Character Origins & Background

Background and heritage refer to the circumstances of a character’s birth – where he comes from among the complex layers of society, his position in the home in which he grew up, the legitimacy or lack thereof of his birth, the general circumstances under which he was raised. Since it defines the point in society from which the character first seeks to rise and enter society, background must be determined before the player determines any of the details of knowledge and training by which that process is achieved.

This information is likely to have a direct impact on the trade(s) and skills a character has opportunity to learn, the way the character is viewed and treated by society at large in the gameworld, as well as the sorts of opportunities he may have for advancement in society through his deeds.

Most every step in generating background for characters illustrates the average (most commonly occurring) results. These may be modified to suit the player, so he ends up with the character he wishes to play, subject ultimately to the GM’s approval. As mentioned, the player may have to accept a disadvantage or two to balance any advantages he wants the character to have in his background, especially when those advantages are considered significant in game terms.

Character Concept

The player should start with some definite ideas about who his character is and then seek to create that during the origins and background generation process, to ensure he achieves the character he wants to play by the time the Character Generation process is done. He should discuss his idea for the character with the GM to determine if or how much of this background and heritage generation step can be skipped, and/or whether the GM deems any additions to the character concept necessary for the purposes of maintaining game balance, especially between the characters entering play at the same time.

When a player hits upon an agreeable concept for his character in beginning the character creation process, his character’s origins and background, the circumstances under which he was raised and the details of the family situation in which he grew up quite commonly are not included, or they are barely sketched in. These ALL lie within the scope of the player’s creativity to consider and decide, however. They may seem to be of little or no concern in most players’ idea of what it means to roleplay or be those characters, and that is rather short-sighted. While social class itself may sometimes be a consideration or even a key element in a character concept for some players, for many it is not. Indeed, when social class and origins are considered, it is only in their most rudimentary form, rarely if ever being developed beyond the vague generality of “noble” or “commoner”, or “father/mother was a (craftsman)/(tradesman)”.

Additionally, social class is usually only included for the advantage it can provide when a character of noble blood circulates among the commoners, and similarly for the ready access to equipment and information that being of low class provides to characters engaged in more nefarious pursuits, in the same vein, among the criminal element. The much richer color it can give to the character in play as background is generally ignored. Oftentimes, players fall into a rut of thinking that all nobles are essentially equal or that only those of noble blood can have any higher purpose to their lives. Each of the social classes is itself composed of different strata referred to as “stations”, however. Even in such “noble-centric” thinking, the details of the particular strata of the noble class from which the character hails can provide a great deal of additional interest, perspective and also impact upon the character’s place in game world society. All noblemen are NOT created equal. Similarly, while all knights are noble, not all those bearing noble titles are knights.

Furthermore, details like size of family, sexes of siblings and their names and ages, as mentioned, and details of relationship status with and between siblings and of parental relationships, for example, also rarely ever occur to the player in formulating a concept for background and origins unless the GM quizzes the player and presses for the information. For some, these sorts of details are not nearly as important as the nuts and bolts of who these characters are in the present, when actually brought into play, which defines their capabilities in the game world. From a characterization point of view, however, this stage of character development or character building is VERY important. Such details are vital to the actual character role and the true spirit of roleplaying. They show the road the character must have trod through the game world to get to the point where he stands at the start of the game, when he is first brought into active play. From the GM’s point of view these details are vital for writing storylines and creating plot hooks to draw the characters into the stories once the character is brought into play. It is the arena from which the things and people about which the characters generally cares most about in the game world are drawn – or that he doesn’t care about, which should take some explaining, providing a different sort of depth.

It is very important that the player have a feeling for the character’s whole life, that he has had an existence prior to being brought into play, and get a general sense of the direction the character should be taken once play has commenced. Family background and a sense of past history are essential to good roleplaying. Detailing the family gives the player an excellent idea of the sorts of situations the character has been through up to the time the player brings him into the game and mold him during play.

Background, from legitimacy of birth or lack thereof, size of family, and the character’s position among his siblings, relationships between parents and siblings, to social class and family station, all help build a more complete character concept and aid characterization. It also provides another touch of individuality to set the character apart from others, to provide that much more depth to the persona. Like people in the Real World, a character in RoM is a product of his environment, his home and family in so far as these determine the sorts of opportunities he has had.

While RoM belongs to the general class of “Swords & Sorcery” medieval fantasy games, a great effort has been put forth here to include all the elements of the historic medieval period on which it is based, rather than falling back on an all-too-common over-simplified “pseudo-historic” method. Here in character background are included a number of details that can better prepare the player to relate to the details of a more authentically medieval gameworld with which the GM has been equipped to use in creating the setting and atmosphere for his games.

