Burst of Insight – Quick Background Prompts

This week I’m going to give you a selection (often weird) of background concepts as a companion to last week’s article about Writing Effective Character Backgrounds. For many, it’s the holiday season and I’m going to take this week…well not off, but let’s say this week’s blog is a little more light duty than I normally write but I will provide a few short prompts and maybe mechanics suggestions to go along with some of them.

  • Fish-Out-of-Water: I commented in my last blog that a player with an urban character might not have much fun in a wilderness-based campaign. That’s really only true if it’s a surprise. You can have a great deal of fun playing a character who is thrust into the unknown. It helps if you take feats and skills that while focused on your native environment that still apply. You could play a charming wilderness ranger who follows a trouble to a distant city where she gets involved with the other PCs and the campaign. While she’s specialized in wilderness survival her Diplomacy and combat expertise will still prove useful. Conversely, an urban scoundrel who stole from the wrong noble may find that he has had to flee into the wilds where he encounters opportunities to open mysterious doors and slink about unseen…even if he doesn’t know which herbs are safe to eat and which trails lead to dangerous predators.
  • Former Slave (Halfling): You are the former slave of a wealthy Chelaxian noble family, they were traveling abroad and something happened (bandits, adventuring mishap etc.) and your owners were killed. You survived and looted the bodies before escaping to somewhere safer. Recommended Trait: Rich Parents, reskinned to reflect the background change.
  • Reformed: You used to belong to an evil cult, were a loyal Hellknight, or just an unrepentant con-artist. No matter what you once were, recent events in your life have caused you to reconsider your past actions and you are now trying to atone. At least a little. You should (as always) talk to your GM. She may decide that the evil cult you have abandoned or the Hellknights are an important part of the campaign arc and make this a campaign trait that gives you special insight into the actions of your enemies.
  • Relic of the Past: This is a fantasy staple I couldn’t pass on including. There are a number of fictional characters who were plucked from the past to help save the present. In a Pathfinder context, you might have been the victim of a petrification effect and mistaken by history as just a relic of the past until someone figured out the truth and set you free. New Campaign Trait: Relic of the Past, You were once an aspiring adventurer or hero but ran afoul of a basilisk or medusa and became petrified for a century or more until a wizard scholar discovered the truth of your statue and restored you to life. You make Knowledge (history) checks involving your native time period untrained and gain a +2 trait bonus to those checks if you take ranks in Knowledge (history). Unfortunately more current events cause you difficulty you suffer a -1 penalty on all Knowledge checks involving more current events.
  • Strange Castaway: You aren’t from the campaign world but from someplace else maybe even our Earth. You were going about your normal day to day activities and something weird happened and you slipped through a portal to Golarion or where-ever the campaign is set. If your PC is from earth most likely he is from the World War I era (given the events of certain APs) which can make for an interesting gunslinger concept. The question of how do you get back home or even if you want to get back home will probably play an important role in your character’s personal story.

Don’t be afraid to try an unusual background, but always talk it over with the GM and probably the other players. As I said last week communication between the players and the GM in regards to character backgrounds in essential. But also the communication between players. Next blog I’ll be discussing running Session Zero character generation and character prologues. In the meantime feel free to add to the above prompts in the comments and I’ll see you all in 2017.

Andrew Marlowe

placed in the Top 16 of RPG Superstar in 2012 and 2014, one of the few contestants to get that far in the competition twice. Since then, he has contributed to many Paizo and third party Pathfinder products, including one of the network’s favourite releases in the Pathfinder Player Companion line, the Dirty Tactics Toolbox. Every other Tuesday, he will be sharing his Burst of Insight, with design tips for would-be game designers from a decorated freelancer.

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