by, 10-31-2010 at 10:31 AM (1122 Views)
In my humble opinion, there are three perspectives to character backgrounds: literary, player and GM.
Literary: As a highly novice writer, every book on fiction writing will tell you to start with your characters. Characters make the story. Characters come in three parts: description, background and motivation. For physical description, I pull a picture and make sure my words reflect that picture. The other half of description is their personality: funny/serious, introvert/extrovert, smart/stupid, sophisticated/hick and so many more. For their background, their family life, profession, nationality and such should determine their skills, merits/flaws, language and the like. For motivation, why are they on this quest? That is the crux of the story to begin the plot. All of the above needs to be addressed to make a great background.
Player: Honestly, the background helps me to get into character and play it well – blame the LARPing and writing for that one. After the background is done, I match the character sheet to the background. My mathematician will have a high intelligence and math skill but not proficiency in the broad sword. Further, I think that in makes me more interested in the game. Most of all, writing backgrounds for me is just plain fun. On that note, if a GM ignores the background, it makes me less interested in the game. If they make it a point to destroy the background, it makes me walk away.
GM: As a GM before I truly incorporate a player’s background into the plot, I require them to attend three game sessions to prove their commitment and to ensure that our styles match before I go through that much trouble. However, as an immediate reward I give them extra character points to start with. Once that is said and done, I use the player’s background to motivate them.
To set up motivation, I will augment their background to include NPC’s and sometimes other PC’s. The more they give me, the more plot considerations I give them. The mysterious benefactor can be the NPC who’s bringing them together. Using the car accident that killed their parents, I will add clues in the police report to get them on board with finding the killer. I NEVER destroy a background nor drastically alter. I equate my changes to adding some side dishes to the main course. During game play, sometimes I’ll simply give the player a clue because their background warranted it.
Now that you’ve read my take, what do you folks as players and/or GM’s think of backgrounds? How do you use them?