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So PCs MUST have suffering or tragedy in their backstories!?

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  • So PCs MUST have suffering or tragedy in their backstories!?

    So, while coming up with new character ideals for a new game, my ST felt that one of my character ideals don't fit, cos nothing "bad" happened in that character's backstory.

    It's like it not ok to have a peaceful or good backstories. Where nothing bad happened in the character's past.
    If you're a PC, you MUST suffer in your backstory. Its expected!?!?

    Why is this the case?

    Having played TRGP for some time (mainly D&D and Pathfinder), I always feel weird with the "need" for almost every character to having something bad in their backstory to justify their existence.
    Its like every PC especially, must have a murdered family member/friend, burned village, physical/mental injury/deformity, tragic romance, poor childhood, unjust act committed on them, or dead love ones...etc
    Often a combination of such tragic elements in the backstory.

    It seems like if your character didn't suffer in their past, they are not "worthy" of being characters???

    Or is this more so in VTM? Cos of all the personal horror elements?

    BTW... not VTM related , but TRPGs in general...
    It got to a point where it caused a bit of a stir, when one of the Pathfinder's iconic or archetype characters was revealed to have a perfectly great past (family all alive, no money issues) and the only reason she be came an adventurer was cos she got kick out of her country for being TOO GOOD at her job.

    It also got quite comical in Pathfinder, where a very popular trait (mini-backstory element) that gives extra initiative, is described as the character having being bullied when young and developed faster reactions for it.
    The result is that every other Pathfinder character had a bullied childhood.

  • #2
    If you are playing a Vampire game something bad has happened to the PCs: they are now dead and need to drink the blood of the living to sustain themselves, there's no way around that.

    An interesting angle you can play is having a PC who seemingly had a "perfect life" and then he was turned. Given how the Masquerade works (first rule of the Masquerade you never talk about the Masquerade...) that "perfect life" is now lost. What is the PC willing to do in order to "get it back"?

    Edit: I'm trying to figure out who that Pathfinder Iconic may be... none of those I can remember had a perfect life (Kess perhaps but she was a noblewoman who aspired to be something else, so it's not her I guess).
    Last edited by Haquim; 06-09-2020, 03:06 PM.


    • #3
      Nope, no requirement that something bad happened to the character in their backstory. All you need is for some reason a vampire decided to Embrace you. It could be that the vampire is envious of your charmed life. A spite Embrace. Or maybe, the vampire frenzied and ate you while you were living your fantastic life. A pity/guilt Embrace. Or maybe, you were a shovelhead. A Jyhad Embrace. Or maybe you were a model of success. A 'reward' Embrace.


      • #4

        It isn't.

        It IS saucy, though. It's a typical source of story hooks, and not one too hard to make (esp. in a setting like WoD, where the characters tend to have tragedy embedded in their own powers). Also I find it tends to help to explain some of the more questionable choices of your character, like learning how to kill people and becoming a murderhobo adventurer.

        That being said: Some of my best characters (over various systems) had relatively good pasts. So, no.
        Last edited by Aleph; 06-09-2020, 03:19 PM.


        • #5
          Angst is SEXYYYYYY.

          Author of Cthulhu Armageddon, I was a Teenage Weredeer, Straight Outta Fangton, Lucifer's Star, and the Supervillainy Saga.


          • #6
            Originally posted by Haquim View Post
            Edit: I'm trying to figure out who that Pathfinder Iconic may be... none of those I can remember had a perfect life (Kess perhaps but she was a noblewoman who aspired to be something else, so it's not her I guess).
            Rivani - the Iconic Psychic.
            Her family is all alive and she is so good, even the Houses of Perfection have to tell her, she is overqualified. :P



            • #7
              Frankly, it's easier to chew the scenery with a tragic back-story than to depict a character who has a good life, but is still vaguely dissatisfied or suffering in quiet desperation.

              Think about the huge, tangled tragedies that strike every other day on tv soap operas and genre serials. Accidentally marrying your own identical twin. Getting amnesia when your sister tried to transfer her mind into your body. Or, that trite old story of kidnapping the wrong person only to discover it was your best friend from childhood who is an alien space bat. These shows are entertaining and addicting and cheap to produce and easy to write. (It's amazing how easy writing is if you ignore inconvenient plotholes, basic logic, and the barest respect for consistent characterization.)

