It’s throwback-time, where we revisit an awesome article from years ago…
In my last article, Character Connection = Player Satisfaction, I talked about hooks that connect the character and the player to the campaign. One of the three fundamental questions I suggested readers to ask themselves was, “Why did my character choose his class?” The answer to that question helps connect your character to the setting. Connection to setting, along with connection to story and group, form the basic foundation for us to continually enjoy our characters. Of course, prior to coming up with an answer, you must have a fairly solid understanding of the setting in which the character is to be connected to.
With that in mind, here are a few ideas for class-based character backgrounds. These are by no means complete backgrounds but they do form a starting point upon which to build your character’s connection to class and setting.
- You were once a member of a criminal syndicate ruled by a worshiper of Tiamat, and found out the hard way that there is no honor among thieves. You were set-up to take the fall for the group’s criminal activity, and then abandoned by your peers. While serving a ten-year sentence, you met a priest of Bahamut who ministered to the inmates of Ironhold Prison. His words spoke to you and eventually you became a true believer, renouncing your past life and vowing to uphold Bahamut’s creed. Having served your time, you’ve set out to spread your deity’s word and bring the followers of Tiamat to justice.
- As a paladin of war dedicated to Bane, you once served a mighty empire as a military leader. For more than a decade you conquered in both Bane’s and your emperor’s name. During a campaign on a foreign shore you witnessed a young girl, barely in her teens, stand defiantly against your troops in a futile attempt to save her younger siblings. She was quickly struck down by your men. With her dying breath she uttered something that would forever change your worldview. You deserted the army, renounced your faith, and struck off alone on a foreign shore. You eventually happened upon a quiet monastery near a peaceful village. The brothers at the monastery shared with you the teachings of Moradin and you came to realize that anything can be re-forged, even a soul. Although now middle-aged, you have begun your life anew, recast in the image of Moradin. You go forth into the world to spread your god’s word and seek atonement for a misguided past.
- As a child, a severe fever brought you to death’s door. Unfettered, your soul left your body. You gazed upon a massive fortress-temple rising high above snow-capped peaks. As you approached the gates, a mysterious woman turned your soul away from the afterlife, saying, “Return to the world child. Having tasted death you will recognize those The Raven Queen has called. Show them the way. With that you awoke, your fever broken. Now the Raven Queen guides your actions, showing you when to heal and when to send a soul to her. The road you travel is lonely; you see what others cannot, the souls and spirits of the dead and dying. You don’t know where the road will lead, but you have accepted your role as a servant of fate, and know that you, too, have a role to play in service to your goddess.
- The gladiatorial arena of the city is no more. When the new governors took power they swore to make the city safer and more respectable. Blood-sports were certainly not a part of their vision for the city. Never mind the fact that the arena’s battles were staged, the blood fake, and the rivalries scripted; the people cheered for their favorite heroes and booed their arch rivals. As one of the “warriors” you enjoyed your celebrity status and the lifestyle it provided. Now however, you find yourself out of work and the only skills you possess are that of a warrior, or at least those of someone who pretends to be a warrior. Armed with a shiny weapon and a well-earned reputation you have left the city to make your way as a “real” warrior; hopefully the fact that you’ve never actually killed anything won’t be a problem.
- You once served as the bodyguard for a wealthy and well-respected merchant. You had access to a lifestyle that was far above that which you otherwise would have been entitled to by birth. You had a good life; your employer paid well, demanded little, and had no real enemies, at least not any you were aware of. Unfortunately, you grew lazy and complacent in your responsibilities and failed to do you job. Assassins hired by an unknown enemy killed your charge and left you for dead. Disgraced and unemployable you left the city and struck out on your own.
- When you were younger you were taken slave by a vampire and made her unwilling thrall. For years you were forced to perform unholy acts of sin and debauchery by your dark mistress. Nightly you prayed for release from a tortured existence but to no avail. When adventurers destroyed your mistress they showed mercy on you. An elderly servant of Pelor removed your curse. You swore from that moment on to seek redemption for your sins by serving the will of Pelor and helping those unfortunates plagued by the undead.
- Your parents were scholars, librarians, and followers of Ioun. After your father was killed your mother raised you by herself and you grew up surrounded by dusty books and long-forgotten tomes. You grew up to become the town librarian. On her deathbed your mother revealed to you that your father had been murder because of knowledge he had unearthed. Knowledge she was passing on to you. You had always followed the teachings of Ioun, but the revelation your mother shared with you motivated you to take the oaths of the paladin. The goddess of prophecy had something far greater in store for you than merely cataloging books in an old library.
- As a teen your parents and the village elders had you incarcerated in an asylum after you told them about the voice that spoke to you and told you things; secret things, mysterious things, divine things. Although locked away you stood-fast in your belief that the voice you heard was that of a god and that you were destined to serve the god’s divine will. After several years in the asylum the god showed you the way and you were able to escape. You still follow the divine voice that urges you to perform your god’s will in the earthly realm.
