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Options for expanded character backgrounds

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Below you will find 8 options to make your character more interesting and detailed. Personally I would recommend using all options at the same time, since they are easy to implement and they provide interesting story tools for your character, by creating keywords for him/her/it and rewards you for acting out the personality and background of your character.

These options can be chosen individually, but some of them work better when combined. By including them all you will see, that they compliment each other, since each option covers different aspects of your character.

Trigger

This is a keyword or a small sentence, which forces your character to enter a conversation or make him react in some way, when mentioned. It’s a topic that your character care very deeply about and which he has opinions on. You are free to select more than one word or sentence, but keeping it simple makes it easier to deal with.

This option tells you and other players, something about your character and it is a good tool for involving you in the role playing part of the game. Both new and experienced players can enjoy this option, as it puts you in situations, in which you are forced to act, which can be both funny and interesting. What your character’s angle to the given subject is, is up to you but remember he feel very deeply about this!

If a player sets aside other actions or commitments, puts himself in a “might-be-dangerous” situation or role play his Trigger well, he will gain a “Fatepoint” (see below).

A trigger could be: fights (in which he will always try to be an active participant), money, elves, magic, “All life is sacred”, “I’m not a coward”, “No one is going to tell me what to do!”, religious stuff, a political view or similar.

Example: A player character enters a tavern. The GM has written in his notes, that this particular player has chosen the keyword “Money” as his Trigger. In the tavern a one-eyed, harsh looking man is talking to his friends about “an easy way to fill their pockets with gold”. This triggers the player character, which decides to walk over to the rowdy crew and saying “..and will it fill my pockest too?” ..or he could eavesdrop on the conversation and talk to the sturdy fellow later. If this encounter, triggered by the players Trigger, will put him between an rock and a hard place, it could earn him a “Fatepoint”. The player could also choose to could just comment on the easy money to his friends, by trying to convince the rest of the group to join the quest. This will not award the player anything, but instead create inspiration for future role playing situations between the players (“I told you guys, we should have gone for the easy money in the tavern, instead of marching through this swamp looking for monsters..”).

Personal note: The Trigger has created some great roleplaying moments in our games, forcing the players into all kinds of funny situations, giving them both new friends and enemies. I have found it very useful for introducing new players to role playing games, as the Trigger will give them something to talk about in-game.


Complication

This is something that annoys or challenges your character and it can potentially put him in danger. It is up to you, as a player, to decide how “difficult” you Complication will be, but you need to keep in mind that, it has to be something which can create role-playing situations for your character and the other players. You should be able to find a solution to your Complication within reasonable time and by reasonable means, and when you do solve it, you will be awarded a “Fatepoint” and a new Complication will soon arise in co-operations with the GM. Notice: The complication will not be solved by itself through time or by other means. You will have to actively participate in solving it, but you can get all the help you need from the rest of the group or NPCs.

Your Complication should affect you in one or more ways: It can be an annoyance, an emotional burden, a secret that can’t be revealed, something you have nightmares about or embarrasses you. You decide how to role play how your Complication affects you, but remember it’s only a minor problem, not something that will destroy or ruin your character.

A complication could be: an enemy, a handicap, a curse, a secret, membership of an occult organization, prosecution by lawmen, injustice towards you or someone you know, a demonic tattoo, persecution by a mob boss, or simply something you know and need to do something about or similar.

Example: As a child, a player character was held hostage by a demonic cult. During one of their rituals, he was branded with a demonic tattoo. Now it is beginning to itch and burn, which is very troublesome for the character, since he has been hiding his tattoo from the rest of the group. He doesn’t know why it burns, but it worries him a lot.

The player decides that his character eventually will reveal the demonic tattoo to his friends and ask them to help him find a way to remove it. As the tattoo begins to itch and burn more and more, the character will begin to feel a demonic presence around him. He has asked the GM if she would invent a way to cure the demonic tattoo, which she has agreed to and she is implementing the demonic tattoo into the games storyline.

