This is the backstory for a character in my house rules game. It’s much more detailed that the average backstory, but then a character with a name like Yolo Swaggins, Master of Swag End, demands some explanation.
In a hole in the ground there lives a hobbit er, hafling*. It is a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell; he could only wish it was a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it rotting or molding: it was a halfling-hole, which should have meant comfort. But it didn’t. It had a warped round door like a porthole, painted with peeling green paint, with a once shiny brass knob mostly in the middle. The door opened on to a tube-shaped hall like a tunnel: a once comfortable tunnel, with crumbling paneled walls, now stained with water marks, and floors of broken tile and moldy carpet, strewn with decrepit furniture, and lots and lots of pegs for hats and coats—though the halfling hated visitors. The tunnel wound on and on, meandering randomly into the side of the hill—The Hill, as all the people living there called it (though that didn’t really distinguish it from the other hills nearby as those residents referred to their hill as The Hill too)—and many little round doors, all in better shape than this one, opened out of it, first on one side and then on another. No going upstairs for the halfling: empty bedrooms, dirty bathrooms, damp cellars, moldy pantries (lots of these, though sadly there was little in any of them), musty wardrobes, counting rooms (he had whole empty rooms devoted to counting and storing his non-existent wealth), dirty kitchens, dim dining-rooms, all were on the same floor, and indeed on the same passage. The best rooms, which is not saying much, were all on the left-hand side (going in), for these were the only ones to have windows which at least let in the light, through deep-set round windows looking over his weedy garden and beyond, sloping down to the mere pond.
This hole is now occupied by one Bogo Swaggins. The Swagginses had lived in the neighborhood of The Hill for time out of mind, and people once considered them quite reputable but the current residents are held quite in disrepute, not only because of their suddenly appearing and then vanishing wealth, both due to reasons unclear, but also because the current residents never had any kind words or did anything friendly; you could tell what a Swaggins would say on any question without the bother of asking him (“Bah, leave me alone,” and be lucky to be only cursed lightly).
Bogo was once was a very well-to-do halfling, whose mother was the fabulous Madonna Snook, one of the daughters of the Old Snook, head of the halflings who lived in Glindon. It was often said that long ago one of the Snook ancestors must have taken a fairy wife. That was, of course, absurd, but certainly there was still something not entirely right about them, and once in a while members of the Snook-clan would disappear for weeks or months. They discreetly disappeared, and the family hushed it up and there was never an explanation as to what they might be up to; but the fact remained that the Snooks were not as respectable as the Swagginses, though they were undoubtedly richer. Not that Madonna Snook ever had any mysterious disappearances after she became Mrs. Dodo Swaggins. Dodo, that was Bogo’s father, built the most luxurious halfling-hole for her (and reputedly entirely with her money) that was to be found either under The Hill or any other hill in Gramineous, and there at Swag End they remained to the end of their days. Still it is probable that Bogo, her only child, although he looked exactly like a second edition of his solid and comfortable father, got something queer from the Snook side, something that slowly began to come out.
Bogo, upon the death of his parents, when he was about fifty years old or so, lived alone in the beautiful hole built by his father, which was a far cry from what it is today. He seemed very rich and very peculiar. But Bogo was generous with his money, so most people were willing to forgive him his oddities. He remained on visiting terms with his relatives (except, of course, the Sumpfill-Swagginses), and he had many devoted admirers among the poor and unimportant families. As time went on, though his generosity waned as did his visits with relatives and walks about town. Eventually his nature changed from eccentric with no close friends to anti-social with no friends at all, until some of his younger cousins began to grow up.
The eldest of these, and Bogo’s favorite, was young Yolo Swaggins. When Bogo was sixty-six, he adopted Yolo as his heir, and brought him to live at Swag End. Bogo and Yolo happened to have the same birthday, September 22nd. ‘You had better come and live here, Yolo my lad,’ said Bogo one day; ‘and then we can celebrate our birthday-parties, and many other things, comfortably together.’ At that time Yolo was still in his tweens, as the halfings called the irresponsible twenties between childhood and coming of age at thirty-three.
