Blacktalon Blinders - Argent Dawn

Guide on proper character background and framework

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Guide on proper character background and framework

Post by Anna on Fri May 08, 2015 9:53 pm

DISCLAIMER

I do in no shape or form own anything of this post, and all the credits goes to an unknown writer from an older WoW-RP Forum I was a part of.

The original thread can not be found anywhere, as the forum is long gone.


And PLEASE do note - This post was copied from a Private World of Warcraft Role Playing server, from around the time of WotLK. Hence, this post may or may not be very outdated, and it's target audience is people who can play just about anything they wish.
However, it still covers a lot of good points, and for that very reason, I decided to post it here.


Last edited by Anna on Fri May 08, 2015 10:15 pm; edited 2 times in total
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Anna
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Re: Guide on proper character background and framework

Post by Anna on Fri May 08, 2015 9:56 pm

Disclaimer: I in no way view myself as an all-knowing authority on authoring or designing characters, but I am however still quite good at it and feel that some sort of guide to backgrounds would be useful for people intending to write one. I will make this clear: I WILL STATE MY OPINION AS FACT, as it will get extremely old to add (but that's just my opinion) to everything I say - so if you would like to dispute a particular point, a PM or a post will suffice and I will answer or debate it to the best of my ability.

The Guide

Contents
1 - Naming
2 - Class
3 - Races
4 - Racial Culture
5 - Ages
6 - Appearance
7 - Alignment
8 - Psychology
9 - History

History Contents
9I - Mary Suedom
9II - Birth, Birthplace
9III - Childhood
9IV - Current Residence
9V - Background Content
9VI - Elderly Characters
9VII - Too Long, Didn't Read
9VIII - Proof-Reading
9IX - A Background Template

There is a LOT to read, but find the time. Most of it will be extremely useful if you are unsure of your writing. And in my opinion, 8-VIII is a MUST READ, it will help so much.


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Re: Guide on proper character background and framework

Post by Anna on Fri May 08, 2015 9:58 pm

1: Naming

Names vary greatly between races. All sorts of wowwiki articles will give you examples on the pages for them, so I will not fill up an inordinate amount of this post with wowwiki copy-pastes from the naming sections, but there are other things to bear in mind. They give examples of fore and surnames.

Wowwiki Articles for Naming:
Spoiler:
Dwarves are named by clan - [You must be registered and logged in to see this link.]
Humans, in case you've forgotten - [You must be registered and logged in to see this link.]
Gnomes, named by achievements - [You must be registered and logged in to see this link.]
Night Elves, [You must be registered and logged in to see this link.]
Draenei, often lack surnames at all
Orcs, named by noticable traits (good axeman? Axechopper could be your name) [You must be registered and logged in to see this link.]
Forsaken, often keep human ones, [You must be registered and logged in to see this link.]
Tauren, named by clan then characteristic, [You must be registered and logged in to see this link.]
Trolls, [You must be registered and logged in to see this link.]
The Other Elves, [You must be registered and logged in to see this link.]
Goblins, similar to gnomes but not as widespread, [You must be registered and logged in to see this link.]

The two-step surname

You will find that quite a lot of people have names like Dawnstrider or Lightrunner. Although there is nothing wrong with this, it is quite predictable (I’ve done it myself, after all). Humans are MUCH LESS LIKELY to have names like this; you should, regardless, avoid the following (including but not limited to):

- Windrunner
- Whisperwind
- Stormrage
- Sunstrider
- Sunreaver
- Feathermoon
- Shadowsong
- Bearmantle
- Mekkatorque
- Thermaplugg
- Proudmoore
- Trollbane
- Greymane
- Doomhammer

Because of connections to lore characters. This does not apply for tribal species (like tauren) as you can be a bloodhoof tauren and not be Cairne's personal pup. Orcs are not included, they are not named after their clan. Tauren might not, but I think it's possible. There are obviously other lore surnames, but these are the twostep ones you might accidentally think of.

