Let's look at Backgrounds in our modern Mythras game.
What do Backgrounds look like in the main Mythras game? Let's look at the Core Rulebook.
Background Events are notable things that have happened in the character’s life before he began his career as an adventurer. Some are formative; some are fortunate and some are unfortunate. Background Events are optional, but using them adds to the character’s history, and can be used by creative players and Games Masters as hooks for scenarios or even complete campaigns.
If using Background Events you may feel free to choose an event that appeals or roll randomly. Random rolls may produce very interesting, but potentially conflicting results. If a roll is not to your liking or seriously disrupts the idea and concept you have for your character then do re-roll the event. Background Events should enrich the character – not disrupt it.
If your starting character is older than the Mythras standard, then you may gain multiple rolls on this table (see Age, page 31). If you roll a result twice, re-roll one of the results. If two results contradict each other either discard both and roll again, or agree with the Games Master how best to make both results work together.
Background events uniquely define a character, because they reflect their different paths, the roads down which they travelled to get to where they are. Unlike Mythras Core, based in a fantastic world, the modern milieu can be far more dependent on a person's background because they root the character to their culture, and they can inform the other players and Games Master on how the character is likely to react to a crisis.
An example of a person whose background is important is a character, Velvy Schur, from the 2023 season of a long-running BBC TV show, Silent Witness, which focuses on a team of forensic pathologists. Velvy Schur came to the show early in January 2023, at the start of their 26th season, as a young, eager pathologist who is eager to learn everything about the world.
Velvy Schur comes from an Orthodox Jewish background. According to the back story, Velvy has been shunned by his strict family, and has spent several episodes finding his place in a more secular world.
There is an article on Velvy Schur here. The character is played by actor Alastair Michael, who says that his character has brought a greater understanding of his own Jewishness to his personal life. On a personal note, I wish the actor much success in his journey, and I love his portrayal of a man bereft of his culture, questing to find a new home and fam, and also to find a connection to his past despite the severance which clearly burns like an open wound.
I've been tempted to create a Modern Background Events table, but there are some really good tables in The Design Mechanism's roleplaying game Destined. They may need a little tweaking.
Maybe there'll be something for you soon, right here on this blog.
Backgrounds are why, for instance, two soldier player characters, both born on the same day, coming from the same neighbourhood, with the same characteristics, skills, and Passions, right down to the Combat Styles, can still be totally different persons.
One might have been born and raised in relative prosperity, to a loving family of soldiers where several generations of the family served with honour and distinction. Character A might be a really good soldier, even officer material - but they may be labouring under a heavy burden of expectation from their family that they will be following in their parent's footsteps.
Character B might be born into an immigrant family, a second generation citizen who loves the country they were born into, and became a soldier to serve and protect that country and, by extension, all of the people from their parents' culture who were given a home there. They may even be a soldier to take the fight to the country from which their parents once came, to help put down the insurgents who drove their folks out of their homeland in the first place.
Different backgrounds - different reasons for being in that uniform.
I know, there was a bit of real world politics there. But modern Mythras does have the risk of politics coming into it, and yes, it can be polarising; but this allows each player to bring something to the gaming table that a fantasy scenario in some far-off shared world or galaxy far away cannot have.
Backgrounds allow the players the chance to tell stories about their own selves, their own backgrounds and cultures. And they allow players a chance to explore what the backgrounds mean to them.
This gives them a stake in their characters and their development, and what happens to them. And stakes bring meaning to any game. The higher the stakes, the greater the meaning. And meaning brings immersion, which adds to the enjoyment of the game.
We'll explore this theme further, next week.
Edited by Alex Greene