Prologue

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MinusInnocence
MinusInnocence's picture
Prologue

In White Wolf's games set in the World of Darkness, it's customary for each player to run through a series of vignettes from their character's background with the Storyteller. The kinds of things they focus on might be different for everybody - if one player talked a lot about his character's family and how close they were before he became a vampire, maybe that's worth digging a little deeper into to see if maybe the supporting cast of spouse and children - who may only currently consist of names and ages jotted down after a moment's consideration - have more going on beneath the surface.

Or, if the character has a lot of dots in Knowledge skills but only tangentially referenced his college years, fleshing out that span of time could be constructive. It may be that a character's first brush with the supernatural, no matter what kind of game you're playing, was not the catalyst for that person's transformation into a PC. For vampires, for example, the being that kills someone and brings them back to "life" (known as their "Sire") is a really big deal. It may be that, although the character didn't piece it all together until after his or her death, there were multiple encounters with his or her Sire from early childhood onward. This can help develop who is ultimately the most important person a vampire knows after returning to the world as one of the unliving into a really three dimensional supporting NPC instead of just some plot vehicle for a life changing event that will never come up again.

In my games I like to do a little back and forth with players before they join the campaign, probing with questions about this or that aspect of their personality or history and seeing how it ties into the crunchy bits on their sheet. If someone picks the Poverty-Stricken trait, I'm curious to know more about that and whether that was the sum of their experience before the game started or if a reversal of fortunes occurred that saw their family's wealth and influence precipitously decline. There might be more to the story or maybe not - maybe the character doesn't think too much about where he came from, but even that can tell me something important about him.

As a player, how much do you welcome the DM to get down into the mud with you when going over your character sheet before play? Do you like stuff like this or do you just want to hit the ground running?

deadDMwalking
deadDMwalking's picture

I like detailed character backgrounds, but I also like the game to support it. In D&D, for example, you're 'special' because you're an 'adventuring class' - there are 30 warriors for every Fighter, after all - but you're also starting out with zero experience. D&D might benefit from a higher 'floor' meaning that characters actually have some 'background experiences' that have meaning. You can definitely get that when you start above 1st level because the PC HAS to have adventures in the past to justify their current starting level. You can't even have killed a cat as a starting character if you have zero XP... Some of that can be hand-waved, but the point is that it creates cognitive dissonance.

So yes, I like background adventures. If time is available, running a one-shot to get used to the character without their companions is ideal. But the character should probably be higher than 1st level to make it all make sense when it is all said and done.

Darker

Way back in the day, in 2nd edition, sometimes we would play a prologue game as 0th level characters. Usually it wasn't as a big group and sometimes just one one one, the DM would play something out in the course of an hour or two that became the background of your character, taking you through the pivotal event that pushed you from the boring 0th level second born farmer's son to an apprentice cutpurse in the city where the adventure was going to start.

The system made more sense from an XP perspective as you didn't actually gain XP to make you go from a 0th to 1st level character and when you became a 1st level adventurer, you started gaining XP then, starting at 0.

Talanall
Talanall's picture

This is something I welcome as both a DM and a player. I find it helpful in both roles.

In 2EE, I've found that lot of what Dalvar does and how he responds to people and events is informed by his experiences as an adolescent and young adult. He decided to become a wizard for a reason. Equally, he decided to specialize in abjuration for a reason. And, yes, he's evil-tinged for a reason, even if his day-to-day conduct hasn't been particularly villainous.

So it was important to me, in terms of who Dalvar is as a person, to be able to explain why he is the way he is, and I've found it useful in determining not only how he reacts to the other PCs and the main plot of the campaign, but also how and why he cares about events and people in the background setting of the game.

As a DM, I care less about tying the background to the crunch than I do about making sure that the background is sufficient to help the player have some idea of who the character is, and to allow me to tailor plot hooks appropriately to appeal to that character's motivations. It's nice to have the crunch match up, of course, and certainly I'd look askance at a character who grew up in an urban area but has maxed ranks in Survival without a fairly well-reasoned explanation for that choice.

Wæs se grimma gæst Grendel haten,
mære mearcstapa, se þe moras heold

Fixxxer
Fixxxer's picture

When Talanall started the Cataclysm game, we spent some time waiting on the various players to get their crunch together. In the meantime, he did some simple roleplaying via PM detailing some fairly day-to-day mundane stuff from the night before the game officially began. I was very fond of this because it let me solidify a little bit about who Johten was, how he speaks and so forth without an audience. It's not exactly the same thing as what you're asking about, but it's as close as a dozen PMs let us get.

Talanall
Talanall's picture

I don't always do that, but it's something I like to do if I can. More than once I have had players remark that they're still getting a sense of who the character is, and sometimes it takes awhile for that to gel for them. It seemed like a little preliminary roleplay such as what happened with Johten (and Rory, and a couple of others) would be useful as a head start.

Wæs se grimma gæst Grendel haten,
mære mearcstapa, se þe moras heold

Fixxxer
Fixxxer's picture

On a couple of occasions many years ago when I had time to play on an actual table, I used to use a trick in some of my games where I got the characters together in such a way that they had some downtime. For example, I once started the characters in the quintessential tavern, but had a brawl break out (which is also a good primer for combat for someone new to the game, btw), after which everyone involved -including the PCs- was arrested. The PCs end up sharing the same cell, so they've got a little time to talk and get to know each other. At this point, I would dim the lights and have them just roleplay their PCs without the distraction of combat or travel. This usually worked out pretty well.

Talanall
Talanall's picture

Makes sense. I like to contrive to have the PCs end up in a low-stakes combat encounter early on, as well. Even if all the players know each other and are experienced, it's nice to shake the bugs out before I start throwing random encounters that may be impossible to win.

Wæs se grimma gæst Grendel haten,
mære mearcstapa, se þe moras heold