- Scourgebane (or similar)
- Lightsworn (or similar)

Because these will be surnames adopted after years of faithful service against the scourge or under a Clergy/Chapter of the Silver Hand, not fresh off the bat, I doubt people are born with these names. Obviously similarly themed names are not exempt. Either way you won't have them off the bat.

Apostrophes

Certain species, mostly elves of both kinds and select examples of others, have apostrophes in their name. This acts more like a hyphen in that it joins the first word to the second. This makes it the same, to a certain extent, as a two-step surname. For this reason I recommend against splitting it into more than two sections, otherwise it just seems really unnecessary (You don't really get Scourgeswornbane as a name anywhere, even among the most daft, do you?). And if you wish to give a fig about lore, the two sections should probably mean something. Refrain from making up a meaning, as there are some good known-meaning words out there, although I suppose it's passable to make stuff up now and then.

I'll get some examples down soon.

Aliases, A.K.As, Nicknames

If I were you, until you've played your character much don't put anything here or put a short, snappy version of your name that people might realistically use. Face it, nobody's going to call you "the Shadowblade" or whatever alias you dream of unless you really prove your character is worth it in-character. And if you introduce yourself as such you'll sound like a complete pillock. When you earn aliases like that, then fine.

Titles

If you have one at all, you will have to be careful. You can't be a high rank in anything, and I get the impression there's not a great consensus on a "maximum". Play it safe. Don't claim to be a colonel or captain or anything of the sort, that applies to Horde equivalents and equivalents in the domestic sector. I would start as a private or recruit. Just to be safe. I heard that one or two people are all right up to "Corporal", but I wouldn't take that risk.

2: Class

You may have noticed that some people don't actually choose their class by game mechanic-gifted ones (warrior etc.) and this is very deliberate because very few characters actually fall into the class of pure mage, or pure warrior; they'll be elementalists, or men-at-arms. They might not even be able to derive an origin in any of the given ones. Obviously, listing every RPG class available on WoW would take forever.

As such, don't be afraid to deviate from warrior/rogue/mage etc. It will only really impact what armour types you can wear, and what PvP abilities you have (which I hope matter considerably less than the content of your character).

3: Races

There is not a lot to say about races, and I am not fully aware (yet, anyway) as to what extent people will have access to certain races. I will however "go there" - hybrid species. Now, look - there is really no point. It doesn't make you any more special or add any particular depth to the character, and people will lable you as a snowflake for it. There are also some hybrids that just can't exist due to a lack of the necessary time to produce them. I'd be here all day, again, if I listed each one and whether it could exist - so use your head!

Otherwise, pick one that you feel comfortable with. Try not to base it on their bust size or whether it's attractive or not, you should really be going for a character you enjoy playing rather than enjoy looking at. Be very aware of what is "normal" for your race also, it's not that hard to infer. Gnomes are typically very magical or very technological, whereas humans are very, very, very rarely techno-wizards.

The Sentient Thought Rule

In direct contradiction to the above point, it is also worth saying that every race is not under mind control. Gnomes are not forced into hugging gears and spanners other than by their parents, draenei are not forced into believing in the Light (although that is so very universal not doing so is extremely unlikely). Nearly anything is possible, as every race has the ability to go "well, I don't agree with this societal norm, so I'll try something else". This allows ideas like religious gnomes or technologically inclined Elves. A warning if you do these things - be prepared. You have to iron out your background solid to justify it, otherwise people will facepalm at you /so hard/.

4: Racial Culture

5: Age

I know I said I wouldn't do this, but. [You must be registered and logged in to see this link.]

There is also a forum thread in this very assembly with a discussion/table on the matter. Why have I given it an entirely separate section? To iron out a few issues, particularly around the previously immortal.

Maximum Lifespans

The maximum for a gnome, for example, is about 500 years. That does not, however, mean most gnomes will live to 500. On average, I suspect, 200/250 is their death-day, so I would use the "venerable" column on the ages for viable 'very old' markers.

