I see threads on DM’s Academy asking what players will need to get started or what kind of character backgrounds should they have prepared when they come to the table. My preferred answer: as little as possible – just enough to have some context and inspiration as play begins.
If the players in your TTRPG (tabletop role-playing game) want to write something up for their characters or do some online homework before the game to flesh things out, here’s my 2-step suggestion:
Find a cool pic of your character.
Write a haiku about said character.
If they only have time for one of those endeavors, skip the haiku and grab a picture.
Is the Eyes of the Hawk God an item or a power or a blessing or the character’s name? Maybe the player has an idea and tells the DM. Maybe the player has copious notes about the barbarian lands where their prince comes from and a family tree. That is fine. Let’s talk about it.
What does being born on the Hunter’s Moon mean to the Warlock? Is Arcane Wolf going to be a homebrewed sub-class or background or just a bit of cool character fluff? Is Chaos and Justice a flowery way of saying Chaotic Good or something different?
Is the thief’s handsome devil mean their are a Tiefling or is it just a turn of phrase, inspired by what their beloved Aunt Sheila used to call them? What did they steal? Hand the DM a locked chest with something dangerous people want is a pretty cool background gift.
Are these brilliant examples of the fine art of Haiku?
No, they are not. That is fine. I’m not trying to make great art. I’m making fun character concepts that will inspire further conversations.
The way I like to play, character histories give just enough context to get the players to the table and the rest we’ll figure out in play. I like Haiku because the limits on words is built right in. There will be blank spaces and cool turns of phrase that will inspire questions and conversation as play begins (Session 0 is play).
If a player’s Character History Haiku raises questions and they aren’t sure about the answers, that is great. Find out together in play. The important thing is that they inspire pre-game conversations about the world and the people in it.
NOTE: If gaming is a kind of writing exercise for you and your friends and that is how you have fun – YAY! I’m happy for you. Truly, I am. I’m not saying that you are gaming wrong or that your fun is bad-wrong-fun.
In my experience, long character histories are a sign of frustration but I have totally used gaming as a writing tool and don’t want to yuck anyone’s yum.
If you want to make your own, drop me an email and I’ll gladly send you the Affinity Designer template.
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