Backstory - Grrr!


Pathfinder First Edition General Discussion

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While I appreciate what you're going for Ol Dirty Sir, but I have to respectfully say that I didn't pick that up from the way you wrote the backstory. You suggest that the "generic" backstory is supposed to give a blank canvas from which the player and GM can collaboratively paint a new picture of the world.

Here's what I saw:

1. the word "generic" suggests that there's no detail, no specifics; the player isn't suggesting any commitment to any one direction with the backstory

2. the narrative, words chosen, and pacing suggests that the character is a bit confused about their "past" before the clerics found them, but otherwise doesn't really care.

3. outside of the gems and gear he was found with along with the sudden arrival of the PC, there is nothing in the narrative to point any investigation into their past in any specific direction

4. the complete openness of the backstory, devoid of any initial clues, suggests that the backstory COULD be anything. If this is the case, the GM could try to guide it in a direction after the game starts that the player wasn't thinking of

All of these points again lead me to certain conclusions, namely that this player didn't want to commit to any specific one way of playing a PC or deciding a story arc for them. Most of the work of incorporating this backstory into the game setting falls on the GM.

Now you DO say that the PC speaks another language besides common. Depending on this language choice this, coupled with the design of the PCs starting gear, the gems they were found with and WHERE specifically in the town the character was found by the people that healed them, these might suggest a bit of the PC's origin. However there's nothing in the write up as posted here to suggest that the PC has looked into any of those details.

As written, if a player emailed this to me, I would get the sense that the player doesn't really care where their PC is from since the narrator in the piece doesn't really care. The only stated goal of the narrator is to be a fighter since the other PCs need one, so they can get money.

This is another good point to make about backstories FYI. They are a good chance for the GM to see the goals and motivations of the PCs. If a guy's backstory is 1 sentence that says "I have amnesia, woke up in the town and am looking for a crew to hook on with so I can get money", I'd think that's all the player wants at the beginning of the game. Since they don't seem to be thinking about any other bigger aspect of the game other than their own character ("I..." being the only pronoun in the sentence) and their PC's wealth, while they might find some goal to spend that money on later in the game, likely it will only be something that mechanically benefits this PC like gear, mercenary guards, their own tree-fort, etc.

Going back to the "generic" backstory above, adding just this:

"I speak common, and this other language (short phrase of non-sense sounds), but no one I've talked to so far recognizes that language, so ... what ever. Anyway - I understand you guys need some type of fighter? And I could really use a job, as I'm sort of out of gem stones now and I'm going to need cash if I'm going to figure out who I am..." (emphasis mine) is just enough to clue me, the GM, into you, the player's desire to have the PC figure out where they come from. This gives me a starting line.

Ol Guy, in another post you suggest that backstories should be collaborative and I wholeheartedly agree with that. Perhaps the "generic" backstory is just the first shot across the bow to kickstart the collaborative process with your GM. If that's the case I withdraw all of my polite critiques above. Also, I'm not trying to suggest that you're "doing it wrong." This is a style of play that I have even seen at some of my tables and the players had fun so if this is the way someone wants to play I want them to enjoy.

All I AM saying is that, as written, if the "generic" backstory came to me as the GM I would treat the PC and the person playing it as "generic" to the game world.

Now others in this thread have said that as the game proceeds the character of the PC will develop. I agree. The fighter mentioned in the "generic" backstory for example might secretly have a LG alignment and have lost their past because, as a paladin of Iomedae they are being punished for their sins until they atone. As the campaign unfolds the PC remembers bits about religious doctrine, subconsciously commits themselves to oaths, and has a fascination with longswords despite the barbarian of the party pointing out that there are superior damaging weapons in a fighter's "sword" group.

The "generic" backstory however, as written, doesn't suggest any of that. Also, since the other PCs have NO indication of the fallen paladin in their midst, what if one of them is a NE necromancer specialist wizard, the barbarian is generally lawless and brutal, and the Investigator uses their poison focus at early levels to assassinate foes during Downtime? Suddenly there's a party conflict which might be fun for some tables to roleplay but for others may just create PVP situations that the GM then has to referee.

In short, as the GM you want your players' PCs to find equilibrium and coalesce as a party. The "generic" one, as written, leaves just as much ambiguity to divide the amnesiac PC from their party as it does to unite them.

