With 5th Edition Dungeons and Dragons released, we saw a rather interesting shift in character creation. While you still picked a class and race as before, the background was also a part of the character as well even more so than in previous editions. When you picked your background, you got two additional skills that you were trained in. Makes sense considering that these skills fit into your background story. But these were simply templates with a few charts for you to roll on to give you a sense of who your character is. Things like:
These don't make interesting characters. These are quotes as to what a character is now, not WHY they feel that way. There are thousands of different ways that each of these quotes can be played out and all of them are going to depend on who that person is at their core, the environment they grew up in, and key events that happened in their life to push them one direction or another. People's lives are not static. They are active in some way. We grow up, we fall in love, we get our heart broken, we make friends, we make enemies, we learn. Things happen through the course of our lives that make us who we are as people. Characters in a fictional medieval setting or a Star Wars setting are no different.
So how can we come up with a good character idea as we eat our lunch? Simple. We roll it.
I can already hear you right now.
That's not what I mean. What I mean is that we make up a series of charts that give us a bit more insight as to our character's background. Even more so than the charts in the Player's Handbook. Think about a person's life for a moment. What usually happens in it? A few things that happen in chronological order when you think about it.
- They are born
- They have an adolescent life
- They have a young adult life
- They become an adult
- They start their adventure (added in there for D&D purposes)
There are a ton of other things we can add in there for good measure, but this gives us a good starting point. Let's start by asking ourselves some basic questions under their birth.
- Where were they born?
- Who were their parents? Are they still living?
- Who raised them?
- Were there any special circumstances behind their birth?
Come up with as many answers to these questions as humanly possible and jot them down in a list. Don't worry if it sounds stupid, we'll weed out the bad ones later on. For now, focus on getting as many ideas down for each of these questions as you can. Remember, its a fantasy setting. Go crazy with it starting off. Let's start with where the character was born in a Star Wars game. You could list planets sure, but let's expand on it further.
- On a Rebel Base
- On an Imperial Base
- In the woods on a jungle planet
- In a Wookie village
- On a starship
- On a research station
- In the sun
- On the moon
- On an asteroid
- Inside a Tauntaun
- Cloning facility
- Mechanical Factory
Once you have your list down, start crossing off ideas that don't make a lot of sense to you. Or if you feel that you can explain it later on then feel free to keep it. If you like one of these ideas, pick it and move on to the next question. If you can't decide, just list them numerically and roll for it randomly. But most importantly: Keep this list handy! Set it to the side and use as a reference later for the next character that you come up with in your future games. Do the same thing for their parents, who raised them, and special circumstances behind their birth. Remember, not everything has to be awesome at the beginning.
When you move on to special events that happened in their adolescence and young adult lives, think about things that could happen to them. Make it brief and in one sentence. Again: Go crazy! Its a fantasy setting after all. A few examples:
- My parents left me to a wise old man when I was very young. I still remember them.
- I made friends with a smuggler and started learning tricks to their trade.
- I was in a circus for a few years trying to make ends meat.
- I saved a young girl and her wealthy father gave me a gift for the heroism
- I was taken off world just before it was destroyed, escorted by my father's adviser.
- My village was in the middle of a war between two factions when I was very young.
- I was captured by bandits, but managed to escape with another gentleman.
- I fell in love with someone who's family is at odds with mine.
NOW we're getting to the good stuff! These are the things that make a person who they are. The things that happened in their lives that shape them as a person. With these, you can ask questions about their reaction to these events. Its not always a simple two or three choices like in some games...
Remember, things are not always as black and white as they appear. Think of some situations that could come up as a result of these one sentence stories. Let's go with the saving the young girl example from earlier. It could have been an assassination attempt that failed and now the killers are gunning after you in revenge. It could have been that the father wanted to kill the daughter but had to give you something to keep it under wraps. It could've been an argument with someone that would've gone horribly wrong had you not stepped in. Maybe the young girl was working on something that could've caused her to get killed and you noticed something she never would have that saved her. You never actually intended to save her but ended up doing so anyway because you were too busy focused on something else.
There are SO MANY possibilities! Explore them!
The trick to it is build it up in layers. Start with a simple sentence and expand on it as much as you want. Keep doing this for each of the questions mentioned before. Before too long, you'll have a little book of charts to roll several characters off of. The more you expand on it, the more in depth future characters will become.
Who knows, I may tell you of how I came up with Grotnick the Barbarian Accountant...
But that is another story for another time.