When making a new character, the third step, after coming up with a concept and rolling/choosing your attributes, is choosing a background for your character. Players need to know where their characters come from as this decision shapes many details both story-wise as well as mechanically.

My first order of business in planning my Tower of Druaga game using the AGE System was to define the character backgrounds. Since I am not really setting out to create a full-fledged sourcebook, my initial though was to simply reskin as many of the backgrounds in the Dragon Age Player’s Guide to suit my purpose; based on whatever my players wanted to play, then I would create anything new as needed.

At least that was the plan.

The basic backgrounds included in Dragon Age Set 1 are wonderfully versatile and provide a great template from which to go. I started my job with the basic human adventurer, which I would base off the Ferelden Freeman background. I left it practically as-is, altering only a couple of Focus options on the random benefit table to reflect more the world of Tower of Druaga. I then renamed it Meskian Burgher, your typical citizen of Meskia, the city inside the Tower. I figured, yep, that was easy.

The problem came when I moved to the second background I had in mind. There are two noble characters in the series, and though they have different backstories, the one thing they have in common is that both are outcasts from their families, whether by choice or not. So right there I saw another character background option. I looked over the basic backgrounds in the book, and used a good part of the Circle Mage background as my source, adding things to round it out as a more artistocratic background rather than academical/magical.

There was a nagging thought in the back of my head, though, but I couldn’t put my finger on it so I ignored it and moved on. Meanwhile, my friend JJ, who has signed up to play in my Tower of Druaga game, made suggestions for possible backgrounds. He also noted that going off the sample backgrounds in the book, which use a race and/or culture as their template, would be fairly hard since a character’s point of origin isn’t such a huge deal in the anime. Yes, some characters tell you where they come from a few times, and the fact that there are two former nations (and thus, factions) does come into play during the story, but it just wasn’t central to the character essence. JJ was absolutely right, and that made me think before writting any more backgrounds for my game.

The essential question is this: what do Backgrounds do in the game? In looking at Dragon Age, the answer would seem to be: they dictate the character’s race and cultural origin, perhaps even their social one as well. Circle Mage, Apostate, Surface Dwarf, Avvarian Hillsman – these backgrounds all fit that description and fulfill that role. But in my Tower of Druaga game this definition just doesn’t hold much power because the source material simply isn’t concerned with those details. Or more accurately, not with all of those details. What the background of the characters in the anime really tells you as a viewer is, what kind of person is this that they would brave this monster-infested Tower? Right there I had my answer.

Backgrounds in Tower of Druaga dictate the character’s core reason for climbing the Tower. I will also use Goals to flesh out why specifically the characters are climbing the Tower, but the background tells you what kind of person they are that they would even consider risking their lives like this in the first place. After thinking about the main characters of the anime for a bit, I realized that this was indeed the way to go and I set out to map the backgrounds that would cover the basic motivations seen on the show.

If you are setting out the adapt the Dragon Age rules for your own homebrewed setting, or using them to craft your conversion of a favorite show or movie, it is a good idea to take a moment to think about what backgrounds truly represent in your game. It may be that the race/culture/occupation combination is the way to go; indeed, I can think that in most fantasy games set in a specific world, this would be the ideal as it helps flesh out the setting one little bit a time. But it need not be. Perhaps in your game backgrounds represent strictly one of those elements, perhaps it specifies social class or academic achievement or affiliation (a Harry Potter-based game set in Hogwarts would use the Houses as backgrounds, for example). Or maybe it is something more abstract, as with my own example for the Tower of Druaga game.

Think about the background of your backgrounds and you will see how, once you arrive at what this mechanic represents in your game, it will make the resulting characters so much more tied to the themes you want to explore during play.

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