Night Elves

Elves were immortal. So obviously, and painfully, they can be as old as you like. The given numbers on wowwiki mean a few things, however:

- Elves reach adulthood at 320, NOT 18
|_ Although this is true, they are not still toddler size at 50, that is extremely unlikely even if it is a hilarious prospect. They are just CONSIDERED by their SOCIETY to be subadult.
- If the "maximum lifespan" of an elf is set at 5000, that means that 5000 years after losing immortality, they will die of old age. The maximum lifespan rule still applies.
- Blood elves, much the same, they lost their immortality around the same time as sunwell destruction and archimonde wtfpwning were quite close together by time - but the figures for adulthood etc. are slightly different I believe.
|_ The concept of a Blood Elf also hasn't existed long enough for one to be born and now be old enough to form a decent character. They were a high elf when they were born; do remember that.


Immortality

Immortality is reserved, right now, only for the undead (and dragons, but fffff). Forsaken, Scourge, death knights, etc. This means that these people will never die of old age, and in some definitions never of disease either. They are just as vulnerable to being shot and stabbed as everyone else. Certain types of giant, ancients and dryads and the likes are also believed to be immortal, but I don't think people will be playing those.

Draenei

Gosh-blasted squidfaces. In all honestly, Blizzard are the biggest pains with this one; they have never explicitly said whether draenei live forever (if unhindered by disease) or not. Most people, with good reason, assume draenei to be all but immortal in the never dying of old age sense. I settle for the phrase "a very, very, very long time".

6: Appearance

Now we're getting to juicier parts of character design. Appearance is obviously heavily dependant on what your character does, and their race. There are a few ways to "guide" how your character looks.

- Economic wealth. Can they afford regular soapy baths? No? Then they will probably be dirty more often. They might smell. Can they afford fancy clothes or food? Yes? Then they might well wear elaborate, clean clothes and be fat.
- Position. Are they a soldier? Then they will probably have some things (like hygiene) sorted out for them. The higher your rank the better subsidised your living will be.
- Occupation. A lumberjack may go bareback. An assassin will look like a normal citizen in public, as will cultists (just try to argue with me on that, I dare you) and a mechanic will be in overalls. This is a common sense category.
- Personality. Do they care? Is the fact that their hair has gone astray important to them?
- Race. Hair colour in particular varies between races (pink for gnomes, what the shit, man?). Markings are also race-specific in places.
- History. Has something in their past left an enduring mark? Maybe they're missing the tip of their ear? Maybe there's a prison-brand on their neck?
- Necessity. How much do they have to carry? How many pouches or how big a backpack do they need to carry everything?
- Build. Bearing in mind most of the above, it's important to describe how your character is built. Why? Because every female in-game model is a size 0 with implants, and every male one looks to be on round the clock steroids. A much more "regular" description is important. Height and weight fall under this category, but in my mind that's not as important.
- Height. I'm sorry, did I just say it wasn't as important? Most people consider it "above" or "below" average, rather than give it a figure. Please stop with being much taller than normal, unless it is appropriate in their genes, diet or profession. I really don't understand what the fascination is with being the tallest in the crowd.
- Parents. It may seem obvious, but have you considered what their parents did and looked like? They may well share with you many aspects of your figure. This isn't necessary to think about, but if you're going that deep, it is.
- Other. Obviously the above isn't everything, although it is quite a lot to get you started. Just sit down and think about it, you might find bits and pieces at the back of your mind that you wouldn't normally have thought of.

7: Alignment

Alignments are ancient things in comparison to Warcraft, but have survived every year as they are quite good for outlining a character’s motivation. They split this motivation into two sections: Morality, further broken down into Good and Evil, and “Governing”, broken down into Lawful and Chaotic.

Good implies conscience: a good character acts for the benefit of others. Evil implies the opposite, a lack of caring for the welfare of others, and often enjoying depriving them of their welfare.

Lawful implies order: a lawful character abides by their laws of the land or their religious codes. Chaotic implies freedom: a chaotic character cares not for rules and traditions, be their goals evil or good.

There are nine general alignments that people fit themselves into. They are as follows:

Lawful Good

The lawful good character is generally seen as the “saint”. They are always acting in defence of innocents and for the benefit of others, but also abide by the laws of the land and personal codes of honour. They have inner conflicts if, for example, an oath they had sworn leads innocents to harm.