Like the treatment given the races provided, this is to aid in acclimatizing the players, GM included, to the nuances of more truly “medieval” roleplaying and the historic folk traditions for which this game was designed and written to showcase.

While many details, number of siblings, number of marriages, who raised the child, and the relationship the character has/had with all of the family members, and so on, may not be important to many players, those relationships may very well be important to the GM. They provide vital hooks for the GM to weave the character’s presence into the day-to-day fabric of life in the gameworld. The crafts practiced by parents and siblings, and the crafts practiced by siblings’ spouses may suddenly become important during play if the character stands in need of such services, especially where there is a positive relationship with the family member. Weddings, birthings, naming rites, birthdays, anniversaries, annual holidays, funerals, and all such events that occur in the family may come to command some of the character’s attention and time in the form of family functions, and may be shamelessly manipulated by the GM as plot devices to pull characters into various adventures. This is all part of making the game not only fun but interesting.

These aspects of character background can give the origins more depth and, in the case of being orphaned, many of the details may well remain hidden to the player, making for secrets to uncover as the character’s game life slowly unfolds during play.

How many such twists and aspects of origins there are, or how deep the background is, really is up to the player. He need only construct as much of the character’s origins and background as he likes, perhaps only just enough to explain how he became who he is according to trade and skills, and turn the results over to the GM.

IF a player elects to take make the background minimal and utterly simplistic, it becomes a matter of the GM’s own discretion and prerogative should he wish to enhance and embroider on it to create a richer, more complete tapestry for his own uses in writing tie-in’s for story arc backgrounds or hooks for motivation, and also for creating connections between the PC’s to provide drama and/or especially to bind the PC party closer together.

Once the character is brought into active game play, the player is handing the reins over to the GM to fill in any and all blanks at his own discretion as the game goes on. Once the player has brought the character into play, any additions (NOT changes) to background and origins the player wants to make, especially those that are simply a matter of preference, must be discussed with the GM. The player may well find that the GM has set up elements to facilitate implementing plot-related elements into the game, regardless of whether it is immediately apparent or not, and some additions, and especially amendments the player may desire to make may have to be modified to accommodate the work the GM may well already have done behind the scenes.

Only some of the details discussed in Heritage & Background are important in regards to the character generation process, mostly insofar as they affect the money with which the character starts play, used to buy equipment and supplies. Social class, family station and sibling rank within the family, and the character’s relationship with his parents all directly affect a character’s wealth at the start of play. The character’s trade can have a significant impact in that regard also, however.

Background Elements

The elements of a character’s background can be minimal and the utmost in simplicity or they can be many and varied and provide a rich tapestry defining the character’s origins.

Social Class is first, a primary consideration, then Family Station, defining the parent(s)/family among whom the character was raised.

The baseline for all characters being generated for RoM is the “Freeman Commoner”, whether hailing from a town or a rural district, or the rural district surrounding a town and belonging to it for its support, this class and station combination carries neither advantage nor disadvantage.

To create a character of the noble class is considered a marked advantage, both in the game world at large and over those PC’s in the party that are not noble, and so is likely to be strictly monitored and perhaps even controlled by the GM. It ties directly into the higher social fabric of his game world in a way he may not wish to allow. If only one or two in a larger party are noble/wealthy aristocrats, it makes them the focus of the group automatically, at least in all social situations.

This may make the other players uncomfortable.

The GM might make it an “all-or-nothing” situation, where all the characters are noble, or none are, to level the social playing field.

To allow the players an equal chance at such an advantage, players of Quick Method characters all roll on the same tables to determine where in the spectrum of society the character was born and raised. All face the same odds. For Custom Method characters, all players have the opportunity to spend the Development Points to rise as high as they like, depending on how important it is to the players. This way it remains balanced for Custom Characters. With only a limited pool of points, spending a lot on social class and station leaves the player with less to spend on other aspects, like skills and Skill Levels.

To take any sort of Landbound class or station is considered a disadvantage, potentially a very great one, because it requires the player to work out the details of the character’s freedom to travel and engage in adventures, especially if he should wish to leave his native hundred or district and especially if he should want to leave his native shire or county, when he is more properly engaged in the agricultural work of his class and bound to a locality and a lord with obligations of services of various kinds throughout the year, starting with the plowing and sowing, continuing with the Week Work owed throughout the growing season, and the heaviest and most onerous of which include Boon Work during the harvest season in late summer.

