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So you're starting a new Player Character, where do you come from?

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For just about all of us GMs or DMs for you old school-types (which includes me!), sooner or later, your players are going to be creating either completely new player characters or PCs to replace one they may have lost... For far too long, I've seen people come up with some pretty generic origins for their character. If their origins are now big deal, IMO, I think it makes it a little or a lot harder to imbue them with a great personality. Don't get me wrong, I'm not dissing on people playing their characters any way they want to, I just want to help equip them with some extra dramatic or imaginative 'muscle' so they're a LOT more memorable rather than the typical rogue, barbarian, wizard or whatever. A word of warning to you GMs. This column will focus most of the original work on you because it is your game and campaign that they're going to be playing in. With that being said, grab a notebook, put on some great inspirational music or maybe a favorite fantasy movie playing in the background and lets go!

 

First of all, once a player decides what they want to play, its on you the GM to help them flesh out their character. If they're playing an elf, dwarf, hobbit, gnome or just about any other race, how do they fit into YOUR campaign? Are elves aloof and mysterious or are they despised for their arrogance as well as their immense life spans? Where do they come from & what's their homeland & culture like? IF you don't know this at all, how are you going to pass that info onto your player? After you've answered that question, then you've got to figure out how that class or maybe even an exotic class they REALLY want to play 'fits' into your campaign. BTW, Do NOT let someone EVER create either a race, class or any combination thereof if you're not completely comfortable with it, no matter how much pleading or coercion whether it be subtle or not. Otherwise, you're going to eventually surrender your game to power gamers. If you're OK with that, go ahead. Otherwise be very careful!

 

Secondly, now that they have their race figured out, what about their class? Are they going to play a standard fighter or do they want to play a monk, a wizard, a rogue or something else that might be even more exotic? Do those classes even exist in your campaign? If they do, what role do they fill in your campaign and are they popular, feared or maybe even spoken of in quiet whispers and furtive glances? Think about that. Imagine what would YOU think about wizards if you were a commoner or maybe even a Janti (my word for nobility in Kalandria, my home brew campaign). No matter what their class, take a few moments to create a couple of organizations for them. If they're playing something as lowly as a fighter AND they come from a civilized urban background, then where IS their hometown? Oh sure, more work & notes! Of course, if you have any kind of passion for your campaign though, this is gravy! The nice thing about GMing FRPGs is that you can borrow or steal just about any idea or material from any of your favorite sources, whether it be the 3 Musketeers, the Black Guard, or just about any other idea you want. Change a few things and then put a line or three of text behind each order, organization or guild that you decide. Of course, you COULD just ditch this but then IMO, your world would be a little smaller and not nearly as captivating. You don't have to create the whole world, just a small corner for your players to originate in. If your players discover that they COULD become the newest member of The Silver Wolves or the Ghost Fingers or the Foebane, wouldn't they want to be? Pump up the order or organization with a couple of lines of text if you want. Create an NPC or 2 that is their master, mentor or sponsor. That way, it ties them that much closer to the order.

 

Now that you have their race & class figured out, what about their actual history or background? Do they come from a family, are the orphans, from a tribe or maybe raised by the Royal Order of Mages from a young age? Maybe they're an escaped prisoner, a survivor from a shipwreck (maybe NOT an accident?) or they cannot stand the idea of being the 11th generation of farmers just like their ancestors were? Of course, most of this info SHOULD be their idea but that's no reason why you cannot help them flesh out their PC. If you give them a few 'pegs' with which to build their PC, they can be cool, interesting and fun to play!

 

Of course, I COULD go on and I also know that there is loads of more info I could put in here but this is my first (very imperfect!!) submission and hopefully, it will spur some creative juices amongst the gamers out there.

 

 

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I am not sure exactly what you are asking here. I strongly discourage "generic" backgrounds for my players. I do this in at least 3 different ways that I will address in the order you listed.

 

Race - Default available races have templates / packages for the race that must be taken. There are generally some sub race options, suggestions for complications and additional skills, powers, etc that should be considered for players of that race. Exceptions can of course be made to customize further to the background you have developed for your character.

 

Class / Profession - I tend to not use the word "class" unless I am specifically converting a D&D setting. I prefer profession or archetype. Again, there are a set of common templates available. These tend to me more "pick 2 of these" or "at least X points in Y skills" type of packages to allow the player to mold the type of character that they have in mind. If someone comes up with an alternative that is not covered in the template I will either add it or grant an exception if appropriate. If they have an idea for a different template that I think can fit the setting I have designed I will work with them to create a new one.

 

History / Background - I don't ask a lot here, but you need something cohesive to tie your various complications together. I usually help new players by suggesting a few possible paths that could have led to what they have described to me. Ask about early important moments in their life or great accomplishments or things that they see as setting them apart. This generally starts to tie in with additional skills or powers that they will want to buy.

