Monday, December 25, 2017

If You Want A Better Game, Give Your PC Connections To The World

No one knew who they were. Not really. The lone swordsman, with the tool of his bloody trade slung over his shoulder. The evoker, with lightning dancing from her fingertips and fire in her eyes. The druid, his beard a briar tangle, with his ironwood staff. And the brimstone preacher, with her singed clerical robes and burning book. They came from the four corners of the world, and it wasn't until they joined together that they made their legend.

He had no friend but his bear... until he fought together with the others.
This sort of "man with no name" who comes from nowhere setup is really common when it comes to our characters. We know who they are, what they can do, and we know their names... but we just sort of plunk them down in the world as if they sprang fully-formed from the ether. More often than not we talk about how far from home they are, or we make it a point that their family is dead, and they have no friends. They're a lone adventurer, out on their own.

This is an archetype... but it often makes your character feel like they aren't really a part of the world. It can make it harder to roleplay, and worse, it makes it harder for you to tell your story because you're starting from scratch. If you want to make your life a little easier, all you have to do is give your character connections in the game setting.

No PC Is An Island

As I said in Fleshing Out Your Background or How To Avoid Becoming A Murderhobo and Who Raised Your Character, and How Did That Shape Them?, all characters have connections in the world. Someone raised you, someone taught you your skills, and at some point in time you had friends, family, and fellow students. You grew up somewhere, and there are people who know your name... for good, or for ill.

So, if you want to make your character feel like a more organic part of the world, you need to ask where they're from, who they've worked for/with, who their friends are, and all the other questions about what tracks they've left in the world.

Man ain't nothing without his friends.
So, once you know who your character is, ask what ripples they've made in the world. For example, if your character is a knight, who do they serve? Who were they squired to? What vows did they take? Where did they train? What tourneys did they ride in, and what victories have they won? The answer to each of these questions creates connections the way a tree puts down roots.

Alternatively, say your character was a bandit. What gang was he part of? Was he ever identified? Is there a price on his head anywhere? Did he rob specific kinds of victims? Did he run with friends? Were there people in the countryside who gave him shelter? Was there a particular fence that he went to for his loot? Were they part of a guild? Did he leave on good terms, or have his friendships soured? If your character is a wizard, did they study at a university, or were they an apprentice? Who have they worked for, and is their magic known?

There are an endless list of potential questions. If your character is religious, where do they attend services? If they drink, where is their favorite pub, and are they a regular? If they don't drink, do they spend time in tea houses? What merchants do they buy from? What smiths are they friendly with? Who cuts their hair, washes their clothes, and do they use a public bath house? Who do they play cards or shoot dice with? Or are they more of a chess sort of character?

Your History Gives You A Leg Up

Your character's past isn't just a backdrop; it gives you options when it comes time to make story decisions. As a for-instance, if you want to take the Leadership feat, your character's past might give you a trusty sidekick you parted ways with, but who has now returned to aid you in your adventures. If you want to justify being able to find obscure or rare locations in a city, then all you have to say is it's your hometown, and you know it like the back of your hand. It also helps the DM, because if he's looking for a way to slip you necessary information, it helps to have a former squad mate who's joined the town guard, or someone your character apprenticed with, who might pass something along.

So, in short, don't just make a character who feels like they had no real history before the first session. Give them a past, and a history, and you'll find they fit much more smoothly into the setting, the story, and the campaign.

That's all for this week's Moon Pope Monday post. If you'd like to see more content from me, check out my Vocal archive, or head over to Dungeon Keeper Radio where I and others present skits, advice, and world building that our fellow gamers may find of-use. To stay up-to-date on my latest releases, follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. Lastly, to help me keep Improved Initiative going, consider heading to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to become a patron. All it takes is $1 a month to get yourself some sweet swag, and to help me keep doing what I do.


  1. Very good article! My players have always been invested in our setting and they really do a lot to bring their characters to life and make them "fit" where they need to.

  2. I often use the questionnaire in the Amber RPG both to flesh out a character as well as a place to spur ideas. It also makes the experience of the game better if you are focusing on how your PC would approach this encounter as well as your next dice rolls.