The last thing I'll say is that again, as written, the generic pushes a lot back at the GM to fill in the gaps and flesh out the PC's backstory. The PC in the narrative might not even care about where they're from - the GM has to incentivize the PC to care; the language is ambiguous so the GM should supply a relevant language for campaign purposes; there are no clues, the PC COULD be a fallen paladin, a wizard's clone, a construct-made-flesh, etc... but without ANY indicators the GM has to invent this origin and get the player's buy in. As a GM I don't want to have to find a way to convince my player of how I want to shoehorn THEIR PC into my game; rather I want the player to use their backstory to tell ME where they see their character fits.

Do these things make sense? Sorry for the wall o' text everyone and seriously Sir OG, I'm not trying to disrespect the way you play here or anything. With your follow ups above I think I get where you're coming from, I'm just ham-handedly trying to explain my take is all. If I've offended in any way I'm sorry.


Derklord wrote:
Darigaaz the Igniter wrote:
First off I'd quibble that Tolkien is low-magic fantasy, not high fantasy.
Ok, first, the level of magic does not indicate high or low fantasy - that's dictated by a) how different the world is from ours (with all the different races and magical stuff everywhere, middle-earth is very different), and b) how much the story impacts the world (it doesn't get much bigger than the fate of almost the entire known world in the balance). And second, Tolkien is not low magic - quite the contrary. Just because most characters don't go around casting flashy spells, doesn't mean there isn't plenty of magic around. There are magic items everywhere (including just about everything the elves created, e.g. the rations where a single biscuit sates you for a day, the camouflage cloaks, the robes that untie themself, and the boats that can go down a waterfall without spilling its contents), there are magical creatures everywhere (trolls that turn into stone in sunlight, ents that can animate entire forests, a man who can turn into animals and has animal 'servants', etc.), and the entire LotR story is about a magical item so powerful that its possession decides the entire war. A war fought with magical controlled armies of magical creatures (orcs) that were created to imitate other magical creatures (elves) on one side, and an undead army on the other side. There's...

Hmm, fair point. I think it's a common mistake, one I've been doing myself. It's easy to make that leap when one takes a base PnP world like Golarion or Forgotten Realms, and then dial it way down.

I've always described my game world as being low-fantasy, because on top of being E6, the original campaign had magic be virtually absent (required a minor artifact to pull off more or less successfully, otherwise the material plane had a mix of impeded and wild magic traits). There were some spellcasters, but for the most part, they were super rare. Magic items were virtually inexistant.

And yet, this was its own world, not Earth. It had it's own peculiarities, such as being flat, and having different (largely inaccessible) layers. Weather patterns somewhat followed Earth's, but on a scale that wouldn't make sense IRL (especially given the world is flat). Magic, while rare, did exist. Several species of sentient humanoids existed (orcs, goblinoids, elves, gnomes, dwarves, gnolls), as well as a few from the other layers. Pretty much unheard of to most of the world, planar travel was difficult but possible. Great rituals and sky-fallen artifacts existed.

None of my players ever disagreed when I called it low-fantasy, though. I guess low-magic would be more appropriate, but then really it's just "low-magic" compared to standard PnP worlds, it's actually super high magic compared to the real world, especially in the second campaign (the events of the first campaign "unlocked" magic). I suppose the point of reference will influence how people read the magic/fantasy-o-meter.

The Exchange

Mark Hoover 330 wrote:

While I appreciate what you're going for Ol Dirty Sir, but I have to respectfully say that I didn't pick that up from the way you wrote the backstory. You suggest that the "generic" backstory is supposed to give a blank canvas from which the player and GM can collaboratively paint a new picture of the world.

Here's what I saw:

1. the word "generic" suggests that there's no detail, no specifics; the player isn't suggesting any commitment to any one direction with the backstory

2. the narrative, words chosen, and pacing suggests that the character is a bit confused about their "past" before the clerics found them, but otherwise doesn't really care.

3. outside of the gems and gear he was found with along with the sudden arrival of the PC, there is nothing in the narrative to point any investigation into their past in any specific direction

4. the complete openness of the backstory, devoid of any initial clues, suggests that the backstory COULD be anything. If this is the case, the GM could try to guide it in a direction after the game starts that the player wasn't thinking of

All of these points again lead me to certain conclusions, namely that this player didn't want to commit to any specific one way of playing a PC or deciding a story arc for them. Most of the work of incorporating this backstory into the game setting falls on the GM.