Personal note: I always incorporate the players Complication into the storyline of my campaign, sometimes as part of the main plot and sometimes as a subplot, but it will always affect the rest of the story and the characters themselves. Complications are a great way to engage the players, as it is a part of their characters personal story and it provides a lot of inspiration for new adventures.


Secret

This is a secret which revolves around something your character has done, seen or been exposed to. It can be good or bad and will have some minor implications or consequences. Within this little secret, a new small adventure is hidden and if your GM is able to merge it into your current adventure that would be just great. It can be very satisfying to learn, that the leader of the thieves guild, which your group has just captured, actually is one of the character’s uncles or that the precious ring on the nobleman’s finger, actually was a ring, one of the characters just sold to his fence a few weeks ago.

A secret will be revealed to the rest of the group at some point or they might already know it, at the beginning of the game. Remember that this is only a little secret and when you have been affected by it and it is not relevant anymore, you will get a new Secret.

If revealing the Secret in anyway makes it unpleasant, embarrassing or puts your character in a different position, in a tight spot or upset other people, then he will be awarded with a “Fatepoint”.

A secret could be: Something you have done, something you have witnessed, something you are the mastermind behind, something you know, something you are involved in, someone you know, something you have vowed not to say or similar.

Example: One of the player characters was a member of a secret demonic cult. He had participated in several rituals, which included tattooing innocent victims, with the sacred mark of the demon. This is a Secret he is not very proud of, especially since one of his best friends, another character in the party, once was a victim of these heinous acts. Now, all of this is in the past and he has denounced the demonic cult (even though they are still trying to recruit him again, from time to time). He knows that he has to come clean with his friend and the rest of the party. Revealing the Secret will earn him a “Fatepoint”, but might also give him a Complication. It could be a Complication regarding his friend or the demonic cult, who has just learned, that the character was revealing their practices and demonic secrets.

Personal note: I have used Secrets with a great amount of fun for the players, which have included suddenly revealing one of the players as heir to a local (but very poor) count and another as witness to a gruesome murder, where the murderers threatened his family to a player being a member of a forbidden magic society. It is important to note, that a Secret is a story tool and that it is only fun, when revealed. Keeping them hidden the entire game is not how they are supposed to be used.


Blessing

This is something that can help your character in an emergency. Your Blessing will only work once and it can provide you with that little piece of luck or edge, you need to get out of a dangerous situation or to make everything, more comfortable for your character. When you have used your Blessing, a new will soon emerge.

Notice: This is a “one-time-use” Blessing. It is not a big thing, not necessarily a religious thing and it should be tied into your characters background story.

Whenever your character makes it difficult or challenging to reach his Blessing or when a complication, a sinister deal or something similar unpleasant is needed to achieve it arises, the player will earn a “Fatepoint” in addition to Blessing itself, when he solves the challenge. This can be combined with the Complication mentioned above.

A Blessing could be: a good loyal friend, someone who owes you a favor, a contact who has specialized knowledge, something you know, a note of pardon, a religious blessing by a god, a makeshift hideout, hidden equipment, hidden money, a small one-time-use magic item or similar.

Example: When fleeing his hometown with his family, several years ago, the father of the player character, stashed a small amount of gold coins beneath the family tombstone on the local graveyard. The character and his friends have just arrived at said town and the player wants to make use of his Blessing, adding the gold to the party’s empty pockets. Upon entering the graveyard he discovers that someone has been digging in a lot of graves nearby and that someone apparently has found the hidden money beneath the family tombstone. A nearby noise alerts the characters to the grave robbers who are willing to fight, to keep their treasures and combat ensues. When the characters defeat the grave robbers they are blessed by finding the stashed money (and the character is awarded with a “Fatepoint” for risking his life in the fight with the grave robbers), but now the party also have the valuables from the other graves. What will they do next? What is the right thing to do? Should they retrun the valuables or keep them? Perhaps this situation will create a Complication or a Secret for one of the characters?

Personal note: Blessings are a great way of rewarding the players with something that is related to their characters. The little edge the Blessings give the characters won’t affect the game in any major way, other than to provide more stories and fun, but is my experience, that players just love to have that little extra something.


