Useful character backgrounds

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Vargold

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The Heroquest 100-word maximum paragraph is about as much as I can tolerate on either side of the table.
 
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raniE

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No, such rules are just as bad as the "you must fill out this four page questionnaire stuff. It's taking a certain preference and deciding that is how it should be for everyone. The amount of background the player creates should be up to the player and what they feel comfortable with. Someone might want a nearly complete blank slate, someone else might want several pages and a family tree. And asking either player to adopt the style of the other is just asking for dissatisfaction with the game.
 

ffilz

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No, such rules are just as bad as the "you must fill out this four page questionnaire stuff. It's taking a certain preference and deciding that is how it should be for everyone. The amount of background the player creates should be up to the player and what they feel comfortable with. Someone might want a nearly complete blank slate, someone else might want several pages and a family tree. And asking either player to adopt the style of the other is just asking for dissatisfaction with the game.
As a GM I really don’t want to have to read a several page background. I’ve had a couple of those and I can’t absorb all that information.
 

TJS

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No, such rules are just as bad as the "you must fill out this four page questionnaire stuff. It's taking a certain preference and deciding that is how it should be for everyone. The amount of background the player creates should be up to the player and what they feel comfortable with. Someone might want a nearly complete blank slate, someone else might want several pages and a family tree. And asking either player to adopt the style of the other is just asking for dissatisfaction with the game.
Well, it mostly a joke...

...but any case I really don't see how it puts a limit on the background. All it does it put a limit on the communication. It's just insisting that's what's important for the game going forward be distilled.

If the player want's to write a 10,000 short story about something that happened to the character when they were 10, then they can have at it. They just shouldn't expect that to be relevant to the campaign beyond any reason they have to bring it up during play.
 

raniE

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As a GM I really don’t want to have to read a several page background. I’ve had a couple of those and I can’t absorb all that information.
Right, but then you just work the general stuff out with the player, and then they can expand it on their own. The GM only needs to know stuff that probably will come up. Like my Kutulu PC mentioned above. All the GM needs to know is that he's a semi-famous author who lives above his means. So people might know who he is, or they might not. Just like with player preference, there is GM preference too, and if you don't want more than the necessary background stuff, no one should be dumping more on you, even if they've written more.
 

raniE

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Well, it mostly a joke...

...but any case I really don't see how it puts a limit on the background. All it does it put a limit on the communication. It's just insisting that's what's important for the game going forward be distilled.

If the player want's to write a 10,000 short story about something that happened to the character when they were 10, then they can have at it. They just shouldn't expect that to be relevant to the campaign beyond any reason they have to bring it up during play.
You're right, I misread it as the background should be no longer than a tweet.
 
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ffilz

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Right, but then you just work the general stuff out with the player, and then they can expand it on their own. The GM only needs to know stuff that probably will come up. Like my Kutulu PC mentioned above. All the GM needs to know is that he's a semi-famous author who lives above his means. So people might know who he is, or they might not. Just like with player preference, there is GM preference too, and if you don't want more than the necessary background stuff, no one should be dumping more on you, even if they've written more.
So one question I have is if you have a long background that the GM isn't reading and absorbing, that background must be specifying setting elements, how do you cope with the GM possibly negating them?

To borrow again from Vincent Baker's Lumpley Principle: "System (including but not limited to 'the rules') is defined as the means by which the group agrees to imagined events during play."

If the group (or at least the GM) hasn't incorporated the background into play (i.e. absorbed it), then it isn't real within the context of the campaign.

Now certainly notes on your character's personality and opinions don't need to be shared to be useful. But like you said before, if you misunderstand the history of the setting, you might include a sister in China that has a major implication on things. How can you be sure that you haven't included anything, or that the GM won't out of ignorance to your background override something? Or are you comfortable with some details being overridden?
 

raniE

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So one question I have is if you have a long background that the GM isn't reading and absorbing, that background must be specifying setting elements, how do you cope with the GM possibly negating them?

To borrow again from Vincent Baker's Lumpley Principle: "System (including but not limited to 'the rules') is defined as the means by which the group agrees to imagined events during play."

If the group (or at least the GM) hasn't incorporated the background into play (i.e. absorbed it), then it isn't real within the context of the campaign.