Now you DO say that the PC speaks another language besides common. Depending on this language choice this, coupled with the design of the PCs starting gear, the gems they were found with and WHERE specifically in the town the character was found by the people that healed them, these might suggest a bit of the PC's origin. However there's nothing in the write up as posted here to suggest that the PC has looked into any of those details.

As written, if a player emailed this to me, I would get the sense that the player doesn't really care where their PC is from since the narrator in the piece doesn't really care. The only stated goal of the narrator is to be a...

ouch! why am I a suddenly "Dirty"? just wondering? I mean I had a shower this week... and a Prestidigitation spell... and something. At least I think this was directed at me... (you young wipper-snappers... mutter-mutter)

Sorry my writing skills let our narrative down. I was trying to indicate that I was without any knowledge of the setting, I tried to indicate In Character that I didn't even know the name of the location we were starting in. If it was a town or village or city. Or even if there was a Temple near the "town square", or what religion might have a temple in this location. All of these things can be supplied by the narrative of the GM as we proceed.

My intention with the "back story" that I presented for this character was to provide a framework upon which the players (the GM included) could help guide me in creating a "back story" for my PC. They can help me build the character during play. Hopefully they know more about our world setting then I do...

Wizard PC: "Well John, I just cast detect magic and it doesn't look like any of your stuff is magical, but I can tell from the design of your armor" Knowledge Local +8 "that it was constructed in eastern Cheliax, or possibly Isgar."

John: "wow? really? ah... Hay! I recognize those country names! Maybe I'm from one of those places? Do I look Cheliaxian?"

Starting into a new game, I figure I should supply some type of motivation for hanging out with the rest of the PCs. Money to survive seems like the most universal, the must fundamental of motivations.

As to "finding out who he is", from my (admittedly limited) reading into the subject of memory loose, often the amnesiac is much less interested in locating his past...
Benjaman Kyle.
and much more interested in being able to get a job and survive (many of the people who worked with Benjaman actually complained that he seemed much less interested in "finding his past" than he was in "getting a job". Perhaps the fact that without a SSN, he couldn't even be issued ID - and he couldn't get an SSN without ID... Catch 22. And with no ID he couldn't get a job or even public assistance. At one point he lived in a tent behind the police station, because without ID, he couldn't get a job, check into a homeless shelter, or get a place to stay or public assistance...).

I am sure as the adventure continues, John's story will unfold in a way that is fun for both myself (as the main character builder) and the rest of my fellow players (who may help me "build John's Story").

I have actually played this backstory twice in different campaigns long ago... the two PCs ultimately were discovered to be very different persons. Which is to be expected, as once the game system was Gamma World and the other time it was old D&D (back in the '70s). I have also started persons in my home game with much the same backstory - when a player has no idea on how to create something and we really don't have to time to do a proper "character creation" meeting.


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My next character-intro: <Monty Pythonesque old-codger accent> "I was ranting up on the box in the town-square, and next thing I know I was gettin' arrested. I'm bein' oppressed! ...So, you in here for political crimes too?"


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Scattered response to some of the other things I've been seeing in this thread:

"Questionnaire"
I may not have explained this clearly enough. This was not a questionnaire that a single GM asked on particular PC submission. These are the types of questions I have gotten from various GM's who keep asking for more and more information on the back story of my PC's. Actually, if it had been a questionnaire at the beginning, I probably wouldn't have had a problem with it. I would have known about it and it would have gone into my planning and thinking while working on the PC. Continually going back to the well for more irrelevant minutia over and over again can become annoying.

"We are storytellers."
Absolutely agree. I have no problem creating a story by my actions with the rest of the group. It is a blast, which is why I play the game. I find it very difficult, time consuming, and aggravating to invent, by myself, a whole complete history of meaningless details that have no effect on anything.

"It gives the GM a more complete picture of what developed your PC into what he is now."
I would argue that it does nothing of the sort. The PC build, personality, background, appearance, and decision making process have all already been developed. Those additional details were not part of it. So if I'm adding stuff now just because the GM keeps asking me to invent new details, that's all I'm doing. Inventing new details. They actually have nothing to do with what went into the PC's development or personality.

