Friday, March 23, 2012

Background vs. Personality

I wrote a comment for this back post that I think bears enlarging.

I've heard it implied here and elsewhere - particularly in reference to my own character background generator - that a character's background is part-and-parcel with a character's role in the game.  This is nonsense.  While I know Hollywood has done a wonderful job making background cliche A fit into motivation cliche B these past 95 years, not all people hunt for their father's killer, not all people raised as a blacksmith loves blacksmithing, and not everyone with a prostitute mother is ashamed of it.

The importance of a character's background, and exactly HOW it applies the character, is something that ought to be left up to player - not the DM, not any cliche, and certainly not to some preprogrammed campaign strategy.  As I said, if a character whose father was a miner wants to eschew any hint of mining in his present personality, D&D ought to be free and fair enough to enable that.  I designed the background generator as something that would restrict or contribute to a player's knowledge; or as something that would give the character certain shortcomings, that the character might have to live with (or overcome); or which would offer talents and an idea of social position.

But background CAN be mostly ignored.  Or twisted negatively or positively in the character's imagination.

If it happens that the character lopped off a foot due to an error in firelog judgement when the character was 12, that can either be something the player screams about, uses, fixes or simply shrugs over.  The player does not need to automatically hate axes; the character can get the foot restored after accumulating the wealth and finding the opportunity.  I don't personally care.  All I am trying to provide in a background is a suggestion that the character actually LIVED prior to racking up six numbers on a piece of paper.

It's not railroading, its not introducing rules for roleplaying, and its not an attempt to "roll" a pregenerated personality.  Personality is a complex, profound thing in the game, a mix of what the player likes and what the player is handed on the character-sized plate.  You can't "roll" personality into existence any more than you can use pencil and paper to trace a cat.