Step 4. Fill out the background for your character
Here’s where you create the back-story for your character; their name, upbringing, personal history, etc. Some players find this the most rewarding and fun part of character creation. Others find it a daunting task. If you don’t feel up to writing your own character background we’ve provided a handy questionnaire1 to help you out. Regardless of whether you use the questionnaire or not (and we recommend using it because it will be a great help to your GM in creating adventures that tie into your history) you should complete the very first and the last two questions.
The first question, of course, asks you to supply your character’s name.
The last two questions ask you to supply some information regarding how you know the characters belonging to the players on your left and right. These two questions are especially important as they establish the connection you have with the other members of your team and give you a reason to jump into game play without a lot of tedious “let’s meet each other” roleplaying.
Name Appearance (A cross between two actors, characters from radio, characters from film, characters from television, characters from fiction, or characters from comic books). Clothes and physical quirks Family background and childhood Describe your family background and childhood. Who were your parents? Where were you born? How were you raised etc.? *A skill you were born with A trait you inherited from your father A trait you inherited from your mother A trait shaped by your environment *A unique possession acquired Teenage years Describe your teenage years. Who were your friends? What was your schooling like? What were your interests and work experience (if any) etc. ? *Two skills you developed as a result of personal interests Two traits you discovered during adolescence Two traits formed in your peer group *A unique possession acquired Adulthood Describe your adult life. What is your vocation? Who are your peers? Do you have a family of your own etc.? *Three vocational skills you learned Two traits you developed on the job One trait that grew out of your first adult encounter with tragedy One trait that describes your view of romance One trait that defines your view of authority *Important possessions Additional Details Dark Secret or Hidden Weakness Romantic Past Proudest Moment Greatest Regret Best Qualities Worst Qualities Favorite things Dislikes Most cherished principles: *Most cherished possessions: Most cherished people: Nemesis (and the reason for the enmity): Allies : Social Goals: Professional Goals: Romantic Goals: Motivation for adventuring: Title of your most recent adventure: [Name] and/in [Adventure Title] eg. "Jake Stead in the Lost Idol of Shamballa" or "Jake Stead and the Fabled City of Mu" Guest appearance in the back story or a recent adventure of the player on your left (in which you saved his/her life): [Character’s Name] and/in [Adventure Title] eg. "Dr Herbivore and the Seven Pillars of Hercules" Guest appearance in the back story or a recent adventure of the player on your right (in which you helped save the world): : [Character’s Name] and/in [Adventure Title] eg. "The Mysterious Maleficent and Banquo’s Ghost"
The questionnaire above can be used as the basis for developing the characters’ skills.
Transfer the six skills you invented in the questionnaire (identified with a red star *) to the skill list on your character sheet. You can also transfer the important possession you have created (identified by a green star * ) to the space on your character sheet headed equipment.
Jake Stead (Gavin’s character)
Jake Stead is your typical lantern jawed hero. He has a small scar over his right eye (picked up in a knife fight in Cairo, Egypt and dresses in attire fitting for a desert expedition. His sturdy boots, cream jeans, shirt and flight jacket are topped with twin pistols in a shoulder rig and a pair of crossed ammunition bandoliers.
Jake was raised on a Mid-western farm, among the stalks of corn, and developed an early love of the outdoors and the water. He was very active, something of a scrapper, and excelled in sports while being no slouch in school. As a teen he was increasingly called upon to work the farm and ran about with a group of friends exploring the countryside and getting up to good natured mischief. He also enjoyed many hours boating on a nearby lake and working on a motorcycle he rebuilt almost from scratch. He was the object of a local girl’s unrequited attention. Her name was Sally Wicks and, though at the time, other interests held his attention, Jake still remembers her and she still carries a torch. He occasionally wonders about settling down with her after his adventuring days are through.
When the war came he lied about his age and enlisted, getting exposure to the wide world. He was assigned to a special unit engaged in infiltration and assassination (something he keeps very quiet about) and learned some unusual skills associated with breaking and entering.
On one assignment he was trapped in a narrow tunnel for nearly eight hours and has developed a distinct dislike for dark, enclosed spaces. On another occasion he was captured and tortured by Heinrich Von Traupt, a sadistic prison commandant. Stead organised the successful escape of the entire camp, humiliating Von Traupt and earning him Von Traupt’s eternal enmity.
His finest hour occurred when his team infiltrated the harbour of Diet and allowed the allied landing there to take place successfully. Unfortunately, while engaged in the war effort overseas, both his parents were killed in a car accident and he regrets not being there to this day.
After the war he kept up with the doings of his old unit and is fiercely loyal to them. He has military contacts all over the world. He also keeps a distant eye on Sally Wicks. He is not a glory hound and takes pride in describing himself as a working man. Having seen the devastation created by the war and having been exposed to the grave threats that exist to the peace and well-being of ordinary people, his keen sense of duty pushes him to help fight evil and injustice wherever it is found.