Exemplars of Lawful Good:
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Lawful Neutral

Lawful neutral characters care nothing for a moral compass as long as order is upheld. The Law as they read it from the book is their morality. Loyal soldiers and judges are like this in that they will not let morality alter their judgement if their code of law/honour or command goes against it.

Exemplars of Lawful Neutral:
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Lawful Evil

To be lawful evil generally means that they take order and use it for their own gain without any care in the world for the effect it has on others. Freedom is their enemy. They have more frequent conflicts of interest; to obey their laws to maintain the order they cherish, or to inflict suffering on others. A loyal soldier who enjoys killing is a good example.

Exemplars of Lawful Evil:
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Neutral Good

Although often respectful of the law, neutral good characters will not be bound by it if it goes against their morals. They will protect innocents and fight evil whether or not codes of conduct or honour agree with it in the given situation.

Exemplars of Neutral Good:
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True Neutral

A true neutral person cares not for morality at all, nor for freedom and order. Someone who sees only the need to feed his family or someone who will lean either side to suit themselves are in this category.

True neutral also encompasses characters that believe in the balance of good and evil, seeing both as dangerous extremes should the scale be unbalanced. Druids are good examples in that they may well take up arms against marauding semi-sentient creatures, but will switch sides to prevent their eradication. Creatures who lack sentient thought, by extension a moral compass, are true neutral.

Exemplars of True Neutral:
Goblin [You must be registered and logged in to see this link.]

Neutral Evil

Neutral evil characters care only for themselves. They do not care about law, nor do they respect the freedom of others. They may well enjoy the act of cruelty but will not go out of their way to cause harm unless it directly benefits their own interests.

Exemplars of Neutral Evil:
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Chaotic Good

A person who is chaotic good in nature has the best of intentions in mind, but abhors being bound by the orders and laws that others may impose. They are disorganised and improvise solutions constantly, leaving planning behind in favour of getting the job done. In this case, they will work for the benefit of society but without constraints.

Exemplars of Chaotic Good:
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Chaotic Neutral

Chaotic neutral implies that nothing will get in the way of a character’s freedom and right to be unrestrained. They do not care whether their actions are good or evil as long as they keep themselves free of law and order. They may inflict unnecessary harm or help others but never intending anything other than to remain unbound.

Exemplars of Chaotic Neutral:
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Chaotic Evil

Chaotic evil is simply a description for those who will kill without mercy and often without reason. They have no respect for others needs or lives. They will fight to keep themselves free but care not for the freedom of others. They view honour as a weakness. They do not necessarily go out of their way to cause chaos or suffering but enjoy it when they do and as such they will not kill every innocent they see – they are chaotic, they are evil, but they are not stupid.

Exemplars of Chaotic Evil:
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Tendencies/Leaning

Obviously, not everyone fits squarely into any one of these characters. Aspects of other alignments may “leak” into your character’s actions. A priestess who believes that the law should be followed at all times is lawful good, but they may well have “neutral good” tendencies if they would forsake law or honour for the benefit of others on the occasion.

Equally, a chaotic evil character may lean heavily into chaotic neutral, in that although they may be slightly sadistic, they are much more interested in maintaining their freedom and care much less for whether they are causing suffering.

Obviously, I cannot go through every example and combination, but the alignments are not solid. You are not only in one of them, although you can be. Most people are far too complicated for one alignment to explain their motivation all the same. The most frequent “leaning” is from ‘neutral’ into lawful or chaotic, as not caring for law or not caring for their own freedom is rare in sentient creatures.

8: Psychology (Personality)

A great many things that apply to appearance also apply to personality; they are closely tied.