"If that's not your style, which it clearly isn't, then why play with these GM's?"
The wierd thing (to me) is that it doesn't seem to be their style in the game. Just in the recruitment phase. Some of them are recruiting for a replacement character and I can look at the progress so far. Some of the others, I can look at the other games they have run. I find GM's whose game style matches what I want out of a game. But so many of them have this huge hang-up in the character submission process of a massively detailed backstory.

I guess I feel like many people are getting too caught up in the story part of backstory. Maybe if people started using background there might be less of an issue. To me, the story is the part that happens after we begin playing the game. Not the part that never really happened, but that I have to make up to have happened before I made the character.


I'm on the complete other side of the spectrum. I love in-depth backstories. The longer and more intricate, the better.

Though I do respect when players don't find this as fascinating I do. I have no problem with a PC who hands me a 2 paragraph backstory, but I truly do appreciate the 4-5 page backstory.

.

If anyone cares, this is my backstory ;)
Ryze is a Chaotic Surge Wilder with the Crystalized Creature Psicrystal feat.

Ryze's Backstory wrote:

Lyon Luttrel was born to human parents in a metropolis trading city named Thrace. He was only 3 years old when his first nightmare occurred; psionic energy ripped through the house, which leveled the building, and accidentally killed his parents while they slept. Strangely enough, Lyon didn't have a scratch on him despite being crushed by a collapsed building. Rumors and debates stirred, and the cityfolk decided this boy was special, but they didn't know just how special he was or how he survived. They thought it best that he shouldn't stay here in Thrace as there were no orphanages. Furthermore, Thrace was not the place for a toddler to grow up parentless, and no one knew if the boy had any next of kin.

Lyon was taken to a special needs orphanage on the southern continent of Hibernal Tundra in a small town called Doma, just northwest of a mining metropolis called Szucario, where the "Rundaja Games" are held. Roughly two years later after being in this orphanage, a strange man named Apollox visited him. Apollox had heard of the psionic event in Thrace, and eventually tracked the boy down to this orphanage. He was an Elan, or an immortal, and he was bald, had radiantly pale skin, but was covered from head to toe in dullish-blue glowing runic tattoos. He asked Lyon some basic questions about what he would like to be when he grew up and his favorite toys and colors, and who his friends are, but then bid him adieu and afterward vanished.

Some several years went by. Lyon made many friends in the orphanage, but for some strange reason unbeknownst to him, no foster parents would take him. He saw his friends come and go for over a decade.

Once Lyon was 14, he had his second nightmare. In the dream, he saw all of his friends dying and was powerless to stop it. The orphanage personnel and nurses were in complete shock and horror, as everything in the whole orphanage that was not nailed down began to float and violently smash into other things, as if gravity held no logic or reason. The head nurse, Rosie, knew about Lyon's previous nightmare when he was 3 years old, and for the protection of Lyon and others, Rosie had steered potential foster parents away from him. But she abandoned her secret that night, instructing the nursing staff to stop Lyon from doing this. They immediately ran upstairs, and Lyon's room had been completely flipped over as if a cyclone hit it. Lyon was roiling on the floor in his nightmare, screaming in agony. The head nurse grabbed a cooking pot flying nearby and tried to strike Lyon in the head, hoping to knock him unconscious and end the madness. With otherworldly instinct and despite still roiling in his nightmare, Lyon grabbed her with telekinetic energy and stopped her in place. The other nurses fled in horror. Less than a minute later, the entire orphanage was vaporized to the molecular level, and Lyon finally woke up from his nightmare. Amazingly, the staff and other children had not been hurt.

Not only was the orphanage vaporized, the entire town was gone as well. No exception for brick or wood or stone, it was all gone, though the citizens survived. Even their clothes and nightgowns had been vaporized, and they all stood there in the desert naked and shocked as to what had just happened.

The citizens demanded Lyon be put to death immediately, but they had no weapons or rocks or even rope, and Rosie vehemently defended him.

Rosie took Lyon with her far away to a city on the northern coast called Goss, where she hid him for many years. The citizens of Doma had gone to Szucario to call for Lyon's head to be put on a spike, and the Szucarian authorities sent posse after posse in search for him but were unsuccessful.

