It’s pretty common in character creation to hear or assume dead parents or family. And why not right? You don’t have to think about it anymore, you won’t have to interact with them at all in-game, and nobody can kidnap them as hostages! All great things, right? Well, maybe not so much. Personally, I really enjoy the idea of truly fleshing out who a character is and what they feel through experience. In accordance with this, I love when the game’s realism is blurred a little bit at the edges. Let’s all be honest with ourselves for a second, what are the odds of a group of 4-8 people with super badass powers all meeting up and getting along? Now, what are the odds that all of their parents inexplicably died or went missing when they were children, leaving them with no other family to speak of? The odds of all of that happening are insanely low unless it fits within the context of the world (e.g. post Apocalypse, human experiments, etc.) For me, this damages my sense of immersion and reality within the world. It becomes less fun for me as a player when most of the party has a cookie cutter background with very little deviance.
At this point, I’d like to give a couple of suggestions that I believe will help spice up character creations in your party. I want to preface this by saying that these are “open ended” and I encourage that you make these ideas your own, rather than taking them at face value. Change up gender, socioeconomic status, climate, family size/dynamic, or anything else under the sun! As with most RPGs, these ideas are mostly guidelines for you and should be personalized for your style and game.
Your parents are actually alive, and you see them whenever you can
So this one is pretty cut and dry. Instead of your parents/family being dead, they’re actually alive! This accomplished a lot through something that seems so simple. First, you have a relatively safe place to go if you can’t afford an in. Second, you have something in that town or city to fiercely protect. Third, you have consistent NPCs that your characters can interact with and lean on to help advance the story.
All you have left is a very close sibling
In the same thread as the first point, this gives your someone to defend with all you have. It also has a free gut-punch of tragedy alongside it due to neither sibling having anyone else to go to when times get tough. I love the idea of a PC needing time to trust the party and any new members rather than just accepting it and moving on. As the PC grows to love their party members, they will add to the small family and help to grow the character. The beauty in this scenario though are the options that the players have with the sibling. Essentially they have the opportunity to shape this young person into anything, and that’s a lot of responsibility to bear for the party.
You could never live up to their expectations, so you ran away
This was the first character backstory I ever really played, and it made for some very fun interactions later in the campaign. Basically, this idea states that the PC comes from a family of exceptionally talented people in their field, but the PC shows little or none of that extraordinary talent. We know out of game that eventually the PC will reach higher than any of them, but until then they will all view the character as a failure. This also makes the player ask why the PC chose to run. Was it really just to get away? Do they want to go back when they’re stronger? Is this journey to prove their strength to themselves, or to their family? All of these questions and more will eventually rear their head, and depending on your GM’s ideas they could show up in the form of different family members down the line.
A mentor or a very close friend has become your only family
Similar to point two, this idea argues that a small, non-family unit is what the PC has to lean on. It can be as small as one person, or as large as five people (this number can vary depending on how much support you think your character needed) from various races and backgrounds. I personally always loved the idea of an estranged mentor seeing the PC after a few levels. The whole “I’m proud of you, kid” moment would speak to just about anybody who has ever achieved something that took a lot of work. The sense of pride and accomplishment that human beings take in a job well done is always sweeter when it is acknowledged by someone that you admire.
Your partner and children wait at home for you after each adventure
Finally, what I believe is the hardest one to pull off. Your character has a family. This can be traditional if you want (i.e. wife/husband and some children of the same race) or something not as “normal” in the context of the world, whatever that might be in your game (same gender, different race, etc.) This one would be the toughest for me because of how big of a commitment a family is. It would constantly be on the character’s mind and would create some drama if for some reason the family was damaged. That’s not to say it’s without benefit though. The family could make for some interesting NPC interactions and would give the entire party some people to care about. Who wouldn’t want to protect children when you live in a world of monsters?
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