The Ten-Minute Background--Post your characters!

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Here is something I use for my players that allows me to get a good background outline from my players to break the ice with. It gets people thinking, which is good, without overwhelming them with questions. It's based off of the Minimus RPG engine, copyright 2008 Ad Astra Games, used with permission. Minimus is donation-ware, so if you like the TMB, please consider donating for a copy of Minimus, as per the instructions in the file.


The Ten-Minute Background


In an attempt to get all the information I need to create stuff from character backgrounds without having to continually push for information, I am asking that you create backgrounds the following way:


Step 1: Write 5 background and concept elements that you feel are important to your image of the character. These can be a concept overview, a list of important life events, a physical description, a personality profile...whatever you need to get an image in your mind. 5 is just a minimum...more elements are encouraged!


[Example: Martin Tenbones]


1) He is a former pirate and retired adventurer and now owns a tavern in the city of St. Clarice.


2) He is outgoing and charismatic, and attempts to keep abreast of all the local gossip and juicy secrets that pass his way, because he believes that knowledge is power.


3) He and his former adventuring band fought against the forces of the pirate captain Craven, who was a major lieutenant for the current Dread Pirate Hellbeard. He used the wealth that he acquired to build his tavern, but he sometimes worries that the pirates may one day decide to find him and extract revenge.


4) Though he is still friends with most of his former adventuring mates, some of them parted the group on bad terms. His girlfriend went back to the sea to fight pirates once more, but he received word that her vessel was taken by Hellbeard and believes she was killed. He mourns her death.


5) Although he is retired, he can be convinced to adventure again if he hears that Sasha (his lost love) may still be alive, or if he is contacted by the White Foxes during a crisis (see secrets).


Step 2: List at least two goals for the character. At least one of these goals should be one that the character has, while another should be one that you, as a player, want to see developed over the course of the game.


[Example]


1) I would like to see Martin reunited with his lost love and perhaps able to mend fences with some of his former adventuring buddies over the course of this campaign.


2) It would be cool to have Martin face and possibly defeat the Dread Pirate Hellbeard once and for all.


Step 3: List at least two secrets about your character. One is a secret the character knows, one is a secret that involves him but that he is not actually aware of yet. This will help me in creating plots that center around your character. I will also be creating a third secret which you as a player will not be aware of, so expect some surprises!


[Example]


1) Martin is a member of the White Fox Society, a secret society dedicated to keeping Coralton free of tyranny and evil, as well as keeping local governments honest. He provides information and rumors to them, but can be convinced to take a more active roll if pressed.


2) Sasha LeBell, Marin's lost love, is still alive. She was captured by the Dread Pirate Hellbeard and has been kept as his captive for all these years.


3) (Example of a secret I might make up about your character): Not only is Sasha alive, but also she has escaped captivity and killed Hellbeard. She has taken over his ship and crew, and has turned to piracy out of bitterness. She now IS the new Dread Pirate Hellbeard!


Step 4: Describe at least three people that are tied to the character. Two of them are friendly to the character, one is hostile. If you like, you can include an enemy of yours here as well, so I have an instant NPC nemesis to throw at you.


[Example]


1) Martin's friend Audric Cwellen was one of his adventuring mate. Audric, a holy warrior in the service of the Goddess of Love, is the leader of the local cell of the White Fox society, and provides Martin with information and adventure hooks.


2) Another of Martin's old traveling companions, Aubrey LeVaine, is not as helpful as Audric, because they quarreled over the love of Sasha, and Aubrey is still bitter about losing her to Martin. Still, he can provide some magical support if Martin can convince him to let go of his hate.


3) Yebin Thistledown is a strange little creature from the Feywild called a gnome. Martin met the gnome in the Shroudmist Forest and saved him from a pack of Howlers. The Gnome makes all sorts of alchemical items and gadgets, and loves collecting odd souvenirs and items, as well as "recreational herbs." He operates a bizarre patchwork shop in the Rue Angélique district.


Step 5: Describe three memories, mannerisms, or quirks that your character has. They don't have to be elaborate, but they should provide some context and flavor.


[Example]


1) Martin remembers growing up in a tavern as a young boy, helping his mother with the cooking. This started his own interest in the culinary arts.


2) Martin remembers the panic he felt when he discovered that the ship he signed on to was a pirate ship after a brutal attack on a merchantman. He vividly recalls the smell of blood and burning timbers.