 

Is that what you were looking for?

 

- E

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I think that "generic" backgrounds are just as viable as detailed ones. It depends entirely on the circumstances upon which the character was made. Long ago, when dinosaurs could still be glimpsed walking the Earth, the members of my group often made generic characters just to play a certain mechanical build. As the process continued forward, the character started gaining personality and motivation. 

 

Here is an example.

 

My first Shadowrun (1st Edition) character was an Elven Street Samurai pulled right from the back of the Street Samurai Catalog. I had absolutely no idea who this guy was, where he came from or anything. How could I? We had just picked up Shadowrun that day and the system was described as a cross between D&D (cool) and Cyberpunk (whatsa Cyberpunk I asked - no satisfactory answer given). So then somebody spouts off that Cyberpunk is like Bladerunner. Cool. I get it. Crowded city streets, lots of computers and high tech, neon, and an oppressive, beat-down-but-once-great future civilization. So, now I got this character sheet sitting in front of me, but I'm supposed to be a criminal. A Robin Hood sort of criminal, but a criminal nonetheless. Still no concept.

 

I look around the room and there is a guy wanting to run a Troll Street Mage. He obviously had the chance to read the book to know what's what so I listen a little to his backstory. Raised in the Barrens (whatsa Barren I ask - It's like Compton I'm told, but much worse) taught by somebody how to use magic. Has a beef with corporations who basically exploit magical talent. Cool. Sounds like a neat story. Are corporations bad? (Yup.) Something to chew on.

 

So I look around at the next guy. He wants to run a full on Private Investigator like Bladerunner. He doesn't care about the corporations so long as the money's good.

 

On and on it goes until I finish my mental circuit. Still no appreciable concept. Time to start gaming.

 

We are working for Mitsuhama and breaking into a local subsidiary of a rival megacorp. Sounds good so far. We hit combat and, magic. I might be wired for sound, but to me that combat system clicked like none before and none since. I was stitching bad guys with my Uzi III Smartgun and tossing grenades liberally for the chunky salsa effect (it's in the RULES!). That is where I decided the first real personality trait for my character; he's an adrenaline junkie that gets off on combat in game like I am loving dice pools. Up until this point, I didn't even have a cool "Shadowrunner" name. Now I did and Flashburn was born.

 

Off we go then, several magazines shorter and a bunch of dead corporate security guys. I was flying high. We go through, get the paydata and some sort of prototype whatchamajig and we're off.

 

Break time. GM has to use the Little Boys Room. No problem. I start really looking at my character sheet. What's Essence? (Well that sorta defines how much human to machine you are.) Oh, what's this mean and I point to the stat on my sheet? (Oh wow, you are like barely hanging on. Luckily you are not playing Cyberpunk.) Why is that? (Well because, that little essence would mean you are crazy.)

 

Ding! Part two of my character clicked in. Not only is he an adrenaline junkie, he is borderline insane. I'm so thinking Martin Riggs at this point. So off we go again. Now my character seed is planted and germinating. We blast a few more guys and get to the meet to turn over the paydata and whatchamajig to the Mitsuhama contact. In, what would become almost boring Shadowrun predictability, the contact has brought buddies and no cred sticks. Flashburn doesn't care because he gets to blast even more heads into something that resembles enchiladas. He is mad that an employer turned on them and immediately, I start playing him with a beef towards Mitsuhama.

 

The point of this whole wandering story is that I had no backstory on my character before we started play and those few encounters allowed me to learn more about how the character fit into the setting. Sometimes, a player needs that interaction with the GM's world to understand how it all comes together.

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I think that "generic" backgrounds are just as viable as detailed ones. It depends entirely on the circumstances upon which the character was made. Long ago, when dinosaurs could still be glimpsed walking the Earth, the members of my group often made generic characters just to play a certain mechanical build. As the process continued forward, the character started gaining personality and motivation. 

 

Here is an example.

 

<snip>

Everyone can play how they like. I prefer my players not start a game without knowing things about the game world, the country they are playing in, some basics of the economy, etc. I have refused players who did not want to put any work into a background, even refusing to answer a few basic questions about their background. In the end, both he and I were probably better off, it would have been a frustrating experience for both of us if he had ended up playing.

 

I do understand everyone is not in that situation. When I run games I tend to end up having to turn down people just because I am not comfortable running parties of more than 6 in Hero. Part of that is combat, part of it is making sure everyone gets a chance to shine, part of it is just the balancing act that gets trickier the more variables you throw in.

 

That said, for certain types of games (Cons, pick up one shots, setting tests, etc), there is certainly merit in no one having much background to speak of.

 

- E

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I can respect your hard line. I've been there. Not every character coming into a setting without a background can find their niche. My long gone, but not forgotten, group was really good at picking up on each others' "vibe" for a particular campaign/setting and finding a place. Not all people are like that or share that sort of common ground. 