- You once served as a scout in the king’s army assigned to patrol the frontier boarder of the kingdom. When a hobgoblin legion invaded from the badlands you were taken captive and held as a slave. For eight long months you were kept prisoner until your kinsmen finally drove back the army. You still suffer the scars, both physical and mental, of being a prisoner of war, as well as a deep-seated hatred of goblinoids.
- You were born to a well-respected family of accomplished wizards and arcane spell-casters. Your pedigree included some of the most famous magic users of the age and your family had high expectations for you. Unfortunately you were not born with “the gift”. You were an utter disappointment to your family. Embarrassed and disgraced your family had you exiled from your ancestral home. You were given a small stipend, the clothes on your back, and your name was struck from the family records. You’ve become a loner, a wanderer, and a self-made survivor.
- You were raised the only child of wealthy nobles. You were educated in an elite academy, attended the finest finishing school, and spent your formative years wanting for nothing. While away from home, attending a foreign noble’s court, a rival noble house managed to have your families’ name disgraced, your ancestral home seized, and your parents’ coffers drained. Your father was executed as a traitor to the crown and your mother committed suicide. You of course have no proof that your family was betrayed and wrongfully persecuted, but the events that transpired have permanently altered the course of your life.
- Growing up on your own in the big city you did what you needed to in order to survive. You turned your natural charm and cunning into mastery of the con game. Eventually you found yourself in with the local thieves’ guild. You became a trusted confidant of the guild master. That’s when you got greedy. You managed to pull off a major con against the guild master and the guild itself. Now you find yourself with a bit of coin, a strange artifact, and a price on your head.
- You truly wish you could remember anything about your history and background. All you know is that ten days ago you awoke near a sewer run-off in a city whose name you can’t remember. You have a freshly inked tattoo on the back of your neck and a nasty looking chest wound that appears to have been recently stitched-up, both of which worry you less than the strange glowing eye embedded in your palm. You hope that the items in your satchel might offer some insight; a flyer from a nearby inn, an old iron key, a list of seven names, and a royal signet ring still attached to a severed woman’s finger.
- As a child you were sold into slavery by desperate parents. A hard life of labor, turmoil, and mistreatment by your owners filled you with the burning desire to escape your shackles by any means necessary. So when mysterious forces called out to you from beyond the mortal realm you were all too eager to accept their offers, even if the price they demand may one day be your soul.
- You were a famous actor on the largest stage in the city. Adoring fans threw roses and beautiful young ladies swooned when you entered the room. You were the toast of the town. You had it all; fame, wealth, woman, but it wouldn’t last. When a powerful noble caught you with his wife he nearly killed you. You managed to escape with your life but your face was horrible scarred and your body badly wounded. Your career was over. Hitting rock-bottom you contemplated taking your own life. Sitting there with a dagger in hand a strange being appeared before you and made you offer. The creature promised to restore the life you once had, the fame, the money, the women. All you needed to do was accept a simple pact…
- Your family’s wealth and influence allowed you to attend a prestigious college of wizardry. You thought being a wizard would be exciting, the key to power and respect. Unfortunately you discovered that the path to becoming a wizard was much less exciting than you had imagined. You spent many long hours in libraries, studying moldy tomes and copying ancient scrolls. Discouraged you sought a shortcut to arcane power. While cleaning the cellars of the college you stumbled across a small, strange idol. The idol spoke to you, telling you that real power wasn’t to be found in old books. Real power came from places that mortals were afraid to look, dark places, places beyond the boundaries of space and time.
- Orphaned, you were raised in a Spartan-like, hobgoblin monastery dedicated to both Kord and Bane. The intense training forged your body into a deadly weapon and your mind into a master tactician. Learning all you could you eventually left the monastery to find your way in the world and to reconnect with members of your race.
- You hail from a long line of accomplished military officers. Your legacy earned you acceptance into the kingdom’s finest military academy and there you became its star pupil. You were destined to lead soldiers in the name of your king. Weeks before graduation you left the academy without warning. You left everything in pursuit of true love, unfortunately your “true love” turned out to be a succubus. Both your career and your reputation were destroyed. The devil vanished soon after saying only that her master’s will had been done.
- Always curious and inquisitive you grew up devouring every bit of knowledge you came across. You read every book, parchment, and scroll you could find but longed for more. You knew that real knowledge, and real power, could only be gained through the understanding and mastery of the arcane arts. You became apprenticed to a well-known wizard. After several months of service you discovered a horrific secret about your mentor, he was actually a lich. You managed to steal the creature’s phylactery and hid it away. Since that day you have played a dangerous game of blackmail, demanding access to your former mentor’s knowledge in exchange for keeping his phylactery in tact.
- A few years back you fell from a rooftop and suffering a major head injury. Since then you seem to be connected to the world’s magic in some way. You can see and feel the ebb and flow of mystic energies and elemental force. Arcane spells and formulas just seem to make sence to you and come as naturally to you as speaking. Since you began writing down the patterns, runes, and sigils that you’ve seen, your connection to magic has grown even stronger. Now, with barely a thought, you are able to bend arcane energy to your will. Now you’ve left your old town behind eager to experience the world and expand your new-found art.