Beak, Feather, and Bone: Creating Characters with a Map
Take a look at the start of a solo Ryuutama RPG campaign with the help of a town map created with Beak, Feather, and Bone.
It’s about time I started checking some personal projects off my list! Long ago, as in last year, I had the idea to start a Ryuutama campaign and build part of my characters using the concepts of Beak, Feather, and Bone. That’s right: I came up with backstories and personalities for individuals based on a map! At last, I finally completed my glorious little map!
All Around Town
It took me ages to get to this point and many hours of carefully thinking up ideas. Maybe that sounds silly for the equivalent of a prologue that might go nowhere.
At the same time, the biggest lesson I’ve learned is to play board games and RPGs the way I want to. More so for RPGs, mainly because a lot more is open-ended!
But here we are in Okusato. Each building is color-coded to my 6 different characters. More on the process in a bit.
The ironic part is that everyone in Ryuutama goes on a journey… So they won’t spend a lot of time here. Ha ha!
Why Bother with a Map of an Unneeded Place?
Pardon any rambling here, although I hope my thought process might inspire some creativity for anyone looking to dive into a solo RPG! As I said, Ryuutama is all about travel and growth through exploration. No one stays in town, and there is a very pleasant section about how neighbors tend to the duties of others so they may go on their journeys.
The true goal I wanted to accomplish was to go about character creation in a different way. By defining buildings based on these characters and having them all tied to specific areas, could I make characters with backstories?
Choosing statistics and specialties is an exciting part of character creation and I often get lost for some time as I figure out interesting combinations. What I discovered with this process was even better. My characters were deeper with quirks and even rivals. But there was one overall character I hadn’t considered in all this. The town itself came to life.
My Main Tools
Besides my RPG books and a rather gigantic digital document, I had my trusty Aves playing cards, 36 unique Rory’s Story Cubes, and my colorful writing utensils.
For anyone curious, these are Faber-Castell color pencils and Staedtler Triplus Fineliner Pens.
As I drew a card for a building, I rolled 3 cubes to get a set of icons. From those, I formed a vague idea and went with it! Other character traits helped along the way.
By the way, Watabou’s Village Generator is awesome. Now it has fields?! My next map will be even better.
Setting the Right Ambience with Sounds
There’s one element that has been missing from my play sessions for a long time… Sounds. I don’t do well with music or other predictable background noise, yet I found a wonderful selection of sound generators at myNoise for this:
- Japanese Garden: A beautiful and relaxing selection of garden sounds and the unique Shishi-Odoshi.
- What the… Farm: The perfect mix of livestock sounds in distant fields, from sheep and chickens to cows and pigs.
- Oak Song: An ethereal range of harmonic singing that provides a sense of beginning and purpose in an RPG.
With these layered on top of each other, I had a wonderfully relaxing soundtrack to building a town without any hustle or bustle. This website is a hidden gem that I rarely utilize enough, but hope to incorporate into more of my play sessions! There are so many possibilities to create the perfect sound combinations for all sorts of games and themes.
Back to the Past
I introduced my starting party before, but without the map, they were kind of bland and standard. Not a bad thing for a new campaign, yet I wanted more!
Take Ishi, located in the bottom left. She’s a minstrel who uses autumn magic, enjoys combat competition and science, and is known to be cantankerous and confident.
These traits all form the basis for a character, yet for me, they’re merely words without a story. Until the map…
Note that Tsurume, Kageharu, Motokore, Nakaari, and Akai also have this same basis. I just have limited space!
Putting It Together
There really isn’t too much needed to play solo. I had a great time planning out the characteristics of each spot, especially in terms of how this might create a character.
Map-labeling might sound rather tedious and boring, yet this isn’t about printing a map and doing some coloring.
Beak, Feather, and Bone boils down to turning a town, village, or city into a living character. Okusato has all sorts of residents, businesses, and even bitter rivalries.
I watched as this all came alive to tie into the Ryuutama world. More on that mysterious rainbow building soon!
