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Background and Merits/flaws...


madcat82
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I have had a small problem with people writing backgrounds for my games, usualy there are non. Sure, one or two always write one, but then there are the three or four who does not.

Now I try to always push a part of the background into the game, as advantages or plots (not disabilities) as I think that the background should work FOR not against the player, however this have not helped one iota. I have also tried handing out xp as a reward for doing a background. Similar result.

So, this is my latest scheme: forcing my players to use some background merits and flaws. The system works as follows:

You start with five background points. You can only use them for background merits. Background flaws generates more background points. Together with said merit/flaw, some information will be asked for, in order for the flaw/merit to be valid, these questions must be answered unless they are labeled as optional.

Merits/Flaws:

Family; cost: -5/5/10 points

You have a family, congratulations. For -5 points, they are a selfish bunch that takes advantage of you or demands attention (may cost willpower points ocasionally, usualy asks for cash/help/for you to listen...).

For 5 points, they are your garden variety loving family, supporting you in most endevours, if not with actual work or such then with a pat on the shoulder (may provide the occasional willpower point, will help-out over a weekend or with a move unless its too dangerous, will look for the character if he/she goes missing).

For 10 points you get the 5 point version, but either very large or somewhat influential.

Questions: Provide the name and relation to three familymembers.

Explain your relaiton to your family and why it is so.

Previous Occupation; cost: 3/5

You have held a previous job. For the 3 point version you left said job under less then ideal circumstances, but you still speak to some of your former coworkers. For 5 points, you still have connections to the buisness as a whole and might even do some work for them, on the plus side you can get some work done for you or borrow for example a workshop for a night.

Questions: Why did you quit/got fired?

When did you get fired?

Provide the name and relation to a couple of former colleagues

Debt; cost: 2

Someone ows you, someone with skills or the right connections. He or she will do a lot to pay of the debt, while not putting themselves to danger it will commit lesser crimes to pay of her or his debt.

Questions: What is the nature of the debt, during what circumstances did it arise and when?

In debt; cost -2

You ow someone a debt of considerable magnitude. Someone has broken the law for you or provided you with something that might not be wrong according to the law but might be problematic to explain to co-workers or your boss.

Questions: What is the nature of the debt, during what circumstances did it arise and when?

Injury; cost: -1

You have a small workrelated injury that does not disable you, but makes some tasks problematic. You might have to wear glasses if you are to read alot, or you might get migrains occasionaly.

Questions: How did said injury come to be?

When did it appear?

Unclean record; -4

Your record is not spotless, you are a criminal. Congratulations.

Questions: What crime have you commited?

When did you commit it?

No drivers licens; cost -1

You have not taken a drivers license or you might have lost it. While this does not mean that you cannot drive around, it does mean that there will be some problems if you are pulled over.

So, any thoughts?

Any other suggestions?

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No. For two simple reasons. How can I make a personal story involving said character if I do not know what there background is?

The second is, it makes my job as a storyteller THAT much easier. Need a plothook? look at there background. Need a reason for them to do something? Look at there background. Need a way to brin the characters together? look at there background.

Honestly, I like it when its easy ::biggrin

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Madcat...I think what they mean is tht you would have backgrounds, because if the player doesnt give you one they dont get to play....

It sounds to me like you have a group of either inexperienced/unskilled or just plain lousy players. I think that if you have to bribe your players to actually make a character (defined here as an alter ego with a past, thoughts, beliefs, goals etc.) then you are really just digging yourself a deeper hole.

Sounds like they are just taking advantage of you.

Tell them if they want to play, they need to create a pseudo-realistic persona with a semi0detailed past.

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I have to agree here, I haven't had that much of a problem with players coming up with backgrounds, so it may be a player quality thing. If you really want them to have one, yes just force them to have one. Of course, if they are really that bad at it, then help them. Sit down with each one before the game even starts (on a different day likely). Spend some time asking them questions and getting them to write the answers down. WW books already tend to have useful questions for just this sort of thing, and you can offer suggestions to help flesh out their ideas. Even the whole "prelude" role-playing thing can help, as described in the books. Role-play out a scene or three with them in their past to help them get a taste of their own character. Feel free to inject things into their past that they may not have control over, such as (for example a Trinity PC) an aberrant attack on their hometown when they were young. Or a more mundane example could be dealing with a bully at school, or at work later on in life. You don't have to get that fancy, but if you can it can be great. The Q&A should suffice however.

And of course for those with access to such materials, books like Heroes for Tomorrow/Now/of Legend (three different books, all kinda old and definitely OOP) by Central Casting is purely made for generic character backgrounds. Or you could rip off ideas from other RPGs that are good at that sort of thing, such as the Babylon Project (where you have to come up with a background before you can even figure out what your skills are), but like I said, WW is already pretty good with this. Make use of it.

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Somewhere near the beginning of the Trans-D OOC thread, I have a link to a series of about a dozen questions. I find that forcing my players to answer them provides for a much more rounded character group, and some of them help flesh out the background. Do something similar (or heck, search for one on the internet) and make your characters answer them as part of character creation.

Failing that, write their background for them and use it against them. It's a mistake most players only make once ... ::devil

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Actually, my players liked it when I made up most of their backgrounds for them. They said it made their characters fit into the story better, and gave more balance to the story, and more reason for their characters to join together. This happened about half the time we roleplayed. It worked out most of the time (not always though).

But then, I'm not a devious GM. Not until play begins, anyway...

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Good advice people.

My players usualy say that they will write the background, but then magicaly work/relationships/studys/life got in the way, and they will give it to me during the day we start playing (and that never happens). And its hard to tell people to buzz off when that happens...

On the other hand, they never seem to have any problem filling there char-sheets with dots ::rolleyes

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Being fair, slapping dots on a sheet is easy. Composing your thoughts and assembling them into a written background is alot harder.