Aspect

This is a sentence that defines who your character is, how he thinks of himself and how he handles certain situations. The aspect is something that can affect your character in both good and bad ways and it is important, that you keep this balance in how you write and define the Aspect. The Aspect is an integral part of your character and will not normally change during the game. Situations could arise, where a change might be logical or better suited to reflect a major change in the characters personality or beliefs and this is where the Aspect might change too. Whenever your character is in a situation where his Aspect could come into play, he should act accordingly. Doing so and thereby creating a difficult situation for the character, he will be rewarded with a “Fatepoint”.

Example1: If your character is an assassin, his Aspect could be: ”I kill people for money”.

The good: Emotions will not cloud your judgement when killing bad guys. It’is a job and nothing personally. In certain social (dark) circles, this could give your character recognition and a reputation, which would aid him in other situations.

The bad: Who would like to get acquainted with a cold-hearted killer? Where is the limit to the amount of gold you are willing to receive for a kill? If anything has a price, will you just blindly accept that price? What if your character was paid to kill a friend or one of his siblings?

Example 2: As a priest worshiping the “healing god”, your Aspect could be: ”All life is sacred”.

The good: You will save lives, living up to the premise of your god. You will defend the innocent and people will admire you for your empathy and grace.

The bad: Should the orc serial killer live? How about monsters or even trees? Who shall live and who shall die? And what will you do, if someone stands in your way, threatening you with violence? Will you intervene, when your friends are in a fight?

Example 3: “I’m the architect of my own fortune”.

The good: You are an independent person, who won’t let anyone or anything stand in your way of completing your objectives. You appear confident and determined. You are shaping your own destiny!

The Bad: Sometimes you do things that will further your goals, but hinder others. You might appear as a selfish man, who doesn’t care about others. What will other people lose, when you will gain?

Personal note: The Aspect can often be difficult to define in the beginning of a game, but the more you play, the more it will become apparent. It is a great tool to define your character and as a GM I have used the characters Aspect a lot in different situations. One of my players defined his characters natural curiousness with the Aspect: “What is behind the next corner?”. Believe me, there was a lot of things around the next corner and even things that he didn’t wanted to explore. But it was great way to show how his character was and acted. This Aspect created a lot of role playing situations for the whole group in both good and bad ways and we just had a ton of fun.


Black stain on your soul

Sometimes characters do bad things that will affect them emotionally. Things they know is bad and things they regret deeply. Things that often hurt other people in different ways like: killing innocents, hurting people who didn’t deserve it, involving them in crimes, tampering with someone’s mind , making people crazy and terrified, putting people in awkward or embarrassing situations, mutilating them with magic, breaking a vow, torture them or exposing them to overwhelming threats and evil.

All of these things will put a “Black stain on your soul” if your character ignores the bad things they have done, just accepts it as a way of life (things happen, you know?) or openly refuses to have anything to do about it.

It is the GMs decision, when a black stain has been put on your character’s soul, according to the culture, norms and traditions in the background of the campaign universe. Maybe, killing people who are sick are accepted? Maybe, mind reading magic is allowed? There many different ways of how you look at life, even on our own planet.

Every time a character is given a black stain on his soul, that character is moving a bit closer to darkness, which means that darkness is attracted a bit more to him. NPCs will begin to “feel” and aura of discomfort around the character and behave accordingly, by not feeling safe and be wary of the character. Later they might even reject the character or be scared by their presence. Evil people will seek out the character, offering him evil proposals and alliances, but worst of all, demons and other evil entities will feel the characters presence and perhaps even make contact.

Only the GM knows how many black stains each character has and he alone decide how grave they are and what consequences they will have. Players will only know through the game, that something is amiss. If a character is aware of what is happening around him, he can try to redeem himself and right his wrongs or embrace is slip into darkness. How he does it and if these actions will save his soul or devour it, is for the GM to decide. This option can be a bit tricky, since it contains a reward for darkness and a reward for redemption. Every time a character is aware, that his current action certainly will lead to a black stain on his soul, he can embrace it and role play it accordingly or “fight” to prevent it. Both situations must have a major consequence for both the character and his surroundings and most often for the rest of the party, but whatever he chooses to do, he will earn a “Fatepoint”.