Lyon turned 18 and he set out to make his own way, taking whatever work he could. The Hibernal Tundra is a sparse desert and traveling can be quite dangerous. Not just because of the bandits and thieves, but because of the sandstorms and lack of food and water; so travel on foot is rarely used. Lyon thought this vast desert would be a perfect hiding place. So Lyon took a job as a courier and delivering mail as a way to stay away from cities and towns, at least until he delivered the mail or parcels. He was constantly on the move as well, and thought it would be much more difficult to be tracked down having a job like this, as staying in a city for any extended length of time could attract bounty hunters.

During one of his first jobs as a courier, Lyon found a falcon who had injured his wing. Lyon took him and cared for him long enough for the falcon to fly again. Except, once the falcon was able to fly again, it didn't want to leave Lyon. Lyon named him Kuja. Several years passed and Kuja faithfully joined him every trip. In a way, they were a great pair. Kuja was an excellent hunter, finding varmints and rabbits in the desert wastes as they traveled from town to town, and Lyon was an excellent cook. Kuja and Lyon traveled together for some 7 years before one fateful afternoon reared its head.

One day along the road, Lyon was confronted by a small group of bandits. The bandits successfully disarmed and bound Lyon, and killed Kuja to eat him. They laughed and spit upon him when Lyon cried out in protest. In an emotional outburst of anger and raw energy and willpower, Lyon's eyes began to glow menacingly dark blue, and this dark blue energy crept around his body seemingly from nowhere, and it began spiraling like a helix around his whole body. Instinctively, crystalline daggers came forth from his skin and cut his bonds, and then immediately retracted. One of the bandits swung at Lyon, and he reacted so quickly he could see the punch fly by his face in a seemingly time-distorted, slow speed, and Lyon took one gaze at this bandit... and with all the willpower he could marshal and with a loud cacophonous scream, he assaulted his mind with everything he had, instantly dropping him to the ground.

The remaining bandits grabbed their weapons and attacked, but one by one, Lyon melted the minds of Kuja's murderers.

In the aftermath of the battle, Lyon held Kuja in his hands and wept for his fallen brother, his body still quivering with raw adrenaline and uncontrollable emotions. Suddenly, tiny beads of crystalline material began pouring from Lyon's hands and forearms like sweat, but it began surrounding and enveloping Kuja in a strange glob of quintessence-like liquid crystal. More and more liquid crystal began pouring out from Lyon, and Kuja began to move and stood straight up in Lyon's hands. The liquid crystal hardened, and Kuja, in his own "Kuja"-esque manner, fluttered his wings and half-cocked his head as he looked up at Lyon.

Lyon was perplexed as to what had just occurred, but his unstable emotions finally subsided when he hugged his best friend. The dark blue energy left his eyes and body as he returned to normal. Suddenly, Lyon heard Kuja's voice in his own mind...

"Brother.... your name isn't Lyon. It is Ryze. And we are now One."


Most GMs are looking for a player who'll be entertaining to them and the rest of the group (or at least not excessively boring / negative).

Which of the following people sounds like someone they'd want to commit to interacting with for the next eight months of gaming?

GM: "Tell me what it was like being a human in a mostly gnome village."
A: "I was constantly banging my head on doors. For several years I believed myself to be a giant."

GM: "Tell me what it was like being a human in a mostly gnome village."
B: "Hang on..." (googles 'Pathfinder gnome', picks up some details about gnome society). A few minutes later: "I switched between several gnome foster families. I had a deep-seated fear of rejection as a result, though I later came to understand that it's gnomish nature to take relationships lightly. I was also the butt of many practical jokes, which I pretended not to mind. The gnomes tended to think of me as just 'a non-gnome'. To them, elves and dwarves and humans are a pretty homogeneous group, less diverse than any collection of gnomes would be. As a consequence of this, I became desperate to stand out in any way possible. I'll often do dumb things just for the attention."

GM: "Tell me what it was like being a human in a mostly gnome village."
C: "I don't know. I've never been in such a situation. I don't care. What does it matter?"

The Exchange

Matthew Downie wrote:

Most GMs are looking for a player who'll be entertaining to them and the rest of the group (or at least not excessively boring / negative).

Which of the following people sounds like someone they'd want to commit to interacting with for the next eight months of gaming?

GM: "Tell me what it was like being a human in a mostly gnome village."
A: "I was constantly banging my head on doors. For several years I believed myself to be a giant."

