Text Games - Five Tips for Writing Character Backgrounds

By Derek McCullough and Jeremy B Saunders

Characters used for role-playing in text games are only as good as their backgrounds. Is he a dastardly assassin who realized there is a greater evil to fight? Perhaps a simple farmer who is called to greatness after his village is taken captive by rogue bandits? Maybe he is a simple healer who quests for the power needed to heal a god. Background: It says everything about your character in text based games. For those who might be good writers but are coming up short when a background comes into play, here are a few simple tips to keep in mind while composing your background for a text based rpg.

1. Know the World
If you are going to craft an appropriate background for your character in text games, make sure it fits within the genre you are to playing. For instance, don’t create a gunsmith for text based games which take place entirely in something like ancient Greece. Also, it helps to know a bit of history for the text game world in which you play. You don’t need to go so far as to become a historian for the text based online world, but know enough to answer simple questions (like when someone asks you where the kangaroo is from, most will know Australia). It will help you enrich your own character background, as well as giving you a bit more of a foothold into role-playing with others in these text based games.

2. Have a Good Idea What You Want
Choosing what your character does for a living within text games is as important as anything else. Now, it’s not required to have a background that fits perfectly into what your character does know, but be able to explain how he got from where he was in the beginning to where he is now. If your farmer has become a world-renown magician, how did he get there? Was it natural talent that arose at a certain time? Did he come across a magic scroll in the text games which empowered him with his gifts? Also, be willing to accept that you can’t be good at everything. Make goals for your character. Even something as simple as ‘reach level X’ or ‘use my skills to do Y’ can help guide you to getting what you want.

3. Your Character is Yours
No matter what anyone else says, you are the one who crafts your characters background within these text games. You made him from a peasant laborer to a god-like swordsman of epic speed and stamina. If you desire input from others while crafting your background for text games, make sure in the end it is something you are happy with. You will be the one playing the character for days, weeks, months or years. Sure, you may choose skills or a profession that not everyone understands or likes, but YOU are the one who plays that character. Be willing to work with others for everyone’s enjoyment, but remember that you ultimately control your character.

4. Don’t Be Afraid of Flaws
Playing a god-like character gets really boring after a while. Don’t be scared to spice up the background of your online text game character and personality with something as simple as a bad habit, like always snapping fingers or chewing on his nails. It could even be something life affecting, like having a bad temper that at one point, your character killed someone in the text based online game and hid the evidence. Flaws, no matter how major or minor, odious or tragic, can add a vast amount of flavor and life to your character’s background in text based games.

5. Use Your Background to Give Your Character Life
Play your character with your background in mind and play to your heart’s content. Use accents if you feel your character should have one, or give it voice inflections (even if they annoy others). Don’t be afraid to really steep yourself into your character, because that is the point of text based rpg games: to be someone else, even if only for a short while. And, above all else, allow yourself to be entertained. Your character might die, but if so, make it glorious, heroic, or epic. Remember that the most basic part of your character is where he comes from, so remember that you ultimately control your character in text games.

Fun is the point of all text games. Remember that your character isn’t real, but you should treat him as though he were your favorite fiction character from a good book: he could be real, somewhere.

If you are interested in trying out text adventure games then you should delve into the Iron Realms online text games.

Derek McCullough is a text game enthusiast and currently plays games from www.IronRealms.com

Article Source: http://EzineArticles.com/?expert=Derek_McCullough

Comments

As a relatively new player, I'd love to see a list of over-used, common or cliched background elements. A quick guide of things to stay away from.

Perhaps even some examples right here in these comments could help others like me.

"My family was ((insert horrific event here)) and I have to avenge them. What do you mean, then why do I spend all my time ratting, playing freeze-tag and losing my gold at the roulette table?"
"I'm from a faraway land..."
"My character's always been a psychopath. When he was 1 years old he ((insert horrific event here)). When he was seven ((insert even more horrific event here)). When he was 20 he ((insert monstrous event here)). Now he just goes around killing anyone he can."
"A mysterious man told me that I would be really important some day..."

