Thursday, May 26, 2016

It's all About Back Story Part II: It's all About Family, Parents Part I

I talked about ten questions that can help a player create a backstory in this article. While I think those ten questions are important, a lot of players need a little extra help when it comes to answering them. For this reason I feel like looking into those questions a little deeper is a good idea. This post and other posts in the future will take each of those ten questions and discuss them in depth.

I initially intended to tackle this subject in one post. However, as I wrote I realized that this was going to be a very long article if I did it all in one post. While I know that this post is going to feel a bit incomplete, I will be posting the rest in the following days. Sorry to do this to everyone, but I feel multiple short posts will be better than a single very long post. Anyway on with the post!

It's all about Family

The first question of the ten questions I have my player's answer is who are your parents. The reason I have them answer this question first because it gives them an idea of who their character is before they deal with anything else. It doesn't take a Ph.D. in psychology to know that people are strongly affected by their parents and characters in a role playing game are no different.

While it is true that we don't always turn out to be exactly like our parents, it is true that they pass many of their traits to us, help us shape a view of the world, and teach us those most basic of human skills such as feeding, talking, walking etc. Admittedly some parents are better than others but that doesn't mean we are not reflections of those people.

Because we are reflections of our parents it makes sense that when your creating a background for your character you have some idea of who your parents were. I have tried a number of ways of doing this over my career as a game master but the thing that seems to work best is to have the player roll on or chose an option from some tables.

The problem with using tables is that no matter how detailed you get there will always be unanswered questions. The following tables are meant to be used for inspiration. If you feel there is a need for more tables, feel free to create your own.

Table 1: Parents Marital Status

While it may not be as important in today's world, there was a time when a persons parents being married or not was a big deal. Because most fantasy role playing games take place in an approximation of the middle ages, the following chart reflects those values. Sorry sci-fi fans I promise to some day give you all the same stuff.

1 - Parents Married and both are alive
2 - Parents Married but father is deceased
3 - Parents Married but mother is deceased
4 - Parents not married character was raised by mother
5 - Parents not married character was raised by father
6 - Parents not married character was given to church
7 - Parents not married character was abandoned
8 - Parents marital status unknown character was adopted or abandoned

Now that we know the marital status of the parents we learn a bit more about how the parents raised the character.

Table 2: Parents Married and Both are Alive

Having married parents in a middle age society was a benefit. While this by no means promised a good upbringing, it did mean that the character wasn't looked at with scorn and content for being a "bastard".

1- Father was an unemployed drunkard and abusive to the mother and/or children. Mother worked odd jobs as best she could.

This was and still is an all to common reality in the world. Some fathers suck and use fear and intimidation to enslave their family in fear. This type of family life is going to create a character with some issues and this should be considered. Does the character loathe alcoholics? Does the character want to provide their mother with a better life? These kind of questions and more will provide a very fertile garden for background development.

2 - Father was a common laborer and uneducated. Mother was a home maker and uneducated.

While the character is not restricted from choosing any class they want, they should consider the fact that they did not grow up with a great deal of money. This means that they need to create some kind of justification for any class that requires schooling (most notably wizards). The lack of options for a character from this background is going to shape their world view.

While this option might seem kind of boring there is a lot of good background material play with. Did the character grow up angry at the lack of money? Did the character see crime as their only way of getting ahead? By contemplating these questions a player should get a good idea or two of why their character is the way they are now.

3 - Father was a respected Craftsman and well paid. Mother was a home maker and loving toward the children.

Here we have what would have equaled a good life for a character growing up. While the character probably never went without food and shelter, they were also more likely to encounter nobles. How did this affect he character. Were they forced to watch their father accept humiliation in order to maintain his employment? Was the character forced to endure the taunts and violence of noble children? Maybe the noble lord was gracious to the characters family or the character has great pride in the fathers creations. Whatever the player chooses here this background is ripe for creating an interesting back story.

4 - Father and Mother were nobles.

A lot of players want to play noble children because they see it as an advantage. The fact is that it can be a big advantage, but that does not mean everything was a bed of roses for the character. While yes, the character probably had money to spend and a better life than the average person, nobles can be just as horrible as anyone else (and even more horrible given the power they hold over other people).

A player choosing this background needs to consider what being a noble was like. Were they spoiled and have no idea of the value of money? Were they taught they didn't have to respect commoners, or were they taught that their role was to look after the common people? Was their family disgraced in some way and is this why the character is now an adventurer or is the character an adventurer because they seek excitement outside of the boring day to day life of nobility?

That is all for today. I know there is a lot more ground to cover and I will, but I want to keep these posts manageable for people. I promise that I will be following this post up tomorrow and many of the days ahead. Feel free to yell at me, give me feed back, share your own stories and the like. I love seeing comments because it lets me know people are getting use out of what I write. See you all tomorrow!


  1. I'm going to have to steal your mechanics. :)

  2. Feel free, that is what they are there for, and keep looking this is going to be a pretty long multi parter LOL.