3) Martin often recalls the goodbye kiss he gave Sasha when she left him. No kiss he's had since ever compares to that memory.


[design notes for the example character] Martin began life as an atypical barkeep. He was a retired adventurer, but still young and vigorous enough to accompany the party on their adventures. His tavern became the party's base for a while, until the BBEG of the game let off a necromantic bomb that killed most of the townsfolk and turned the town into a Zombie Apocalypse nightmare. Martin survived, and he turned into a secondary character for one of the players as he became more important to the ongoing storyline. Most of his background came from this transition from NPC to part-time PC. After the campaign reboot, Martin returned to his role as the barkeep of the party's favorite hang-out, but the players like him enough that he might return to adventuring status in the future.


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When the Cat's a Stray, the Mice will Pray 

I like the secrets section.
Very nice. I use a variant of this myself:

Background - Family/Class/Profession/Institutions
Who raised you and how did they shape your life? What social class do you belong to, and how did that change your opportunities and your outlook? What do you do for a living, and have you changed careers in the past? What social institutions (religions, governments, civil society, businesses) are you a part of or interact with?

I add this last bit because I like to tie characters into the world around them. Often, people go for very individual or personal stories - long-lost love, bad guy killed my parents, mysterious birth, etc. But I find that this can make characters somewhat disconnected from the world around them, and the world becomes rather too much of a two-dimensional backdrop. Both in reality, you'd expect people to be profoundly shaped by their society and the institutions around them.

Drives - Primary/Secondary/Tertiary

Here's where I like to get a bit more personality than backstory, because an overly historical concept only really gives you a good grounding in what your character did, what happened to them, rather than what they'll do in the future. So I generally try to ask what motivates a character at any given moment: Revenge? Wealth? Fame? Personal Excellence? Curiosity? Survival? Instinct? Reason? Power? Emotions? Loyalty? Etc.

Goals - Short-Term/Medium-Term/Long-Term

Similar to your Step 2, I think that goals give a character a higher order of drive, and can make for a nice character arc that gives level progression some meaning beyond mechanics. In addition, as you point out, it can also be a good hook for DMs.
Race for the Iron Throne - political and historical analysis of A Song of Ice and Fire.
I may just have to steal this to give to my players...if you'd allow that of course
I like the secrets section.

Thank you. I find that it helps me to create plots that revolve around the PCs in ways that get their attention. The best RPing, I've found, comes when the game begins to resemble a soap-opera with surprise twists and turns and revelations. It also works because I'm using stuff the players are giving me, instead of relying on just my own sense of the dramatic...of course, with the Third Secret, I have the ability to throw truly unexpected things at players, especially those wanks who think that they can give themselves uber-powerful and string-free resources in their backstories.

I find that the outline format works very well, allowing players to separate things into more manageable chunks as they build their backgrounds.

I may just have to steal this to give to my players...if you'd allow that of course

Feel free...it's why I posted it here, after all.

@Vikingkingq

I try to ask for those things, too, but not all my players have the time, inclination, or writing ability to give me much that's helpful, and other players are interested in giving me reams of fluffy backstory that I need to wade through to find the story hooks. This format allows me to get the information I need in manageable chunks. If a player wants to expand, that's fine too, and I'll award his creativity, but this way I get the meat of the character quickly and have enough room to maneuver.

When the Cat's a Stray, the Mice will Pray 

Not that I am against this, mind you...

... but does anyone else just make up the answers when asked on the spot, or am I the only one?
IMAGE(http://images.community.wizards.com/community.wizards.com/user/blitzschnell/0a90721d221e50e5755af156c179fe51.jpg?v=90000)
Not that I am against this, mind you...

... but does anyone else just make up the answers when asked on the spot, or am I the only one?

Many of my friends cannot, but I can get into character pretty easily. It takes me a while to think of good, unique answers, but I can pump out answers fairly quickly.
Let your voice be heard! Tell WotC to Publish D&D 4e under the OGL!
I like this. I am so going to steal it.

Thanks so much.
for great justice!

When the Cat's a Stray, the Mice will Pray 

Awesome. Kudos The Stray, its been stolen with premission.
Consider it Yoinked, good sir.
Good. Gooooood....

