Character Basics – Background

You appear, magically, in a world that is already populated with tons of other characters, including the ones that you are going to be joining on a great adventure. You probably already have all your stats, weapons, class, and abilities firmly drawn up. But one of the biggest things people neglect to do or even think about is your character’s background. Your character wasn’t born yesterday. Well, most of the time they aren’t. While they may have been no more than a blank character sheet until you decided to create them, part of what you have to think about is their background.

A fully fleshed out character has a back story, a history. They came from somewhere, had people in their lives, had previous adventures. All of this goes into creating a solid character. Not only does it help others understand and interact with you, but it helps you to bring this character to life and play them. Knowing that they are afraid of spiders because of a childhood incident or that they love elves because they travelled with a band of them for years helps you to slide into the role of becoming them. It just takes a little time and imagination to build that kind of background. Here are some questions and tips on how to build a background for your character.

Home Life

Where did your character come from? Was it a farm or a city? What kind of terrain did they grow up around? Mountains or near the sea? These kinds of questions can not only help with their behaviors but also what kinds of skills they would have. If they grew up near the ocean, they can probably sail and fish along with knowing some really good knots. Near the mountains, they probably can climb, ski, and might also know good knots. Living on a farm, they would know a lot about crops, weather, and maybe domestic animals. City living has its own perks from being a pickpocket to a vendor. Living in a big city would probably give your character some street smarts of one kind or another.

Relationships

Who they grew up with can have a huge impact on what your character is like. Did they have 10 brothers and sisters that they had to raise? Were they close to their mother or were they abandoned at birth? That could greatly impact your character’s trust issues. Did they have a long lost love that was killed by a dragon? That could create a huge issue with dragons. The past relationships that your character had could make them open and friendly and loves meeting new people. A dark, abusive, or lonely upbringing would make them far less trusting and open when meeting new people. Take the time to decide who helped form your character during their formative years.

Friends and Foes

Who did your character hang out with growing up and after? If you are a human but were raised by wolves then you probably feel a close connection with them. If you were raised in the big city and hung out with thieves and cutthroats, it probably had an impact on you. If you came from a church where you were strictly involved with priests and nuns think about how your character would have formed their thoughts and behaviors. We also have to go back to who your character wouldn’t like. If he was bullied when he was young, he might have some issues. Or if his village was burned to the ground by dwarves she might have a fear or hatred of them. Maybe along the path, he ran into some elves who were rude to him. All of this can play into who your character would like and wouldn’t like.

Experience

The journeys that brought your character forward will all combine to create not just a character sheet, but someone you feel like you know. Like a friend who you are sharing with others. It enables you to understand them as if you did a case study of their life. Make up some stories to tell around the dinner table or campfire. It doesn’t have to even be a big event. Think about their schooling, their journeys to get where they are. Did they travel by sea, on horseback, or on foot? What kinds of jobs did they do to support themselves? What skills did they learn along the way? How did they get their scars? How did they get that really cool sword they carry?

The greatest appeal of playing RPGs is becoming someone else, getting to use your imagination to do and say things that you might not in real life. To enjoy that experience to its fullest requires creating a character that is more than stats on a page or a random set of numbers thrown together. Take the time to create a complete character with a history and roots. It will add to the experience in ways that you may not even realize. Another way to enjoy RPGs and pick up ideas for characters is by watching others. To see some RPGs in action, you can catch some great games on the Scorched Dice Twitch channel. If you would like to get some advice on character building, discuss specifics or talk with others about all things tabletop gaming, join us in our chat.

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