he really took me on as an apprentice. Started teaching me about space and time and magic, and how to bend it all to my will. I’d never thought that I’d ever have a chance at that kind of power, so I latched right onto it before it could get away.
Dunno if I was a good student or not, but Big Ugly seemed happy enough with my progress. He started letting me help with the big jobs, and a couple of times he even let me do a job all by myself. I got really good at getting things, one way or another. Of course, even if I actually purchased things, they were things that someone else had stolen, and I bought them with money we had stolen. Or made by selling stolen goods. I doubt I ever handled clean money during my ‘prenticehood, but that’s ok.
We traveled around a lot, but even more once I started learning magic. All over Europe and into Asia and over to America and down into Mexico once. Of course, our travel wasn’t just limited to this world - we went to some others, too. I traveled through rifts and portals, and learned that I had a knack for reading them, which came in pretty handy. I met all kinds of DeeBees and fought a few monsters and stole stuff that I had no idea what it was. Most of it was for jobs, but sometimes it was just sitting there and I’d take it. Hell, it’s hard not to do that when you can.
We passed a little over a year like that, til one day Big Ugly said that if I wanted to work with him any longer, we’d have to strike up a new bargain. Turned out he and Daddy had struck the original bargain without consulting me, so I guess my father had some idea what he was getting me into at the time. Suppose I should be grateful, then, it was definitely a better opportunity than I’d have gotten otherwise. Anyway, I didn’t like the sounds of the bargain he wanted me to agree to, so I set off on my own.
I have to give Big Ugly one thing, he didn’t just boot me out with nothing. Couple guns, lotsa credits, some gold and gems, everything I needed to start up a new life. My share of the take from the past few years, he said. I couldn’t argue with that. He even dropped me off back in England, which was mighty nice of him. I wasn’t sure if that was where I wanted to be, of course, but I couldn’t think of anywhere else to go.
I spent a bit of time doing my own thing, living off my wealth and enjoying being lazy before I got bored. I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do with myself, so I started keeping an ear and an eye out for jobs. That was when I found Phinny’s want ad...

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