Example: The party has decided to scale the city wall during the night, to get a view of the surroundings. They aren’t allowed up there, but find it necessary to go there, to further their objectives. Instead of scaling the wall with a rope, they decide to enter a small tower leading to the battlements. The tower is guarded by a soldier from the local city watch. The guard is not an enemy of the characters and is unaware of their presence. The party uses a magical invisibility spell to go past the guard. Suddenly the last character to pass the unsuspecting guard, draws his knife and stabs the poor man to death. There was no apparent reason for doing this, as the party already had entered the tower unnoticed. This action will have major consequence for the guard (who died), the character (by losing respect among his peers or just by being evil) and the party (now the city watch will be looking for the murder or murderers).

The character will now have a “Black stain on his soul”, which the GM writes in his notes. If the character is confronted with his action later, he can earn a “Fatepoint” by actively deny his action as bad or by actively regret his action and try to seek some sort of consolidation with the guard’s family.

Personal note: My players love the idea of the Black stain on their souls, since they don’t know what will happen or when they have crossed a line. Sometimes they encourage it themselves as in this example: During our fantasy game, one of my players tried to escape from a man known as the “nobles executioner” (they only real gentleman-way to leave this life as a convicted noble. But that is another story), by casting a spell, that made him see the character as innocent. But the spell was a critical success and the character suddenly convinced the executioner, that everybody was innocent. Just to make the story even more interesting, the player used a “Storypoint” (see later), to implement this as a permanent change to the game. The consequence of his action, altered the executioners mindset and as a reborn Scarlet Pimpernel, he began to liberate all convicted nobles in the country. On the other hand, the player realized that he had broken the sacred code of magic, by messing around with the mind of an intelligent being, which is not only against the law, but also morally wrong. His character saw this as an act of self defense, but it gave him a black stain on his soul, which is still haunting his character at night.


Fatepoints

You always start the gaming session with a Fatepoint, even if you already have one. It can be used to re-roll a dice roll, except critical successes and critical failures. You can re-roll multiple dice, as long as it is considered as a single dice-roll.

Fatepoints can also be used to nudge things in the game, like when your character is asking the innkeeper, if he has any of that special dwarven beer you need to buy, to convince the dwarven mercenaries to join your party, when raiding some stupid barbarians. Normally he wouldn’t have any, but as your character asks he uses a Fatepoint and then the innkeeper, actually has a small barrel of the stuff in the cellar.

The GM can offer you a point, when you are in a situation, where your Trigger, Complication, Secret, Blessing or Aspect could provide a challenge for your character. Like when the nobleman wants a feared barbarian leader killed and offers your character a lot of gold. It is quite dangerous, but since your Aspect is “I kill people for money”, you accept the job on behalf of the party.

Or when you enter a tavern, and some rough barbarians are discussing how cowardly and stupid magic is, when you Trigger is magic.

Or when your Secret is, that you have a romantic affair with the innkeepers daughter and you are planning to elope with her.

Or when your Complication is about the local thieves guild, who is forcing you to burn down the inn, since the innkeeper won’t pay for “fire-protection”.

In these situations a player can choose to take the Fatepoint and role-play the situation and face the potential consequences of that encounter7action or try to avoid it and not get the point.

This option is meant to create role-playing situations for the characters based on their personality and background stories and shouldn’t be used for punishing the players. The GM can never remove a character’s Fatepoints, but only offer them.

A character can save Fatepoints for future use and even use them all in the same scene.

Personal note: This is in my opinion one of the best options presented here. The Fatepoint is what makes the characters a hero, being able to save a dire situation when everybody else would fail. Game wise the single re-roll of a dice or nudging small events in the story, won’t affect the story in a larger scale. And if it does, then you just have another story to tell. It works wonders when combining this with the other options presented above and players often love how they can get an extra chance or affect the story in a minor way.


