Thursday, September 01, 2011

Campaign Development: Background Abilities...

Good Afternoon, All:

I've observed a relatively new phenomenon recently due to my participation in the Kingmaker adventure path by Paizo, as well as reading through the War of the Burning Sky adventure path by EN Publishing and the Neverwinter Campaign Setting by Wizards of the Coast. In all three cases, the Player's Guide for the adventure path provides additional starting abilities that players can select which tie them into the campaign setting. They get their background ability for free, and along with it comes some character connection to the campaign world and the adventures as a whole. While Paizo's implementation has been a little less immersive than the examples implemented by EN Publishing or WOTC, it still captures the concept well enough that I'm tempted to pursue something like it for my next campaign.

These abilities are rarely anything overpowering. Instead, it's like a bonus granted to players who choose to connect their character to a developed storyline or campaign element, and thus enhancing their investment and immersion into the campaign. Plus, I think it gets people asking about the setting and figuring out some of the basic character roles that you want to see as a GM within the game. Usually, it's something like a +1 on a D20 roll within a limited context (such as +1 on attack rolls with axes due to cultural training), or a +2 under certain circumstances. You may also start with some kind of specialized equipment (such as a mount for a clan of horseriders, or armor for a military organization), or just a little extra cash (to reflect a better social position).

If I were to create these for my current Madlands campaign, I'd probably look at the elements that emphasize exploration in the Madlands themselves, and build some backgrounds around them. For example, I'd probably create something for the Seekers of Truth, who are trying to recover and preserve lost lore; the Order Elysia, who gain magical power by draining it from extraplanar creatures; the Circle of Mithril, a mercenary guild common to the area; the Shadow Syndicate, a rogue's guild with grander plans; and perhaps one or two other organizations with a vested interest in exploration. I'd want to make sure that I covered all of the main character types (from a "character class" perspective) in terms of applicability, and added one or two more, just for fun. Each option would be open to more than one character type, as well, to allow people to travel together who are bound by a common background, should they so choose. I'd definitely want to keep the number of options low, though, aiming for either five or seven. While it could be stretched higher than that, I would want to make sure I didn't exceed twice the number of people at the gaming table, and I'd much prefer no more than one or two more options than chairs. This creates a tighter focus, in my opinion.

I also think these would be campaign-specific. In other words, I would want to create them at the beginning of each new campaign, simply to reflect the direction of a given campaign. Next time around, even if the new campaign is set in the same location as a previous game, the focus would be different, and the background options should reflect and support that.

Until Next Time,

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