- Economic wealth. The wealthier your character is, the more likely they are to be arrogant and complacent, although this is not necessarily true. Just consider how much money they have when pondering over how they will act.
- Position. Soldiers have operational discipline. Higher ranks will get there by being harsh and brutal, and above all by not compromising and that should probably show. Also not universal, but consider it.
- Occupation. A tavernkeeper will be much better at his job if he isn't cursing and spitting at his customers. A lumberjack might be slightly dumb in the head if he hasn't gone to school. That sort of thing. Consider it.
- Self Awareness. How much do they care what other people think? Will they change how they act to fit in? Consider.
- Race. Although the Sentient Thought Rule (see: section 3) applies, many elves will be communal in nature, and many gnomes will be a little bit crazy in the eyes of their peers. Consider.
- History. Has something in their past left an enduring mark - on their psyche? Time in prison, or time on the battlefield? Have they been educated? Consider.
- Parents. How did they act, how did they treat their child? Did they raise them to be religious? Consider.
- Religion. They are not going to be outright drunkards if they believe in the Light to any notable extent. Certain trolls might well be quite odd from constant recreational drug use.
|_ Side point. Often contested, but I see no reason for a paladin to be excluded from tavern drinking. It would certainly not be an important part of their life, but taking a swig of alcohol with some friends at the local tipple is not against tenacity, compassion or respect. As long as they don't start barfights or get utterly off their face, it's quite the farce to suggest they're all completely sober. It may even be that the act is frowned upon - but not banned.

9: History

Why was it in bold at the top? Why does it have its own contents? Because working out your character's past is an enormous task. This section is probably not finished, but it is a veritable archive to peruse for assistance already.

9-I - The Mary Sue


A Mary Sue (sometimes just Sue), in literary criticism and particularly in fanfiction, is a fictional character with overly idealized and hackneyed mannerisms, lacking noteworthy flaws, and primarily functioning as a wish-fulfillment fantasy for the author or reader. It is generally accepted as a character whose positive aspects overwhelm their other traits until they become one-dimensional.
In other words, people use "Mary Sue" as a damning insult. If your character lacks flaws worth mentioning, or the flaws are ridiculously cliché in nature, that is bad design. Some traits of mary sues are forgivable, but it is a balance that needs to be struck. So, in order to avoid making your character a mary sue:

[You must be registered and logged in to see this link.]

This is a "litmus" test. It is BY NO MEANS completely 100% ACCURATE. It is however a very good indicator of how cliché your character is and whether you should change anything. Some of the options on it are actually perfectly welcome (particularly if it relates to dead relatives, there is a helluva lot of war in Warcraft). Do it. No, seriously, do it. Even if the result is not entirely accurate it is still a good indicator of if anything should change. It also covers aspects of appearance and the likes as well.

9-II - Birth(place)

This is the earliest part and possibly one of the easiest parts to figure out. Most races have ancestral homelands that most of their kin are born in, and even then, the range of places they could have accessed is quite broad. So:

(Humans) Nearly anywhere. Notable exceptions are Northern Kalimdor, Outland and Azuremyst/Bloodmyst Isle. Because they couldn't get there, they'd be too young and they couldn't get there respectively.
(Dwarves) Nearly anywhere but much, much less likely to be on Kalimdor than humans due to their lack of a Kul Tiras or general seafaring equivalent. Concentrated around Ironforge if Bronzebeard, the Hinterlands, Eastern Wetlands about Grim Batol (What is Twilight Highlands in Cataclysm) if Wildhammer and the Searing Gorge/Burning Steppes if you're dark iron.
(Night Elves) Ashenvale, Winterspring, Hyjal, Moonglade etc. Northern Kalimdor, in other words. NOTABLE EXCLUSION: TELDRASSIL. It hasn't existed long enough for a night elven child to grow to characterworthy age.
(Gnomes) Nearly anywhere, but extremely unlikely to be on Kalimdor and somewhat unlikely to be beyond Ironforge or Gnomeregan. Same notable exceptions as humans.
(Draenei) Argus or Outland. We haven't been told if they visited any other places, but they came to Azeroth too recently for any of their new adults to blossom on it.

