RPG Character Backstory — Family
Salutations, nerds! Today I’m taking a closer look at RPG character backstory, specifically what your character’s family looks like. Raise your hand if you’ve played an orphan or a character whose entire village has been burned to the ground. If you don’t have your hand up I very nearly don’t believe you. And you know what? Me too. Avenging loved ones is a totally compelling reason for a character to get out and adventure! But…what if we didn’t do this? Let’s take a look at different kinds of families and the sorts of people who shaped your character’s life. Even if you are playing one for whom everyone is dead these people matter in terms of who your character is now and they would at least remember them, right?
Who raised your RPG character?
For most people the answer is their parents but there are a lot of reasons a character might have been raised by someone else. A sage or acolyte might have been raised by monks in a temple, for example. If you were a foundling, who took you in? Are you a member of a species for whom your parents sticking around is unusual?
In drow culture it is traditionally not uncommon for a child to be raised by one of their sisters instead of their mother directly. In feudal times it was common for children to be fostered with other families either as hostages or simply to broaden their education and form bonds with different houses for political reasons later on. Maybe you were the child of a noble house with too many heirs and when you were 10 years old your parents gave you up to the church to be raised as a guardian or sent you to be apprenticed to a wizard. Then you’ll need to think about what your parents were like and how the wizard treated you as well.
If you were raised by your parents it’s also worth considering what those parents looked like. Did you have just one parent who raised you alone? A nuclear family? Two moms or two dads? Two moms and two dads? James Holden from the Expanse series was raised by eight parents and while that’s a rather extreme example it’s also not one to be discounted.
What sorts of things did your guardians value? What did they discourage in you? Can you think of a couple of examples of moments embodying these values?
Did your RPG character have any siblings?
By siblings I mean anyone around your own age. Elves of course could have significantly older siblings who would have been adults at the time you were born. Are you a twin? A triplet? Did you form any close friendships with other children in the area where you grew up?
If you’re an orphan this is an excellent way to work in a family of sorts anyway. Street kids tend to band together and run in groups after all. Safety in numbers. What sorts of things did you talk about doing as children that didn’t happen for you? What sorts of things did you talk about doing that did?
The family your character chose
Most people have at least a small handful of family members who don’t share any blood with them. For instance, an uncle who isn’t really a sibling of either of your parents but has been a friend of the family for so long everyone just knows him as Uncle Joe?
Do you have a particularly close best friend you met in adulthood and would die for? A friend of the family you still consider kin to you? If your parents were adventurers how do you get on with their former adventuring companions when they come to visit? Are you a human with a dwarven aunt who would sometimes bring you sturdy clockwork soldiers to play with and thick sweet cakes? Or an elf who learned to fight with a spear from their dragonborn uncle?
Were you apprenticed to a master who was like a second mother to you? Raised in the thieves’ guild alongside a rival who was always challenging you to do better for the sake of being the guild master’s favorite? How did knowing these people change who you are as a person?
Family looks like a lot of things and the people who your character was raised around will do a lot to change the way they see the world. Maybe they had some bad lessons instilled in them growing up that need to be broken down or maybe they had a lot of people who taught them valuable things they treasure to this day. Either way these are things to consider when you sit down to create your RPG character because even if they never come up at the table they’ll matter to how you interact with others and with the adventure.
I’m playing a character right now whose entire reason for adventuring is his younger brother (another character of mine) came home a hero and he’s bitter and petty enough not to want to be outdone. It’s made him choose to do a lot of things he might have otherwise deemed too dangerous.
As always I hope something in here sparked your interest and will inspire you the next time you sit down to roll up an RPG character and develop their backstory. Tweet me @Pyrosynthesis with any thoughts and of course stay nerdy!
*Featured image — Xanathar’s Guide to Everything provides a terrific resource with This Is Your Life to define the circumstances that shaped your character. [Image courtesy Wizards of the Coast]