27 February 2014

Building Character Backgrounds Gradually

I firmly believe that player characters should have a background. And a description. And a name. When I first started playing Dungeons & Dragons, it didn't matter too much. Two out of three was usually considered good enough, but my very first character had none of these. He was just a class with attribute scores and some possessions. Needless to say, my experience with that character was not fulfilling, and I attached part of the blame to the fact that my character was more like what we now call an avatar, an artificial means of interacting with a virtual environment, which is still, nonetheless, myself. After that character came to an end, I vowed that I would never again run a nameless, faceless character as a player, nor would I tolerate them as a DM (or GM as the case may be). A character needn't have a lengthy biography nor a medical record accounting for every bruise nor even a picture, but he or she must have a name, a general physical description (preferably one that notes distinguishing features), and at least a rudimentary background. As a GM, I reserve the right to fill in any basic details that the player couldn't be bothered with. I have been known, for instance, to surprise a player with a sibling he didn't know his character had, but that is a story for another time. The rewards of all this effort should be self-evident. You are creating a character who is unique, who occupies a space in another world, who interacts with other characters and has adventures and may live to tell memorable tales.

Ah, but there's the crux of the problem. After all the effort of truly creating a character with a terrific name and an interesting background that explains who that character is and why, what if this character is snuffed out of existence in his first adventure when he falls into a pit lined with stakes? Or when he is swarmed by angry kobolds? Or when he is tenaciously pursued and torn to shreds by a ferocious man-killing rat? (O.K., that last example is from the Intellivision ADVANCED DUNGEONS & DRAGONS Cartridge game, but the idea still applies.)

High mortality is a more of a problem in some games than others. Call of Cthulhu is a popular example, but so is Dungeons & Dragons (and its retro-clones). Most adventure games, in my opinion, are more enjoyable when there is a risk of a character not surviving. It increases a player's sense of accomplishment when it is not only achieving the goal, but survival itself, that denotes the successful adventurer. Risk is part of the thrill of the game. How then does one reconcile the time spent creating a character with the life expectancy of the average low level adventurer?

I submit that the answer is gradual background building. In most works of fiction, we do not learn everything about a character as soon as that character is introduced. We learn about their backgrounds gradually. By all means they should have a name and a physical description, but perhaps, at first, we know nothing about their background beyond what their accent tells us. Perhaps we know where they are from, or at least where they must have been living for some time. As the story progresses, we may learn something about their religion or philosophy, or their family, or their ancestry. The same can be done in a role-playing game. Once you have rolled up, equipped, described, and named your character, write a single sentence pertaining to the character's background. If the character perishes from an ill-fated encounter with green slime in the first outing, all you've lost is the effort of writing one sentence (backgroundwise). If the character survives the first adventure, write another sentence into the background story. Repeat as needed. The longer the character lives, the longer the background story grows as well as the story that is being created with each succeeding adventure. In a way, your character is growing both forwards and backwards in time. And if your character meets an untimely end after a long career of adventures, the background you have written will make your memories of the character that much richer.

[Originally posted here in Fudgerylog.]

26 February 2014

Random Background Generator for Halflings: Roll All Dice

The Random Background Generator can be used for any human or humanlike character, but this variant has been adapted specifically for use with halflings.


Random Background Generator for Halflings
(Roll All Dice)


Family Reputation

Roll 1d4

1. Distrusted
2. Tolerated
3. Respected
4. Admired


Personal Relationship

Roll 1d6

1. Disavowed
2. Criticized
3. Unappreciated
4. Appreciated
5. Beloved
6. Favored


Number of Siblings

Roll 1d8

1. One
2. One
3. Two
4. Two
5. Three
6. Three
7. Four
8. None


Extended Family in Household

Roll 1d10

1. Cousin
2. Maternal grandfather
3. Maternal grandmother
4. Paternal grandfather
5. Paternal grandmother
6. Maternal aunt
7. Maternal uncle
8. Paternal aunt
9. Paternal uncle
10. Roll twice or choose none