Those who know him best describe him as compassionate, brave, a lover of nature, independent, a leader, loyal, interdependent, with a keen eye for detail and a strong sense of regret regarding past failures. He is seen as a charming but uncommitted rogue around the ladies, and a respecter of legitimate authority.
He is skilled in brawling, shooting, mechanical repair, boating, lock-picking, safe-cracking, bypassing alarms, acrobatics, and sneaking.
He still owns his childhood slingshot, a fast motorcycle, two nickel plated automatics, a set of lock picks, and a locket which holds pictures of his parents.
Jake Stead appeared recently in “Jake Stead and the Undead Marksman”, “Dr Herbivore and the Crystal Claws” (in which he helped save the world from an insane sorcerer who wished to release an ancient plague), and “The Mysterious Malefice and the Temple of Shakti” (where he saved Malefice from being sacrificed on the altar of Shakti).
Dr Francoise Herbivore (Michael’s character)
Dr Francoise Herbivore is small, stooped, bow-chested, and, aside from his wild prematurely gray hair, so average in appearance that he is easily ignored and forgotten. He is generally found in a brown suit, wearing a bow tie, no hat, a walking cane, pens poking out of his pockets, brown shoes, and a bundle of books under one arm.
His early years were spent in Paris as the son of a successful diplomat (his mother) and an equally unsuccessful writer (his father). He loved books and study but hated sports and physical exertion of any kind. An avid reader of fiction in his early years, he came to abandon this pursuit when he came to realise the lack of success enjoyed by his father. Driven by a deep need to be seen as successful he quickly came to despise his father, considering him an embarrassment who wasted his life as a “scribbler”. He remains close to his mother however.
At the outbreak of the war he returned with his family to Washington where he made many useful political connections. He entered university early and read classics. He became especially competent at ancient languages, chemistry, and encryption. He earned his doctorate in linguistics.
While he was studying, a colleague committed suicide in the belief that Herbivore had stolen his research. No theft had occurred and the young man’s theories were fundamentally flawed, but the mud stuck. The university hushed it up and Herbivore regretted never having the chance to expose the man for the idiot that he was.
It was also during this time that he met his nemesis, Professor Richard Halvard. Halvard was working on some ethically questionable research that threatened to pre-empt the findings of some of Herbivore’s own studies. He turned Halvard in, out of professional jealousy more than anything else, and earned himself a lifelong enemy.
Dr Herbivore has many acquaintances, and can be quite charming, but has few friends. He is gregarious when he chooses to be, but can also be extremely abrasive. He has little time for women, those in authority, his scientific rivals, or those he deems stupid (so almost everyone). He plays the social game well (needing to attract benefactors and donors for his research) and is almost comically determined to achieve a Nobel Prize. He is motivated by an almost pathological need for the acclaim of others (his participation in adventuring is simply one more way to achieve fame and notoriety). He cherishes curiosity above all other traits and is committed to the discovery and extension of knowledge regardless of the cost. As laudable as these traits are, he is also ruthless, proud, and impatient.
Those who know him well see him as curious, intelligent, ruthless, logical, quick thinking, studious, private, charming, unemotional, and disdainful of the opposite sex and authority figures.
He is skilled at hiding in plain sight, establishing and using social contacts, impressing people, encryption, deciphering ancient languages, chemistry, and swordsmanship.
He still owns his first telescope, a bound collection of the works of Plato and Aristotle, a portable chemistry lab, a portable language library, a sword-cane and his PhD certification.
Dr Herbivore appeared recently in “Dr Herbivore and the Glass Sarcophagus”, “Jake Stead and the Lake of Fire” (where he helped save Stead from a group of natives intent on throwing him into a volcano), and “The Mysterious Malefice and the Idol of many hands” (wherein his ability to decrypt ancient languages helped him to disarm an ancient doomsday device, saving the world).
Malefice, Mistress of the Mystic Arts (Beth’s character)
Malefice, Mistress of the Mystic Arts looks like a cross between a gypsy fortune teller and a turkish belly dancer. She is tall, lithe, and very beautiful, wearing a silken gown displaying a bare midriff, a veil that highlights her beautiful eyes and hints at her full red lips, and silken slippers. Throughout the folds in her robe are numerous knives and poisons in case of trouble.
She was raised among gypsies and travelers, seeing large portions of the world before the age of four. Her mother was a fortune teller and her father a knife thrower. At an early age she discovered a remarkable ability to read people and assisted with her mother’s performances.
A headstrong girl with a taste for adventure, she ran away at sixteen and lived on the streets of Vienna (performing magic for children and telling fortunes). There she very nearly became the victim of a street prostitution gang run by Carlotta DeVries. Carlotta’s son tried to kidnap her in a back alley but made the mistake of attempting to rape her first. She filetted him neatly (a memory she keeps hidden) earning the eternal hatred of Carlotta.