Now certainly notes on your character's personality and opinions don't need to be shared to be useful. But like you said before, if you misunderstand the history of the setting, you might include a sister in China that has a major implication on things. How can you be sure that you haven't included anything, or that the GM won't out of ignorance to your background override something? Or are you comfortable with some details being overridden?
You go through the general stuff, like I said. So if I want a family I’ll quickly mention them, then you can mention the China thing or any rules of inheritance or whatever, then I develop it more on my own. I also think that this is a bit where maybe you have to accept that some things are maybe mutually exclusive. If you as a GM want to have a very detailed and developed setting, then maybe going over some background with a player isn’t too much to ask. And if you as a GM are running it fairly loose, then there probably won’t be much to contradict.
 

ffilz

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You go through the general stuff, like I said. So if I want a family I’ll quickly mention them, then you can mention the China thing or any rules of inheritance or whatever, then I develop it more on my own. I also think that this is a bit where maybe you have to accept that some things are maybe mutually exclusive. If you as a GM want to have a very detailed and developed setting, then maybe going over some background with a player isn’t too much to ask. And if you as a GM are running it fairly loose, then there probably won’t be much to contradict.
But all of the problems become much less if you don't write a longer background than I can absorb...

So the real question is what does it do for you if I can't absorb it?

If we miss something and you write a contradiction in, no matter what, I'm not just going to automatically bow to your background. And what if your background conflicts with another players? So really to work, everyone has to absorb everyone's background...

So my way of handling it is you are welcome to write a background for your character. Keep it short. The shorter it is, the more likely I can absorb the whole thing and point out anything that doesn't mesh well with my setting, campaign ideas, or the other PCs. And always be open to revision if something doesn't fit, or in play you realize a small change would actually be more cool than what you wrote in isolation.

And I don't know if you're the 10,000 word type, but someone who is, maybe consider writing fiction instead of a background for an RPG character... 10,000 words is more than a couple pages...
 

raniE

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But all of the problems become much less if you don't write a longer background than I can absorb...

So the real question is what does it do for you if I can't absorb it?

If we miss something and you write a contradiction in, no matter what, I'm not just going to automatically bow to your background. And what if your background conflicts with another players? So really to work, everyone has to absorb everyone's background...

So my way of handling it is you are welcome to write a background for your character. Keep it short. The shorter it is, the more likely I can absorb the whole thing and point out anything that doesn't mesh well with my setting, campaign ideas, or the other PCs. And always be open to revision if something doesn't fit, or in play you realize a small change would actually be more cool than what you wrote in isolation.

And I don't know if you're the 10,000 word type, but someone who is, maybe consider writing fiction instead of a background for an RPG character... 10,000 words is more than a couple pages...
Couldn't the exact same thing be said about writing up such a deep setting that it can be easily contradicted by minor details of character bacsktories, yet having no interest in letting anyone else know about it beforehand or decide anything about it? Maybe consider writing your own second world fantasy story to show off your worldbuilding. If you say that you can't run the game in such a sketchy and undeveloped world, consider that I can say the same thing about playing a sketchy and undeveloped character.
 

ffilz

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Couldn't the exact same thing be said about writing up such a deep setting that it can be easily contradicted by minor details of character bacsktories, yet having no interest in letting anyone else know about it beforehand or decide anything about it? Maybe consider writing your own second world fantasy story to show off your worldbuilding. If you say that you can't run the game in such a sketchy and undeveloped world, consider that I can say the same thing about playing a sketchy and undeveloped character.
I don't write up deep settings... :-) And even though it looks like I run one, my Glorantha is NOT a deep setting. Yes, it's deeper than the Glorantha I started playing in 1978, but if something in play contradicts something I haven't absorbed and internalized, whether it's a detail in the setting information in the 1978 rule book, or tomorrows grand RuneQuest Glorantha campaign published by Chaosium, I'll move on.

And my settings are only cooperatively developed with the players to the extent that players can provide details of their family, maybe some close friends or mentors and such, but players don't get privilege to contribute to the grand history of the setting, though if a player suggests something cool that doesn't contradict what I already have figured out, well, thanks player for the cool idea, though maybe I'll bend and twist it.