Family Occupation

Roll 1d12

1. Artisans
2. Craftsmen
3. Farmers
4. Farmers
5. Gardeners
6. Herders
7. Merchants
8. Nobility
9. Scholars
10. Soldiers
11. Tradesmen
12. Woodsmen


Motivation for Adventuring

Roll 1d20

1. Addiction to danger
2. Chosen
3. Conquering fear
4. Curiosity
5. Debt
6. Fame
7. Fortune
8. Fugitive
9. Hobby
10. Investigation
11. Last option
12. Lost
13. Mistaken identity
14. Refugee
15. Rejection (of or by: family, village, civilization, etc.)
16. Revenge
17. Rite
18. Secret mission
19. Spiritual quest
20. Wandering

Notes

  • "Family Reputation" refers to how others view the player character's family.
  • "Personal Relationship" refers to how the player character is viewed by his or her family.
  • "Number of siblings" does not mention whether they are brothers or sisters. This can be chosen by the player or determined randomly.
  • "Extended Family in Household" refers only to those members living with the player character's parents. The player must decide whether the character also lives with the parents.
  • "Family Occupation" refers to the family's traditional profession. Not all members will necessarily belong to the same profession.
  • "Motivation for Adventuring" may be primary or secondary. Roll more than once on this table if desired.

25 February 2014

Random Background Generator for Dwarves: Roll All Dice

The Random Background Generator can be used for any human or humanlike character, but this variant has been adapted specifically for use with dwarves.


Random Background Generator for Dwarves
(Roll All Dice)


Family Reputation

Roll 1d4

1. Tolerated
2. Respected
3. Admired
4. Envied


Personal Relationship

Roll 1d6

1. Disowned
2. Unappreciated
3. Underappreciated
4. Appreciated
5. Beloved
6. Favored


Number of Siblings

Roll 1d8

1. One
2. One
3. One
4. Two
5. None
6. None
7. None
8. None


Extended Family in Household

Roll 1d10

1. Cousin
2. Maternal grandfather
3. Maternal grandmother
4. Paternal grandfather
5. Paternal grandmother
6. Maternal aunt
7. Maternal uncle
8. Paternal aunt
9. Paternal uncle
10. Roll twice or choose none


Family Occupation

Roll 1d12

1. Artisans
2. Artisans
3. Craftsmen
4. Craftsmen
5. Craftsmen
6. Merchants
7. Nobility
8. Scholars
9. Soldiers
10. Soldiers
11. Tradesmen
12. Tradesmen


Motivation for Adventuring

Roll 1d20

1. Addiction to danger
2. Chosen
3. Conquering fear
4. Curiosity
5. Debt
6. Fame
7. Fortune
8. Fugitive
9. Hobby
10. Investigation
11. Last option
12. Lost
13. Mistaken identity
14. Refugee
15. Rejection (of or by: family, village, civilization, etc.)
16. Revenge
17. Rite
18. Secret mission
19. Spiritual quest
20. Wandering

Notes

  • "Family Reputation" refers to how others view the player character's family.
  • "Personal Relationship" refers to how the player character is viewed by his or her family.
  • "Number of siblings" does not mention whether they are brothers or sisters. This can be chosen by the player or determined randomly.
  • "Extended Family in Household" refers only to those members living with the player character's parents. The player must decide whether the character also lives with the parents.
  • "Family Occupation" refers to the family's traditional profession. Not all members will necessarily belong to the same profession. (All dwarves are skilled miners whether it is their primary occupation or not.)
  • "Motivation for Adventuring" may be primary or secondary. Roll more than once on this table if desired.

24 February 2014

Random Background Generator for Elves: Roll All Dice

The Random Background Generator can be used for any human or humanlike character, but this variant has been adapted specifically for use with elves.