Tongues began to wag in Gramineous and rumors were exchanged quite freely. The history and character of Mr. Bogo Swaggins became once again the chief topic of conversation; and the older folk suddenly found their reminiscences in welcome demand. No one had a more attentive audience than old Grouper Squigee, commonly known as the Gripper. He held forth at The Goldenrod Inn and he spoke with some authority, for he had tended the garden at Swag End for forty years for old Mr. Dodo. When he was himself growing old and stiff in the joints, the job was mainly carried on by his youngest son, Snotfast Squigee, known generally as Snot. Both father and son were on very friendly terms with Dodo and for a while with Bogo, until he ceased employment of Snot, owing some weeks of back wages.
‘A very nice well-spoken gentlehalfling was old Mr. Dodo, as I’ve always said,’ the Gripper declared. With perfect truth: for Dodo was very polite to him, calling him ‘Master Grouper, and consulting him constantly upon the growing of vegetables and in the matter of ‘roots,’ especially potatoes, the Gripper was recognized as the leading authority by all in the neighborhood (including himself). ‘But that Mr. Bogo, he’s certainly as queer as a thrupence. Let young Snot go, owing him a month’s wages. No notice a’tall.’
‘But what about this Yolo that come to live with him?’ asked Old Doakes. ‘Swaggins is his name, but he’s more than half a Randyduck, they say. It beats me why any Swaggins of Gramineous should go looking for a wife away there in Randy Hall, where folks are so queer.’
‘And no wonder they’re queer,’ put in Pappy Tentoes (the Gripper’s next-door neighbor), ‘if they live over the Syrene River, and right agin the North Forest. That’s a dark bad place, if half the tales be true.’
‘You’re right, Pap!’ said the Gripper. ‘Not that the Randyducks live in the North Forest; but they’re a queer breed, seemingly. They fool about with boats on that big river, and that isn’t natural. Small wonder that trouble came of it, I say. After all, his father was a Swaggins. A decent respectable halfling was Mr. Bobo Swaggins; there was never much to tell of him, till he was drownded.’
‘Drownded?’ said several voices. They had heard this and other darker rumors before, of course; but halfings have a passion for family history, and they were ready to hear it again. ‘Well, so they say,’ said the Gripper. ‘You see: Mr. Bobo, he married poor Miss Primrose Randyduck. She was our Mr. Bogo’s first cousin on the mother’s side (her mother being the youngest of the Old Snook’s daughters); and Mr. Bobo was his second cousin. So Mr. Yolo is his first and second cousin, once removed either way, as the saying is, if you follow me. And Mr. Bobo was staying at Randy Hall with his father-in-law, old Master Gundec, as he often did after his marriage (him being partial to his vittles, and old Gundec keeping a mighty generous table); and he went out boating on the Syrene River; and he and his wife were drownded, and poor Mr. Yolo only a child and all.’
‘I’ve heard they went on the water after dinner in the moonlight,’ said Old Doakes; ‘and it was Bobo’s weight as sunk the boat.’
‘And I heard she pushed him in, and he pulled her in after him,’ said Candyman, the Gramineous miller.
‘You shouldn’t listen to all you hear, Candyman,’ said the Gripper, who did not much like the miller. ‘There isn’t no call to go talking of pushing and pulling. Boats are quite tricky enough for those that sit still without looking further for the cause of trouble. Anyway: there was this Mr. Yolo left an orphan and stranded, as you might say, among those queer Randyducks, being brought up anyhow in Randy Hall. Old Master Gundec never had fewer than a couple of hundred relations in the place. Mr. Bogo never did a kinder deed than when he brought the lad back to live among decent folk, even with himself still a tad off ‘an all.
