Sunday 19 March 2023

The Failed Careers of Tetragrammatown - or - Failed Careers as Worldbuilding

Failed Careers are great. PC's get a random failed career at character creation along with the items someone of that career would have possessed. It doesn't need to be said that they are wonderful mediums for implied world-building that immediately involve and inform players in and about the world.  

When making failed career tables, I try to keep two things in mind. First, I try not to make the careers so specific that a player cannot immediately grasp the concept - take ownership of, or define the career themselves. The world, however weird should be understandable and implied only, if a concept is too weird or requires too much meta-knowledge to understand it shouldn't be available as a failed career for your players. Secondly, making the weapon and item as interesting as possible. To play fast and loose with the definition of 'weapon' and 'item' - something a player wouldn't pick for their character off of an equipment list, something that isn't even on a equipment list. Interesting - as in strangely useful, producing new or odd situations - something that can be used for more than its intended purpose or even providing a narrative, character or adventure hook. You can fit a lot of flavour into [name], [weapon], [item].  

While demographically unsound failed career tables can make for useful encounter tables. I like an exploding-d4 to determine numbers of an encountered career. 

Below is an example failed career list for a city called Tetragrammatown. Read it and you will get a good feel for the setting via failed careers only. 

Failed Careers of Tetragrammatown

Roll 2d8 (d88) to determine your character's backstory. The format is; [Failed Career/Backstory Name], [Weapon], [Item(s)]

11. Whipping-Boy, whip, a wooden sign listing the ways you've been a naught boy/girl.
12. Trench-Brother, sharpened shovel (as axe), permanently muddy military uniform.
13. Dare-to-Die Duellist, pistol with no bullets, black coat with white 'duel me' painted on it.
14. Riot Police, tear-gas grenade, plastic see-through shield.
15. Reluctant Zealot, cat o' nine tails, prescription rage-juice.
16. Living-Book, tattooing needle, an entire book tattooed onto body.
17. Satirist/Polemicist, razor sharp wit (0 damage), head and arms locked in a pillory/stocks.
18. Faerie-Realm Polluter, oil drum full of chemical by-products, map of local fairy rings.

21. Elf-Hater, elf-basher (as club), 'hate' and 'elfs' tattooed on knuckles.
22. Puddle-Prophet, lead rod, electric pouring crucible.
23. Vehicularist, a pike (to prod people out of your way), a slow and primitive iron car.
24. Amateur Aeronaut, a helmet with a big spike on the top, a heavy wood and canvas gliding-suit.
25. Natural Philosopher, poisonous bug/plant/element (single use), specialist's tools.
26. Gruel-Giver, heavy ladle, keg of gruel (20 rations).
27. Noir Detective, twin knuckle-dusters, chainmail-lined trenchcoat (+2 AC)
28. Gladiatorial Vampire-Baiter, wooden stake gauntlets, wooden plate armour painted with crucifixes (+3 AC).

31. Veteran-Brother, beam-rifle in a locked box (no key), a pocketful of medals.
32. Clerical Assassin (official), crucifix with concealed dagger, mitre hat with pistol stitched inside.
33. Clerical Assassin (unofficial), poisoned needle, shabby imitation vestments.
34. Most-Wanted Warlock, pet anaconda, edgy eldritch tattoos.
35. Ratman Exterminator, rat-poison, vicious tunnel dog.
36. Puritan-Procuress, spanking-paddle, trunk of spare puritan clothing.
37. Puritan-Bothering Pacifist Revolutionary, fruity trombone, book of jokes.
38. Dissolute Paladin, bejewelled knightly longsword, plastic bag full of laughing gas canisters and naughty printing-press pamphlets.