Crafting the Details
With a group, there isn’t always a need to look further for inspiration. Each individual player has their desires for the campaign and puts those on a map. But what about solo?
Enter the cubes! I wasn’t sure if these would work for me, yet they’re my preferred method of random ideas.
Take the 3 cubes in the bottom left. If this were for the map, it would most certainly indicate a magical tailor or laundromat. Maybe with shadow monsters in clothes?
The possibilities are endless and although it looks like I can’t locate any other sets, this collection of 36 is great!
To the Seat of Power
In the end, the character with the highest card value total would be awarded the seat of power. Hence why I mentioned Ishi above! She’s very much tied to power.
Yet give me a moment to describe her other buildings to show how this all came about, along with her character.
Yamanoi’s Library is on its own as a magical library where experiments often go awry and many get lost among the shelves of books. Magic and science blend together here.
There’s Petal, Stone, and Wing, a youth program. Lastly, Ishi’s home, the Toasted Toad, and Snakesbrew Tavern.
Connecting the Town’s Characters
Not mentioned here are the excruciating details because does anyone want to read through about 25 pages of notes? Ha! A common thread that originated from my rambling is the town’s debate about the intersection of science, magic, and religion. It’s not a case of claiming one is right or better than the others, but the balance of them all in life.
There are bitter enemies who represent opposite ends of the spectrum, though I didn’t come up with any villains. The worst the town has to offer are a few petty criminals who may be swayed by greed. Remember that Ryuutama itself is supposed to be a pastoral landscape where monster negotiations are often better than all-out monster battles.
Therefore, Soga Research is the seat of power. Even I don’t know much about it! Truth be told, I think it’s loosely based on a combination of Professor Oak’s Lab from Pokémon and Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. What goes on in this huge building? No idea. It’s all mysterious, but more in line with wonder and dreams than horror. Again, pastoral!
A Few Minor Changes for Next Time
This was simply fantastic! My description of Ishi above doesn’t do her justice. All 6 characters now have ties to the town that give them their own personalities. Even better is how I can see the connections between characters. Kageharu’s family is deeply ingrained with music, much to the detriment of eardrums, but Ishi must have learned from them.
I detailed 33 buildings, which was interesting, but probably a little too much. Some of my final creations were a little more mundane, although every town needs a little of that! I would probably want to stick to a maximum of maybe 10-15 total buildings next time. That’s just for solo, though! It takes some effort to build a town like this.
The rivals were all tied into individual buildings, though I could have actually combined a couple to provide shared rivalries. Perhaps I’ll leave the rivals to be defined until the end, simply to give some options for more character connections. I set myself a challenge with 6 characters, yet I’ll find reasons for them all to travel together!
Stories from Words
I returned, then, to look at Ishi. Now I know that she’s spent considerable time in a magical library, likely learning all she knows from its many tomes.
She’s closely tied to the youth program for appreciating plants and animals. More than likely, Ishi has been a teacher herself and shared her knowledge with others.
In true form, her home offers free trinkets and food to any in need, connected with her sense of beneficence.
And Snakesbrew? Its name is one for myths, yet it’s a gathering place where Ishi spends her time as a minstrel!
The Dragon’s Tears
Rainbow! This unmarked building is The Dragon’s Tears, named for the special town wells. To explain my color scheme, hair color is determined by the wells.
It’s not so much to separate as to give me a foundation for some of the lore. Maybe it’s a simple plot device so I can group characters together in my mind…
Yet something tells me this will tie into the many dragons of the world. Are these dragon’s tears? Why the colors?
Okusato has its own characteristics now, and the next step is to turn to the rest of the world within Ryuutama!
Continue the Conversation
What other tools do you use for character creation or map building? Is Beak, Feather, and Bone something you’ve tried out recently? I was pleasantly surprised by the sheer level of detail I now have for my Ryuutama campaign. My slow pace probably means it’s not starting up yet, but I love having all of the groundwork in place. Onward to adventure!