But when the Traveller players wrote up more background than I had for my Wine Dark Rift setting and wrote stuff up for off-map and then wanted to engage that instead of the content I had already prepared? That was the end. Yea, maybe that doesn't sound like a Sandbox, but tough noogies, I spent a lot of effort setting up the mapped area I had, and thinking how the different worlds interacted, nothing deep mind you, but still, a bunch of effort.

I'm not sure any of my RuneQuest players have much background. The most recent has the most definition I can think of but even that isn't deep. And what the player did do was in conversation with me. One other PC we know where he comes from. We don't even know where the elf comes from (I sort of have an idea...). And there's almost certainly details of THIS Glorantha that are different from the last time I ran an RQ campaign...
 

raniE

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I don't write up deep settings... :-) And even though it looks like I run one, my Glorantha is NOT a deep setting. Yes, it's deeper than the Glorantha I started playing in 1978, but if something in play contradicts something I haven't absorbed and internalized, whether it's a detail in the setting information in the 1978 rule book, or tomorrows grand RuneQuest Glorantha campaign published by Chaosium, I'll move on.

And my settings are only cooperatively developed with the players to the extent that players can provide details of their family, maybe some close friends or mentors and such, but players don't get privilege to contribute to the grand history of the setting, though if a player suggests something cool that doesn't contradict what I already have figured out, well, thanks player for the cool idea, though maybe I'll bend and twist it.

But when the Traveller players wrote up more background than I had for my Wine Dark Rift setting and wrote stuff up for off-map and then wanted to engage that instead of the content I had already prepared? That was the end. Yea, maybe that doesn't sound like a Sandbox, but tough noogies, I spent a lot of effort setting up the mapped area I had, and thinking how the different worlds interacted, nothing deep mind you, but still, a bunch of effort.

I'm not sure any of my RuneQuest players have much background. The most recent has the most definition I can think of but even that isn't deep. And what the player did do was in conversation with me. One other PC we know where he comes from. We don't even know where the elf comes from (I sort of have an idea...). And there's almost certainly details of THIS Glorantha that are different from the last time I ran an RQ campaign...
It really seems like you think "a lot of background" means "a lot of bullshit about how I'm heir to the kingdom". Because if you run a roughly sketched game, that's the only background stuff that can really throw you. The detail about having a sister when you're Chinese and born during the one child policy era? That can only come up in a very detailed settings (of which our own world is one). So the only time that having a lot of background can be a problem because it contradicts the setting is when you have a very detailed setting, in which case banning detailed backgrounds seems messed up to me (we're supposed to read through your info pamphlet on this kingdom but you can't read a page of background?). Because the problems you have? They don't have anything to do with the amount of background written.

Here's a short background: "My character Robert was born the eldest son of the high king. When the high king died, he became high king. The rest of the adventuring group are his subjects." Hell, that fits in a tweet. Heres another one: "My character served in the Imperial navy, eventually reaching the rank of admiral, a rank he still holds." That one was even shorter. See, length isn't the problem.

As for playing a character with that little background? No thanks, I would have problems getting into my character's shoes.
 

ffilz

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It really seems like you think "a lot of background" means "a lot of bullshit about how I'm heir to the kingdom". Because if you run a roughly sketched game, that's the only background stuff that can really throw you. The detail about having a sister when you're Chinese and born during the one child policy era? That can only come up in a very detailed settings (of which our own world is one). So the only time that having a lot of background can be a problem because it contradicts the setting is when you have a very detailed setting, in which case banning detailed backgrounds seems messed up to me (we're supposed to read through your info pamphlet on this kingdom but you can't read a page of background?). Because the problems you have? They don't have anything to do with the amount of background written.

Here's a short background: "My character Robert was born the eldest son of the high king. When the high king died, he became high king. The rest of the adventuring group are his subjects." Hell, that fits in a tweet. Heres another one: "My character served in the Imperial navy, eventually reaching the rank of admiral, a rank he still holds." That one was even shorter. See, length isn't the problem.

As for playing a character with that little background? No thanks, I would have problems getting into my character's shoes.
Ah, but the short and sweet one, I can read in a moment and say "no."