(Orcs) Middle-Kalimdor. I'm a little sketchy on the timeline but I think some pretty old orcs might have been Draenorborn, and definately there if Mag'har. Some may have been born on the Eastern Kingdoms in the northern areas.
(Trolls) Most of Kalimdor perhaps excluding the most southern reaches. Most of them on the echo isles if Darkspear. Jungle trolls were born in jungles if you couldn't pick that one up yourself. All desert trolls are from Tanaris.
(Forsaken) See humans. I would however recommend using "birthplace" as "raising place" for undead.
(Tauren) Although I suspect quite a lot of Kalimdor, most Tauren will be born in the Barrens or Mulgore. None on the Eastern Kingdoms at all.
(High Elves) Blood Elves are high elves, just under particular circumstances. So both were born in Eversong, the Ghostlands and Lordaeron. It's possible they went south as well, but much less likely. I'm pretty sure there'll be none on Kalimdor.
(Goblins) Wherever the money's at, awww yea. Literally, almost anywhere, the greedy little bastards. I'm skeptical as to whether the Elves would let them in, so steer away from northern Kalimdor that's not Winterspring. Kezan is still more likely than anything else.

9-III - Childhoods

Okay, so you have the basic outline of your character and what stage he or she is currently at. It can sometimes be easier to work backward from that to figure out what their childhood was like - particularly if they are in a profession like blacksmithing that is frequently passed down from their parents. In general, this should not be too difficult to write, nor does it have to be that long. However, a couple of tips.

Clichés

In the World of Warcraft, it is pretty inevitable that somewhere along the way, be it during childhood or later, that your character's parents or your siblings died due to war. My advice to avoid making something like this sound too cliché is not to dwell on it, if it was a motivation to join the army - state it quite bluntly.

"Natural talent" is also a slightly abused phrase, often used to give a character an excuse to be good at something considerably quicker than normal. I've done it a few times myself but it never sat that well with my realism sensors; I would suggest that you avoid this phrase and things like it.

Professional Work

Certain occupations, like being a mage or a paladin, requires that you start studying quite early. Your childhood MUST include justification for choosing that career path and mention that they started now. If you start studying to be a paladin when you're sixteen or something, you still have a fair few years ahead. Remember that most "squires", that are fledgling paladins, are usually children. For difficult professional work like enchanting or jewelcrafting it is exceedingly likely that your character was exposed to such things at a young age as well. Bear in mind how much skill or what you claim your character can do when you decide on their childhood. You don't have to make it sound like "it was their life" (apart from in the paladinny magey cases, in which case it most probably was) but this is your "black screen'd" time into which you can justify skills.

Skill and Proficiency

Bearing the above in mind, also be careful not to go too far in the other direction. Try to avoid writing your childhood as if it gets you to where your character is now (unless they're 17/18, just out of childhood), because after that they either stagnate and don't get any better - or you imply that your character is even better than you originally intended.

9-IV - Current Residence

The latest part of your background will justify the current location of your character. I will use Loraile as an example; she was Barrens-borne but due to being cut off after going astray, she moved North (and foolishly) kept going until she reached her new home in Winterspring. This is a relatively simple thing, but you have to be careful to keep your reasoning from being contrived. "Because he felt like it" is not a justification for, say, a Stormwind-born ending up in Lordaeron or the reverse.

Obviously if your character never really went anywhere then this section is easy as piss. You want your dwarf to live in Ironforge? Oh, well, he was born there, grew up there, worked there. Well gosh, wasn't that hard?

9-V - Background Content

It is very difficult to explain what your background should contain in full because it is often very, very individual to your character. Nobody has the same life. But here is my best suggestion.

Working Backwards

Generally, you figure out what your character's personality is before you dream up the details of his background. In this case, take some time to think; what on Azeroth happened in their past to make them feel that way? Was it his parents, tutors, his work? Is there a very distinctive mark on his personality that you went for because it would be interesting? If so, you can probably put just as much interesting imagination into how he got it. I will use Loraile as an example again (simply because it is a background with which I am all too familiar) - in her childhood, I had her raised in such a way that she was rather pacifist, due to lack of contact with conflicts and having peaceful intent taught to her. As such, in her further chronicled background I recorded what happened when the conflict came to her. She changed slightly to adapt but stuck by her principle (she thwacked someone to settle the score) - out of things like that, too, you can get a lot of good background material. Also consider; did another player perhaps cause this? Could there be a long-standing grudge?

