PC's with Amnesia

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So one of my players has decided his new character has amnesia. I have the unique opportunity to create everything about his previous life and feed it back to him piece by piece. The player's already had a character who had amnesia under another DM, and he ended up being a noble and the leader of the king's guard who'd been taken out to secure someone else's place, etc. It was pretty cool, but i'm looking to really make this different.

What the character knows: He was found between the capitol city and some fey elven woods. He was dressed too nicely to be a peasent, and was clutching a kerchief that always smells of lavender and cinamon and never dirties. He is a gnome, though he doesn't know the extent of what a gnome is. (in my world, gnomes are from the feywild, and they sneak into the material plane via gates and stone circles.)

What i'm thinking: I'd like him to be the alternate personality of someone truly evil. Something along the lines of fight club, if edward norton was actually brad pitt's imaginary friend. The player generally plays goody goody characters, and even when he tries to be evil, he's just too much of a boyscout. So i'm thinking maybe he was forced to kill his own family, and the kercheif was his wifes. After doing that, his mind splintered and he got some sort of fugue, multiple personality disorder? Over time, i want it to actually slowly become a multiple personality thing. He goes to sleep, bad guy wakes up and does his thing, then the character finds himself waking up to odd happenings.

This is all very broadly designed though. I'm not even sure who exactly he was. So i come to you looking for help. You've served me well before. Do you have any ideas? Really, about any of this. 
I dunno. The amnesia aspect always produces one of those sorts of outcomes. Either they were super good guys, or super badguys somehow. What about a super normal guy? A guy who was just a farmer's son, tilling the fields and living a happy, common man life with his family. Heck, he might not have even been a Gnome before he lost his memories. It could all just be the result of some outside interference that had it out for the poor guy somehow. Maybe a Feylord crossed his path at random and was shown disrespect. Maybe a devil sought to use him as a pawn in some sort of plot. Maybe he slipped into some magic leftovers concocted by an old hag or other magical creature that turnes him into a Gnome and took away his memories. Greater still, what does a heroic being do when he learns not only did he lead a normal life before, but that normal life is waiting for him to return in spite of his new accolades and responsibilities? Does he seek to break his curse and return to the man he once was, or does he abandon his family for the innocents that need him now?

Hope this helps. Happy Gaming
I feel like I've read this somewhere before, but I can't remember exactly where or when.

No amount of tips, tricks, or gimmicks will ever be better than simply talking directly to your fellow players to resolve your issues.
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This is all very broadly designed though. I'm not even sure who exactly he was. So i come to you looking for help. You've served me well before. Do you have any ideas? Really, about any of this. 

Ask the player what they think would be cool. Don't allow a claim of "amnesia" to serve as a total abdication of the player's creative responsibility.

If I have to ask the GM for it, then I don't want it.

I'd recommend you let the player have at least some creative control over what he remembers. Having your backstory handed to you can get old real fast.

Good luck!  
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We both agreed that since he has no memory, the player should also have no clue. It's just better for the role playing i think. 
And i love the idea of him being a no one run afoul of some force he couldn;t even comprehend, but i dont know that he would. His one requirement be that his past is awesome. As in to strike awe. He wants to be gobsmacked by it, and i dont think that would quite do it. It would create a giant dilemma, make him ponder morality, perhaps try to juggle both or simply watch his family from the shadows, definately create heaps of character development, but i just dont think he'd be stunned by it. I will keep it in mind though, it was a really good suggestion. 
We both agreed that since he has no memory, the player should also have no clue. It's just better for the role playing i think.

The instinct to make player knowledge identical to character knowledge is a strong one, but it comes at a big price. You are taking off-line a massively powerful creative engine that can help you keep track of things, and come up with things. Imagine the player, in character, describing an odd reaction to something the character is seeing, something the player knows is related to the character's past - something that, in the heat of dealing with everything else a DM deals with, completely slipped your mind as having significance.

That sort of thing is the beauty of players knowing more about certain things than their characters. I understand the player wanting to keep the knowledge separate and to be surprised, but frankly he or she is asking for a lot. I'm sure you can do well, but there's every chance that no matter what you come up with won't be what the player had in mind. That's why it's to everyone's benefit, ultimately, to just find out any specifics of what they have in mind, and bring them in on the process. There are more (and often better) ways to become immersed in roleplaying than to try to actually be the character.