GM: "Tell me what it was like being a human in a mostly gnome village."
B: "Hang on..." (googles 'Pathfinder gnome', picks up some details about gnome society). A few minutes later: "I switched between several gnome foster families. I had a deep-seated fear of rejection as a result, though I later came to understand that it's gnomish nature to take relationships lightly. I was also the butt of many practical jokes, which I pretended not to mind. The gnomes tended to think of me as just 'a non-gnome'. To them, elves and dwarves and humans are a pretty homogeneous group, less diverse than any collection of gnomes would be. As a consequence of this, I became desperate to stand out in any way possible. I'll often do dumb things just for the attention."

GM: "Tell me what it was like being a human in a mostly gnome village."
C: "I don't know. I've never been in such a situation. I don't care. What does it matter?"

A: went by the name of Head-Banger, and got into a Heavy Metal Band as a result.

B: heck, as the tallest person in town by the time he was in 5th grade, I'd think he would "stand out" in any crowd in town...

C: wait, they were all gnomes? Hump. Never notice that. Guess that explains my using Wisdom as a dump stat.


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What was it like being a human in a mostly gnome village?

I got real tired of being asked to get things off of shelves for people. It was never ending.


It's everyone's free time, so IMO each player is free to choose how much energy they put into each part of the game. Just because I (as the GM) did put a lot of effort into the campaign background, it doesn't mean the players have to care - especially before actual play.

So, if someone joins with just a build and not a character, fine. I will watch what content they care about and offer a few personalized things. If they don't bite, well, no need to pester them, there are more players around.


I got kind of a neat book a while back called the "Party Background generator" It has a bunch of charts and tables in it used to connect PCs to each other before the campaign starts, but what I thought was the neatest part of the thing was how it suggests starting things.

GM puts down a rough map of the Campaign area. Real simple hand drawn map on a big sheet of paper. He lays down a couple of ground rules based on the campaign (like the North West Corner belongs to the Orcs, The place here is the Only Large city, everything else is small Town or smaller, etc...)

Then Each Player gets 1 Minute to describe their character's Background and Draw on the Map.

Then you goto the Tables to link everyone to each other after that part is done. Adding more things to the map (or even adding sub maps) as you do. Like the Tavern where PC-A got into a Bar brawl with PC-B, or the River that PC-C rescued PC-D from when they were kids.

So you end up with this campaign map that the whole group helped build and you expand on each player's background as you go by creating ties between the characters.


Greylurker wrote:

I got kind of a neat book a while back called the "Party Background generator" It has a bunch of charts and tables in it used to connect PCs to each other before the campaign starts, but what I thought was the neatest part of the thing was how it suggests starting things.

GM puts down a rough map of the Campaign area. Real simple hand drawn map on a big sheet of paper. He lays down a couple of ground rules based on the campaign (like the North West Corner belongs to the Orcs, The place here is the Only Large city, everything else is small Town or smaller, etc...)

Then Each Player gets 1 Minute to describe their character's Background and Draw on the Map.

Then you goto the Tables to link everyone to each other after that part is done. Adding more things to the map (or even adding sub maps) as you do. Like the Tavern where PC-A got into a Bar brawl with PC-B, or the River that PC-C rescued PC-D from when they were kids.

So you end up with this campaign map that the whole group helped build and you expand on each player's background as you go by creating ties between the characters.

That's pretty cool.


Got a link? Sounds interesting.

Motivation and background synergy is always tricky and when improper can slow down the story building.

I tend to opt for a coercive approach when I decide on a unifying factor and impose it on the PCs (because players typically haven't been able to come up with any unifying element), would like to hear more about other approaches.


Goblin_Priest wrote:

Got a link? Sounds interesting.

Motivation and background synergy is always tricky and when improper can slow down the story building.

I tend to opt for a coercive approach when I decide on a unifying factor and impose it on the PCs (because players typically haven't been able to come up with any unifying element), would like to hear more about other approaches.

Here is the DrivethruRPG page


Heather 540 wrote:
Greylurker wrote:

I got kind of a neat book a while back called the "Party Background generator" It has a bunch of charts and tables in it used to connect PCs to each other before the campaign starts, but what I thought was the neatest part of the thing was how it suggests starting things.