‘But I reckon it was a nasty shock for those Sumpfill-Swagginses. They thought they were going to get Swag End, when old Bogo is gone, being the end of the line, and Ortho’s father, Dongo being old Mr. Dodo’s brother and there being precious few other surviving Swagginses and all. No, I reckon the Sumpfill-Swagginses won’t never see the inside of Swag End now.’
And, indeed, the hopes of the Sumpfill-Swagginses were finally dashed, hopes that they had held for quite some time. At first hoping that Dodo and Madonna would have no heirs as it was quite some time before Bogo was born. That hope stemmed from the fact that Ortho’s father, Dongo being old Mr. Dodo’s brother and there being precious few other surviving Swagginses and all. And then with the clear decline in Bogo’s pecuniary fortunes, they thought that they may convince him to sell, or better perhaps, trade down on holes, leaving them in the most prestigious hole in The Hill. But Bogo wouldn’t sell, so the hope was that at least they were going to get Swag End, when old Bogo is gone, being the end of the line, and all, and if nothing else it would go to their son Oddo. So the Sumpfill-Swagginses stewed in their hole, well Ophelia mainly, for she was the instigator, pushing Ortho along and practically dragging him by the ear at times. And all of that was not out of character, her being a Raceturtle and all, for they were known to be pushy.
‘There’s a tidy bit of money tucked away up there, I hear tell,’ said a stranger, a visitor, on business from Tar-Gel.
‘Then you’ve heard more than I can speak to,’ answered the Gripper. ‘Mr. Bogo was free with his money, but he seems to have a lack of it now. But my lad Snot will know more about that. He was in and out of Swag End afore he was left go an’ says the place started getting a might tarnished, there havin’ been no maintaining done for quite a spell.’
And so young Yolo Swaggins came to live with his Uncle Bogo at Swag End. Not much was seen of either of them, though Yolo was about more than Bogo, who was rarely seen. He eventually took an interest in the Gramineous militia and spent many an hour there, oft times alone, as halflings aren’t much for the martial things, at least not in many a year. But Yolo was… different. He seemed to embrace it, brandishing a sword with a glimmer in his eye that troubled most of the rest. This caused the usual tongue wagging. ‘Takes after his mother’s clan, those Randybucks always were a queer lot,’ many would say. Others thought perhaps it was his uncle’s influence, as most thought him quite odd, though no one could say how that caused young Yolo to take to ironmongery, as the profession of arms was often called by halflings. But take to it he did, clearly being more skilled than any, including Captain Wingo Twitchsno who had been with the militia for more than fifty years.
And so when The Trouble came, it was little surprise, though none the less unsettling, that young Yolo went off to join the army that was besieging the Pirate forces in Glindon. No one, maybe except for Bogo, who didn’t say, heard from him afterwards. It was said that at the end there was desperate fighting in the streets of Glindon and many a man, as well as some elves, dwarves, and others fell. After that remnants of the Pirates scattered to the corners of Rhiannon to avoid being killed or imprisoned. While some may have left the island, others apparently turned to banditry leaving the roads and outlying villages unsafe. Gramineous, once calm and placid now had an air of dread upon it, never knowing when a raiding party might come upon them. Old Captain Twitchsno did what he could to drill the militia and they paid closer attention now than they ever had, but it was of little use: halflings were used to sedentary lives without care, other than how the next brew turned out or whether the mushrooms would be good this year. And as much as it bothered them, they wished that Yolo Swaggins was there. He might have liked his ironmongery more than a bit too much, but skills he had. But it’s been well over a year now since Yolo went off and all have come to the conclusion that he’s dead or insane from the trauma of war.
*Can’t use “hobbit” as it is copyrighted and jealously guarded by the descendants and publishers of the author we dearly treasure, but who’s been dead for 45 years, who refuse to let loose of the valuable intellectual property of their sire. Though the euphemism “halfling” is also copyrighted, that owner sees the value of open licensing and fan fiction to their brand.