Storypoints

At the beginning of character creation you will receive 1 Storypoint. You can use this to change major story elements in the game and you will only acquire a new one, if the consequences of your actions, is affecting the story in a noticeable way. Remember the innkeeper with the dwarven ale in the Fatepoint description? When spending a Storypoint, you actually know this guy quite well and you get to decide how your relationship is with him and other details, like that the Innkeeper always put aside some of that dwarven ale for you and that his daughter has a crush on your character. These are things that would alter the relationship with the innkeeper, his business and daughter in a major way for the rest of the game. And you as a player, decides how.

You could get a Storypoint back, if the inn were burnt to the ground and the innkeeper and his beloved daughter died right in front of you or if they were kidnapped because you upset the barbarians by challenging their ramblings about how magic is the cowards weapon (they were the ones who set the inn on fire) or when you killed the barbarian leader and saved the innkeeper only to find out, that his daughter had an affair with the barbarian leader (or the leader of the thieves guild) and that she was behind the burning of the inn, in order to claim the insurance money (which she wouldn’t get, since you now saved her father).

Storypoints makes it possible for players to alter certain story elements to their needs, without spending a lot of time role playing the changes. Even though role playing is the heart of the game, it is sometimes nice to have another way of changing certain conditions in the game. Will Storypoints remove the bounty on your characters head? No, but you can use it to convince the captain of the guard, that you are innocent (you still have to role play the scene) and he will support you. Just too bad that the judge isn’t that easy to convince and that is why you only have 1 Storypoint to spend at a time.

Storypoints can change major events and they should always be used in a way that compliments the current events and the story in the game. Using Storypoints to make a dragon appear out of nowhere is only applicable if the dragon would be fun and relevant to include in the story and if dragons actually existed in the game world. This is where the GM has the final say.

Storypoints are rare. It often takes some work to acquire them; as minimum a little adventure or as a reward for solving major plot events. Often players have no more than one or two Storypoints in total and they should be advised to spend them well. You can only use 1 Storypoint in a gaming session.

Personal note: Storypoint are a way for me, as a GM to give the players some control over the locations, NPCs, situations, events and directions in the game. My players don’t use them very often, but when they do, it is primarily when things needs to be a bit more effective. One of my players created a monster of his own design through magic in-game (long story), but I told him to spend a Storypoint if that monster was going to have a larger impact on the story and the game world. Normally the monster would affect the game world in a minor way; after all it was put in the story by a player character, but given the size and the number (it was only one small monster), I let the player decide if the consequences of creating this monster should have a greater or lesser impact. By spending his Storypoint the monster has now evolved, it is a proud parent of several smaller monsters (it actually returned to the character and made him create a mate) and it will occasionally seek out its creator and especially when it is inconvenient.

I hope that you will find some of these options interesting. They have been great addition to my players and games.. :)



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Comments ( 8 )
Commenters gain extra XP from Author votes.

Voted Kassy
August 30, 2016, 13:51
2xp
This is quite good. Saved. Thank you!
Voted valadaar
August 30, 2016, 15:03
3xp
Great article! Lots of possibilities here. Good stuff!
Voted Scrasamax
August 30, 2016, 16:32
3xp
Enjoyable read, could easy blossom in lists of potential triggers, complications, black marks, etc
Voted Strolen
August 31, 2016, 10:40
1xp
Awesome, well articulated ideas and how to use them. The ideas were fantastic. The examples solidified the point and the overall explanation made it super easy to understand, take and use.

Fantastic idea, love it!
Voted axlerowes
August 31, 2016, 12:28
0xp

This is as good (if not better than) as any gaming advice that I've read on the citadel. I admire the way you seek to incorporate the characters' stories directly into the campaign. Would love to play at your table. (Not CM are you?

Voted Murometz
September 2, 2016, 13:20
0xp
Fantastic article!! Well conceived and written. Great use of examples! Ahhhhh, Fate Points, we love you so.
Clemmensen
September 4, 2016, 7:47
0xp
Thank you, for all the comments! :-)
Voted amphibianJani
September 13, 2016, 1:40
0xp
Thank you for this! As a new DM I have a tendency to be a bit ... *ahem* authoritarian. These will help me not be so tyrannical. :)


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