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When I started running the Valdorian Age my son came up with a sorcerer/bounty hunter type character.  He was trying to find the person who killed his cousin in an unfair magical duel back home (Abyzinia).  Our daughter came up with a character from the Cynthian Plains.  She was a horsewoman, archer and minor priestess.  Her love disappeared with others traveling to trade horses.  They came up with these backgrounds - I just gave them the background from the world.

 

The result was the mage that my son's character was hunting became the master villain in the campaign.  I hadn't intended for that to happen but I was given a rough gem and I didn't want to waste it. The other character's lover was kidnapped by agents of the master villain.

 

One other player, wanted to play a dwarf (very rare in VA) who had amnesia.  He remembered that his family had driven him out.  Turns out that was all a lie.  He was sent to find people to trade with.  He was also captured by the master villain, tortured, mentally altered and then sold as a gladiator.

 

 

In my current campaign everyone has done a fine job of providing interesting backgrounds that allowed me to weave a thread of a tale.

 

As a GM I like providing a background and letting the players 'riff' off that background and then I can 'counter-riff' to what they are doing.

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For a character-driven campaign/scenario it is absolutely necessary for your GM to know as much about a character's origins and motivations as possible, so as to be able to weave your story around them and get them hooked. For that kind of campaign I see lots of really good advise here so far. But to play the devils advocate... that isn't the only kind of campaign/scenario GMs run, for example:

 

I currently run a serial event-driven Pathfinder campaign in which the Player Characters are assumed to be members of a powerful Adventurer's Guild sent out on jobs. It is the campaign I run to get players familiarized with the game system and used to playing with one another, and I've run it under several groups now. I often half-jokingly say that I run it because it takes absolutely no planning. In terms of character background it is a very forgiving set up. I care very little what my players bring to the table, except that I do limit them (for the most part) to Pathfinder material I personally own for ease of reference during play. I do try to set a good example by including a GMC (Game-Master's Character) in the party with a fully fleshed out backstory, but I don't require players come up with one to play. If a player misses a session after a mission has begun, their character simply isn't "on-screen" during that session. They are treated as if they were there the whole time, "contributing meaningfully", and I give them loot and experience when they come back to catch them up mechanically.

 

The Adventurer's Guild doesn't care who your are, or where you are from. You can be a chaotic evil goblin rogue, or a lawful good human paladin. They will accept anyone who can work with the group long enough to get the job done. Admittedly this means that there are fewer chaotic members than neutral or lawful, but that isn't a requirement. The Guild performs a thorough battery of tests (magical and otherwise) to determine the nature and skills of its members, "pairs them with compatible adventurers" (not true at all, it pairs them with the players at the table), and send them on "missions suited to their abilities" (which is kind of true... I usually make them up on the fly, but try very hard to make sure include something for everybody to do). The Guild equips its members very well, assigns each party with a "party leader" (which changes from time to time), and a wagon full of survival gear they are expected to return. The Guilds worst kept secret is that the Guild Master is actually a bored Ancient Wyrm Gold Dragon who is just trying to find something useful to do with his horde. He takes the form of "David the Gnome" (if you never seen the show, think stereotypical garden gnome, complete with the conical red hat).

 

I encourage players to come up with details about their characters, and provide them with as much detail as I can to do so... but for the first session or two, the characters are usually just blank shells. However they invariably developed personalities and "character" as they interacted with each other and my NPCs. One player came in with a character that didn't even have a name, so we literally called her "Enpecee" for a few sessions. After a few sessions she got a name, developed a backstory, and became one of the most interesting members of the party. She went from a quickly built character to let a friend's girlfriend play to a runaway elven princess turned rogue that read too many stories and decided she wanted to be a "Human Hero", insisted that she was human (but was so poorly disguised that nobody believed her), and said silly things like "We should go fight these goblins, because that's what Human Heroes do... right?"

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Well, clearly you want to design your character to ruin the GM's life. 

 

Some examples:

 

GM: "This is going to be a gritly, low-fantasy campaign. Magic and monsters will be rare, no combat magic. . " etc, etc. He's got an "Infectious Diseases" table, and he means to use it.

Player: "My character is a dinosaur herder from the flying cloud cities of Zandar!"

GM: "This is serious high fantasy stuff. Your characters will be members of an adventuring party drawn from the most noble warriors of the Five Races, and you're on a on a quest to [whatever] the [you know, the thing] from/to/at the Dark Master of All Things, who rules south beyond the Wall of Forlon."

Player: "My character is an omnicidal Orcish assassin/thief/cannibal/sex pervert. Here's his enemies list. See how all the other PC's races are on it? Hilarious! How much do you get for selling thing at the auction house?"

