Character Development: Tips & Tricks - Ash's Guide to Personality & Background Part II
Welcome back to Character Development: Tips & Tricks!
The last few articles have covered the Personality section of Ash’s Guide to RPG Personality & Background. The next three articles are going to cover the Background section of the Guide; we’ll still be working with my character, Nritya Maji, who we've been working with in the last few articles, and we’ll watch her character sheet continue to grow as we make our way through the rest of the guide.
Part II of the Guide is all about character Background. The information at the beginning of this part of the Guide points out that no matter what setting you’re in, there’s really no hard and fast rules to making a background for your character, so you can use as much of what’s presented in this section, or as little as you want, just as before. Ash is just giving a guideline to help you help yourself and your storyteller or gaming group and those you encounter as you play your character. You may or may not ever address everything you come up with during this section of the Guide, but at least you’ll have it down if you do!
Today, we’re going to look at the first three parts of the Background section – Birthplace, Family, and Professions & Crafts. This gives the basic foundation for your character’s background, the solid ground for which everything begins to be built and worked from. While Birthplace will be variable from setting to setting, Family and most Professions & Crafts will be fairly similar regardless of what setting you’re working in, aside from racial templates and game specific professions and crafts being added.
For Birthplace, Ash gives some pretty good general guidelines to use to describe the location – Name, Location, Size, Geography (i.e. desert, plains, tropical, mountainous, tundra, forest, island, etc.), Weather, Industry, Local Government/Nobility, General Character/What Was It Like (i.e. hospitable, communal, ugly, sleepy, dangerous, educated, commercial, pious, stuffy, fun, historical, youthful, political, upscale, transient, depressing, laborious, etc.), and the last option of “Or were you born isolated from a population centre or in a group/family that travelled?” to cover nomadic lifestyles.
Let’s take a look at what Nritya's birthplace was like.
- Name: Western Shroud
- Location: The Black Shroud
- Size: Small
- Geography: Costal Forest
- Weather: Variable, mostly warmer weather with rain
- Industry: Fishing, Game Hunting
- Local Government: Tribal Leadership
- General Character: The village was small, made up of four families, not very welcoming of outsiders who weren’t also Miqo’te. There was a sort of serenity to the village otherwise, peaceful unless bothered, almost a little too idyllic.
So Nritya’s Birthplace is about what most Keeper of the Moon villages are like, as far as we know based on the scant lore we’re given. It can barely be considered a village, and is more like a well-made camp that has just been in the same location for so long, it has just become part of the scenery. A few buildings are now more permanent structures, but it’s nothing grand, since there’s only four families that live there.
Next, the Guide takes us into exploring Family, and this mainly looks at the close family of the character, not so much at the extended family. It does take into consideration that there may be a non-standard family make up, and asks a lot of questions about the family that really build an idea of what they were like.
While all the members of Nritya’s village were related in some way, let’s take a closer look at her family specifically.
- Who was in the family? Nritya’s mother ran the household, as her father was a wanderer like many Male Keepers; while he visited frequently, he was not a stable member of the household. Nritya had an older sister, an older brother, and a younger sister; when he was old enough, her older brother began travelling with her father, so he wasn’t around much either while her sisters stayed at home for quite some time.
- Who did what for a living? Nritya’s mother was once a huntress, but had taken up fishing and continued leatherworking after an injury. Both of her sisters were huntresses, while her father was a conjurer and her brother took up the sword. Nritya herself became interested in weaponry at a young age, though the village only had an old woman who made bows, spears, wands, and staves.
- Socioeconomic Status? Since their family could provide both food and materials for clothing, Nritya’s family was about average in the village hierarchy. Her mother was the niece of the village matriarch, but that only gave so much status in a four family village; the other two families were headed by the sisters of the matriarch. Status really didn’t mean much in the village, not until it came time to decide if someone’s daughter could stay and settle or had to move on.
- Family’s Reputation? The family was one of two that had produced male children, which was rare for Miqo’te. There was a hope that the boy would bring another woman back to the village to settle and expand the bloodline with, however he seemed to be courting favour elsewhere so far. Nritya’s mother was once known as an excellent huntress, however the folly of someone else’s kit had cost her the ability to hunt, and now she was forced to be just a fisher and a tanner. While both of her daughters were good huntresses, neither showed the proficiency of their mother. Nritya wasn't interested in hunting, although she was learning how to use a bow and spear – her passion was making weapons, which everyone found a bit odd, as she was even more enthusiastic about it than their original weapons maker.
- Myths, Curses, or Legends? Aside from the usual Miqo’te myths and legends, Nritya’s village believed that the deep waters off the shores were cursed, which is why they built the village in the trees and not on the shores themselves; the waters would rise with the full moon, and the deep waters would come closer to the trees, as if they were trying to swallow them. They believed that Menphina would protect only the trees, as she had a pact with the elementals and animals within them.
