Character Backgrounds and Why They Matter
Hello everyone, I am Ric, while I know this is Modoc’s blog, jealousy got the better part of me so I have him “entertained” elsewhere while I take over his blog to promote my own agenda! I am sure that the “entertainment” I arranged for Modoc will soon grow boring, but for now I have him distracted and that leaves you under my power and I have delightful things I want to share with you, yes very delightful things indeed. Okay, maybe what I just said isn’t really true, but it makes a fun introduction so I am going to stick with it for now.
The actual reason I am showing up on Modoc’s blog is we got to talking one day when he was helping me get the word out about my daughter. I liked his blog and asked if he would consider me making a guest post. He said sure and then we talked some more, kicked around a few ideas and I decided I would like to write a bit about character backgrounds and well, here it is.
What is Background?
While it seems kind of self-explanatory a lot of people don’t realize what a character background is. A background is the story of what your character was up to before they took on a life of grand adventure. A background covers everything from the time you were born (or created in some cases) until the day you begin playing. It covers things like your family, where you were from, what you did as a kid, life-shaping events and much more. Just like in real life, no one just appears out of thin air (most of the time anyway) they arrive at their current destination after a series of life events that led them to where they are now.
Why is Background Important?
Character background is important for a number of reasons. First, It explains why the character is who the character is. If you look at any well-written novel you will notice that most of the characters have pretty extensive backgrounds. While we may not get a full write up of every aspect of their life, we do see quite a bit of where they have been. The reason we need this information is so that the current person we are reading about makes sense to us.
The Second reason character background is important is it works as a way to help move the plot forward. Whether a character in a story is facing a life long arch nemesis or hesitates to kill a particular person, this happens because of what has gone on before. Without a background story, none of this can happen.
Finally, character background is important because it gives the character depth. Imagine how Geroge R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire would read if he didn’t bother to clue you into anything about the characters past. We are able to feel emotions for each and every character in those books because we have a chance to experience their lives. We may not have the entire life story of Arya Stark, but we get enough of it to understand her progression through the series. If we didn’t have information on who she was before the books begin, none of what she does later would make much sense to us.
But Why Should I Care About my Character’s Background?
Even if you are just a gamer rolling up a character, you should care about your background because it helps make the game not only more evocative, but also increases the emotional investment. While it might be easy to simply roll a bunch of numbers and call it good, the fact is it’s hard to care about this kind of character. If you don’t care about your character then you are going to make decisions without any real thought to the consequences. While there is nothing wrong with that style of play, it does cheapen the experience a bit.
If you spend a bit of time developing a story for your character you become emotionally invested in them. When you are emotionally invested in a character those choices you make carry a lot more weight. When choices carry the weight, the threats you face become that much more real. This in turn creates a much richer experience for you as a gamer.
Not only does character background help a player become more invested in the game, it also serves to help the Game Master develop meaningful story lines. While there is nothing wrong with the standard run into a dungeon, beat down some mobs, grab some loot, go back to town kind of adventure, a background can make it a lot more interesting. By having a background, the GM can make the adventure more relevant to the characters who are part of the adventure. Maybe you have a lover in your background you haven’t seen for years and suddenly you get a note begging for your help. Isn’t this a much better adventure hook than “You walk into an inn and see an advertisement posted looking for brave adventurers”?
In the end, spending a little bit of time creating a character background can add a great deal of depth to the game in a number of ways. You don’t have to spend hours writing a twenty-page back story. All you have to do is take a few minutes and answer some basic questions.
1: Who were my parents? Or Did the character even have parents? Did your parents love you? Abuse you? Sell you into slavery? Spoil you?
2: What was family life like? Did you live in a loving family? Did your family remain in one place your whole life? Did your family travel wide and far?
3: Where am I from? Did you grow up in a small town? On a farm? In a bustling city? As part of a trade caravan?
4: What was life like where I am from? Where the people who lived around you friendly? Was religion important? Was wealth important?
5: What is important to my character? Do I care about money? Do I care about Fame? If so why? If not why not?
6: What relationships did I have before the game started? Was I in love with someone? Did they return that love? Who was my best friend? What happened to them?
By taking some time to answer these questions you can flesh out a character pretty quickly. As you answer these questions don’t be afraid to ask others. The more work you put into your character background, the more you will enjoy playing that character. Not only will you enjoy playing the character your GM will have a lot of stuff to pull from for inspiration.
When all is said and done, you don’t need to give a character background if you don’t want to. Having a set of stats on a page is a fine way to go about things. However, if you are looking for ways to make the gaming experience even more rewarding give some thought to what I have said here. I hope you enjoyed the read and I hope you find it useful. If your inclined I and Kieth both would love to hear about your experiences with character background. Give us a comment about a favorite character of yours or a memorable piece of background you created. Heck if you all like this post enough Kieth might invite me back for another one.
Ric is the Owner and Chief Blogger at Samson’s Bridge