Sunday, November 13, 2016

(Prior) Ordinary Life in RPG

So I’m still thinking about this month’s Blog Carnival topic of Ordinary Life in RPG, and for some reason I started thinking about the character’s prior ordinary life aka character history aka back story aka how did the PC get here.

At the risk of again seeming like this is only an ad for our stuff, I want to draw a contrast.  100 Character Histories is great for either getting the spark of an idea or just grabbing a back story and running off to adventure.  Sure, it can be the beginning of something far greater, but it is more typically used for something quick but still not completely artificial.  Speed Character Creation on the other hand builds your character history while it is building your character.  Making choices about where you lived and how you received your training not only build the history, but they tell you what side skills you would have developed because of that.

But in my game world (Fletnern), it goes far deeper than that.  There are two character history things I like to use to build characters.  By “build characters”, I mean give them potential role-playing and even mission inspiring plot points.  The first is in determining where they came from I assign or work with the player on what their rations are.  I know this seems odd, but I have developed the cuisines for most of the regions in my world.  If you’re newly arrived in Rhum from Forsbury, your rations are going to be beef based, because beef is nearly all they eat in Forsbury.  If you’ve just arrived in Brinston from Scaret, it’s salted fish.  While these seem inconsequential, once a player knows what his character’s native cuisine is, he will tend to lean that direction.  We’ve all had PCs show up at a non-descript tavern on an adventure, and when asked what they want to order, they either order what the player prefers or what’s cheapest.  But when they know their “back story cuisine” they tend to order that.  They actually think, “What would my character do here?” and act on it.  For those players who are not strong role-players, it is an easy start!

The other one is to try and get them involved in some sort of rivalry.  Honestly I think I only have four cities where these rivalries are actually developed.  In Brinston, it is typically based on what university you went to.  In Rhum, it is your guild.  In Forsbury, it is the merchant cartel you or your parents worked for.  In Garnock, it is which military troop ran your section of the city-state.  These rivalries give the characters something to talk about when they are role-playing.  Typically they also give the characters something to argue about in bars - argue, not fight to the death.  Showing the players that there can be conflict without bloodshed is an important part of my campaign world.

While this may not seem too much like “ordinary life”, there isn’t a lot of ordinary life that most parties role-play.  Adding some true role-playing in, even just a little bit, really helps the campaign world seem more real and gets the players more invested in their characters.  Invested players keep coming back week after week, which is really all a GM can hope for.


  1. Thinking back* In my GM's campaign world, a lot of our characters building is done via spending our downtime (when we can't bridge the 100km distance for a game) as in game downtime, done through email or messenger. My GM copy/pastes activities where I will describe what my character is doing, often with interactions with his NPCs.
    For example; after escaping almost certain death, my character and her henchman catch a ride on a sand ship and head for the Rocklands, where a few patrons reside. We will spend the trip and arrival on Messenger or email, and this gives ample time (instead of real-time) to spend training, seeking out personal business, etc. Also, some good conversations happen during these fiction prose bastardizations.
    I think, after reading your post, that this would work well for gaming groups. Get players to write out, through email or whatever, their training / leisure / shopping / family gatherings, etc.
    When you have time to think, and edit, you can really grow to evolve you character.

  2. Depends on the way your group meets, but these days I think your way works for more and more groups.
    I did most of my gaming in weekly sessions, so we were often finishing up those types of things at the end of a gaming session, sometimes because the mission didn't last long enough and sometimes by sticking around way too late at night.