Things might have gone badly still if it weren’t for a circus owner who found her and smuggled her out of the city. To earn her keep she began work as a sideshow magician and came into the orbit of Volara (an elderly lady and true magician who taught and trained her). Her proudest moment was the first time she performed a feat of genuine magic.
While travelling with the circus she had the opportunity to fall in love with a young trapeze artist. Unfortunately the war broke out and interrupted her training and her love. Her paramour signed up as a soldier and was killed somewhere in France. She and the rest of the circus were separated during the bombardment of one of the cities in which they were touring. She survived until the war’s end by scrabbling for bread among the ruins. After the war she went searching for Volara but, with so many displaced people to search amongst, she never found her and has always regretted this failure. Instead she began adventuring, attempting to help the many orphans and displaced people of the times.
Malefice has a soft spot for the weak and vulnerable (especially children for whom she loves nothing more than to stage a magic show) and is fiercely loyal to the Romany people. Circus folk and gypsies are her special allies and she knows most of the travelling bands in Europe. She is also fiercely independent, and disdainful of men – feeling none have yet proved themselves her equal. Between adventures she dreams of performing before the crowned heads of Europe (or at least those who are left).
Those who know her best describe her as fearless, having a mischievous sense of humour, empathetic, secretive, charming, cautious, opportunistic with regard to male attention, suspicious of authority, cunning, self-confident, and manipulative. She is close to no-one, determined to never allow herself to undergo the pain she suffered over her young man’s loss again. The ruin of Europe (which she experienced first-hand) taught her the need for people to protect the innocent and the fragile peace. She believes in kindness to all (especially children and the weak) but is suspicious by nature and expresses an open hatred of authority figures. She is fearless and has a strong moral compass but is unwilling to open herself up to others. Her skills include knife throwing, and poison use.
She owns a mystic talisman she received from her Grandmother, a protective bracelet she received from Volara, a crystal ball, tarot cards, knives, and poisons.
Malefice is skilled at cold-reading, stage magic and illusions, occult knowledge, mind reading, hypnosis, and the binding of spirits.
She appeared most recently in “The Mysterious Malefice and the Vision of Death”, “Jake Stead and the Hobgoblin of Bremen” (where her magical skills were used to shut down a portal to a hostile dimension and, so, save the world); and “Dr Herbivore and the Mysterious Monkey Caper” where she saved Herbivore’s life when an assassin sent some apes into his room to strangle him in his sleep.
As you can see, by creating a deep background for your character, you supply the GM with a great deal of material around which to build stories; enemies to combat, prized possessions to threaten, important people to endanger etc. All of these elements will make your game richer and provide the GM with opportunities to give your character time in the spotlight.
NEXT TIME: Part 4 – Defining your skills and customizing your character’s gear.
This chapter of the Host Your Own Old Time Radio Drama RPG and all associated content (except where acknowledged) is © copyright weirdworldstudios.com and Philip Craig Robotham 1997 and may not be reproduced or distributed without the written permission of the author.
HYOOTRD Roleplaying Game – Players’ Guide
- Chapter 1 – What is Roleplaying?
- Chapter 2 – Preparation for Play (What you’ll need and an introduction to the World of Radio Adventure)
- Chapter 3 – Creating a Character – Part 1 – Introduction and Character sheet
- Chapter 3 – Creating a Character – Part 2 – Specialities, Archetypes, Base Attributes and Derived Attributes
- Chapter 3 – Creating a Character – Part 3 – Character background and history
- Chapter 3 – Creating a Character – Part 4 – Character skills and equipment (including weapons, vehicles, and specialist gear)
- Chapter 3 – Creating a Character – Part 5 – Special items and abilities (including gadgeteering, weird science, and magic)
- Chapter 3 – Creating a Character – Part 6 – Special conditions effecting characters (including illness and injury, insanity, mutation, mechanization, undeath, disembodiment, reanimation, , vampirism, lycanthropy, and necrophagy)
- Chapter 4 – Getting Things Done – Part 1 – Skill types and skill ranks
- Chapter 4 – Getting Things Done – Part 2 – Consequence tests, perception, contests, special skills and abilities, hero points and skill advancement
- Chapter 5 – Combat – Part 1 – Melee and ranged combat, combat actions, the combat board, and a combat cheat sheet
- Chapter 5 – Combat – Part 2 – Print and play components
- Chapter 5 – Combat – Part 3 – Physical combat (melee and ranged combat) example
- Chapter 5 – Combat – Part 4 – Magical combat example
- Chapter 5 – Combat – Part 5 – Vehicular combat example, injury, and recovery
- Chapter 6 – Chases – Part 1 – Chases and chase actions
- Chapter 6 – Chases – Part 2 – Chase example
- Chapter 7 – Death-traps, hazards, and puzzles
- Chapter 8 – Victory and death – Heroic deaths, cheating the odds, plot devices, experience and advancement