Let’s start with Life, and then we’ll work on Death in the next post.
For me, “life” in RPGs is more than deciding who lives and dies in a combat or trying to keep my PCs alive. It’s the roleplaying side of the house that keeps me interested and excited. So I try to define more than what a character can do and delve into why they can do it, when they learned it, and how they learned it or use it.
In the original Moebius Adventures system, we broke character creation into two large chunks – Childhood and Professions. Childhood covered everything up to age 12 or 14. And a character’s childhood might be very different than their choices of Profession. Look at a character like Conan. He was a normal child until he watched his family and village get slaughtered and was then taken as a slave. You think that might have shaped his attitudes, knowledge, and skills a bit?
So I propose that when folks are creating characters that they think about it in those two major buckets. What did the character learn as a child that has stuck with them into adulthood? And what choices might they have made as far as their professions go (or what choices were made for them)? Obviously not all skills you learn as a kid are useful. But many we continue to develop throughout our entire lives.
You could even go so far as to build in a tree of known associates. Who did your character grow up with? Have they kept in contact with any of those folks? Or did they part ways? Was it an amicable departure or one with enmity? Is it someone you might encounter during a game? What happens if a childhood enemy faces you as an adult? How is that different from a random monster encountered in an adventure?
Perhaps your character did or didn’t have a great family life growing up and they simply wanted to get out and explore the world or get away from what they knew before… What events shaped the decisions to learn particular skills? Did your parents teach you to forage and hunt or were you orphaned early on and forced to scrounge for food, learning what you could to stay alive? Did you gain any scars from early practice of weapons skills? Did you witness the death of a family member that you still seek revenge for years later (think Inigo Montoya)?
Not only do you end up with a basic history of your character to go with the skills they have, but you end up with contacts you can leverage in-game and that your GM can use to help tie things together and make them easier to relate to for your character. It works to the benefit of both the player and the GM to develop more backstory to better inform future events.
Yes, I know that D&D only gives you a few skill points here and there. Other games have the same issue. But slot a third or even a half of those skills towards defining your knowledge from childhood and you’ll end up with a better idea of where your character came from.
Next time we’ll talk about Death in a variety of ways. Stay tuned for part 2!
- Life and Death in RPGs from Tower of the Archmage (towerofthearchmage.blogspot.com)
- RPG Blog Carnival March Part 1 – Life and Death in RPG @ Campaign Mastery from The Dump Stat (thedumpstat.blogspot.com)
- Life and Death in RPG – March 2011 RPG Blog Carnival (campaignmastery.com)
- RPG Blog Carnival – Spirits of the 7th Sea Pt. 1 from The Dump Stat (thedumpstat.blogspot.com)