41. Demon-Fumigator, hand-pump sprayer, holy-water.
42. Arms Smuggler, pocket-rocket, fistful of solid rocket-fuel.
43. Prostitute Gangster, switchblade, fish-net stockings.
44. Old-Town Rioter, bag of bricks, knitted balaclava.
45. Wicked Noble, thumbscrew, flamboyant feather hat.
46. Atomic Fisherman, glowing harpoon, radioactive fish.
47. On-the-run Potationist, blinding bath-tub gin, backpack distillery.
48. Involuntary Rocket Tester, molten weathervane, exhaust-blackened parachute.

51. Paramilitary Goon, percussion cap rifle, camouflage tunic and cap (camouflage gives stealth bonus in matching environment).
52. Political Congregant, swagger stick, a pamphlet listing the benefits of the new ideology you've invented.
53. Industrial Congregant, huge and consecrated spanner (as a mildly holy, two-handed club), sackcloth gasmask.
54. Itinerant Explosives Workman, big shard of shrapnel (as dagger), huge hand-cranked iron bomb that explodes instantly after three cranks.
55. Agrarian Congregant, ploughshare, emergency ploughshare weaponization kit and manual.
56. Book-Burner, single-use spray canister of napalm, slightly singed book (rolled randomly).
57. Creature-Collector, Cattle prod (target saves vs paralysis or becomes slowed and loses 1pt of hp), vicious and toothsome creature in a small cage strapped to your back.
58. Penal Legionary, metal-pipe arquebus with 2 shots, black and white striped fatigues.

61. Scientific Congregant, two vials of unstable chemicals, badly repaired spectacles.
62. Latest Technology Inquisitor, electric cattle prod (target saves Vs paralysis or becomes slowed and loses 1pt of hp), EZ-lite bonfire with portable stake.
63. Authoritarian Thug, heavy hobnail jackboots for stamping, an imposing black uniform.
64. Industrialiser, single-use glue gun, furnace-powered engine (to glue onto something).
65. Morality Play Thespian, false metal god marionette (as flail), black renaissance theatrical costume and morph-suit.
66. Satellite-Botherer, laser pointer, tinfoil hat.
67. Indentured Window-Washer, 100-foot pole, bucket of caustic soaps.
68. Self-Abusing Flagellant (get it?), stinging-nettle cat o’ nine tails, creepy adult toy made to a medieval standard.

71. Anarchic Bomb-Thrower, 2 grenades, get-away mule robed in a punk caparison.
72. Logistics Congregant, entrenching multi-tool, huge and polluting calculator carried on the back.
73. Hypno-Pressganger, hose with bricks in the feet, a spinning black and white spiral.
74. Sixteenth-Story Man, clawed gloves, 500 feet of rope
75. Clerical Congregant, spiked processional cross, aspergillum of holy water.
76. Out-Of-Town Gangster, helmet with your gang's motif, a crude weapon wrapped in barbed wire.
77. Expeditionary Congregant, long-rifle, wearable waterproof black bivvy-onesie
78. Rather Radical Rebel, disposable rocket launcher with 1 HEAT round, placard
81. Fugitive, pocket pistol, roll a second failed career- gain their items - this is your cover identity
82. Puritan Black Ops, silenced caplock pistol, perfectly boring disguise with belt-buckle-balaclava in the back-pocket.
83. Proxy Doxy, concealable single-use blackpowder SMG, pre-contact licence
84. Reconstruction Congregant, wrecking bar, hardened cement-stained overalls and shroud, (+2 AC)
85. Assembly-Line Congregant, a handful of screws and bolts, stimulant pills (roll a second failed career, this was your second job)
86. Weapons Maintenance Congregant, large vat of atramental lubricant, ballistic-weave NBC suit and sackcloth gasmask.  
87. Folk Hero, ancient acid-stained longsword, soot-covered white stallion.  
88. Overworked Peon, roll twice and take both failed careers.

1 comment:

  1. Love the pun "Tetragrammatown" lol. These definitely succeed at the implied setting. There's a lot going on here, but it works. Whether my idea of this implied setting is exactly the same as yours anyone elses I don't know, since it's sufficiently unique, but the picture is vivid one way or another.