Sunday, 7 October 2018

Questing in Elfgames V - back to backgrounds

I posted this in my campaign's Facebook group some time ago:

OK peeps, I've had an idea that I want to try out. It's about character backgrounds.

I want you tell me (by PM) something about your character's background. It could be utterly prosaic ('my character comes from the north', 'my character doesn't like rats' or whatever) or it could be a family secret that has been handed down to your character (in which case it could be anything to do with famous ancestors or your character's parentage or magic heirlooms or ancient feuds or debts of honour or hidden powers or anything).

The thing is, if it's a family secret, your character doesn't know if the substance of the secret is true - so it can't be something they would know, like 'my character is secretly a bear'. It can be something like 'I was told my Uncle Colin saved the life of the King of the Bears'.

Your PC and therefore you will know the family story. I'll work how much of the story is true and what the consequences might be. The 'something prosaic' option is there for any players who don't want to get too involved in this - just tell me something completely unremarkable about your PC.

Unfortunately, it's caused some confusion. I obviously didn't explain it as clearly as I thought. What I thought was the players would give me a sentence about their character - either something simple that meant they didn't want to get involved (I gave the examples of being from the north and not liking rats because they're fairly trivial, but may have minor consequences in gaming terms) or something that was a family story with potentially significant consequences, but the PC didn't have first-hand knowledge of the events (like the 'my Uncle Colin saved the King of the Bears' example).

The idea was to use some of this stuff to try to link in the epic plots I keep talking about. I have a way to generate some epic content due to the Narrative Generator that Jens pointed me at some time ago. But this was going to be a way that the stories actually span out of what the players themselves said. I'm trying (in a fairly unstructured way to be sure) to anchor the PCs in the world and to give them motivations and connections that relate in some way to the world they're inhabiting. Due to the structure of the campaign (open table, shifting party composition, relatively high PC death-toll) some of the things I've previously discussed for creating background don't really apply (such as methods to use each individual die to determine moments of the character's life).

Some of the players  have given me some great things to work with. Some haven't given me anything to work with at all, or suggested things that fall way outside of what I'm trying to get (hence me saying I obviously haven't explained it very well). A few gave me feedback along the lines of 'my player is secretly a bear'.

Since then I also read (and now I can't remember whose blog it was I read it on) about using the Reaction Tables with rumours. The idea is pretty simple - in the same way that the Reaction Table gives a graded series of negative/neutral/positive results, rumours can have negative, neutral or positive developments. In this way, rumours are not static but can change over time. I've decided that I can apply this to the information that the players have given me about their PCs.

We'll see what happens I suppose. I have some things to work with, and maybe, just maybe, some of the stuff that comes up in the dungeon will refer to the snippets and titbits the PCs have given me (sotto voce, I'm working it in, I really am, just don't tell the players...).


  1. Apart from that they (the players) actually read this! Not sure what category my background info fell into. I like the idea of rumours changing for good or bad as the campaign progresses. Now where is my house? 😄

  2. Thanks for posting Lyracian.

    I won't tell you whether your background was good or bad - maybe you can work that out for yourself as things go along!

    I'll message you on FB about the house business.