But in the multi-page background? It depends on how much time I have to read it, and then if it DOES have stuff that contradicts something in my thoughts for the campaign, how much time does it take to resolve it and convince you to re-write?

The problem we are going to have with this whole discussion is we are talking theoreticals. I don't KNOW what kind of background you would write up for my RQ campaign. You haven't committed to playing in it and had even a short conversation about the campaign and what kind of character you might want, so you don't know what sorts of things you would want in your background. Be a player in my campaign, present me a background, long or short, and I'll let you know what kind of problem I have with it. But chances are I just don't have the time to read something very long. I run a very low prep campaign, but that doesn't mean the setting doesn't have some depth. And the players are free to read up anything they want on Glorantha. And if it seems like they are about to base a play decision on something they've read about that conflicts with my vision, we'll have a conversation.

And that's what I like about shorter backgrounds that are deepened in play. As things come up, we can have a conversation about them. Want a longer background, don't assume I've read it all and absorbed it. Be prepared to edit if something in it becomes relevant.

But what you DO NOT get to do EVER is force me to change something I've written up. The Arcana Unearthed player I had who wrote the longest background ever submitted to me and didn't want to budge on something? He was negating something I was setting up as a major conflict of the campaign. It would be like I announce we're running a campaign in Middle Earth and a player writes that Sarumun is a cool guy totally on the side of good. That's the kind of thing I don't like about long backgrounds. Or like I said, the Traveller background that demanded I write up a whole new sub-sector and develop a noble family and their intrigues. Nope, not doing it just because you decided that's the campaign you want to play instead of the campaign I offered. Bait and switch is just as bad when done by players as by GMs.
 

raniE

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Ah, but the short and sweet one, I can read in a moment and say "no."
And if I say "no, I won't change it"? How is this different from the Arcana Unearthed guy?

But in the multi-page background? It depends on how much time I have to read it, and then if it DOES have stuff that contradicts something in my thoughts for the campaign, how much time does it take to resolve it and convince you to re-write?

The problem we are going to have with this whole discussion is we are talking theoreticals. I don't KNOW what kind of background you would write up for my RQ campaign. You haven't committed to playing in it and had even a short conversation about the campaign and what kind of character you might want, so you don't know what sorts of things you would want in your background. Be a player in my campaign, present me a background, long or short, and I'll let you know what kind of problem I have with it. But chances are I just don't have the time to read something very long. I run a very low prep campaign, but that doesn't mean the setting doesn't have some depth. And the players are free to read up anything they want on Glorantha. And if it seems like they are about to base a play decision on something they've read about that conflicts with my vision, we'll have a conversation.

And that's what I like about shorter backgrounds that are deepened in play. As things come up, we can have a conversation about them. Want a longer background, don't assume I've read it all and absorbed it. Be prepared to edit if something in it becomes relevant.

But what you DO NOT get to do EVER is force me to change something I've written up. The Arcana Unearthed player I had who wrote the longest background ever submitted to me and didn't want to budge on something? He was negating something I was setting up as a major conflict of the campaign. It would be like I announce we're running a campaign in Middle Earth and a player writes that Sarumun is a cool guy totally on the side of good. That's the kind of thing I don't like about long backgrounds. Or like I said, the Traveller background that demanded I write up a whole new sub-sector and develop a noble family and their intrigues. Nope, not doing it just because you decided that's the campaign you want to play instead of the campaign I offered. Bait and switch is just as bad when done by players as by GMs.

Right, except if the players are expected to read up on Glorantha, why aren't you expected to read up on their characters?

And again, your problems always seem to have to do with people who want to write part of the setting, or have a bunch of special circumstances for their characters, not the length of the background. The Arcana Unearthed player who wrote the longest background? You would have had the same problem with him with a short background as with a long one. Same with the Traveller player. As the saying goes, the rules can't fix stupid, and the rules can't fix asshole. That includes rules about backstory length.