Random Background Generator for Elves
(Roll All Dice)


Family Reputation

Roll 1d4

1. Tolerated
2. Accepted
3. Respected
4. Admired


Personal Relationship

Roll 1d6

1. Shunned
2. Misunderstood
3. Discouraged
4. Encouraged
5. Beloved
6. Favored


Number of Siblings

Roll 1d8

1. One
2. One
3. One
4. Two
5. Two
6. Three
7. None
8. None


Extended Family in Household

Roll 1d10

1. Cousin
2. Maternal grandfather
3. Maternal grandmother
4. Paternal grandfather
5. Paternal grandmother
6. Maternal aunt
7. Maternal uncle
8. Paternal aunt
9. Paternal uncle
10. Roll twice or choose none


Family Occupation

Roll 1d12

1. Artisans
2. Artisans
3. Craftsmen
4. Craftsmen
5. Musicians
6. Nobility
7. Poets
8. Poets
9. Scholars
10. Scholars
11. Soldiers
12. Tradesmen


Motivation for Adventuring

Roll 1d20

1. Addiction to danger
2. Chosen
3. Conquering fear
4. Curiosity
5. Debt
6. Fame
7. Fortune
8. Fugitive
9. Hobby
10. Investigation
11. Last option
12. Lost
13. Mistaken identity
14. Refugee
15. Rejection (of or by: family, village, civilization, etc.)
16. Revenge
17. Rite
18. Secret mission
19. Spiritual quest
20. Wandering

Notes

  • "Family Reputation" refers to how others view the player character's family.
  • "Personal Relationship" refers to how the player character is viewed by his or her family.
  • "Number of siblings" does not mention whether they are brothers or sisters. This can be chosen by the player or determined randomly.
  • "Extended Family in Household" refers only to those members living with the player character's parents. The player must decide whether the character also lives with the parents.
  • "Family Occupation" refers to the family's traditional profession. Not all members will necessarily belong to the same profession. (All elves are considered to be skilled at living in harmony with their environment, which would include, amongst other things, a vast knowledge of flora and fauna.)
  • "Motivation for Adventuring" may be primary or secondary. Roll more than once on this table if desired.

22 February 2014

Table: Suitable Disaster Alert

Are you in need of a suitable disaster that is not dependent on local weather conditions? Then the following table may be for you. Results that are geographically inappropriate may be rerolled or automatically default to "zombie outbreak."


Suitable Disaster Alert

Roll 1d12

  1. avalanche
  2. earthquake
  3. flood
  4. giant monster raid
  5. mudslides
  6. robot uprising
  7. sinkholes
  8. UFO attack
  9. volcanic eruption
  10. wildfires
  11. yeti incursion
  12. zombie outbreak

21 February 2014

Table: Inclement Weather Alert

You may have weather rules for the conditions of your game world, but do you have weather rules for gaming conventions in the real world? If not, here is the solution. Whenever you attend a gaming convention, roll on the following table. The result is the weather you and your fellow attendees will endure. Results that are inappropriate to the convention's location and/or season may be rerolled or a suitable disaster may be substituted (e.g. avalanche, earthquake, flood, volcanic eruption, wildfire, zombie outbreak, etc.).


Inclement Weather Alert

Roll 1d20

  1. blizzard
  2. dust storm (or sandstorm)
  3. fog
  4. hailstorm
  5. hot hail
  6. hurricane
  7. ice storm
  8. overcast and dreary
  9. rain of colorless fire
  10. severe cold
  11. severe heat
  12. showers of frogs
  13. showers of stones
  14. smog (or Smaug)
  15. snowstorm
  16. thunderstorm
  17. tornado
  18. torrential rain
  19. tsunami
  20. windstorm

19 February 2014

Inclement Weather Rules for Gaming Conventions Sought

Once again, I missed BASHCon, and it begs the question: Why are gaming conventions being held in northern states in the winter? Would it not be more convenient for everyone (not to mention more successful) if northern conventions were held in the spring and summer and southern conventions were held in the fall and winter? (Granted, this may not have been the best winter to hold a convention in the South, much less the North.) Why invite Mother Nature's wrath? Foul weather can be the perfect excuse to stay indoors and game, but it also dissuades people from travelling to far-flung or even nearby conventions.

My reason for missing BASHCon is quite another matter (I forgot the date, and "social media" neglected to remind me), but it strikes me as madness that we are holding conventions in Ohio in February. That being said, I hope it was successful, I wish it success next year, and perhaps someday I'll remember to register for it.