The Blog of John Hewitt

Creating a role-playing character biography

The point of writing a back story for a role playing character is to enrich your experience in the game. The biography of the character helps define that character’s actions and attitude. When it comes to adversity, the character’s life doesn’t have to be miserable, but it should include some moments that give the character motivation.

Let’s say I decide to play a bard (I don’t want to taint your sorceress). I want my bard to have some fighting skill and some musical skill, but the character is still young and relatively unproven. In researching character skills I decide I want him to start off with skills in performing, scribing and basic weapons. I also intend for him to pick up forgery, diplomacy and information gathering as skills later on. Personality wise, I picture him as good natured but a bit of a con man and a blowhard. He doesn’t just want to kill enemies and make money; he wants to have a great story to tell. He’s also the type of adventurer who will do whatever it takes to survive.

Below are a few short questions and answers that I will use to flesh out his character. I include my thought process in parentheses.

What’s his/her Name?

Lute Barjoey (This name is musical and it ties into his heritage. Yes, that can be a little hokey but role-playing games are for fun, not literature.)

Where did he/she grow up?

Lute grew up in a minor town of about 800 people. He was the third of three children, all boys. His father and mother owned a small tavern where they and his eldest brother Edward worked. Lute grew up surrounded by laughter, liquor and music (Explaining his formative background in music and revelry).

Why did the character become a bard (Sorceress, warrior, etc.)?

Lute was an amazingly intelligent and beautiful child with an excellent aptitude for mimicry both in voice and instrument (Accounting for the high points I allot to charisma and intelligence). As the third child he stood little chance of inheriting the bar so his parents apprenticed him to a touring theater company where he received basic training (Enough to be a low level bard with some performing abilities). While touring, the theater company disbanded for a lack of funds, leaving the young man in a new city with almost no money (Adversity). He survived for a while by performing music and storytelling in the streets and by writing letters and documents (Scribing) for the illiterate townsfolk but spent more than one night hungry and huddled in the cold (More adversity!). While he believed himself to be a good person, he stole food on more than one occasion and conned his way into a few ladies beds by virtue of his looks (Food and shelter trump law and honor for him).

Tired of living hand-to-mouth he joined the military and was sent to a foreign war. He spent most of his time as a prison guard and saw very little action (Remember he is still young and untested), but he learned how to use basic military weapons such as swords and bows. Much of his time was actually spent playing music for his fellow soldiers and writing letters home for them (More performing and scribing).

How did the character come to seek adventure?

The roots of the bard’s wanderlust began when he toured with the theater company. The desire to travel grew while in the military. After his country was victorious in the war, they cut back on their military. Lute was given a small severance package and went home to live with his parents. He worked for a year scribing documents for the local government (The roots of both his emerging forgery and diplomacy skills) but still spent his nights playing flute in his parent’s tavern and entertaining the locals with his exaggerated tales of the war based on other soldier’s letters (The roots of his information gathering skill). His future seemed set, but the thought of spending the rest of his life writing down other people’s words depressed him (More adversity and desire for adventure). Also, he longed for the money to start a theater group of his own and he knew that his small salary would never be enough (A goal). Plus, he had told his exaggerated stories of adventure so many times that he had started to believe them himself.

How did the character arrive where he/she is?

One day Lute packed up his few belongings (Including paper, a pen and ink, a sword, a bow and a flute) and decided to head out in search of adventure. There were rumors of rebellion in the lands his country had conquered. Apparently martial law was failing. Lute smelled adventure . . . and money. (These circumstances may have to be molded to whatever adventure is being planned)