I am a Ninja Viking Slave Princess. As a young viking girl I was kidnapped by mongols who sold me to Japanese Ninja. There they trained me to kill the Prince, but we fell in love and married...blah, blah, blah.

The extent of my background. "Hi, I am Qoreuttiaill. You may call me Qoreuttiai for short."

The Achaea forums actually has a really good thread about RP, well a guide on it by Beya (Sorry Beya, gonna quote a bunch of it!)

*Not everyone wants to know your back story.
Imagine this is real life. If your parents were killed in a house fire, or you were molested by a fox, it will not be something you begin every conversation with.
*LOOK at everyone you see. Be curious.
Some people have scars. Ask them how they got them, if the situation is appropriate. If they cannot tell you where they came from, it's probably best to move on.
*Act with a purpose. Have reasons for everything.
Whether they're scars on your face, or twinges, all good characters will have a reason for being the way they are. 'Crazy for the sake of crazy' is not good RP.
*Be willing to CHANGE.
Changing race will have an effect on your description. Your character's opinions may fluctuate if they meet new people. Scars CAN heal (mental or otherwise).
*9/10 times, you will not be the lead character in all RP situations.
There may be situations where your character has a problem, or you are the lead expert on a given subject, but remember; roleplay is created between a group of people, as opposed to one dictating.
*'Crazy' does not a good character make.
Being edgy and deep may seem interesting roleplay, but the friendly, inviting, tolerant roles are even more difficult to play. Adding 'normalcy' to Sapience helps contrast some of the more crazy events. People do not act without reason. There is no such thing as a 'truly randum, crazy person'.
*Be accepting of mistakes.
If someone makes a typo, ignore it. Don't make a huge thing of pointing it out. Specifically in an illusion or emote.
*Correct or ignore your own mistakes.
If the information is still readable, ignore any typos. Otherwise, repeat the action with the spelling corrected.
*Be courteous of other's stories.
Try not to poke holes in someone else's roleplay. Help them develop patchy stories by asking questions and suggesting explanations.
*Don't tell other people what they feel or think.
Unless you're using mind control. Don't use mind control.
*Base all your meta-abilities from character's experience, research and skills.
Is your character a doctor? What experience does he/she have to be a healer? What skillset does he/she have? Keep all your rituals, emotes and knowledge restricted to what your character would know. Be reluctant to say something has happened 'by magic'.

LARGER EVENTS

*Drive RP with positive acts as well as negative ones.
Speak to people on the highway. Give gifts to strangers. Initiate interaction with enemied/allied organizations.
*Stay logical and bound to the physics of Achaea.
Yes, it's possible to have the body of an elephant. But don't just plonk it into your description. Consider how it will make you look to people who don't know your 'obviously plausible' back story. If you're still set on having the body of an elephant (or turning water into wine or changing the colour of your character's hair), seek out ritualists, illusionists, diabolical doctors and order members who may know IC ways of accomplishing the near impossible.
*Act fairly with RP. Both detrimental and positive.
Not all RP will have a good result on your character or his/her interests, but it tells a good STORY. Being sacrificed to a demon, or having your heart forcibly purified by a priest may not be a wonderful experience for your character, but roleplaying the story will be enjoyable and depthy, and gives Achaea more variety. Please note that just because your character doesn't enjoy the experience, doesn't mean you won't.

I could kiss whoever wrote this. Especially not starting every conversation with a detailed description of how your family was raped and pillaged.

Wait a minute! I thought that happened to everyone...

It's probably just the people I talk to, and that my character's far too polite to say "Look, you cannot imagine that I want to hear any of this, person I've just met." That being my Achaean char of course... Yeah, Maestra would quite happily say that.

Missing you already!

Twice even!

I'm ok with correcting typos if they're phonetically different, and the attempt is done in a realistic way, but I hate when someone's like "COUGH COUGH Sorry, I mean night, not knight." Because when you stutter/misspeak (as someone who does this frequently), you sure do cough whenever you correct yourself, that is totally why people cough. And people just accidentally say the wrong homonym all the time.

what if you're really sick?

