Backgrounds Redux

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Agamemnon
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Backgrounds Redux

Post by Agamemnon » 10 Mar 2017, 14:02

One of the things we've been doing in this edition is cleaning up mechanics that seemed ill-defined, or just served as buckets in our system. Rearranging how the Trade skill worked was one of these. Another is the Background mechanic. It was a bit dissatisfying in that there was no specified use for the background roll, but rather it came up if nothing else covered it. In practice, this only came up once in all of the playtesting I've done. This is further muddied by the fact that we weren't quite sure what "background" should represent. For this edition, we were considering replacing it with something a bit more straightforward.

Instead of having a background blank that you fill in, after you pick your social class you may pick a background appropriate to it. The background will contain a number of skills that will each start at rank 2.

Our current list is as follows:
Bound (Serf or Slave) - an owned slave.
Urchin (Serf, Slave, Low-freeman) - urban poor, homeless
Village (serf or low freeman) - exactly what it sounds like.
Wild (Serf, Slave, or Low-Freeman) - Primitive tribals or raised by outlaws
Nomad (Slave or Freeman) - nomadic cultures.
Coastal (Serf, Slave, or Freeman) - fishing villages and ports.
Urban (Freeman) - Townsfolk, city-dwellers.
Religious (Freeman, Lesser Noble) - Raised by the church.
Noble (High Freeman or Noble) - Exactly what it sounds like.

Open to suggestions if anyone can think of a background appropriate to the implied setting that we've missed. Of particular note, it seems a bit lighter at the top. Nobles can basically only be Noble for their background. This makes a degree of sense, but I wouldn't mind having some alternates.
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Benedict
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Re: Backgrounds Redux

Post by Benedict » 10 Mar 2017, 14:30

Agamemnon wrote:Instead of having a background blank that you fill in, after you pick your social class you may pick a background appropriate to it. The background will contain a number of skills that will each start at rank 2.

This is an excellent idea imho.

Open to suggestions if anyone can think of a background appropriate to the implied setting that we've missed.

One definite candidate would be Military (Low Freeman or higher). Also Wild (Primitive tribals or raised by outlaws) could easily be split to Barbarian and Criminal.

Before I continue though I have a question/suggestion. Ofc what I am going to suggest requires more work.

Instead of "One Background relative to Class=some skills @ rank2" it could be "One Background relative to Class=some skills @ rank1" PLUS "One Trade relative to Background=some skills @ rank1", with duplicate skills raised to rank 2.

This could reduce the number of possible backgrounds (ie Village+Nomad+Coastal=Rural) and add depth with different Trades (ie caravan driver, fisherman, sepherd, etc).
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Re: Backgrounds Redux

Post by taelor » 10 Mar 2017, 18:35

I'm indifferent to this change. I liked the flexibility of the old backgrounds, but if it doesn't actually get used in play, it should probably get modified or dropped. The current proposal seems sorta like a poor man's lifepath system.
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Re: Backgrounds Redux

Post by thirtythr33 » 10 Mar 2017, 19:31

IMO keep it as it is now, but raise the starting rank of the background skill to THREE so you can TAP it.

That alone will make background come up in a huge number more rolls as well as encourage people to try to find links between their characters past experiences and explain how it relates to their current situations... instead of just looking at their set skill list.

Your right, there are not many situation to roll directly for the background "Nomad of the Southern Wastes", but instead it could easily be TAPPED into Culture (Southern People), Horsemanship, Survival or something else. It's really flavorful, flexible and satisfying if you can tap it in and have players telling you about that time their character's father took them out hunting in the Canyon of the Southern Wastes.
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Re: Backgrounds Redux

Post by Agamemnon » 10 Mar 2017, 20:29

thirtythr33 wrote:IMO keep it as it is now, but raise the starting rank of the background skill to THREE so you can TAP it.

That alone will make background come up in a huge number more rolls as well as encourage people to try to find links between their characters past experiences and explain how it relates to their current situations... instead of just looking at their set skill list.

Your right, there are not many situation to roll directly for the background "Nomad of the Southern Wastes", but instead it could easily be TAPPED into Culture (Southern People), Horsemanship, Survival or something else. It's really flavorful, flexible and satisfying if you can tap it in and have players telling you about that time their character's father took them out hunting in the Canyon of the Southern Wastes.


It'd technically have to be at rank 4, at that point. But if we're going in that direction, why not just make it a one die trait?

