|A picture shares 1000 words. |
Everyone has had that 10-page character background story show up at the table. I don’t mind, but there are limits. When I go into a campaign, I have less than a 10-page setting outline and there is an excellent chance that I can tag off of a player’s writings and interject some of those things into the game.
So, I am looking at this whole process of ideation for a completely different reason. At the moment, I have limited access to rule sets and want to make sure I have everything I need to play a campaign. This is a solo venture, I have no players because I don’t know if I have items I need.
Funny that I don’t know what items I need.
One of my anonymous readers, whom I shall call “Blackrazor” because his mom did not name him that, gave me a boatload of stuff to get started. The Basic and Expert rule set and dice. Technically, that’s all I need. The links will take you to DriveThruRPG.
Last year, I backed Todd Leback’s Into the Wild. I really want to use that book, too.
Just before this adventure began, I ordered a hard copy of Rules Cyclopedia, which strongly mirrors what I was trying to do with e1 back in 1980. Between the stuff from Blackrazor, my luck, and ordering habits, I think I have all I need. But I will test that by engaging in some solo play.
I want 6 adventurers. That gives me an Elf, a Dwarf, a Magic User, a Fighter, and two Clerics. I feel pretty good with this creeping capitalization. Today is a new start, and I am not sure how I was blogging class titles before. So, caps for classes.
Now, who is the “hero” of this story? The party, all 6 of them. So they need a reason to be together or character background. How many pages does that take? I don't know. Let us see.
When I rolled these characters, I threw an additional 1d6 for level:
1-3 is first level,
4-5 is second, and
6 is 3rd level.
So I have a first-level Elf, Magic-User and Cleric. I have a 2nd level elf and fighter and a 3rd level cleric. I’ve decided that no one has magical equipment at this point, but they do have transportation, which is sometimes better than magical items.
Why are they together and where?
Let’s start with the young Magic-User. He is really smart and very young, say 16 years old. He is the 9th child of a well-to-do stationer.
What’s a stationer? It used to be that people came to town on market day and threw their wares out and had people buy off a blanket, wagon, cart, etc. A stationer was a person who sold goods that were not easily transportable or too fragile to handle the weather, therefore they needed an actual shop. Back in the day, the first of these were scribes, they provided goods and were “stationary” by definition. Think of them as the mall’s anchor stores. That definition solidified into the definition of their trade goods, “stationary”.
As the 9th child of this stationer, I need to tell you a bit about this family. The Magic-User is named Charles, whom everyone calls “Chuckie”. Charles Sr. hates this and wants his son to leave home and name “Chuckie” behind to get a proper education.
So, we have a bit of the story. Young Chuck is going places. Let’s circle back to Charles Sr. for a moment. He didn’t start out as a bookseller, he was conscripted into the army. After a single campaign, he lucked out and was granted a small but rich plot of land. He got married and had 2 boys with his first wife. His first wife died of the plague.
When he remarried, he granted his oldest boys the farm while Dad started milling. One of the boys enjoyed farming, while the other was interested in seed stock and seedlings. They tagged off of each other’s skills to become successful. Dad was still doing good work of the land as a miller, which allows his boys to capitalize off of super cheap milling prices.
Charles Senior’s second wife produced a trio of girls, plus one more son. The son got into cattle ranching, while 2 of the two of the girls married well and the third daughter became a priestess.
Unfortunately, the second wife died giving birth and poor Charles senior had to remarry again. This time it worked out fine. Chuckie is the youngest of the children, he has two older sisters plus the brood of much older siblings.
Charles Sr.'s current wife is an illuminator, an artist specializing in books. This was Charles Sr.'s final career change, to stationer. He buys skins and papyrus from his children’s farms or ranches and provides these materials to his daughter’s convent. It's a good deal for all.
Chuckie has a best friend in similar shoes. His name is Avfin, and he aspires to be a Bishop. His dad works for Charles Sr. The two young men will be traveling to a larger town for schooling.
I am nowhere near 10 pages at this point, so let’s throw Alice into the mix. Alice is an elf who lives at the edge of town. She is friends with Avfin and Chuckie despite being wildly older than them. As if being an elf in a human town isn’t odd enough, she is a free spirit who runs wild all over the surrounding countryside, much to the consternation of her family. Think hippy-chick.
Her parents have done backflips to make sure she gets in with Avfin and/or Chuckie in the hopes that she will learn to read and wear shoes. When they heard that Avfin and Chuckie were leaving, they encouraged Alice to tag along, as the boys will need someone with animal and wilderness knowledge with them. Hopefully, she’ll grow up on this adventure. Surprisingly, she threw herself into the adventure with gusto despite her parent’s blessing. Alice also stole her mother’s boots and sword, plus her dad’s chainmail suit.
This is just one page, and I still have 3 more characters to describe:
Nicholas, a 3rd level cleric,
his second-level fighter bodyguard, Gaelin,
and a second-level dwarf named Wralin.
Nicholas is one of Charles Sr.’s war buddies. Army life wasn’t for either of them, but Nick has made his way as a chaplain and researcher for the army. He is currently transporting religious relics and magical writings to a large monastery. Since he was passing through anyway, he agreed to keep an eye on Chuck and his friends on their journey.
Gaelin, Nick’s bodyguard, doesn't like his job. It takes him away from the glorious, but also a non-existent battlefield. He is thankful to have Chuck, Alice, and Avfin along as the kiddos are happy to gather firewood, start fires and take care of the animals.
Wralin the Dwarf is unusual. Like all dwarves, he has an eye for construction and mining. But he has a greater passion, horses. He can assess an equine just as well as other dwarves can spot a good diamond. Oddly, he rides a mule named Sneer instead of a horse. Sneer thinks she is a warhorse. She is very comfortable on the battlefield and when dealing with monsters.
At this point, I have roughly covered more than a dozen different characters. Their backgrounds are pretty cool, and if I went 1 by 1, each character could have one handwritten index card of biographical information.
So in getting these 6 characters ready, I have a lot of campaign information at my fingertips.
The kingdom is at peace, but there was a war in the recent past. There are many villages and cities to see, some of which have schools and monasteries. A network of roads and probably caravans exists. The army is forced to do non-combat tasks because the Lord or Lady of the land is doing some sort of recon and resource exploitation. In peacetime, the leadership is getting ready to engage in warfare or negotiate a peace. Humans and demi-humans work together. We’ve mentioned that monsters roam and some characters have encountered them.
Rather than a 10-page character background, I have a 2-page campaign primer, which includes much of the character backgrounds that I would need as a DM. The players could refine these starting points to make the characters their own.
So much for the 10-page background. Two is more than sufficient.