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Storytelling: Setting the Scene (Part Two) – Civilians

So you’ve made a fantasy city for your characters to live in, to work in or to otherwise mess around in. It’s your story, so your characters can get around a city however they like, right? Well, actually, a city really isn’t a city until we have the actual lives of people, typically simple people, who make the city great. They’re not heroes, but they’re local heroes – They’re your tavern keeps, your shop assistants, your doctors and nurses. They’re… Incidental people – And they leave a massive mark on your story.

Okay, so let’s set a scene for you a moment:

Tyran, the Cruel-Hearted, known throughout the land as a cold-blooded murderer and a cheat. But, it’s here in The Den that Tyran feels most at home. No one fears Tyran in The Den, but everyone knows about his deeds. Some are blinded in awe, thinking he does good deeds; others aren’t so convinced, but see him as a reliable part of their society.

Your job today is to take the above scenario and to have a believable set of characters, all of whom have absolutely no bearing in the grand scheme of things. They’re really not important at all – So why the heck should you spend the time to write about these people?

It’s because here, you can really tell Tyran’s story from another perspective.


Pay Day For Tyran, the Cruel-Hearted

A noble, brave man, Tyran stood tall amongst his people in The Den, holding up the head of a Defiler. This was the fifteenth Defiler’s head Tyran had lifted in as many days, impressing the folk of The Den to no end.

“Aah, he’s so wonderful isn’t he? To think, he is able to put an end to all of these Defilers before they’re able to cause us any ‘arm.” Sandi, the local mechanic spoke softly to Helena, who was enamored with nothing more than the coin she would get for the head of that Defiler.

Helena scoffed at Sandi’s remark, “Don’t be such a fool, Sandi. ‘E ain’t up to any good! But, ‘e’s good at drummin’ up business, so I say let ‘im get on with the killin’!” Helena was always looking for ways to increase their revenue – and the enemy of the enemy is indeed a friend, at least in the world of underhanded commerce. She was already planning the flyers she would send out to the Thorn-kins, their number one source of income.

Tyran stepped down the southern steps of the platform in the The Den’s centre, making his way past Sandi and Helena. He slyly winked at Sandi, who started to feel a little flustered, before he then turned to Helena and a shifty smirk creeped across his face.

“Raise the price on this one, Helena; them Thorn-kin need to cough up good! They’ve had a cheap ride so far.”

Helena could only simply agree as she handed Tyran a satchel of coin, in exchange for the head of the Defiler. Tyran kept walking south, heading down the main path as people could be heard dispersing behind him. The excitement of more tourism was oh too great for The Den. Tyran didn’t care though – He got his coin and he got to kill another king.

What a perfect life he had, here in The Den.


In this tiny scene, we’ve managed to establish a few quick snippets of information. We’ve got Sandi who is swooning over her evil hero and we also know she’s a local mechanic. This gives us information about what sort of level of technology we may be dealing with – We know it’s at least not just a magical place.

We also meet Helena, whose role is not discussed, except that she is some form of tourism officer? The user is encouraged to use their imagination to fill in the gaps, but she’s to prepare some flyers to the “Thorn-kin”. We know nothing about the Thorn-kin, other than they want to see the heads of these “Defilers”.

Finally, we know about the central character of the scene, Tyran, who killed a Defiler, who happened to be a king – And he’s killed many of them. We know he’s a brutal, evil man – But he seems to be working with his city, The Den, to bring himself and his city more wealth.

But now, what if we change this scene a little bit? We’re going to keep it the same “plot”, but with different civilians interacting.


Pay Day For Tyran, the Cruel-Hearted

Source: Wowhead

A noble, brave man, Tyran stood tall amongst his people in The Den, holding up the head of a Defiler. This was the fifteenth Defiler’s head Tyran had lifted in as many days, impressing the folk of The Den to no end.

“Pah, that there Tyran is always up to no good.” Samwise, the local bartender grunted to Helena, who was enamored with nothing more than the coin she would get for the head of that Defiler.

Helena laughed at the remark, “But of course – And you won’t be complainin’ when the Thorn-kin bring their wads of cash again!” Helena was always looking for ways to increase their revenue – and the enemy of the enemy is indeed a friend, at least in the world of underhanded commerce. She was already planning the flyers she would send out to the Thorn-kins, their number one source of income.

Tyran stepped down the southern steps of the platform in the The Den’s centre, making his way past Samwise and Helena. He gave Samwise a serious expression, draining the determination from the young bartender, before he then turned to Helena and a shifty smirk creeped across his face.

“Raise the price on this one, Helena; them Thorn-kin need to cough up good! They’ve had a cheap ride so far.”

Helena could only simply agree as she handed Tyran a satchel of coin, in exchange for the head of the Defiler. Tyran kept walking south, heading down the main path as people could be heard dispersing behind him… And he could distinctly hear Samwise grunt out “Yer the Devil ‘imself, Tyran!” Tyran didn’t care though – He got his coin and he got to kill another king.

What a perfect life he had, here in The Den.


This time around, we’ve got Tyran who is met with a little bit of adversity, simply by changing one character. We went from Sandi, the smitten mechanic, to Samwise, the disgruntled bartender. Perhaps Samwise had been swindled by the cruel-hearted one previously? We don’t know, but we know that Samwise is young, perhaps meaning he’s impressionable? Furthermore, does this explain more about Helena, if he’s considered young?

If you’re up for a challenge, I ask of you to take this scenario and develop it further. How can you, in approximately 300 words, create these characters, develop context for them and give a quick idea to the attitude of the city? Can you make The Den more trusting, or more unforgiving of Tyran? What would happen if the same scenario occurred, but it was Sandi and Samwise chatting? Share with us your thoughts below – Perhaps you have a scenario you’d like to see fleshed out? As ever, comment down below, or over on Facebook and Twitter.

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