When the Cat's a Stray, the Mice will Pray 

I may have to make a worksheet with these guide lines on it to help facilitate character creation along side the normal number crunch. Could print it out in PDF form and hand it out.

Do you mind?
Neceros' Character Sheets
Many sheets for many systems.
I may have to make a worksheet with these guide lines on it to help facilitate character creation along side the normal number crunch. Could print it out in PDF form and hand it out.

Do you mind?

Only if you don't send me a copy. ;)

When the Cat's a Stray, the Mice will Pray 

Neceros' Character Sheets
Many sheets for many systems.
yeah this is really helpful specially since I might be running a game for the first time ever pretty soon. Kudos man.
Here's your copy: http://www.neceros.com/forum/index.php?automodule=downloads&showfile=12



You. Rock.

on a tangent, do you have any sheets that just go over powers? I'm going to have a wizard in the group, and he's going to want extra room for all his daily spell options. And what about a ritual sheet?

When the Cat's a Stray, the Mice will Pray 

Thanks, Stray. I have stolen this as well. Good work.
You. Rock.

on a tangent, do you have any sheets that just go over powers? I'm going to have a wizard in the group, and he's going to want extra room for all his daily spell options. And what about a ritual sheet?

http://www.neceros.com/forum/index.php?automodule=downloads&showfile=5

or

http://www.neceros.com/forum/index.php?automodule=downloads&showfile=11
Neceros' Character Sheets
Many sheets for many systems.
Here's your copy: http://www.neceros.com/forum/index.php?automodule=downloads&showfile=12



Love your stuff. Are you planning to make any of these pdfs such that you can fill in the text?
Race for the Iron Throne - political and historical analysis of A Song of Ice and Fire.
Love your stuff. Are you planning to make any of these pdfs such that you can fill in the text?

Yes. Thanks!
Neceros' Character Sheets
Many sheets for many systems.
Awesome.

Awesome original setup, awesome sheet, Neceros.

This thread is just full of awesome. Great job, all.
Happy to oblige.
Neceros' Character Sheets
Many sheets for many systems.
Aw, look. You made me blush

When the Cat's a Stray, the Mice will Pray 

Yes. Thanks!

Thank god. I have a fillable for 4E, but I loved the fillable you made for 3.x and know that I"ll instantly be swapping my current one for whatever you make when it rolls around.


Awesome system, Stray. Most of my characters are good at RPing, but this'll help me keep track of information better.
Thank god. I have a fillable for 4E, but I loved the fillable you made for 3.x and know that I"ll instantly be swapping my current one for whatever you make when it rolls around.


Awesome system, Stray. Most of my characters are good at RPing, but this'll help me keep track of information better.

Great! That's what the system was designed for, quick use by the DM.

When the Cat's a Stray, the Mice will Pray 

I love your sheets Neceros. Keep up the good work.
I'm sorry I can't add anything to what others already said: awesome job, and thanks for sharing...
The Stray, and also Necros, these rock!

I was probably going to rack my brain later on today trying to do this exact thing, then put it into a good printable format... Yeuch.

Now, today is going to look something like this:



Kudos, guys.
Necros, I showed the pdfs to my group. While they loved what you did, many of them found that, when the sheets were printed up, the lettering in the steps was too small to read effectively--it blended into the black and was difficult to distinguish. Is there a way to increase the font size to something more readable?

When the Cat's a Stray, the Mice will Pray 

Necros, I showed the pdfs to my group. While they loved what you did, many of them found that, when the sheets were printed up, the lettering in the steps was too small to read effectively--it blended into the black and was difficult to distinguish. Is there a way to increase the font size to something more readable?

Sure!
Neceros' Character Sheets
Many sheets for many systems.

When the Cat's a Stray, the Mice will Pray 

Excellent work friend!

Hope you dont mind that I used this format for my new 4e campy. My friends very much enjoyed it and now all have rich and interesting back'rounds with out the hastle of 4 page Point presentations. Yes I have actually had a PC do that, with entire history and geneology. Crazy.

May I make a suggestion to your little fun and exciting 10 min work shop?
I have asked the PC's during their back'roounds to add 3 memories.

Examples:

As a child I remember my father owning this big purple crystal of sorts that he talked to.

As a young adult for some reason Dwarves did not like me.

A year ago in city X two halflings dressed in red kept following me around.



