Thursday, February 25, 2010

Character Backgrounds (Updated)

At the beginning of our venture into the realm of 4E I created a set of characters for us to play with and provided a one page character background for each character. Basically I just wanted to set-up a coordinated scenario as to why each of you were in this place and then once having brought you together put an assignment in front of you and then let the party run wild.

I wanted to include this one page scenario on the actual character sheet either via a note or a journal entry, but the tool doesn't allow anything longer than 6-7 lines of text to print. Let me clarify - I can cut/paste in a whole page of text, but only the first lines will be displayed when the character sheet is printed. This is a known problem, and is included on Wizards Known Issues List for the DDI Character Builder tool.
Players Handbook 2 introduced the concept of character background information (Pg 176) and this is now included in the CB tool. The categories introduced in PHB2 were relatively generic: Geography (forest, desert, etc.), Birth (blessed, cursed, prophesied, etc.), Society (rich, poor, etc.), Occupation (artisan, criminal, etc.), or Racial, with each character race getting a unique set of choices based on stereotypes associated with that specific race.

The book also lists the associated skills that each background provides bonuses for. For example, a player born in the mountains has Athletics and Dungeoneering as associated skills, while a farmer has Endurance and Nature as associated skills. Most of the background choices provide two associated skills, although a few have only one.

Of course this list of initial character backgrounds has grown considerably as new material has been published, and besides the list of general backgrounds there are campaign specific backgrounds (Forgotten Realms, Eberron, and assuming Dark Sun too once it is released this summer) to choose from, but all are included in the CB tool. And as the list of choices has grown so have the potential affects. Besides associated skills a character might be able to learn an additional language or a character might be able to become trained in a skill they might otherwise not have access to.

For example, a player choosing a character that has a character background of occupation - military will get a choice of adding +2 to either their Athletics or Endurance skills, or taking Athletics or Endurance as a trainable skill choice (an additional language is not an option in this case). Of course depending on your choice of race and class Athletics and/or Endurance may already be a trainable skill for you, rendering this choice moot.

The CB tool will let you pick multiple character background choices as well, for instance, a character of Noble Birth (diplomacy, insight) that has an occupation of Bounty Hunter (perception, stealth). However, you don't get to stack these choice - the one you choose as your primary is the one you get your benefit from, so a Noble Birth Bounty Hunter is not equal to a Bounty Hunter Noble Birth.

On page two of the character sheet is a section for character background and the CB tool supplied text, usually about a 5-6 line paragraph, is included there. If you choose multiple backgrounds you will run into the text display problem I described above.

So what does this mean to us? Well, given that your characters don't have any background information selected you are at least slightly short-changed in that as a minimum you don't have a +2 background bonus added to one of your skills. So what to do? Given that we are going to level our characters up in the next few weeks anyway I propose that we include this at the same time. Each player is already investigating what feat and utility power to add when leveling up does occur, so let's just include this step as part of that process.

Update: Per discussion at group last night (02/28) please limit your choices to backgrounds from the General category, not Forgotten Realms, Eberron, or Scales of War.

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