Character Backgrounds

Character Backgrounds . . .
Character backgrounds are a very important piece of role-playing. It gives the character more depth than just some numbers on a piece of paper. PC backgrounds help the person playing that character, the other players, and the GM. Start with the "Character Lifeline" on page 47 of the Arrowflight book & then look below for some more guidelines.


Every game has different expectations for PC backgrounds. Some games are looking for long, enormously detailed backgrounds while others require no backgrounds at all. In Arrowflight, I am somewhere in the middle of those two extremes.

I would like all players to submit a background, but I don't expect such backgrounds to be particularly long or inordinately detailed. I understand that Players grow into their characters, so I only ask for as much background necessary to establish how the character came to be where that character is at the start of play and to provide a basic explanation for the Skills and/or Hooks it possesses. Boelain is a good example.

Here are my guidelines to creating an awesome character.

Choose a Name:
If you find it hard to come up with a good name, try Samuel Stoddard's Fantasy Name Generator

Choose a Race:
Pick a race from the ones available to you.

Choose an Occupation:
What does your character do?

Write a description:
Your character's description is one of the most important parts of character creation. A good description gives other players a clear mental picture of the character, enhancing the roleplay for both you and them.

Write a short background:

What should you write? Well, it depends on the game, and personal tastes. The easiest thing to do is look at the films or novels that inspire the genre. Think of how you would sum up the characters in question. My current preference for character backgrounds is that they contain some of the following:

Write down your Concept
The first thing I like to see is a simple summary of the core character concept. Something that tells me exactly what your character is about. "Happy go lucky trickster", "hate filled ex-soldier", just a basic summary, nothing too flashy. One of the reasons this is useful, is that by distilling down all those thoughts you have about your character into a single sentence, you become aware of the core traits you'll want to roleplay. As a GM it tells me which way you are likely to jump if presented with a particular situation, ideal for planning plots. A good thing to build in here is an idea of your characters approach to solving problems. Is he a "cautious strategist" or a "both guns a blazing" kind of guy?

Write brief but Important Events
Important events come next, in my mind, as they help to build the motivations. How many you give will depend on the character, but the important thing here is that they are events that have changed the character's life. Take Batman, the turning point in his life is when his parents are murdered, it sets him on his path and provides his core set of motivations. Again, keep it short and sweet. The details probably don't matter, only the event and how it affected the character. If an event didn't have a profound affect on the character, then what is the point in your GM reading it?

Write down your PC's Motivations
Motivations are a key part of a character background, and most will spring form those events you just described. Again, because they help a GM work out which way a character will jump if pushed. If your character is motivated by greed, then pulling him into the story by offering him money is an easy option. Motivations can be vague, "believes in justice", to specific "searching for her brother's killer", but they instantly give the GM an idea of what sort of story you want the character involved in.

Another key thing here is that, motivations that have only recently come to be, can be a real advantage. They kickstart the story, especially if the GM is aware of them beforehand. Particularly good motivations of this kind can kickstart a whole campaign. Unless all the player characters happen to know each other anyway (and how cliched is that), such recent motivators can provide an ideal way of drawing a disparate group together.

What Connections does the PC have?
Who you know, and who you care about should be written down. All too often characters in RPGs seem to exist as islands, not actually having anybody they know or care about outside the group.The archetypal brooding loner seems to be a common RPG character, and this can be a wasted opportunity. Every character should have family, friends, colleagues, associates, and minions; people who have been kidnapped or betray them, because these are the things that make for interesting plots. These make great hooks for the GM.

What is your PC's Statement of Intent
The most important element of any character background though, is telling the GM either explicitly or implicitly, where you want to take the character from here. I call this the statement of intent. It'll avoid those moments of "My character has no interest in this plot", that occasionally occur. Or at least it should if you have a good GM. If the planned game has a literary bent, then think of the theme your character will address ,phrasing it as a conflict or question helps: "Family vs Personal Honor" or "What will you do for power?". If your game is more concerned with pure action and adventure, then imagine your character doing something cool, what would it be?

Write down Internal and External Views
Finally, a good practice is to note down how your character views himself, and how others view him. Getting a handle on this will help you play the character, and help the GM fit him into the world.