- Family Mental Illnesses? Nritya’s older sister suffers from Manic streaks, though she just has Manic streaks and is not Depressive. Her father suffers from Narcissism, and unfortunately her brother is developing a bit of Histrionic Personality Disorder as a defensive response to it. Her mother occasionally has episodes of Depression due to trying to handle the fact she can no longer hunt, and after trying to deal with her father and brother.
- Who Raised the Character? While Nritya’s mother was the primary influence in her young life, the entire village worked on raising the young kits together. Each person had a different aspect they taught the kits, so the whole “it takes a village” expression was very literal. Nritya also spent a lot of her young life with the old weapons maker, learning to craft wooden weapons from her.
- Extended Family and Relations with Them? Nritya knew a good number of her extended family, as they lived directly in the same village. The village also traded with other extensions of the family, both nomadic parts and another village deeper in the Shroud made up of cousins to the leader and her sisters. Although they found her a little odd, her great aunt’s families were friendly and kind to her, and she got along with most of the kits her age.
As you can see, these eight groups of questions can really flesh out a character’s family quite a bit. Without even getting too detailed, we've not got a pretty good chunk of Nritya’s family life built up, even though there isn’t a lot of Keeper of the Moon lore available out there. For a Miqo’te, she had a pretty normal childhood, with a pretty stable family, and a wonderful village that was full of kindness and love.
What? Well-adjusted characters do exist!
Next the Guide has a section for Professions & Crafts. As pointed out in the section explanation, Crafts are something the character can do, while Professions are something the character does to make money. Just because a character can make jewellery doesn't mean they necessarily have to do so for a living!
This section includes a huge table of Professions & Crafts that are common to most game settings. Some of these can be applied to a setting even if they are not a mechanical option in the game – actors can exist anywhere, for example, but it’s highly unlikely that something like an MMO would have an Actor class or craft of any sort (though it’s more likely to exist in a table top).
The Guide again asks eight things about the Profession or Craft, and these can be answered for each Profession or Craft you give your character. For some characters, this part of the character sheet may get a bit lengthy. Today, we’ll only look at one of Nritya’s skills - drawing.
- What level did you achieve? While she doesn't consider herself a master, Nritya is a highly skilled sketch artist, and has the ability to draw fine detail in her artworks.
- Where did you train? Nritya learned on her own, starting by drawing in the sands on the shores. Her mother’s aunt was observant, and made her a sketchbook of sorts, and began teaching her what she knew, but Nritya soon surpassed what her great aunt knew. From there, it was just practising on her own and perfecting her work until it looked like the things she saw until she finally left the village for Gridania. It was in Gridania where Nritya finally got formal training from actual artists, flitting from artist to artist as she learned what she could from them and moved on; she still will compare works with other artist to continue to perfect her technique.
- Did you break a contract to adventure? Nritya never entered into any formal contract to learn drawing with any artist. She did enter into one to learn weapon schematic design, and she did not break the contract she made with the smith.
- Was the character part of a professional guild? She is still a part of the Blacksmiths’ Guild, the Carpenters’ Guild, and the Alchemists’ Guild as they all oversee the making of weapons of various types; there is no formal guild for artists that she’s aware of, so her drawing talents have only been applied to those guilds as a weapons designer.
- Does the character own a business? Nritya is a freelancer, so technically she is a business owner, but she has no store-front to call her own. It’s not often she’s called upon to draw anything but weapons, however, and she’s often shocked when she is.
- What drove you to leave the profession? She didn't exactly leave the profession, it was more of a lateral move from drawing everything to specifically drawing weapons. She’s still drawing, she’s just drawing schematics and concept designs more than still life work and portraits.
- Was the profession a family business? No, as a matter of fact, her family is still rather thrown off by her choice to leave the village and nomadic life and live in the cities, and work on more than just the simple weapons they use in the village. They’re always startled when she comes home, as she dresses quite different from their tribal style, and her weapons are far superior to theirs. They can’t believe that her sketches in the sand have become what they are now.
As just as sketch artist, Nritya was making decent enough money, however as a weapons designer, she’s making more gil than she knows what to do with. She’s not particularly in it for the gil, which is why she doesn't really know what to do with it.
- How successful are you in the business?
As mentioned, answering those eight questions for every craft can lead to a very lengthy character sheet, but it can be quite worthwhile to have down. It’s very likely that someone, at some point, is going to ask your character about how they got to where they were with their Craft or Profession, even if it’s just the storyteller’s NPCs – but I’ll be it’s another player character that ends up asking first! People are always interested when someone’s got in character crafting, they really are.
That wraps it up for this session of Character Development: Tips & Tricks. Join us next time for a look at the Guide’s section on Significant Past Events, which is another section that can be really short, or really long for your character.