GM puts down a rough map of the Campaign area. Real simple hand drawn map on a big sheet of paper. He lays down a couple of ground rules based on the campaign (like the North West Corner belongs to the Orcs, The place here is the Only Large city, everything else is small Town or smaller, etc...)

Then Each Player gets 1 Minute to describe their character's Background and Draw on the Map.

Then you goto the Tables to link everyone to each other after that part is done. Adding more things to the map (or even adding sub maps) as you do. Like the Tavern where PC-A got into a Bar brawl with PC-B, or the River that PC-C rescued PC-D from when they were kids.

So you end up with this campaign map that the whole group helped build and you expand on each player's background as you go by creating ties between the characters.

This is awesome!

That's pretty cool.

The Exchange

Long ago I can remember setting up to play an RPG named
Traveller

It had a very involved character generation system that involved creating a "background" for your PC. Creating a sort of Backstory...

I actually created PCs for this game system for several different Campaign kick-offs - but the games never materialized. It was a lot of fun generating PCs for it, though sometimes your PC would DIE, and you'd have to start the creation process all over again (it actually recommended that if you rolled poorly for starting stats that you enlist your PC in the Scout Corps, as that was more likely to kill off your PC before the game started - and if it didn't you were more likely to get big rewards!).


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If you scroll fast enough through the forums, the thread title can be read as Background Grrrl. In a matter of nano-seconds I developed an image of an angsty teen girl cosmically ordained to help people through their origin stories.


Melkiador wrote:

It is so hard to get to play a necromancer. Mine isn't even technically evil, but he still wouldn't fit in with a lot of parties.

** spoiler omitted **

My father actually played that character, in a different game system.


Sir Ol'Guy wrote:

Long ago I can remember setting up to play an RPG named

Traveller

It had a very involved character generation system that involved creating a "background" for your PC. Creating a sort of Backstory...

I actually created PCs for this game system for several different Campaign kick-offs - but the games never materialized. It was a lot of fun generating PCs for it, though sometimes your PC would DIE, and you'd have to start the creation process all over again (it actually recommended that if you rolled poorly for starting stats that you enlist your PC in the Scout Corps, as that was more likely to kill off your PC before the game started - and if it didn't you were more likely to get big rewards!).

I think I vaguely remember trying to play that one time. I seem to recall us spending forever making characters. Then 2 of us suddenly realized we were dead before the game even started. We were all like "What the heck?!?"

I think at that point we gave up and went back to DnD.


Sir Ol'Guy wrote:

Long ago I can remember setting up to play an RPG named

Traveller

It had a very involved character generation system that involved creating a "background" for your PC. Creating a sort of Backstory...

I actually created PCs for this game system for several different Campaign kick-offs - but the games never materialized. It was a lot of fun generating PCs for it, though sometimes your PC would DIE, and you'd have to start the creation process all over again (it actually recommended that if you rolled poorly for starting stats that you enlist your PC in the Scout Corps, as that was more likely to kill off your PC before the game started - and if it didn't you were more likely to get big rewards!).

They used the same system for character creation in Dark Conspiracy, which was a weird mix of X-Files, Cthulhu and Cyberpunk dystopia.

Basic idea was something Elder God like got opened on Mars. Some Aliens were in the area and the Psychic scream from that drove them all nuts. They went from "Earth is an interesting case study" to "Vivisections are cool"
and at the same time all kinds of Eldritch horrors on Earth started waking up and doing stuff.


I just wrote a 3000+ word backstory for a new character...


EldonGuyre wrote:
I just wrote a 3000+ word backstory for a new character...

By your choice or did some GM continually push you for more details until it became 3000+ words?


Beswaur Blue Bottle wrote:
EldonGuyre wrote:
I just wrote a 3000+ word backstory for a new character...
By your choice or did some GM continually push you for more details until it became 3000+ words?

Choice. A third party challenged me to write a 3000 word story, so I made it the backstory.

The GM has had it for about a week, but has yet to read it, as far as I know.


EldonGuyre wrote:
The GM has had it for about a week, but has yet to read it, as far as I know.

The peril with any overly long backstory.


Goblin_Priest wrote:
EldonGuyre wrote:
The GM has had it for about a week, but has yet to read it, as far as I know.
The peril with any overly long backstory.

True enough, though it happens with short ones, too.