If I have to ask the GM for it, then I don't want it.

Since there is a danger of a goody-goody player not fully gelling with an evil character, or not likeing what's eealed, you might want an exit strategy when the backastory is full revealed and the player wants to fight the old self. Perhaps the evil personality looks for a way to  free itself from its old, now corrupted mind and body to some new shell. This would allow the player to then 'start fresh' with the more innocent character (who is still shackled by looking like the villain), and it would also allow you to then have the NPC villain act independantly and push the plot in a new direction.

Or you coul try to slowly corrupt the player by allowing him knowledge rolls o access to plot points, but of course he'd have to keep it a secret where the knowledge was coming from. Make the occasional NPC captured villain vaguely recognise the character, forcing the gnone to go behind the back of the ohers to learn more, etc. So the backstory is always a resource, but they shoose how much of it they assimilate in to themselves...but hopefully slowly more and more when they see how much fun being a little bit evil can be

Best answer:

Have the amnesiac player develop his own personality as the game progresses and he uncovers his past.

So when he's fully recovered his memory, the player is faced with the following choices:

If he is good while his old self was bad, he could refuse to walk the old path and become redeemed. Ocassionally facing foes or mistakes from his past that serve to prove his redemption.

If he is evil while his old self was also evil, he can return to the path with ease.

If he is neutral, he can still choose to walk the old path or find a new way in the world. 
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Ask the player what they think would be cool. Don't allow a claim of "amnesia" to serve as a total abdication of the player's creative responsibility.

Bingo!

This does not stop you from adding bits and pieces as his input triggers ideas in you.
Here are the PHB essentia, in my opinion:
  • Three Basic Rules (p 11)
  • Power Types and Usage (p 54)
  • Skills (p178-179)
  • Feats (p 192)
  • Rest and Recovery (p 263)
  • All of Chapter 9 [Combat] (p 264-295)
A player needs to read the sections for building his or her character -- race, class, powers, feats, equipment, etc. But those are PC-specific. The above list is for everyone, regardless of the race or class or build or concept they are playing.
This does not stop you from adding bits and pieces as his input triggers ideas in you.



Double bingo! Especially since this part of the approach is not widely understood.

No amount of tips, tricks, or gimmicks will ever be better than simply talking directly to your fellow players to resolve your issues.
DMs: Don't Prep the Plot | Structure First, Story Last | Prep Tips | Spoilers Don't Spoil Anything | No Myth Roleplaying
Players: 11 Ways to Be a Better Roleplayer | You Are Not Your Character     Hilarious D&D Actual Play Podcast: Crit Juice!

FREE CONTENT: Encounters With Alternate Goals | Full-Contact Futbol  |  Pre-Gen D&D 5e PCs | Re-Imagining Phandelver | Three Pillars of Immersion | Seahorse Run

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You know, there are several other creative outlets available to you. The other players.

He may not remember them, but do they remember him?
This is the very beginning of the campaign. The other players are all pretty much strangers. They're all a newly formed unit in the nation's army, comprised of odds and ends misfits. 
Shorter answer: no, they never knew him. 
This is the very beginning of the campaign. The other players are all pretty much strangers. They're all a newly formed unit in the nation's army, comprised of odds and ends misfits. 
Shorter answer: no, they never knew him. 



A little "Yes, and" here would help you understand why JRedGiant1's suggestion is very good. Don't forget the campaign's beginning and how the PCs know each other is completely mutable. (In fact, I always go with the premise that the PCs do know each other and ask, "How?")

No amount of tips, tricks, or gimmicks will ever be better than simply talking directly to your fellow players to resolve your issues.
DMs: Don't Prep the Plot | Structure First, Story Last | Prep Tips | Spoilers Don't Spoil Anything | No Myth Roleplaying
Players: 11 Ways to Be a Better Roleplayer | You Are Not Your Character     Hilarious D&D Actual Play Podcast: Crit Juice!

FREE CONTENT: Encounters With Alternate Goals | Full-Contact Futbol  |  Pre-Gen D&D 5e PCs | Re-Imagining Phandelver | Three Pillars of Immersion | Seahorse Run

Follow me on Twitter: @is3rith

Why does the player want to have the "amnesia" background?

I could speculate, and if I did, I'd guess that he wants to have a background that you can work into the central plot of your campaign. Which is useful for railroady campaigns, and (although I'll defer on this point to the experts here) probably less useful, maybe even counterproductive, for a more cooperative storytelling, LiM style campaign. Which style are you and your group planning on playing?