Just very simple memories if the PC wants to get involved thats fine. But these memories give the PC a dash more context on where they might have been and history, and on the flip side it gives the DM a huge tool for future story lines or side bar quests.

Hope it helps, and thanks again for the fun!
Nice suggestion! I'll add it to the post up top...thank you very much!

When the Cat's a Stray, the Mice will Pray 

bump

When the Cat's a Stray, the Mice will Pray 

Lots and lots of bumping in this thread huh?

I just wanted to say thanks for taking the time to do this and then reading my mind (okay okay you read that one guys post) and making a pdf so I wouldn't have to write all these steps down.

This is exactly what me and some friends were just talking about. We all jumped right into 4E without much thought into character or setting and now we're all yearning for that little something more. Just that bit of flavor that makes our characters and places somewhere wonderful to be. You've helped that flow just a little faster and I appreciate it.
Lots and lots of bumping in this thread huh?

I just wanted to say thanks for taking the time to do this and then reading my mind (okay okay you read that one guys post) and making a pdf so I wouldn't have to write all these steps down.

This is exactly what me and some friends were just talking about. We all jumped right into 4E without much thought into character or setting and now we're all yearning for that little something more. Just that bit of flavor that makes our characters and places somewhere wonderful to be. You've helped that flow just a little faster and I appreciate it.

That's always a pleasure to hear! Thanks! :D

When the Cat's a Stray, the Mice will Pray 

Thank you both for doing (and posting) all that legwork! Tagged for later plunder~
"When Friday comes, we'll all call rats fish." D&D Outsider
Stolen! Love it. It's hard to find nuggets like these on the forums sometimes, but it's pleasant when I do. Thanks!
I've given my players the task of filling out your background questions, and it's been the easiest and most painless thing ever. Integrating their desires and character histories into the story arc has never been easier.

It's like a source material feast.
Thank you. I find that it helps me to create plots that revolve around the PCs in ways that get their attention. The best RPing, I've found, comes when the game begins to resemble a soap-opera with surprise twists and turns and revelations. It also works because I'm using stuff the players are giving me, instead of relying on just my own sense of the dramatic...of course, with the Third Secret, I have the ability to throw truly unexpected things at players, especially those wanks who think that they can give themselves uber-powerful and string-free resources in their backstories.

I find that the outline format works very well, allowing players to separate things into more manageable chunks as they build their backgrounds.

I don't follow a specific format like you do, but I do encourage my players to spend time figuring out how they fit in the world. I find the best way to promote it is to actually use the character backgrounds that the players give to draw them into the story or be some kind of background.

For example the most senior role player in my current campaign makes very in depth backgrounds. I love it personally, we will spend days talking about how his character fits in the world. In the campaign I just started, he is playing "Echo Stormheart, also known as the Chaos Shepard." To make the story short, weird things happen around him. When he was born, there was a storm that hit the remote town his mother lived in. They never knew his father, and his mother was dead when they heard the baby's voice echoing through the house. They never spoke of what they saw in there to him. Odd things happen around him. Animals, not through magical compulsion, will either hate or adore him, and people will mistake him for someone they know all too commonly. He knows things that any rational person would wonder how he could know something without pre-disposition. He has two oddly colored eyes one is silver and one is green. The silver one turns colors from time to time without him noticing. There's more oddities and background about him, but that gets you the gist.

He plays his character as a good character who always tries to see the best in people, and his own personal theory is that his senses are a little weird, and that's why the world around him acts so oddly to him. As if he can see in to the past or the future at times. The truth is though, Vecna himself, actually came down, ripped out the eye of the newborn, and placed his own eye into the socket. Since then he's been growing up with the eye telling him secrets, and recently, secrets of undead. So much so, that in game, he actually unwittingly turned a dead imp into an undead imp that now follows him. It was a pretty big shock for a good aligned character to realize that he could raise the dead into undead, especially because he worships Pelor!

It'll be funny when I have the paladin in the party drop the bomb "If your hand causes you to sin then cut it off and cast it away," as a hint to him that he has an evil body part. It'll also be interesting to see whether he turns evil due to the influence of the eye, he actually puts his eye out to remain good, or he struggles his entire life with the eye playing with him.

Why do I bring this up? Because when other players see that when you make a background, it'll mean something, they in turn want to make a background as well.
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