And as an aside on the Saruman thing, that would work out great, because that is exactly how Saruman presented himself to the world. Gandalf ended up captured by him because he trusted Saruman and went to speak with him. So unless the player is playing Saruman, that's a fitting background detail, as long as everyone is on board with the PCs knowing important characters in the setting.
 

ffilz

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And if I say "no, I won't change it"? How is this different from the Arcana Unearthed guy?
Maybe because I've invested less time with the player who won't change a short background? If you show up, roll up a character, and present me a short background that conflicts with my campaign, and won't back down, we've wasted a bit of time. If I've spent several hours in chat with you about the campaign, and then the time to read and consider a lengthy background (especially a 20,000 word one) and then won't back down on something? I've wasted quite a bit of time.

Now from what you've shared about your preferences, you want to spend that time to get on the same page as me. If more players who wanted deep backgrounds were like that, I'd be more open to them. The ONLY players I've had who wanted deep background wanted to jerk me around. That tends to get me set against deep background.

Right, except if the players are expected to read up on Glorantha, why aren't you expected to read up on their characters?
Yes, actually I expect players to invest more time in my setting than I will in their character. I have a limited amount of time. If I have 6 players, it's not fair to expect me to do 6-10 times the reading the players are expected to do. For RQ/Glorantha, I expect players to read the rule book and preferably their cult. Reading about Glorantha in the rule book will set them up decently, especially after I give them a bit of and idea of the setting as I interpret it (mostly that my Glorantha is probably more "generic D&D" than other people's, because that's what I had to go on when I started running RQ.

And again, your problems always seem to have to do with people who want to write part of the setting, or have a bunch of special circumstances for their characters, not the length of the background. The Arcana Unearthed player who wrote the longest background? You would have had the same problem with him with a short background as with a long one. Same with the Traveller player. As the saying goes, the rules can't fix stupid, and the rules can't fix asshole. That includes rules about backstory length.
I don't have rules about background length. I have suggestions. And yea, rules never fix stupid or jerk. But my experience is that a lengthy deep background is a strong indicator of disposition to jerkdom...

Hmm, "deep" doesn't even need to be that long... I had a player want to join my Classic Traveller campaign that uses Book 1 character generation. He came in with a concept and it was clear he didn't want to do random chargen... Bye bye. I'll hold out for players who embrace the game I'm running, or at least want to learn it.

And as an aside on the Saruman thing, that would work out great, because that is exactly how Saruman presented himself to the world. Gandalf ended up captured by him because he trusted Saruman and went to speak with him. So unless the player is playing Saruman, that's a fitting background detail, as long as everyone is on board with the PCs knowing important characters in the setting.
Well, that's a good point, so long as the GM is allowed to nuance something from the character's background. That could be interesting.
 

raniE

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Maybe because I've invested less time with the player who won't change a short background? If you show up, roll up a character, and present me a short background that conflicts with my campaign, and won't back down, we've wasted a bit of time. If I've spent several hours in chat with you about the campaign, and then the time to read and consider a lengthy background (especially a 20,000 word one) and then won't back down on something? I've wasted quite a bit of time.

Now from what you've shared about your preferences, you want to spend that time to get on the same page as me. If more players who wanted deep backgrounds were like that, I'd be more open to them. The ONLY players I've had who wanted deep background wanted to jerk me around. That tends to get me set against deep background.

Eh, I feel like you've been rolling with the wrong people then. I love me some deep background. I also play pretty much as setting friendly characters as I can, and ones disposed toward working with the rest of the group. A lot of players want to play as Raphael, the badass loner. I want to play Leonardo, the team player. But sure, who we play with is going to change our expectations.

Yes, actually I expect players to invest more time in my setting than I will in their character. I have a limited amount of time. If I have 6 players, it's not fair to expect me to do 6-10 times the reading the players are expected to do. For RQ/Glorantha, I expect players to read the rule book and preferably their cult. Reading about Glorantha in the rule book will set them up decently, especially after I give them a bit of and idea of the setting as I interpret it (mostly that my Glorantha is probably more "generic D&D" than other people's, because that's what I had to go on when I started running RQ.

