Most Dungeon Masters and players enjoy the process of creating a history or background story for their characters. In fact, the Hero Builder?s Guidebook features an extensive chapter on creating backgrounds for your PCs. However, if you?re trying to outline the personal history of the twenty-seventh NPC for your mega-campaign, even the most imaginative DM might need a bit of a push to start the ideas coming. This NPC background generator offers that push.
Every person, whether real or fictional, is defined by his or her past. A warrior who has faced countless enemies may find his resolve hardened or his nerve broken. An imprisoned thief may learn his lesson and repent, or he may become a desperado hardened by his ordeal. Everyone is the sum of all his or her experiences. What follows here is a brief system by which you can determine the basic events of an NPC?s background, providing a starting point from which you can craft a complete history.
The background generator covers two sections:
Family and Friends: First the background generator determines information about the NPC?s home life -- things about the character?s parents, siblings, and important companions (like a spouse or pet). Is he an only child? Is he an orphan? Do his siblings respect him?
Major Events: Next, you will generate the most formative events the NPC?s life. These are merely ideas and require further development in the context of your campaign. The generated events are not meant to be in any chronological sequence. The first event displayed is not necessarily indicative of either the most recent or earliest event in the NPC?s life. Once all of a character?s past events have been determined, sort them and place them in your own chronological order. A solid framework for the NPC?s past will emerge.
Mark My Words . . .
As you go through the process of creating a background for an NPC, remain constantly on the lookout for ways to link the various random results. If the generator indicates that the NPC?s parents are dead, keep this fact in mind and look for ways to link later results to it. If the next result reveals that the NPC?s siblings are also deceased, for example, you might consider the possibility that the character?s parents died at the same time. Perhaps this was the result of a plague, an accident, or a generations-long feud. The possibilities are endless.
The same holds true for determining events. Often, a chronological story can be established with these events simply by linking them together with phrases like "and then" or "which caused."
It is also possible to link the background generated for an NPC with that of a party member. If both characters are from families who fled to their current homeland due to war or disaster, they might have the same roots.
A Note about Tense and Gender
Throughout the results that follow, you do not have to follow the verb tense that the generator uses. For example, if a result appears in the past tense, feel free to use the present tense instead. Also, to guarantee that the results all match in gender, we?ve elected to use the male pronoun. Of course, the generated backgrounds are just as appropriate for female characters.
Select a level for the NPC then
click on "Generate Background" to begin.
NOTE: The number of important events in an NPC's life are randomly
generated with a maximum equal to one half the NPC's level rounded up.
About the Author
William W. Connors, designer of the award-winning Dragonlance: Fifth Age dramatic adventure game is author or coauthor of many popular Ravenloft titles, including Domains of Dread,Champions of the Mist, and Children of the Night: Werebeasts. Recently, he has ventured into the worlds of Alternity, contributing to Aegis, Alien Compendium II, and The Externals. Bill is author of several short stories and coauthor of the novel Shadowborn. He lives in southeastern Wisconsin with his wife and two sons.
This article originally appeared in A Saga Companion.