Character History

Your character's history is one of the most powerful tools to aid in role-playing, yet it is the one most often overlooked. A character history, if done well, can add layers of depth to a character, supply a creative GM with an endless supply of adventure ideas, and make the character seem to come alive, rather than just being a piece of paper with numbers on it.

A good character history should be written up on a separate piece of paper, and should be about a page long (unless your character has had a really boring or exciting life). The older your character is, the longer the history should be.

This history should be fairly modest, for the simple reason that most people actually do have fairly humble beginnings, despite their achievements later in life. Some characters will start off with a spectacular history (some people really are born princes), but the vast majority will not.

Ideally, the history should also give the GM ideas for adventures based on your character's past, which are much more interesting because they affect you personally, rather than just being a typical "retrieve some thing that some faceless guy wants back" job.

Keep adding to the history as you go through adventures, and it will provide you with a chronicle of your character's heroic deeds through the years. This can be important if you move the character from one campaign to another, as it helps the new GM get a good idea of what your character is all about right from the start.

You might even keep a diary or journal from your character's point of view. In this case, you would probably make up entries dating back some time for the history.

A few things that your character's history should include are:

  • Influential or otherwise interesting people your character knows, whether they are enemies, allies, or just casual acquaintances. If they know the dog-faced boy of a travelling circus, or the leader of a rebellion somewhere, these can be turned easily into adventures when they suddenly show up needing help with something. This seems much more realistic than someone showing up who the GM says is an old acquaintance. Would you rather help your best friend from high school, or someone your parents say baby-sat you back when your main activities were sleeping, eating and drooling? The same principle applies to characters in a role-playing game.
  • Important events of your character's past. If parents or any other close relatives died when the character was young, this might have an effect on their personality. If your character moved a lot, or was given up for adoption, or beaten, or ignored, or loved more than her siblings, it would have some impact on their psyche. Whether this impact was positive or negative is up to you to decide.
  • What your character did that got them to where they are now. What jobs did your character hold in the past? What caused them to go into the line of work they are now in? Was it the excitement? the money? the prestige? Or was it the prompting of parents or peers? Revenge for some wrongdoing? Or maybe just an inborn sense that this is what fate requires? Perhaps a combination of these or other factors.

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