GM: "I've got bad news for you guys. Steve has gone to do the important thing on five minutes notice, and I'm going to be filling in for the next five weeks. I haven't got much done on the setting, tdhough I've got some ideas that I think are kind of cool. So let's say you're in some kind of Shire knockoff and your first level characters are going to fight, oh, say, giant spiders for copper pennies. . "

Player: "My dark elf is named Zandar! He's from Clan Forlon, mightiest faction of Dark Master worshippers in The Shire, greatest dark elf city of the vast Underdeep that lies beneath the continent of Omni, from the Glittering Give Deserts to the Wall of Spiders [&tc for at least five minutes]"

 

PC backgrounds are  a lot more fun if you keep this one simple rule in mind. 

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The amount of work I put into a character backstory is inversely proportional to the lethality of the campaign. If I've just had a character die, I'm unlikely to put any thought into it whatsoever.

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The amount of work I put into a character backstory is inversely proportional to the lethality of the campaign. If I've just had a character die, I'm unlikely to put any thought into it whatsoever.

 

And the corollary; "The lethality of the campaign is inversely proportionate to how invested the players are in their characters."

 

Both attitudes are why there are such bad relations and lack of trust between players and GMs. If there is a problem with the lethality of a campaign, then there needs to be something done aside from a passive aggressive "I'm divesting myself" response. Similarly, if the GM perceives a lack of investment, turning up the lethality just to punish the players is infantile. Both sides need to open the lines of communication, rather than close down and nurse resentment. There needs to be an active discussion between the people playing (to include the GM) to address the issues plaguing the campaign. If the campaign still doesn't suit, exercise the option of leaving.

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My 2 pence worth.

 

As a player I like a setting where the GM has done the work and set up hooks that I can hang my character on.

As a GM, especially in Hero with its Disads , Limitations, or complications, I expect something similar from my players as a GM.

Now it may take a little negotiation to tweak those Disads and Limitations so they fit my world.

 

Maybe I'm odd but I come from a D&D and RQ crowd that ran Central Casting then adjusted the results to our game system and setting.

I'm thinking of using the Harn Master rolls in a similar fashion for my next FH game. 

They still pay for everything and can adjust things. But use the rolls to start the the design juices flowing so to speak.

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I greatly appreciate any effort the GM has put in to fleshing out a campaign and will work to create a character that hooks into the milieu in interesting, plot-driving ways.

 

Then I give that character whatever minimaxing powergaming build I can that still fits the concept, because playing unconscious characters is no fun.

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I greatly appreciate any effort the GM has put in to fleshing out a campaign and will work to create a character that hooks into the milieu in interesting, plot-driving ways.

 

Then I give that character whatever minimaxing powergaming build I can that still fits the concept, because playing unconscious characters is no fun.

Now you have me wondering how to make playing an unconscious character fun....

 

Lucius Alexander

 

The palindromedary says I should sleep on it

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I don't mind "mostly blank slates" provided that the character more or less fits into the campaign world (and I LOVE your Shadowrun example), but I don't usually run genric campaigns with the standard unmodified races so I try to make sure everyone has at least a basic understanding of the world and how each race "fits" into it.

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Now you have me wondering how to make playing an unconscious character fun....

 

Damage shield?  Astral projection?  Summon extradimensional guardian triggers when unconscious?  Multiple personality kicks in when first personality is KOed or asleep?

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I'm not certain but I think part of your problem isn't the pc's but the world. Most fantasy hero games take place in homebrewed worlds. As gm's when making our own world's we make a lot of notes , but our players don't want to read 250 pages of text 90% of which will never be used in the game. So they'll never decide that instead of the farm boy who got hold of his father's sword and decided to set out for adventure, they want to play an initiate in the secret sailors a group of corsairs that are made up of the navy of the nation of Zaryos but conduct pirate raids on the merchant ships of the nation of Sazar,. Unless of course they know those nations exist and there is a group in the royal navy who moonlights as pirates. It's a difficult balance. Too little info and its generic background city. Too much and players won't pay attention because they came to play, not do homework. 

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Falling from the sky, trailing a long rope, and with a white knuckled grip on treasure. Victim of a cursed ring trap that one of the PC’s encountered before.

 

The PC’s stumble upon your body surrounded by yorur enemies minions. Suddenly the body inhales, the eyes flare open, and you look around in a panic?

 

That drunk in the corner has the information you need? You’ll have to sober them up first though!

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Damage shield?  Astral projection?  Summon extradimensional guardian triggers when unconscious?  Multiple personality kicks in when first personality is KOed or asleep?

Why didn't I think of these??

 

Lucius Alexander

 

The palindromedary says I was sleeping

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Yes Ninja bear there was. He was a marvel character. Book lasted about 12 issues. His main enemy was called Cobweb, but my favorite foe was a guy whos name I forget. But he had an 8 ball for a mask and a kinetic pool cue for a weapon.

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