Today Armored Gopher Games had a grand reopening gala, with lots of demos, music, and food. One of those demos was also the first part of one of Fire Opal Media's 13th Age Organized Play adventures. Since I have the book, and have been pretty happy with what I have read, and I haven't gotten to be on the other side of the screen for a while, I made up a character.
What's interesting is that the process for making up a character in 13th Age is really neat for slipping a backstory onto your sheet while forcing you to be relatively minimalist with said backstory.
Between your One Unique Thing, your Icon Relationships, and you Backgrounds, even if you aren't trying, sometimes you get a simple story to emerge.
I made up a Tiefling fighter. Why? I don't know, I just wanted to do something different. I knew I wanted to be a fighter, and I wanted some relationship to a martial Icon in there somewhere. It occurred to me that having a Tiefling fighter with a conflicted relationship with the Crusader would be interesting.
That's all I had in my mind to start.
When I made up my one unique thing, I wanted it to be a little more "grounded." I like gonzo ideas, but it just didn't seem right in this instance. I just made it:
"I am the sole survivor of the Perilous Host, a mercenary company sworn to the service of the Crusader."
I came up with a connection to the Crusader, and an answer for why a Tiefling would be working with him. From here, it occurred to me that knowing the Crusader, my company was probably tactically sacrificed for the betterment of the overall campaign.
As a mercenary, I understand the risks. And seeing the Diabolist's work up close and personal, I really agree with the Crusader and his efficient means of dispatching her hosts. But I kind of hate him personally, because I can't just accept that my brothers in arms were only cannon fodder for the Crusader's bigger, more important plans.
This led to my Icon relationships:
Crusader (Conflicted): 2
Diabolist (Negative): 1
I'd work for the Crusader again. I admire his military strategy and appreciate his goals, at least as far as the Diabolist is concerned. But I'll never trust the bastard again. I won't forget to leave myself a back door.
And it's hard not to get a negative view of the Diabolist when her multitudes tear apart your brothers in arms right in front of you, and before that, when you see her handiwork up close.
Then I had my backgrounds, which I set up like this:
Mercenary Captain +5
Nursemaid to an Ailing Mother +2
Hunted and Persecuted +1
To me, this made sense because clearly my character had been with the mercenary company for a long period of time, relative to his age, and had risen up through the ranks, before they were wiped out. He takes that loss personally.
His mother was a pariah, because she gave birth to a Tiefling. When she grew sick, he was on the only one to take care of her, and while it wasn't quick, it probably wasn't for more than a few years, because it's only a +2, so she passed on before it became a major professional background of tending for the sick.
And without his mother around, in the wider world, and not around his home village, which might hate him but wouldn't take action against time, he was on the run, hiding and surviving, but not for too long, because his mercenary brothers snatched him up and gave him a job after only a few months on the street.
Now, you might be reading this and thinking I tricked you into a "let me tell you about my character" post, and you'd be partially right, but the point is that I didn't sit down and come up with that backstory. Because I had to come up with One Unique Thing, I came up with a succinct explanation for why I was special. Because I had to have Icon relationships, I had to come up with why they were the degrees they were and why they were conflicted or negative. Because I had to have backgrounds, I had to come up with things that told a story with the chance of providing some kind of practical benefit.
I've used checklists for character creation before to "remind" me to put certain details behind a character, and they haven't done as much as this process did to quickly come up with an idea of who the character is now, and who he was just before he joined the story.
I'm not saying this is the most detailed or realized character I've ever made. I'm just saying that this isn't a character that had been rolling around in my head for months, that I finally put to paper when I played it in X game the way a lot of those other well formed characters came about.
I guess what I'm saying is that 13th Age as some really nice and simple mechanics for fleshing out a backstory that kind of sneaks up on you. I like it.