Eternal NPCs

Cross-time Lupins converge in Lupin III: Green vs. Red

There’s a recurring NPC in My Middle Name is Larceny (the 1970s-set caper duet campaign I’m running with Robin) called Monkey Mask. He is, bluntly, Lupin III with the serial numbers filed off and a rubber ape mask pulled over his head.

And this is probably the fourth or fifth campaign he’s appeared in.

Like Michael Moorcock with his Eternal Champion, Eternal Companion, and all the rest of his recurring, fractured, fragmented, prism-split characters, I’ve got NPCs who recur in similarly-themed campaigns, especially the 20th/21st-century intrigue settings. Monkey Mask first appeared as the modern incarnation of Journey to the West’s Monkey King in our first duet campaign, more or less set in the Old World of Darkness and using the Land of Eight Million Dreams spin-off from Changeling: The Dreaming. We actually rebooted and restarted that campaign after several months into one powered by Werewolf: The Apocalypse (turning Robin’s character from a nyan hsien into a homebrewed nekomata Bastet), keeping Monkey Mask as a hanuman hsien but adding in expys of the rest of his crew as various other supernatural types.

I believe that second campaign (which was 15 or so years ago) introduced another pair of recurring personas: the Gargoyle and the Rook, my stand-ins for Batman and Robin (the Boy Wonder, not my wife, obviously). I forget the given name I assigned the pseudo-Bruce Wayne, but I know I gave him the last name Wright, playing off a local ambulance chaser named Wayne Wright (and also the name/profession “wainwright,” which I probably picked up from Tolkien). Robert Wright, the retired original Gargoyle, is a background character in My Middle Name is Larceny, while the grown-up original Rook, Hal Graustark, has surfaced in the narrative as a substitute for Adams and O’Neil’s “hairy-chested love god” 1970s Batman (and also Daredevil and Earth-Two Robin at the same time).

I’m pretty sure I’ve used “Grimalkin” as the name for the Catwoman homage before as well, but I’d have to dig through long-buried notebooks to be sure.

I remember for certain that a “Bruce Wayne, Jr.” version of the ‘70s Gargoyle showed up in an earlier ‘70s-set campaign notable for being another case where we basically rebooted Robin’s character. Tamsin Mackenzie began as a Victorian adventuress, but after we got tired of 1890s mores, we skipped ahead to the decade of our birth and reintroduced Tamsin as an immortal secret agent who encountered a mashup of Ken Washio and Tommy Arashikage, an ersatz James Bond, and probably a pseudo-Shang-Chi.

Probably. I’m not sure. I can’t believe I would skip the chance to play with that sandbox. I know a clone of the Master of Kung Fu is lurking around the edges of My Middle Name is Larceny, where he’s known as Huang Feng. In any case, I’m nearly positive Tamsin encountered Monkey Mask.

I don’t really do this as much in other genres. The most frequently recurring character in fantasy games I run is Elaith Craulnobur of the Forgotten Realms, as created by Ed Greenwood and perfected by Elaine Cunningham. His combination of danger and charm makes him a useful substitute for a Lupin III type. Most of the other recurring fantasy characters are more types than Eternal NPCs: the barbarian who is smarter than he looks, the charming evil dragon, the thief who isn’t Lupin III...

An intelligent, sympathetic (and often heroic) Frankenstein’s Monster is the only recurring Victorian character I can think of (inspired years ago by Geof Darrow’s, Steve Skroce’s, and the Wachowskis’ Doc Frankenstein rather than Penny Dreadful) while we don’t play enough sci-fi for me to have developed any recurring NPCs for that genre.

The other most important recurring NPC is my personal multiverse’s version of the Eternal Companion. She doesn’t have the same fixed identity as Monkey Mask, instead transforming as needed to fit the campaign. If I was going to give her a name, I’d call her Kohana after her first occurrence alongside Robin nyan. She usually serves as the protagonist’s friend and confidant, sometimes as a rival in love or a frenemy, occasionally as a friend with benefits. She’s almost always shorter than the heroine, cute rather than beautiful (often in a fuller-figured way), and flirtatious to the point of aggression. This time around, the Kohana-figure is Bev Slick’s English gopher and secretary Angeline Fripp.  

Huh, it never occurred to me before that I accidentally invented my own Etta Candy. Les Daniels’ history of Wonder Woman came out in 2000, so maybe I subconsciously based her on reading that book. Probably not; the original Kohana started as a rival and pest before becoming devoted to Robin’s character, so she was probably an amalgam of various anime characters.

I enjoy playing the various Kohanas almost as much as Monkey Mask, but the two character personas don’t get along in most campaigns. I wonder why that is?

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