But really, rather than speculate, you should ask him yourself why, if you haven't already.

(And if you have and told us, and I missed it...apologies.)
It was an experiment in character generation. We generally spend a good 5-6 hours making a party at the beginning of a campaign, and then I ask them each to fill out a list of 100 questions which gives them a very deep look at their character and gives me tons of information to work with. This player loved to do it, but the other two were generally less enthusiastic.
So with this game, i decided i'd give them prompts. They had a deck of pretty basic character backgrounds in one line. Things like "Amnesia" "Criminal on the run" "Mysteriously makes things happen under preasure" "Nobleman". Just easy introductions to their character that they could expand on. He chose Amnesia. Not sure why. I assume because his previous character who had it (under another dm) got cut short and kind of screwed over. 

 "A little "Yes, and" here would help you understand why JRedGiant1's suggestion is very good. Don't forget the campaign's beginning and how the PCs know each other is completely mutable. (In fact, I always go with the premise that the PCs do know each other and ask, "How?")"
-I'm not quite sure what you mean here to be honest. If you're saying that all of the characters should know each other, I completely agree. Characters should have a reason to be together, not just "you look like a trustworthy fellow!" In this case, they're all one unit in the military. The problem is, this character lost his memory some 4-5 months ago, well before he enlisted. They're familiar with him post amnesia, not pre. 

I dont remember who asked it, but we balance a fine line between rail road and freestyle gaming. They have very little initiative to do anything they're not expressly directed towards. That being said, they all really love character development. So what we've done is go on normal generic adventures, then every 2 or 3 we have a character special, where something significant to one character happens. For instance, in another post, the party had to break a character's father out of prison. This led to them having to figure out who put him there and why, how they could hide him, etc. It's more like railroad as guided by their own desires for what they want from the game. If that makes sense. 
It was an experiment in character generation. We generally spend a good 5-6 hours making a party at the beginning of a campaign, and then I ask them each to fill out a list of 100 questions which gives them a very deep look at their character and gives me tons of information to work with. This player loved to do it, but the other two were generally less enthusiastic.


YE GADS. 100 questions? I'd be really tempted to be amnesiac too... and I can write novellas for backstory without trying hard.

Over in CharDev there's a stickied "10 minute backstory" thread. Grab it.

So with this game, i decided i'd give them prompts. They had a deck of pretty basic character backgrounds in one line. Things like "Amnesia" "Criminal on the run" "Mysteriously makes things happen under preasure" "Nobleman". Just easy introductions to their character that they could expand on. He chose Amnesia. Not sure why. I assume because his previous character who had it (under another dm) got cut short and kind of screwed over.


As for this case, ask the player to feed you hints. You can even be context-specific - as the bartender delivers their mugs of ale, you say to him "You do something that seems a little odd to some people - what is it?" and whatever he answers, build it into his backstory. Maybe he adds a bit of salt to the ale, and that's something almost unique to (although far from universal in) one particular culture (yep you just invented that), but you already have reason to say he's not from that culture so either he or his father visited there either...

"The world does not work the way you have been taught it does. We are not real as such; we exist within The Story. Unfortunately for you, you have inherited a condition from your mother known as Primary Protagonist Syndrome, which means The Story is interested in you. It will find you, and if you are not ready for the narrative strands it will throw at you..." - from Footloose
Who says that in his former life, he looked the same?

Perhaps his identity is related to a major character in a different PC's backstory, and the event that gave him amnesia also altered his appearance in some way? 
100 questions.  Thats quite the feat of endurance.  I had initially assumed "amnesia" was just a clever way to evade having to put much effort into character background.

I had enough trouble filling out shadowrun 3e 20 questions. 

 Just because the other characters don't know him personally doesn't mean they've never heard of the other character or what he or she may have done prior to blanking out.

 (One thing you can do is to have random NPCs approach the character as though they know them or think they recocnize him? "Hey, I know you..." or "Hey, aren't you that guy who...",etc.
The NPCs may or may not be right.)



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YE GADS. 100 questions? I'd be really tempted to be amnesiac too... and I can write novellas for backstory without trying hard.

Over in CharDev there's a stickied "10 minute backstory" thread. Grab it.


