Our characters live in terms we can all identify with… They are born, live a while, then die. In between, they live in terms of all those delineations we’ve come to accept – from seconds to days, months to years, decades and even centuries. Not many of us may live to the century mark in the real world, but our family memories can stretch far beyond a single life into the lives of whole generations. So why don’t we use the generational view to help define our characters a bit better?
When we construct character histories, we often ask things like:
- How old are they?
- Do they have any siblings?
- Are their parents still alive? Grandparents?
- What do they know?
- Who do they know? Friends or enemies?
- What do they do?
But sometimes it can be fun to ask some questions on a more macro level:
- How far back can you trace their family tree?
- Who were the heroes and villains in their family history?
- What major historical events did their family participate in?
- Where did their family start?
- Is the family known for anything in particular?
- Is the family name recognized beyond the confines of their particular neighborhood, town, city, nation, etc?
Obviously when we delve deeper like this we need our GMs to buy into the process, but basically we’re seeking ways to clarify how the character fits into the greater scheme of things. And asking questions about one family can raise points about other families that they may have crossed paths with along the way. Are there any family rivalries? Feuds? Rifts? It can become a much larger thing than one single character.
Yes, I understand that every bit of information you come up with for your characters can potentially become a hook for your GM to tug on mercilessly during a campaign, but isn’t that the goal? Each hook means that the character is that much more an actual part of the world they inhabit. It becomes that much easier to find ways to motivate your character and the characters around them to do heroic (or dastardly) things if you can put events into a perspective that they understand.
Plus, this broadens the conversation that you can have with your GM or DM to learn more about the history of the world and how your character is woven into it. That way even if your character should die in the telling of a particular story, perhaps they become part of the larger narrative even in death that you, the GM, or other players could then build upon.
Obviously this is just one avenue to explore when building a character. What other avenues have you explored as players or GMs to help the world seem more alive to PCs and NPCs?
Brian “Fitz” Fitzpatrick is a Software Engineer who manages (or is that mangles) Game Knight Reviews and tinkers with writing game materials via his Moebius Adventures imprint. When he’s not writing about gaming, he’s actually gaming or at least thinking about gaming in some capacity. During the non-writing, non-gaming time he’s likely trying to keep up with his wife and two daughters or wrangling code for a living!