If your character is, for example, blind - the manner in which your character was blinded is worth going over in your background. Although if it happened au naturale it probably won't make for terribly interesting reading, it's still worth a mention. But maybe it was during some battle, or a punishment. And regardless of how they became so, how did they work around being blind? Did it change their outlook on life, did they turn to unholy practitioners to regain their sight? Features like this really determine what your character does in-game, so you can get a lot of milage out of elaborating on how it happened and what happened after it. In other words: If there is a defining feature of your character, it's common sense to elaborate on it in the past.

<b>Other People</b>

If your character is likely to have encountered another one you've seen around, why not ask them if you can include them as a cameo? Your background doesn't have to be entirely centred on your fellow. Run a scene in which you quote your guild's leader past them to see if they agree with it. This sort of thing isn't necessary, but it is a 'nice touch' and shows that your character was open to making friends or talking to people, which is worth its weight in gold. If you want, have a fish around, sibling roleplay can be pretty interesting too.

Other People (NPC)

The most common "other person/people" to include in a background is another character you have made up because you feel they were necessary to a scene, and this includes siblings and parents as well. As long as you don't include too many of these or don't make them too important, it should be absolutely fine. However, if you are going to make them an important figure in your past, you must confront yourself with the issue that indirectly or directly you have made them another character and as a result, you should put some detail into them as well. A rudimentary background and a simple framework-profile is a must if your NPC makes a significant mark on your character, otherwise it's hard to believe that such a hollow NPC-characterisation could have any sort of impact. You don't have to show us that, but trust me it will help you discern what they would do in a given situation.

Grudges, Favours

To elaborate on the brief point I made about grudges, if your character is particularly villainous or greedy, it's entirely likely that they pissed someone off. Don't forget about that if you mention it, you can think up some fantastic "scenes" where something comes around to bite you in the ass, or even better something comes around to bite someone else in the ass by your hand. If your character is a saint, they probably still pissed someone off or are pissed off at someone. Mention it! Keep it going! Even carry it into the game, have him hunting someone down for vengeance; it sounds cliché and to a certain extent it is, but it adds depth to your character and makes them seem less hollow. If you carry it into the game, maybe ask someone else to play that person, or organise an event when you finally put that grudge to rest.

As for favours, the saintly will help many people and evil people may scratch each other's backs. Has your character behaved in a manner that other people would appreciate and return the favour for? The best example of this I can think of is Loraile once again, who preferentially took a swing at an orc instead of a sentinel. That sentinel might well have thought to repay Lora somewhere along the line if she wasn't an NPC. And if you do this sort of thing in-game enough, you might earn a "reputation" with the faction that you favour. So even though quite a lot of this is better pursued with you piloting at the helm in-game, you can set the foundations for favour-gathering in your character's personality and by extension your background. See the chain; Background leads to personality trait, personality trait leads to a choice or crossroads, crossroads earns you a grudge or a favour. Or both.

9-VI - Elderly Characters

If your character is old, you have chosen a much more challenging task. On CoA, you start at the bottom rung. If you are a very elderly chap, this is remarkably hard to justify. How could you have lived so long and still be not-very-good at what you do? The solution is to completely avoid the question. I'm not actually joking - concentrate on how their personality changed rather how their skill developed. Anything to avoid mentioning how they went far beyond adulthood whilst managing to be mediocre at what they do.

Alternatively, I remember a player on Prologue - he had an elderly gnomish warlock as a character. Instead of dedicating much of his life to the skill with which he fought with, he dedicated it to searching for immortality. That is truly a masterful way to dodge the question of being old without anything to show for it, he chose an impossible goal and simply interwove it with reasoning for being a warlock but didn't dwell on it. He searched for artifacts and I'm sure that person could pretty smoothly draw up an extensive background documenting his searches. But I'm off track: If you don't want to dodge the question, give the character a purpose that does not directly relate to skills, but absorbs a lot of time without making their longer years seem pointless. Writing is more about dodging and cutting corners than it seems, especially if you're given a boundary (read: starting at the bottom). You can amend your background with your exploits in game.