OTOH, that doesn't mean you should not give a background; it just means that, if you have a hard time writing a background, you should instead talk your background over with your GM.

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We mix-maxers have a harder time with this than others.

I have an extra background dot. Let's buy an ally. So… what kind of ally is of maximum effectiveness?

Let’s pick on Jack Stone in the Mars group since this issue came up. I had an extra background dot, I considered an ally.

In another campaign I might purchase a nova girlfriend. This works especially well with characters who might not otherwise have the social megas to do so in game. However Jack has/will have social megas, so this sort of ally might be limiting his options rather than expanding them.

Ideally he’d have a fellow US patriot to further his mission. So… who would be best? A press reporter? Whoops, one of the other PCs is that. A car mechanic to see what everyone else is up to with driving around on surface missions? What if there is nothing going on? A pilot? I deemed it likely a PC would go the fly-boy route.

In the end, I decided to give him another dot of influence to represent his efforts to mold colony opinion.

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Well, in terms of Backgrounds rather than background, one option is to take an Ally "TBD." Admittedly, that works much better with Contacts. So, you could say that your Ally is a "Fellow American Patriot," and then leave him otherwise undefined for the moment.

This requires trust between player and GM, though, since your basically accepting that the GM has the right to significantly define your Ally ( moreso than normal ).

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We mix-maxers have a harder time with this than others.

I have an extra background dot. Let's buy an ally. So… what kind of ally is of maximum effectiveness?

Let’s pick on Jack Stone in the Mars group since this issue came up. I had an extra background dot, I considered an ally.

In another campaign I might purchase a nova girlfriend. This works especially well with characters who might not otherwise have the social megas to do so in game. However Jack has/will have social megas, so this sort of ally might be limiting his options rather than expanding them.

Ideally he’d have a fellow US patriot to further his mission. So… who would be best? A press reporter? Whoops, one of the other PCs is that. A car mechanic to see what everyone else is up to with driving around on surface missions? What if there is nothing going on? A pilot? I deemed it likely a PC would go the fly-boy route.

In the end, I decided to give him another dot of influence to represent his efforts to mold colony opinion.

Should have brought this up. *shrugs* And hey, girlfriend is never a bad idea, even when you have the socials, especially in a situation that involves significant bonuses for such. Or the patriot could have been in the other dome. But I respect your choice.

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Another possible idea, for a twist: have Jack Stone's ally be a patriot. . . for one of the *other* major involved countries. But, someone who shares with Jack a mutual respect. This would definitely require prior establishment though, to figure out how they came to be friends.
,,

I might be a good candidate for that....what do you think Alex? Of course...then you still wouldnt need to purchase it for a dot.

,,

Oh and I just wanted to say I got back from class and am pretty tired so when I first read MPs last post I thought it saud have Jack Stone's ally be a parrot...

,,

::confused ::huh ::blink ::blush ::tongue

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Merits/Flaws:

Family; cost: -5/5/10 points

You have a family, congratulations. For -5 points, they are a selfish bunch that takes advantage of you or demands attention (may cost willpower points ocasionally, usualy asks for cash/help/for you to listen...).

For 5 points, they are your garden variety loving family, supporting you in most endevours, if not with actual work or such then with a pat on the shoulder (may provide the occasional willpower point, will help-out over a weekend or with a move unless its too dangerous, will look for the character if he/she goes missing).

For 10 points you get the 5 point version, but either very large or somewhat influential.

Questions: Provide the name and relation to three familymembers.

I dislike this one mostly because of the cost involved; for the price of two points of Psi (or a point of Quantum and some more stuff) you get ... an influential family. You could drop those 10 points into Influence, Resources, and Allies, and come out with way more usefulness and more plot hooks.
Previous Occupation; cost: 3/5

You have held a previous job. For the 3 point version you left said job under less then ideal circumstances, but you still speak to some of your former coworkers. For 5 points, you still have connections to the buisness as a whole and might even do some work for them, on the plus side you can get some work done for you or borrow for example a workshop for a night.

Again, this seems awfully expensive. Just buy a little bit of Contacts, Allies, and Influence and be done with it.
Debt; cost: 2

In debt; cost -2

This is already in the APG, at a variable cost from 1-3 points, as both Merit and Flaw.

Injury; cost: -1

You have a small workrelated injury that does not disable you, but makes some tasks problematic. You might have to wear glasses if you are to read alot, or you might get migrains occasionaly.

This actually sounds like a version of Weak Sense that could apply to other physical things (running, throwing, etc). I like it.
Unclean record; -4

Your record is not spotless, you are a criminal. Congratulations.

May I suggest making this a variable? That way, for 1 point, you have something minor that looks bad (lots of speeding tickets, or marijuana possession in the US, etc); up to 4 points where you're a convicted felon of a violent crime, or a dishonorable discharge.
No drivers licens; cost -1

You have not taken a drivers license or you might have lost it. While this does not mean that you cannot drive around, it does mean that there will be some problems if you are pulled over.

Out of curiosity, do you follow the rule that people with no dots in Drive cannot drive?
::laugh Good one!
That wasn't a joke ... I've done it. ::glare
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You start with five background points. You can only use them for background merits. Background flaws generates more background points. Together with said merit/flaw, some information will be asked for, in order for the flaw/merit to be valid, these questions must be answered unless they are labeled as optional.

I think I kind of made my point there. Its not supposed to be bonus-points (or freebee points as they are called in that other game-line that white wolf did ::wink ) but something else altogheter. On the other hand, I can see why the name background points would be confusing, so perhaps a better name is history points.

It does not matter in any event, considering all the good and valid feedback I got from the other pepers in here.

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  • 5 weeks later...

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