I don't own any edition of RuneQuest with info about Glorantha in the book (I should probably get the new RuneQuest though), but in my copy of HeroQuest Glorantha the setting info on Dragon Pass is 12 pages. So if 6 players gave you two pages each, that's not 6 times the reading, that's the same total amount of reading you are expecting of every player. I get not requiring the players to read the Glorantha sourcebook or the 13 lbs Guide to Glorantha set or play King of Dragon Pass before play begins, and the same courtesy should be extended to the GM from the side of the players. But there's a huge middle ground between "fits in a tweet", as some have suggested, and "10,000 words" (about 20 pages if single spaced text). The background for Kadmos I wrote up for the GM was 606 words, which comes out to about a page and a third (I added some extra stuff like the names of the family members etc for myself). I don't think reading 6-12 pages of character backgrounds total (assuming six players) and then having briefish discussions with each player, or with the group as a whole, is too much of a burden if 12 pages is the required setting reading for the players.

I don't have rules about background length. I have suggestions. And yea, rules never fix stupid or jerk. But my experience is that a lengthy deep background is a strong indicator of disposition to jerkdom...

See above about jerk players.

Hmm, "deep" doesn't even need to be that long... I had a player want to join my Classic Traveller campaign that uses Book 1 character generation. He came in with a concept and it was clear he didn't want to do random chargen... Bye bye. I'll hold out for players who embrace the game I'm running, or at least want to learn it.

I love me some random creation. Give me Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay with the extra rules from Apocrypha Now. That way I'll be randomly generating not only my character's stats, but also their race, gender, hometown, previous career, age, family, (including possibly a spouse and children), appearance etc etc. That gives me lots of stuff to build off of.

Well, that's a good point, so long as the GM is allowed to nuance something from the character's background. That could be interesting.

Right? Good setup for "you betrayed me!"
 
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ffilz

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So the edition of RQ I play, 1st ed (1978) has 2 pages plus a map of Glorantha... And then it depends, do you consider the cult and stuff background or rules? But honestly, if you don't want to read that, we can have a short conversation and probably get you enough up to speed to play. I really don't do deep setting... The Glorantha I run is close enough to "generic D&D setting" in general that most players are fine without a deep read on Glorantha. Heck, before online play, most players didn't even have their own copy of the rules.

But the problem isn't just reading the PC backgrounds, it's absorbing them and figuring out if they fit the campaign, and how to incorporate any bits.

But honestly most players who DO write much of anything of a background write stuff a few paragraphs that's a pretty quick read and gives a decent starting point for the character, and not much I actually have to absorb.

So give me your background and I'll let you know if it's too much, or if it's going to cause problems... And if you're willing to be flexible, we're on. If you stand your ground no matter what, we may have trouble.

So back to the original question of what is a useful character background? In the types of games I run, a useful background to ME the GM will be a bit of a story of where your character came from (subject to edits and approval by me), and a summary of who your character is, and maybe something that can be recognized as goals (which is present, I may comment on how well they fit the campaign and the setting).

Really I can't say much more about backgrounds out of the context of a campaign and a player.
 

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Really I can't say much more about backgrounds out of the context of a campaign and a player.
This part is key really. Context is always important, from the player side as well. Is this a one-shot dungeon crawl? Screw it, I'll play a cliché with a line of background and a motivation like "get rich or die trying". Is it expected to be a long running campaign set in the real world? I'll be researching the time period and putting in an effort to make a believable character who fits into whatever time and place we're starting in, and that's going to mean some background.
 

johnmarron

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I hope this is acceptable, but here is a link to a similar discussion from RPGNet back in 2003, which I felt was pretty useful. It starts as a rant against long character backstories, then spins off into a discussion of "situation based play".

 

Black Vulmea

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I also will use this if I want the game to have anything like important details
That's . . . something. :shock:

Out of curiosity, I decided to fill out as much of it as I could for a character, and to my surprise I found I could answer the questionnaire pretty completely - there were only a couple questions where I was stumped.

Of course, I wasn't writing about a new character - it was a character I ran for two-plus years.

And that's what I love about roleplaying games, how a character who starts out as numbers on a page acquires depth, becomes more fully realized, by Playing. To. Find. Out.

I made a character using the Beta rules release for Fria Ligan's Twilight: 2000 the other night - I spotted something in the lifepath rules I thought looked interesting, wanted to see if it would work. Because it's a lifepath generated character, I know more about him at start than I did, say, Ali or Eladio: served four years in the military, five as a police officer, then returned to the military when war broke out in '97. He came from a military family, trained as a TOW gunner on an APC, then became a police officer and a SWAT team member before being called up again. His most exceptional skill is reconnaissance.