The original purpose of 'Background' as a concept was that we want to emphasize that characters come from somewhere. The original purpose mechanically was so you'd have something as a catch-all for when you needed to do something that wasn't covered you'd still have something to roll. The idea being that you wouldn't need a bunch of specific skills to represent your background or a lifepath system because it was already covered. Mechanically, Background is a kind of God of the Gaps because we didn't want it eclipsing actual skills. Otherwise, we create an incentive to base your background on whatever can be most broadly applied as a skill. The problem is, in all of our playtesting that only really came up the once. Even in that case, it was someone leaning on something that would have been better written as a trade.

So the idea above was based on the notion that rather than being a rarely useful bucket skill, we just make it into a skill package that would give you a couple points in things you would have picked up growing up in that environment.

We could, in theory, abandon the idea in favor of it remaining a fill-in-the-blanks die trait that starts at one. That would preserve the original flavor, and tapping now lets the thing come up more often. Something to consider, certainly.
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Re: Backgrounds Redux

Post by thirtythr33 » 10 Mar 2017, 21:57

Agamemnon wrote:The original purpose of 'Background' as a concept was that we want to emphasize that characters come from somewhere.

The problem here is that if background boils down to a bunch of skill ranks you get at character creation, then you don't actually come from anywhere. You end up coming from nowhere, because what you selected becomes completely forgotten after the first session of play. Whether you select "Nomad" or "Urchin" is no longer about role-playing, it's about whether you want Horsemanship or Streetwise.

Agamemnon wrote:The problem is, in all of our playtesting that only really came up the once. Even in that case, it was someone leaning on something that would have been better written as a trade.

Going the direction you have, backgrounds will come up precisely never. Sure, the Nomad will use the random horsemanship bonus they got at character creation but it won't ever be called out. It will just look like a guy with a high horsemanship.

You need to somehow tie you characters past to current events (ie rolls) and make it obvious when their background has come into play. That means it needs to be a skill that is rolled on its own or a bonus of some description that needs to be announced at the table. Tapping seems to work perfectly for that, since it already asks you to describe the connection. It would be pretty cool to give every character a 1 dice background trait for free at character creation, to be filled in by the player. It would sort of become the "catch all" tapping bonus you turn to when you can't find anything else to pull in. Make up a story about your past that is relevant to what you are doing now and you get a 1 dice bonus.

I also adore the idea of coming up with my own backgrounds like "Ran away with the circus" because it says so much about the character with half a dozen or so words, but it wouldn't really be appropriate for a Drive.
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Agamemnon
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Re: Backgrounds Redux

Post by Agamemnon » 10 Mar 2017, 22:02

One of the things that I found players struggle with is coming up with a background on the spot, especially if you're creating the setting communally. Perhaps then the best use for this thread would be to pitch ideas for example backgrounds.
Sword and Scoundrel: On Role-Playing and Fantasy Obscura

Arrakis teaches the attitude of the knife — chopping off what’s incomplete and saying: "Now it’s complete because it’s ended here."
Collected Sayings of Muad’Dib, the Princess Irulan
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thirtythr33
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Re: Backgrounds Redux

Post by thirtythr33 » 11 Mar 2017, 00:30

Is background supposed to represent the society and culture you come from, or your place within that society? I see some examples from each.

If you want some more ideas for generic societies and cultures:
Reclusive (eg monks on a mountain)
Slums (instead of urchin)

For your place within a broader society:
Charlatan
Hermit
Orphan
Chosen (think oracles of Delphi)

If instead you want interesting "write your own" backgrounds:
Ran away with the circus
Butcher's boy
Dock rat
Pampered Fop (Or Pampered Dandy)
Courtier
Home-schooled
School of Hard Knocks
University Educated
My father's footsteps
Knight bachelor
Politically Betrothed
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Re: Backgrounds Redux

Post by Marras » 25 Mar 2017, 19:25

I agree that getting two dice for couple of skills based on background is maybe not the best way to represent that if you want to make that background important. Some sort of bonus whether it is a straight +1 bonus die or something else in a situation that is covered by the background brings that background to front much more effectively. So, your background is an urchin. You grew up on the streets so you get that bonus for streetwise rolls, maybe stealth rolls in urban environments etc.

I like the idea of lists as those speeds up the character generation quite a bit.

Noble backgrounds could be divided to martial and courtier nobles, perhaps?
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