Of course, you could always just have them be a grumpy old sod who's lived his professional life and now lives with a pipe in his mouth, a newspaper and babbling stuff about rapscallions in silly helmets. Being <b>that</b> old is a very good excuse not to be good anymore; just can't do it anymore!

9-VII - Volume; TLDR

In the Background Workshop, you may find that some of the longer backgrounds, however good they may be - are actually asked to trim down. Why? Because when you're designing a character's baseline for a GM or what-have-you to review, they don't actually want to review the detailed part of your character's life. There is a separate forum for "Chronicles" for a reason, because that's where people who enjoy reading these things go to read them!

If you fear that your background is too long, it probably is. Trim out unnecessary details or leave out character development like grudges/favours or childhood details relating to personality. It's not that these are unnecessary, they are necessary, but it's very possible that they would be better explained in a more detailed background. Also, if you're not sure about it - there are other people out there. Hell, I wrote this guide, didn't I? They are perfectly happy to help. Muster the courage; send them a transcript of your background and ask them to read it through. Personally I would always do that, although I am considerably more brutal in my criticism than is sometimes fair - just in case you do ask me. On that note...

9-VIII - Proof-Reading

The single most commonly overlooked thing of any background. Although the Background Workshop itself exists for people to proof-read your work, point out errors and the likes it is seriously helpful to run it past a friend or even a complete stranger (in fact, rather a complete stranger, they're less likely to lie to be "nice") as they can find some of the most obvious errors before you post. It also says a lot about you if you're able to post up a profile on the forums and not make a single damn change to it before it's approved - it's a good feeling, too.

I'm also just going to state this very bluntly. SPELL CHECK. There is nothing that reeks of unprofessional writing more than a small squirm in spelling, be it a typo or otherwise; most word processing things beyond Wordpad (and even wordpad might have one) have a built in grammar checker as well. Although I commonly disagree with my grammar checker on issues it still helps, it has pointed out sentences that sound a little strange to me even if I feel they're not entirely wrong. For grammar it is, again, still better to ask someone else to read through. Eyes that did not write the story will find flaws in it more easily.

9-IX - Template

When English children are taught English in the younger years, they are often told to plan their creative writing before they're allowed to actually write the damn thing. Myself? This infuriated me because I really make a lot of shit up right on the spot when I'm writing, but I won't deny that it's helpful sometimes, and very helpful for others. A background is a story and don't mistake it for anything but, however it may serve your purposes better for it to <i>sound</i> more like an autobiography. The questions in bold MUST be answered for a good background, and there are probably ones I missed that should be answered too.

TEMPLATE

INTRODUCTION: Who are you? Where were you born? Who to? Do you have any siblings?
CHILDHOOD: Were you inducted into any professions or occupations this early on? Did you grow up on the streets or in a house? Did you meet anyone interesting? Anyone that you might refer to later? Did anything happen that had a lasting effect?
ADULTHOOD: What happened? Where did you fight, work, etc.? Did anything happen that had a lasting effect? Did you have any personality-defining moments? Was there a significant plot twist? It is feasible that you had a fairly dull child/adulthood - stuff happened, but nothing major that changed your life - is this the case?
WHERE YOU ARE:Where are you now (generally, and literally?) Have you explained how you got there yet?

Or if you are UNDEAD or a DEATH KNIGHT:

INTRODUCTION: Who were you? Where were you born? Who to? Did you have any siblings?
UNFORTUNATE EVENTS: (Whether you mention the rest of your life is personal taste) How did you die? When were you raised from the dead? Who by?
FREEDOM: When were you freed from the Scourge (if you are Forsaken, all knights of Ebon Blade were released at once!)? How did you react?
WHERE YOU ARE:Where are you now (generally, and literally?) Have you explained how you got there yet?


Credit: Wowwiki has as ever been an invaluable resource and quoted in places where appropriate. Many of the "organisation" examples for the Alignments section were taken from it, and it taught me a lot of stuff in of itself. Guess I'm thanking a hell of a lot of people at once by crediting a wiki. ;D

People on this forum, too, have helped enormously. My thanks to many of you!
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Anna
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