              On the other hand, richly textured and subtly nuanced stories are more difficult to tell. Sitting in a cafe eating madeleines really can be a contemplation on human existence, the nature of memory, and the impossibility of telling a story... but, only if you are as good a writer as Marcel Proust, have seven volumes to fill, and work on it for thirteen years. But, meh, who has time for that?

              Oh, don't get me wrong, deeply nuanced and subtle characters are a good thing, even in ttrpgs, if you want every gaming session to be gravid with meaning. But, "A villain killed my family, and I am out for revenge," is a cheap, easy story. It's also good enough for a story you're telling with your friends for a few hours of fun every other Saturday night.

              If the problem is that you want to play a character who starts happy and ends up unhappy, just tell your ST that. If you want to start happy, and end up happy... well, that's more difficult. Somewhere along the line something bad will have to happen just to keep the plot moving forward.

              The best way to play a happy character who stays happy throughout a chronicle might be to define some easily achieved state which is defined as making you happy. The whole world might be burning down around you, but as long as your character can snuggle in a warm blanket, hug their significant other, and watch a soap opera, they're happy. Hmm... might be some actual life advice in there somewhere.


              • #8
                Typically a happy, balanced character that is content with life will not go fight a dragon.


                • #9
                  Outside of World of Darkness I rarely, if ever, employ tragic backstory simply because they’re so cliched.

                  This isn’t to say I give them a perfect life, but there’s a world of difference between “doesn’t have the best relationship with his dad” and “your father was a monster who abused you daily until you ran away.”

                  And there’s still plenty of drama in the above... and even better it’s not a one-off bit of drama; with the abusive dad the drama is basically in the background until you get your one big scene to confront and resolve things one way or the other. If your dad’s just not that happy that you ran off to be an adventurer instead of taking over the family business; that’s something you can come back to again and again as your circumstances change because your relationship is not cut off completely.

                  In the World of Darkness I go a little darker, but usually only to the degree a given flaw requires it or the world fluff suggests it.

                  Dhampirs, for example, are suggested to almost always have a tragic backstory due to the complications of maintaining a thin-blood/human relationship (with attendant threat to the Masquerade that it is), the potential health complications to the mother, and the Beast making them more prone to violent emotional outbursts in their teen years.

                  But even that’s a matter of degrees; one I played had their mother die in childbirth, but they were raised by their wealthy grandparents in a safe and happy household which reduced the risk of having an outburst, but also meant the family had means to keep them out of legal jeopardy. It wasn’t until they started being able to force their will on people with their commands (dominate 1) that they started asking questions about who their father was (with the resources to actually conduct such a search).

                  By contrast, another had both parents killed by the Scourge, but by quirk of fate they were missed and bounced from foster home to foster home (eventually winding up in a different city entirely) due to their vampiric temper until their “grandfather” (the 14th Gen who had sired their father) who’d been keeping track of them from afar approached with the truth of their parents and a plan to get revenge on the Scourge who killed them.


                  • #10
                    Asides from being embraced (which you basically get murdered) and early feedings and killings, it would at least be possible for not much else bad to have happened to a vampire. This could be a flaw in of itself, with the character not understanding how to deal with situations where things don't go their way.


                    • #11
                      No, they don't. It's a perfectly fine element if you want it, but it is not necessary. And if everyone seems to be having that, then it's just everyone using the same cliche for their characters which is boring.

                      I don't remember this when I played RPGS while growing up. We either had very limited back stories, or had one element in our back stories that could provide interesting RPG/plot hooks later on. But most of those weren't tragic.

                      I think the tragic back story cliche may be something now because more people have entered the hobby through thinking RPGs are primarily about "story" and that means your character already needs to have a "story" before play begins (as opposed to the campaign or chronicle and what your character does in it is the story). And having some kind of tragedy provides an easy way to have that "story". It's an easy motivation to explain. This in depth pseudo-authorial approach to characters encourages much more elaborate back stories than previously existed. In my own personal preference, if you can't summarize your PC's backstory or core concept on an index card, it's too much information.

                      In terms specific to the World of Darkness, I find many people confuse "tragic" or "depressing" with "horror." So these elements often crop up because they don't actually understand the genre. It's like when comic book companies or move studios see Batman is popular and think Batman is popular because he's "grim n' gritty" (which he is, but also not) and then apply that to all other superheros because they don't realize not all superheroes are like that, and an approach appropriate to one kind of character is not the same as other characters even though they are in the same genre.

