First post of the new year, and it isn’t a resolutions post? What silliness is this? Nope, I am going to post another in my series on doing a scifi game in 5e. The first post can be found here.
Where was I? Ah, Backgrounds.
Backgrounds are awesome. It is one of the most interesting aspects to 5th editions is the idea of backgrounds. It adds more depth than just class and race. It adds variety to characters, flavor, and themes. Things like it had existed before, of course. In 2nd edition, there were the kits, which sort of tied to a background, and also added some subclass like features.
Traveler, famously, was all about your background in the character creation. Your background generation was so detailed, you could die in the background character creation stage before you got to play the character. This was a mini-game and many people love traveler for it. You would roll against different charts, compare to stats and get defined backgrounds. These helped define skills you had, altered your stats, helped define your starting money, and, more importantly, defined the backstory to your character.
5th edition backgrounds are not so wide-ranging, but they do define aspects to your character, often away from their combat stats. It is the so-called 3rd pillar. Race defines some basic stat elements and some advantages. Class defines your range of abilities and role. Backgrounds define the less system specific heavy elements, like things you do not in combat, to make a living, or where you are from.
So how do I take all this and apply it to a scifi game?
I was tempted to do a series of rolls on charts. Not the in-depth madness of Traveler but something more like this.
Roll D10 Planet of Birth
2) Rich paradise world
3)Agrarian Colony World
5) Ice World
6) Other Desert
7) Space Station
8) Hey look, another Freaking Desert Planet
9) Ocean World
10) There certainly seems to be a lot of these Desert Planets
Then you would have separate charts giving different benefits like a contact, or a favor from a rich head of a corp, or a ship or something.
I decided against that. It is certainly doable but it could take a while and would maybe an interesting design challenge, but it would be metric ton of work. Also, preserving the cohesive themes you find in Backgrounds would be hard. Might do it down the road, but I am not masochistic enough right now.
The Middle Earth Method
So doing the “middle earth” method would be a solid choice. I call it the Middle Earth method because it is inspired by the Adventures in Middle Earth Players Guide. In that book, the Backgrounds have a stronger sense of theme than just “Criminal” or “Entertainer.” There are Backgrounds like “Doomed to Die” or the “Loyal Servant.” This says more about thematic role of the character and their role in the story than just their job, career or where they are raised.
To do this here, I would figure up some iconic scifi tropes found in your world, not exactly backgrounds like “Soldier” and more like theme like “the Lost Princecess(Prince).”
The Cypher (examples The Mule from the Foundation Trilogy, or Leto II from the Dune series)
You are the unfigured element in any equation, or model describing the future. You are chaos personified. This is not to say you are chaotic in your actions, or even bad, just something about you goes against predictive models.
Feature: Pattern break.
No predictive ability really can be used on you. This includes psionic, mathematical, and psychosocial predictive models. They are ineffective where you are concerned. No advantage is gained from them, and you are in a social advantage against people who depend on them.
The main characteristic of a Cypher is their unpredictable qualities. They will often have starkly contrasting elements to their personality, or background. A rich man who spends all his time wandering like a beggar, or a cold-blooded killer who has a loving and warm home life are good examples of contradictory and unpredictable characteristics.
- I lie as often as possible.
2) I sleep on the flattest, coldest, least comfortable spot in any room.
3) I must take something from any place I go.
4) I pray to a different religion or god every day.
5) I make random bets about things happening around me, but do not play games of chance.
6) My jokes never make any sense.
7) I am free with my affection. I embrace anyone and often.
8) I constantly experiment with recreational psychopharmacology.
- Free your mind from artificial constraints.
- Finding flaws allows for improvement of greater systems like law and society.
- The goal is helping others to be free.
- Risking all on a chance is the only way to feel free.
- Stop the inevitable.
- Make something new in the universe
- I need to save my friends from the events I set in motion.
- My past is a mystery to me, so I make new bonds and memories as I go.
- Some past crimes cannot be allowed to repeat, no matter what it cost me.
- I stumbled upon friends who need my help.
- I refuse your destiny and make my own.
- Only with friends do I feel like I am part of the world.
- My lack of attachment means I often don’t care what happens.
- I am never certain whose side I am on.
- My reliance on chance means putting others in danger, and I am okay with that.
- I have an addiction to gambling.
- I become passionate about random, sometimes inconsequential details.
- I push buttons and flip switches to see what happens.
Other possible backgrounds might be.
The Innocent (Valentine Michael Smith from Stranger in a Strange Land)
The Born Leader (Paul Atreides from Dune, or Ender Wiggin from Ender’s Game )
The Detective(Almost any protagonist in an Asimov story, Miller from the Expanse)
The Anachronist (Buck Rodgers, or Leela from Doctor Who)
The Semi-Lazy Approach
I obviously prefer the thematic model to backgrounds. That said, there is no real reason why most of the backgrounds in core 5th edition wouldn’t work. A criminal is a criminal in space. A soldier’s qualities stay largely the same no matter where or when you are. They may need slight tweaks, but only slight ones. You absolutely run a 5th edition based Scifi game with the Backgrounds found in the player’s handbook and save yourself some work.
Backgrounds have a lot of room to try new things, and I do like seeing the different approaches to the idea. If the base one works for you, I am not going to disagree. I am happy with it. I am interested to see what people are doing, but it is already a solid addition to D&D.
Well I am going to write about a few other things. I am going to put the Scifi game thing aside for a bit till I have some more concrete idea. I hope people enjoyed my digression. I hope to have something else of interest for you soon.