The rules say that civilian characters are 'drafted or volunteer' to serve when war breaks out - it's randomly rolled each 'term' during the character's lifepath - but I came up with another interpretation, based on his original military service: he was a National Guardsman.

This particular lifepath jumped out at me after reading the OOB and TOE for the 5th ID (Mech): one of the brigades is Louisiana National Guard. So SPC Freeman - don't have a first name yet, not in a rush to give him one - is an Army brat who joined LANG out of high school then got a job with NOPD, and was recalled to active duty and sent to Europe as part of the Red Devils when the war broke out. I took one small liberty with the rules, changing a table he rolled on for his 'at war' specialty, to reflect this path.

His high Recon skill suggests his M113 was knocked out well before Kalisz and he's been walking point as dismounted infantry for awhile.

Then came the chrome: dad is African-American from NOLA, served a couple of tours in 'nam, retired as a MSG; mom is Korean. Freeman was born in Seoul, lived in West Germany and on bases around the US, graduated high school in Louisiana after his father retired. He's got at least one sibling, but I haven't invested in specifics yet. The only personal detail I know so far is that Freeman listens to OutKast, Goodie Mob, Juvenile, and other ATL and NOLA rappers, and he grew up with Guitar Slim, Lonesome Sundown, Lead Belly, Earl King, Lightnin' Slim, &c from his dad's record collection.

Finally, an intriguing thing about his lifepath: in his last term before the war, Freeman suffered an Attribute decrease, and I decreased his Empathy from B to C. Was that because of life as a cop? Prejudice he experienced as a person of mixed-race? Something else? I don't know, and I don't want to know yet: I want to experience it through his reaction to something which happens in actual play. Trying to nail that down now spoils the discovery of who he is.

Right now, I don't give a rat's ass about his favorite color or his first kiss, but maybe someday I'll discover most of the answers to his questionnaire, too.
 

TJS

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I hope this is acceptable, but here is a link to a similar discussion from RPGNet back in 2003, which I felt was pretty useful. It starts as a rant against long character backstories, then spins off into a discussion of "situation based play".

Interesting. My browser is giving me security warnings from Rpgnet.
 

raniE

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That happens like a couple of times a year. Or used to when I went there often at least.
 

xanther

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....But when the Traveller players wrote up more background than I had for my Wine Dark Rift setting and wrote stuff up for off-map and then wanted to engage that instead of the content I had already prepared? ...
That is when I say cool, like your setting you should run that as a Traveller game. Players overwriting the setting is taking away a lot of the agency of the Referee, creation of a setting is half the fun. Like you said though, I try to not have my setting be too deep so there is plenty of room for things.

As I always try to find a compromise, with your player in the above example I might say well yes that exists in a parallel universe, and your PC is coming to the realization that things are close (i.e. adopt what I can from the player background) but not exact. How did that happen? Some strange jump accident? Where others on board effected? etc. I might caution the player that the Imperium takes multiverse stuff very seriously (so you have heard) like above top secret, be careful what you say and to who.

Happy to have the player work to get to that parallel universe. After all, in a sci--fi game a multiverse is almost assumed.

Final note, on the off-map stuff. If the PC does not know it it can't be included in a back story for me. Sure you can set up a family etc. but to say a star system exists here and it is not generally known, nope, the PC backstory is limited to what the PC (not player) would know.
 

xanther

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.....Here's a short background: "My character Robert was born the eldest son of the high king. When the high king died, he became high king. The rest of the adventuring group are his subjects." Hell, that fits in a tweet. Heres another one: "My character served in the Imperial navy, eventually reaching the rank of admiral, a rank he still holds." That one was even shorter. See, length isn't the problem.....
Exactly, when the back story provides the player with power and resources outside character creation it's a no go; and anything that puts your trip on the other players is also major no-go and frankly red flag to even have the person there.

On the Imperial Navy Admiral example, now that is certainly possible in Traveller character creation :smile: Be careful what you wish for I say, your an admiral under a certain regime, when regimes change you suddenly can go from respected to hunted. Doesn't matter if you are a hero, in fact worse as those are the first to be purged.
 
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