                      I also think that some people choose it because it is a cheap and easy way to gain "sympathy" for your character as opposed to earning respect through your actions in game. In culture right now, there is a big push to present everyone as a "victim" somehow because that makes you "better" and therefore excuses or justifies your behavior or special pleading. That is a huge culture shift that did not exist until recently.

                      So I think there are several things intersecting that may be causing a rise in tragic backstories. That's different than simply have an obstacle or adversity to overcome. A PC can still be challenged, but not have a tragic backstory.


                      • #12
                        Is bad stuff in the back story a requirement, no not at all. But is it something that makes sense, yes it does.

                        Think about the typical adventurer, they wander from unknown situation to unknown situation, often with life or death circumstances in the mix, with little to no long term planning about where they want to be in life after say 3 to 5 years of adventuring. Stable people with satisfactory home lives and jobs have no reason what so ever to go adventuring. Mostly because you end up having a family and focusing on your own survival as well as the growth of the family.

                        So who goes on adventures, namely the malcontents, the people who need more from life, the criminals escaping justice, the falsely accused escaping imprisonment or death, the last members of the royal family who have been overthrown, the seeker of forbidden knowledge who can't get answers where they are.

                        Basically no who is happy goes adventuring, mostly because it is dirty, dangerous and usually ends up in death. I mean some one has to make up the body count for all those skeletons who are in the bottom of pit traps that your adventurers manage to get past.

                        VtM is unique because it builds tragedy directly into the character at generation. Either they lost their perfect life when they were turned, or they are running a constant balancing act maintaining their mortal life while still being a vampire. If you thought being a parent was stressful, imagine trying to be involved with the children when working a night job and some how feeding on strangers without your spouse thinking you are cheating on them, all the while your beast just wants to skin anyone who gets uppity.

                        Consider some of the characters in modern media and look at their backstories.

                        Batman - parents killed in front of him
                        Superman - Destroyed home world
                        Ironman - traumatic injury, alcoholism, guilt over weapons sales, etc.
                        Wonder Woman - comes from a culture of enslaved rape victims that idealize retreating from the world and ensuring everyone wears bracelets to reinforce the cultural trauma (original comic book origin story)

                        Guts - orphan with nonstop trauma over all of his life (that sums it up, right?)
                        Goblin Slayer - survivors guilt mixed with the trauma of watching what happened to his sister
                        Violet Evergarden - Veteran Child Soldier, amputee, PTSD
                        Edward Elric - Amputee, survivors guilt, father issues, guilt over what happened to Al when trying to revive their mother.

                        A happy home life and well adjusted psyche does not make for people who can withstand adversity or go off into the unknown.


                        • #13
                          Originally posted by Haquim View Post
                          If you are playing a Vampire game something bad has happened to the PCs: they are now dead and need to drink the blood of the living to sustain themselves, there's no way around that.
                          I could not have said it better myself, though I wanted to.


                          • #14
                            I mean considering what some of the clans are, I can totally see grabbing someone who's worst incidents don't amount to much more than "Oh god work suuuuuuuucked today." or transitive of these-are-horrible-things-which-happened-in-the-world-while-you-lived-in-it.

                            But yeah outside of needing a reason for you know being in the position to go adventuring or what have you I've never seen a particular reason to force a negative backstory. Even then so long as they're capable of justifying their own presence adequately positive background events are also fair game. As far as vampire goes, congratulations you drew someone's attention and got embraced and now you're in the story because, yes.

                            Just make sure you have something that can be worked off of for narrative purposes and you should be fine doesn't matter if it was positive or negative.


                            • #15
                              Originally posted by Wingstorm View Post
                              It seems like if your character didn't suffer in their past, they are not "worthy" of being characters???
                              well, they kinda suck,

                              they come in two kinds,

                              - the dumb naïve ones that fail to grasp the "grim" subtleties of vampiric life/society,

                              - and there's the overly cynical ones, that are cynical for the sake of being cynical,
                              they know things are not right, but they don't really understand why as they have no prior experience to tip them off or justify their cynicism,
                              but they don't want to pass as naïve, so they just act cynical towards everything "just in case"

                              I usually play characters with positive backstories (during their life and their unlife), the second type as it is easy to roleplay (but annoying)

                              the first type is glorified comic relief (and annoying)