I was recently chatting with some chums about characters and their backgrounds. In my Shattered Star campaign about half the players have created background for their characters while half have not.
I’m a huge fan of character backgrounds. If I’m playing a character—even for a one-shot—I almost always knock up a background. I see the process of discovering a character’s background as an integral part of character generation.
To my mind, there are three basic benefits of writing a character background. While they ring true for a one-shot game, all are particularly relevant for campaign play.
You are More Invested in the Character
This seems a total no-brainer to me. As a player, I love to know more about the character I’m playing. To me, a character without a background is totally disposable—he’s not a “real” person. (I know, the irony). He’s just a collection of stats and abilities.
While I might not ram every small detail of the character’s background down my fellow players’ throats it helps me portray the character.
A background helps me as a player:
- Understand the character’s origins.
- Understand why he is adventuring.
- Understand and develop the character’s personality, hopes, dreams, fears and so on.
- Understand the character’s long-term goals.
Your GM is More Invested in the Character
I think this is something a lot of players forget. A background gives your GM a deeper understanding and appreciation of your character. A background can explain those strange and quirky things the character does that otherwise people might find annoying.
A background enables your GM to craft interesting, flavoursome side-quests and rewards that are totally unique to your character. Some GMs may even run entire adventures based on your character’s background or goals. If you don’t have a background it’s hard to do that.
It also enables your GM to give you bonus XP for roleplaying. Free XP—sign me up!
Your Fellow Players are More Invested in the Character
I think a lot of players think of a background as something that only benefits them.
However, a background helps you bring your character to life at the table, which in turns invests your fellow players in the character. This can be critical in your character’s survival. If you character is just one in a long line of one-dimensional stat blocks few—if any—of your fellow players are going to be overly fussed if it dies. They are also less likely to expend considerable resources or put themselves in serious danger to rescue your character.
As a player, I’m going to make a considerable effort (and take considerable risks) to aid a character in which I’m invested. I’m going to make considerably less effort and take considerably fewer risk to save one which seems to me little more than a stat block.
You Are Not Too Busy To Write A Background
When you made your character, how long do you spend looking at books, reading spell descriptions, choosing skills and so on? Do you obsess for hours, days or weeks about the smallest mechanical detail? How many books do you read?
Don’t get me wrong, the crunchy bits of your character are jolly important. However, the fluffy bits are equally important (and here’s how to design them along with some secret character motivations to get you going). Spending even half the time on fluff as you do crunch is time well spent. It doesn’t have to be some kind of magnum opus after all.
What Do You Think?
Is writing a character background worth it? Is it a waste of time? Let me know what you think in the comments below.