As for this case, ask the player to feed you hints. You can even be context-specific - as the bartender delivers their mugs of ale, you say to him "You do something that seems a little odd to some people - what is it?" and whatever he answers, build it into his backstory. Maybe he adds a bit of salt to the ale, and that's something almost unique to (although far from universal in) one particular culture (yep you just invented that), but you already have reason to say he's not from that culture so either he or his father visited there either...



Yeah, 100 questions. We keep the same campaign for years (the last one went for 3 and there are plans to return some day). That and we're HEAVILY into roleplaying over combat. The characters have always been the center of the game, not their stats. 
You recommendation is incredibly clever though. Well done. That's definitely being done.  
We both agreed that since he has no memory, the player should also have no clue. It's just better for the role playing i think.



If I were playing the amnesiac character, I would agree with this also. But, this doesn't mean he can't help come up with his own backstory, if it's being written on the fly. 
Shorter answer: no, they never knew him. 

Is this your decision or theirs?

If you ask the other players if their PCs knew the amnesiac in the past, I'll bet at least one of them will step up and contribute a bit of history.

Here are the PHB essentia, in my opinion:
  • Three Basic Rules (p 11)
  • Power Types and Usage (p 54)
  • Skills (p178-179)
  • Feats (p 192)
  • Rest and Recovery (p 263)
  • All of Chapter 9 [Combat] (p 264-295)
A player needs to read the sections for building his or her character -- race, class, powers, feats, equipment, etc. But those are PC-specific. The above list is for everyone, regardless of the race or class or build or concept they are playing.
Maybe he doesn't remember his former life because he didn't have one?

This *could* be the standard "split into two different people by a magical (or transporter) accident", but D&D has an iconic alternative (one that has been used in ambiguous-identity cases from time to time): the Mirror of Opposition... and he's the double created by the mirror.

Of course, anything from minor glitchiness on the mirror's part to the specific event that caused the original him to be duplicated could result in this PC version being free-willed rather than (essentially) obsessed with killing the other one (especially if the original 'him' doesn't exist anymore for that same reason).

You could even come up with minor quirks on that basis: why doesn't he have a reflection? It's easy enough to determine that he isn't vampire, so what else is going on?

(Hah. Mirror of Opposition and Mirror of Soul Trapping placed adjacent? The original him is stuck in the other mirror, which is why the new him doesn't have a memory or a reflection or the murderous-rampage problem... which could make releasing the original a bit of a dilemma, since it might be the 'right' thing to do but would pretty much mean his own end.)
Maybe he doesn't remember his former life because he didn't have one? This *could* be the standard "split into two different people by a magical (or transporter) accident", but D&D has an iconic alternative (one that has been used in ambiguous-identity cases from time to time): the Mirror of Opposition... and he's the double created by the mirror. Of course, anything from minor glitchiness on the mirror's part to the specific event that caused the original him to be duplicated could result in this PC version being free-willed rather than (essentially) obsessed with killing the other one (especially if the original 'him' doesn't exist anymore for that same reason). You could even come up with minor quirks on that basis: why doesn't he have a reflection? It's easy enough to determine that he isn't vampire, so what else is going on? (Hah. Mirror of Opposition and Mirror of Soul Trapping placed adjacent? The original him is stuck in the other mirror, which is why the new him doesn't have a memory or a reflection or the murderous-rampage problem... which could make releasing the original a bit of a dilemma, since it might be the 'right' thing to do but would pretty much mean his own end.)



THIS is a fun idea! So how about this. He's some evil person in the material plane (yet to be determined). The queen of the fey (for some reason related to his evil) decides he needs to be imprisoned, so she pulls him into the fey world through a mirror, leaving his refelction as a double. His true self is now imprisoned in the fey world, so he has no reflection. Meanwhile, in the material plane, he's being recognized as this terrible person and has to solve the mystery of first off who he was, and second, whether or not he wants to do right and set free his evil twin. I like that. 

This could actually really work out well because in the original campaign i mentioned above, one of the Pc's is a messenger for one of the greatest criminals in the world, and having him react to the gnome would be a nice cross over easter egg. They love that kind of stuff.

Keep it coming guys, this is really good.  
Along the lines of Neutronium Dragon, maybe he's a creation of some sort of a greater creature..  Maybe he's a 

- a golem that perfectly resembles a human....ala Battlestart Galactica

- a magical creation that has been discarded by some powerful....mage, dragon..devil...etc.