Friday, March 18, 2011

Thoughts On Character Backgrounds, Among Other Things

"We don't explore characters; we explore dungeons."

That is a motto for Old School D&D. I found that quote on a blog I like to read called Grognardia, and that site referenced it from somewhere else. It is a nice, succinct little motto with a good depth of meaning. I like a quote linked in the comments section on the blog that it was pulled from as well, I won't repeat the exact words, but the gist of it is that the first six levels of your character's career are his background. 

I like a nice meaty background, something interesting, possibly cool. I never demand backgrounds of my players, because some people don't feel comfortable writing, and others don't like to worry about that kind of thing. Others don't feel like they need to justify why their character is the way it is. Others are just lazy.

Kethranmeer's initial background was roughly a paragraph. It was simple and easily read, and over play he evolved, and the background evolved with him. I won't lie and say I had everything planned out for Kethranmeer from day one, but by level six, I had a pretty good idea where I was heading. The first six levels of playing him were how I figured out all the rest of it.They were where I discovered that he was afraid of small, underground places. The first six levels were where I decided he was Unaligned, or Neutral, or whatever, with slight tendencies towards Good where his friends and family were concerned. The first six levels were where I determined that he thought Xein was ok and D'alton was a solid sort that he could be fast friends with. 

This is why I want to slow down leveling in my current game. The players need time to get to know their characters. Between the system switch and leveling once every scenario, and never really having a super good handle on 3.5 Edition and 4th Edition in the first place, we need to slow down and get to know these incarnations of our alternate selves. Dungeons (I use dungeon as a catch all term for where battle and adventure are taking place) are where the absent minded GM realized that he's been using Feint and sneak attacking improperly. Dungeons are where we discover our characters, from a rules standpoint, and a background stand point. Dungeons are where we discovered that the original Robust Five were a collection of sadists that would burn and bury people alive. Dungeons are where we discovered that The Robust Five had no problem murdering teenagers for no better reason than because they were told to. Dungeons are where we discovered that The Robust Five were so apathetic that they would let a thief steal their means to freedom right out from under their noses without complaint (other than Xein).

I guess what I'm saying is that we should concentrate on the now of our game, and not the in nineteen levels of our game. There is too much of a focus on "I want to take this feat in twelve levels"  and "I want to have this many ranks in this skill in ten levels." This is not to say that we should only think of our character's future when  we level. Have an idea where you want to go, but chill and enjoy the now of your fledgling PC. If there is one thing I've learned building out twelve or so NPCs, planning your character out for twenty levels (or more) when you have three hundred experience to your name gets boring. You don't get to discover the character anymore, he's all done and written down, there's no mystery or curiosity to associate with playing him. For me at least.

In the end, get as involved with your character creation as you want. Play and plan your character in a way you want. Do whatever you want. Me, I need to just pick something I like and let it evolve as I play. Spending twelve hours at work talking to Fred and reading my Pathfinder books wasn't really productive for finding an NPC for me to play. I think I like Kethranmeer so much because he was a mystery that unfolded during play. I never sat down and plotted and planned for him. He just became what he was, and it worked, and it was fun.

Last line, I promise. Just have fun while you game, however it is that you have that fun.

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