Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Intertwined Backstories

Apologies for the earlier formatting issue. A bunch of bad html got into the post somehow. Should be fixed now.

To conclude the recent focus I've had on character histories, I figured we should discuss a variant that is gaining popularity in some games lately. Intertwined Backstories are your normal backstories for a game, but is done as part of character creation and has an emphasis on getting the PCs to know each other, someway/somehow, before the game proper actually begins. Like everything else there are strengths and weaknesses to it. Today, I'd like to discuss some of those.

The two big systems that I currently know are using this method is Rogue Trader by Fantasy Flight Games and Evil Hat's The Dresden Files RPG. In both games a part of making your character is going through and setting up a history that involves other players at the table.

In Rogue Trader this is done with a "stations of life" chart where you kind of map out the course your character's life has taken and then find out where you cross paths with other PCs that are in the group. This history then shows how the Rogue Trader met everyone and gives an explanation for how you ended up in a command position on their bridge (assuming you're not the Rogue Trader yourself, of course.)

Dresden Files does this a bit differently. During character creation, at the end, you tell the tale of your character's first adventure. The first part of this involves everyone writing down how the adventure begins. You then pass your story to another player (everyone has to go to a different player) who writes how their character helped in this story (they write the second part to your first adventure.) The story then gets passed off to a third player (again, everyone has to go to someone different) who writes how they helped to conclude the tale. In the end, everyone should have a connection to 2-4 other players at the table; two people who helped them with their first adventure and two people they helped out with their adventures.

The obvious strength to this method of doing things is that it has the party knowing each other right from the beginning. It also, specifically, establishes this in a way where the players were on the same side. They have that connection, and so the work the GM has to do to get everything started is a lot less. You don't have to worry about having them all randomly in the same tavern, or a mysterious employer bringing them all together, because they all already know each other.

Even better though is that by having these links formed in character creation it shows the players that this is a game where you are supposed to be working together as a group. Your character has had help before, and has helped others before. This is how the game works and what it is designed to do. There are less issues with "I have this problem but don't know where to go..." because the character already has connections to other people in the game. That is a very strong incentive.

I will admit that I don't see many, but that could be because I like playing games where the players have reasons to work together from the start. One thing that is there though is that these histories and first adventures also establish that the character is already seasoned in some way as an adventurer, and they already have strong character ties to other people. This can, I imagine, cause problems if someone is the kind of player who doesn't really start to groove with their character until the third or fourth session.

The other issue can be the sense of constraint some players will feel when trying to work their history in with other characters. This is more of a problem with the Dresden style format then it is with Rogue Trader (mostly due to the nature of the 40k universe there.) However, I could see some people having issues with the amount their character may have to have already done, or just from it removing the ability to be 'new' to the city, world, or their own abilities.

In Conclusion
I didn't go too far in depth on either one, as at the system specific implementations can make for some key differences. For example, the 40k one is more constrained as you have to go off of a chart, while Dresden Files is open up to creative license. To sum it up in short though, it is a way of having players make their backstory that can save a lot of the early busy work the GM has to do. The cost just comes in some of the more outlier type characters some players like to play. Depending on your group, that could either be a good thing or a bad thing.

Your thoughts?

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