RPG Superstar 2008 Top 32

As a DM, the approach I take (admittedly, TT only, I don't play online) is that IF I think PC backstory is necessary, the players may supply as much or as little as they desire. I will then go through and, as I will invariably know the campaign world better than then, add approrpriate names/places/times and essentially localise it. If a lot of information has been provoded, I will need to do precious little. (This is not usually the case, I mostly have to do the majority myself, but that's fine!) I will round out details as necessary, and also often try and seed some relevant information into said backgrounds. But essentially, I will only attempt to make a series of events which essentially provide some individualised informationas to "this is why YourPC is here at this moment." (Important, since in such instances as I think background is warrented, the PCs will not start already all knowing each other.)

I also do NOT put in anything to deliberately screw with the PCs (unless I was specifically asked to), nor do I generally do the "all your family are teh deads" or something, unless there is a good, plot relevant reason and the player has provded no details on the status of their family thereof.

(E.g., for my Shackled City game, we had two Splintershield dwarves in the party, so I took the opportunity to tie them pretty solidly into that backstory, which I felt merited some parental casualties (to make the PCs a little be estranged) - and thus allowed a nice bit of a lore dump for the players. (One of them even found his mum's remains in one of the locasions, so if he wants to fork out for a Res, he can!))


I let my PCs come up with whatever level of backstory with which they are comfortable. I do offer an extra hero point for anyone who writes up a backstory during character creation. Players like the incentive and the chance to start with an extra hero point and it rewards the players who like to put a lot of time into developing a more detailed and involved backstory to help link their PC to the campaign.


If I had to hazard a guess, I would assume such a questionaire is the mark of the DM who wants to "do this right"--to tell an interesting, meaningful, memorable story--but doesn't quite know how.

It's frustrating, but hardly surprising. In my experience, the learning curve for GM'ing is incredibly steep, and the assumption is that you're either amazing or terribly mediocre. Nearly every person I ever met who DM'd regularly considered themselves to be an unparalleled master of the game. Everyone who stepped in when their amazing storyteller friend needed a break was hasty to disclaim that they were just "an okay GM".
For some reason, it seems like the gaming community doesn't want to accept that game mastering is a skill that must be honed and developed. In my experience, there is very little in the way of forgiveness or empathy for GM's who make mistakes. Especially amongst themselves. Creating a world and running a game within it leaves you terribly vulnerable. And, from what I have seen, many players are either oblivious to the work their friends have put into the game or too self-centered to realize how much their criticism can sting.

So then you end up with a bunch of amateur GM's with completely backwards and often pretentious ideas, who possess an unfortunate mix of ego and self-doubt which prevents them from growing.


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As a near 40 year GM, I make no claims of being unparalleled - in fact, I've played under a few I'd easily consider better. I'm good, even very good, and I have my flatly inspired moments, but most experienced GMs do.

Some level of backstory enables that. When, for example, I had a player meet his character's long lost sister, only to discover she was a werewolf at virtually the same time, his jaw was left hanging open. As she fought against the party's enemies, I got the joy of seeing a full gamut of emotions flicker across his face.

That wouldn't have been nearly as effective, or as workable, without his backstory, which involved his sister missing since the werewolves had ravaged his clan's steading.


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"I have amnesia, and am trying to rediscover my past." (The GM doesn't have to treat this as a player's rebuff, because the player is offering the GM the chance to make the PC's back-story anything the GM wants.)


EldonGuyre wrote:

...I have my flatly inspired moments, but most experienced GMs do.

...Some level of backstory enables that.

Absolutely. But I think that "some level" can be considerably less than a lot of people would assume. A paragraph or two or--even better--a 20 min conversation between the GM and the player is plenty to provide a rich vein of ideas.

The long list of forced and arbitrary questions that lead to nowhere just drips "trying too hard" to me. But maybe I'm reading into it too much, because I was one of those people, once upon a time.

The strangest player I ever had at my table was extremely quiet and built extremely powerful characters. At one point, I sent him an online message asking if he would like his character to step into the spotlight more often (i.e. at all), or if he preferred to be more of an observer.
...I never got a response. When I mentioned it to one of the other players, they told me he saw my message and "thought it was really weird and just decided not to answer at all."
But then, he kept playing with us and even said he had fun. So. Still scratching my head at that one.

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