raging_swan (raging_swan) wrote,

Player Advice: How to Design Your PC’s Background

A PC is so much more than a set of stats and some equipment. A decent background is a fundamental part of any well developed character...


(Art: William McAusland [Outland Arts])

The good news is that a PC's background does not have to be some rambling epic. Some players like to write extensive background notes for their PCs while others devote only a couple of hundred words to the task. It doesn't matter how long your PC's background is as long as it gives you (and the GM) a good feel for the character.

What's the Point?

A PC's background has two main functions:

  • It gives the player a base from which to build his PC's personality.

  • It provides the GM with insights into the PC's background and motivations.

Basic Things to Include

I recommend answering the following basic questions in a PC's background:

  • Where was the PC born?

  • What is his family like? Who are his parents? Does he have siblings? What are his relationships like with his family?

  • What major events happened to him before he became an adventurer?

  • What prompted him to start adventuring?

  • Why is he adventuring? What is he trying to achieve?

Other Cool Things to Include

As well as answering the above questions, adding a couple of extra things into your PC's background is a great idea:

  • Adventure Hooks: Is your PC obsessed with finding a certain artifact or magic item? Is he wanted for a crime? All these hooks provide the seed for great encounters and mini-adventures your GM can craft especially for your PC. While you shouldn't expect them in every session or adventure it’s cool having events specifically designed for your PC. They provide tailored opportunities for the PC to grow and develop.

  • Enemies or Allies: Does your PC have any notable enemies or allies? These don't have to be notable in the sense of character levels or role in the campaign setting. They can be personal foes. Perhaps the local cleric took a dislike to your PC and won't help him in the future or the PC saved a local wizard from goblins. Both relationships create an interesting situation if the PC should bump into that NPC again.

  • A Mystery: Adding in a personal mystery (what happened to your brother, who is your father etc.) to which you don't know the answer can be tremendous fun. It enables the GM to know things about your PC that you don't. Discovering the answer can be incredibly satisfying!

Do you include other things in your PC's background? Do you write yours for other reasons? Let us know in the comments below and remember you can download this – and every other advice article – for free at ragingswan.com/articles.

Tags: advice article, player's advice, raging swan press

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