Text Based RPGs: Your Character Background in Five Steps
By Zhade Barnet
Text-based RPGs are supposed to feel 'real', and the greatest part of this immersion is being surrounded by believable characters. Say last week at work, somebody walked past and flicked my ear. Next I know, I'm standing before him with balled fists. Did I overreact? Am I crazy? Well, that depends on why it got me so mad. If it's because 'I'm violent', then looming unemployment is the least of my worries. If it's because I spent three years in a foreign prison, scrabbling for cockroaches at dinner time whilst guards flicked my ears every hour on the hour, then you'd cut me some slack.
Your character in a text-based RPG is no different. She isn't a collection of numbers that allows you to kill things with keystrokes for no reason; she's a living, growing person whose past influences her in ways she may not always understand. This article will show you the 'top-down method' for writing effective and fulfilling character backgrounds in text adventure games.
1) Read the Lore
Yes. I'll state this in every article I write about text adventure games. Get used to it. Sure, if you're a fan of your chosen genre, you could write your background without even looking at the lore - but it'll be uninspiring, bland. And you know what? It's lazy. If you want to make something generic, then why are you playing an online text game? Go play an RTS. Read the lore - not obsessively, but enough to really weave your character into it. Make your character an intrinsic part of the online text game world by choosing the places, factions and events that interest you, and list them down for inclusion into your background.
2) Choose Goals
This is where the 'top-down method' leaves the beaten path. Counter-intuitively, you'll now choose and prioritize the three goals that are most important to you in your online text game playing experience. Once you've done that, you'll give them to your character. Say I want my character to be the most successful shopkeeper in his online text game world, I want him to be a famous bard, and I want him to destroy the Assassin's Guild in these text games. So now that's what he wants, and every action he takes should be moving him towards this.
3) Ask 'Why?'
Take each goal in turn and ask "Why?" five times. My character wants to be the most successful shopkeeper in the online text game world. Why? Because he believes that it's the most reliable way to get rich. Why? Because his father was a successful shopkeeper. Why? Because his family is a long-standing commercial empire. Why? Because they are originally from the Eastern Continent, and when they arrived here three centuries ago their exotic goods were in high demand. Why? Because their feud with another family back home got so heated that there would soon be bloodshed.
Wow! We learned lots about my character through that exercise. Already, we can see his background coming to life. And that was only with one of his three goals! If you find yourself hitting a dead-end in text online games, just persevere. Hell, if you fall short of the magic five, nobody's gonna shoot you, but if you can ask 'Why?' five times for each of your goals you're well on your way to a spectacular character background.
4) Any Further Questions?
Your online text game character is unfolding before your eyes, and you have the broad strokes of his past. It's time to follow those niggling questions that will branch the story out. Does my character harbour a desire to return to the Eastern Continent one day? Does he thank the rival family for making his ancestors flee? Does he really want to be a shopkeeper, or does he only think he does because it's what his family has always done? Has he ever killed an animal, or indeed a person, before?
5) Bring It Together
You've now accumulated a lot of information about your character, but it may be looking a little disjointed. This is where you tidy it all up and join the dots. If you haven't already tied in all the elements from the lore that took your fancy, then either find out where you want them to go at this point, or put them away for now. There's no reason why you can't incorporate the element into your character's future rather than his past. Despite what anybody says, your finished background needn't be in flowing prose. Bullet points are fine. Flow diagrams, a poem, stickman sketches, whatever you like; just get the order of events and the connections between people and places very firmly in mind.
You've done it! You've gotten a feel for the online text game world you'll be playing in, chosen the goals your character will begin with and linked them firmly to her background. You've followed the trails that interest you and fleshed them out, and probably noted a few more that you will answer in future as you get to know your character better through playing the online text game. Finally, you've tied it all together in a framework which is meaningful to you. Now pat yourself on the back, limber up those fingers, throw yourself into your character and go conquer the world in one of your favorite text RPGs.
If you are interesed in creating an indepth character as outlined in this article then try out the Iron Realms RPG text games.
Zhade Barnet is a player and text game enthusiast from www.IronRealms.com