Giving a character any sort of Landbound class or station reduces the money the player has to equip the character to a threshold of true poverty, in addition, which can be frustrating. While a couple of the trades provide SOME clothing and gear awards OR sufficient income to offset any such disadvantages, the rest are likely to be driven to steal to fill their needs, setting their feet on a path their players may not necessarily want to take. Of course, this can bring the poor desperate character into contact with one of the other PC’s for an encounter that may well end up helping bind the party together even more strongly. Creating a character that is a runaway slave is even worse in this regard. Any material belongings or money for such characters must be discussed with the GM and justified to his satisfaction. Then again, the player can always take one of these backgrounds and then counterbalance the disadvantage by providing the character with unusual wealth for his origins, either due to immediate family connections and relationship, or due to some unusual singular bequest from a godparent, master, or due to having stumbled upon a treasure.

The family background presents a myriad of possibilities. The character may have been fostered with the grandparents (if still living) or an aunt or uncle or cousin, especially if he is a member of the “upper crust” of the commons or a member of the nobility. If this is the case, family details are needed for both the birth family and the fostering family, and the character is provided with another line of recourse when events head south.

Because it provides the character with a measure of influence even perceived power to make getting his way easier in social situations, Noble Class and the higher (wealthy) Stations of the Common Class are going to be hard to coax from the GM and are likely to be saddled with a requirement of accompanying disadvantages in order to avoid upsetting the balance of the game too far in favor of the PC’s, who already enjoy the central spotlight of the game to start with.

Legitimacy of birth may or may not have any major impact on background. In the interests of brevity and speed, most characters can simply be assumed legitimate with no complications. The player can take his time exploring the possibilities inherent in having various numbers of siblings, and their sexes, and the quality of those relationships. Illegitimacy creates difficulties, hard-heartedness and even hostility with which the character would have had to grow up dealing and an impenetrable impediment in the future when it comes to inheriting property or wealth, or even waging suits at law in the courts against those of legitimate birth. The effects of illegitimacy largely depend on the circumstances. In the context of the game rules and character generation, the legitimacy of the character’s birth doesn’t really affect all that much, but in the context of roleplaying the character in the medieval gameworld and the various social situations that can occur, it will. In the locale where he grew up, the circumstances of the character’s birth will likely be common knowledge. It is a rural society, like modern small towns, everyone knows everyone else’s business. Gossip is rife.

In the eyes of the law, being born out of wedlock can have a strong impact on how others treat the character when it becomes known, especially among those of the “upper crust”. Bastards have NO right of inheritance, and in regards to the law in general, no bastard can bring suit against any man born in holy wedlock. He has no legal standing in court against any man lawfully born.

A character can just as easily be stipulated to have been raised as legitimate when he is in fact illegitimate, however, either with or without the step parent’s knowledge and cooperation, perhaps as a “legacy” of a previous husband if the timing is right when in fact the character was illegitimate, the product of cuckolding the previous husband.

If the character is illegitimate but taken into his parent’s house to be raised, the parent may well enjoy granting their favors far and wide and the children of that parent also in the house may or may not be illegitimate also.

Size of family is another aspect that can vary enormously from the PC being the only surviving child and as such the heir or heiress, to as many as 10 or 15 or so was quite common from the era of the game into the Victorian era and later. This changes the character’s personal context, how well socialized he is and even how well he deals with the opposite sex if he grew up surrounded by a preponderance of them.

There is also the possibility of multiple marriages, regardless of the other heritage circumstances. This can compound the size of family immensely, or the PC might remain the only child in spite of it.

The details of siblings, aunts, uncles and cousins are up to the player to map out and detail as far as he likes, or he may pass the task off to the GM either after detailing only the immediate family or even handing the entire business of to the GM to complete. Family relationships are a great tool for the GM to use as hooks to get a PC interested and motivated to pursue the stories he writes, and as such the player is advised to take at least some interest in making some decisions concerning family so the PC ends up with a few allies to make life a little easier in case the family situation ends up being a little too interesting.

The character may have been abandoned to be raised by strangers, in which case the worst is likely to be assumed, saddling him with all the disadvantages of being illegitimate without knowing for sure whether he is or not. Due to the social constraints it places on him, that might make finding the truth of his heritage a priority, especially if he should ever plan on getting married. That status or lack of it is going to make a great deal of difference to any prospective spouse.

The player should consider the possibility of his character having been fostered with relatives, or the parents’ lord, or to a colleague in the parent’s trade. This is a common practice in the period of the game, though mostly so for those of the “upper crust” of commoners and the class of nobles. The PC having grown up as a legitimate fostered child has two sets of familial attachments. This can be both a blessing and a curse, depending on the quality of the relationships.

Alternately, a PC might have been orphaned, either because his parents died or because he was abandoned for some reason. Orphaned by death, the character is likely to have full knowledge of family, but being abandoned he may be ignorant even of the quality of his heritage, whether he is legitimate or illegitimate. Those with whom he was left may never have been told.