Exquisite corpse character backgrounds

For the 5 DM campaign,  we used an entirely non-Gygaxian, yea, Anti-Gygaxian, character generation system.  But I think it is pretty dang cool.  Some players thought that starting at first level again would be kind of a drag, so as a compromise we started with 6,006 XP and agreed to make the XP rewards fairly low so that progression would be slow and plateau around 6th or 7th level.  We also added a very new school style story game element to the character generation.

The problem: we wanted to ditch “alignments” but wanted something along the lines of allegiances.  And we wanted to incorporate something like the ‘awesome points’ of Old School Hack but without the extreme silliness of them.  The solution: We decided to use a background generation system that comes from some new school game (I don’t even know which one, should ask John) which runs thus:

1. You write up a little background information on your PC’s first adventure, and from that story you may come up with a few “aspects”*

2. Your story is passed to another player, who writes in how his PC was involved with that story, or some other story, with your PC

3. Repeat #2.  (If you have at least 5 players, I guess)

4. Result! You now have a background, which will provide fodder for coming up with “aspects” AND your PC now has a history with four other PCs.  No need to meet up in a tavern.

So this flies in the face of Gygax’s famous dictum that a character’s background is what happens in levels 1-6 (or 1-4 or whatever), and it introduces a weird “exquisite corpse” type metagame to the start of the campaign… but I like it! 

We all wrote up out backgrounds before the session, and sent them out by email (I maintain a Yahoo group for my gaming circle to help keep everyone in the loop and share documents etc.), and this session we shuffled them around and each added our own bit to two other stories.  It was a lot of fun to do that, and we all laughed a lot.  So that worked out.  We ended up mostly keeping the ‘aspects’ suggested by the initial write-ups but it was fun to collaborate on our party’s background. 

Beats the hell out of “you are sitting in a tavern and see a dwarf in a hood, a dude with heavy armor and a big sword, and two elves in leather armor lined up at the bar, asking if there are any monsters nearby.”




*Aspects = Things you will roleplay about your character, and which might be used by the DM to create hooks or temptations. For example you might have “enemy: the robber baron of Snood,” because in your story you had something about fighting him, or foiling him, or whatever.  In the game, the DM might throw some of Baron Snood’s men at you when you least expect it, or contrariwise you might go out of your way to spread slander about him, and in either case the DM may even award you a ‘point,’ which you can ‘spend’ to bump up a die roll from a d20 to a d30 or negate a hit or something like that.  Thus these “aspects” which could in principle be anything have a minor mechanical effect in the game but are mostly for roleplaying, like D&D alignments.)


Published in: on October 19, 2011 at 9:02 am  Comments (3)  
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3 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. That is elegant. Well done!

  2. I may be wrong but I think the background thing came from the FATE system. I really liked the character creation process we ended up with. I actually more than doubled my original number of aspects after you and Matt added your bits to my characters background. I even tossed in a detrimental type aspect or two just for flavor. We’ll see how that works out. LOL

  3. I know that particular character generation system is used in Spirit of the Century, which uses the FATE system, but I don’t know if it’s common to all FATE games or just SotC. Interesting idea to use it for D&D.

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