Oh god, a disease where people fall into a coughing fit, and then correct a single word they said correctly to begin with? Sounds fatal. D:

WoW

That was very well written. I enjoyed reading this.

The best tip I have is never write your background to justify who you are at the time, or draw connections in the background. For instance this and this happened, and now I'll always be like this. This will make your background void as soon as you make the decision to change your character in any dramatic way. So stick to generalities, and then use the background when speaking to people to draw those parallels so that you don't have to worry about rewriting, or perhaps following the guidelines you set for yourself in your background

I have not written a history yet because I wasn't sure how to start. This article has given me a lot of useful information on writing my history. I feel it is important to have a history so others can know where your character comes from. Some may use your weaknesses against you while others will praise you and respect you for your accomplishments. You can learn a lot from someone's history.

Call it a triangle of love, since each helps and flourishes the other two. Once you decide how you want your character to look, you can start to create the background, or what led up to the general story of your character. Histories are a more of up to date recollection of your character.

You can really impress your friends by understanding and filling out all 3, and the beautiful part is that you can always change your history and description. But your background will always be there foreever

I really admire those who can keep up the accents. I think that it is even better if you can play your character to ther history, their childhood may have had some large effect on their present day life which either gives them a nervous disposition or a really good strength within them and confidence. I think a lot of people need to learn a little bit of the history before they make a background, I have heard a few major slip ups before from people who haven't. All in all I think people should not worry about what others think because your character is there for you to have fun with and make him/her as creative as possible because each character is unique and the more you play out your character I think there is more chance of a story being acted out for RP.

Azlee Accent :D

^^

In a MUD I played, one character played a mute and instead of speaking used an emote to draw words in the dirt using a stick. The player was very consistant to the point that where using a stick in dirt didn't make sense (in water, etc) he'd use other items or gestures.

 

I completely agree with this part of the article, it seems as though everyone who I meet in game is perfect or especially unique, too bad everyone else is thinking along these same lines! I find the people I remember the most are those who throw aside the desire to have only what we view in the real world as the most sought after traits and instead embrace the more interesting, exotic or unbelievable aspects which can only ever be found in a game!

I really like this article. It has given me many ideas for getting my background written. Here's a tip for after you write it the first time: set it aside for a day or two. Then when you come back to it you'll see the little mistakes/typos you didn't catch the first time proof reading it. It also allows you to tweak it a little if you're not happy with it before uploading it in the game. Which saves you some time so you're not tweaking it in game every time you turn around.

The best tip? Don't write a background. Live your past and make your future. In my three years of playing, I have not yet wrote a background, nor have I read one (and I don't believe I have even meet someone with one wrote up).

Writing a background is really only for the player himself. Do I magically know everything about a character by just looking at them (Ie going and reading their background). No. backgrounds, while good for the player to know in their head, is not so good wrote down for others to see, at least not on an OOC mean. Sure write a book for the library(ies) and that could work.

In the end, its your character. Know your background (even if it is pieces (going off of the lusternian portal of fates where you don't remember your past before the portal)). Remember while our past leads us to the future, it does not shape it.

I'm inclined to agree with this, overall.

In my opinion, unless you are honestly willing to stay within a limited role-playing frame work, you might best stay away from writing a background. In many cases, once you set a background it sticks with you, and any sudden changes you want to make to your character may be frustrated. I'd say for a much more free roleplaying environment, one should probably stay away from setting backgrounds unless you're 100% sure of the direction you want to go with a character.

Definitely agree with this.  Having a background in mind is great for good RP, but it's so much better to live out the consequences of that background in your character's actions.  Show, don't tell.

The six most common things I find useful when starting a new background story:

1. Confused as to what to add next with your background? Try looking around. The room descriptions alone are well worth the extra time spent reading them. You never know. They might just give you that creative nudge to rethinking your own writing style.

2. Backgrounds are more useful for people who have a history or want to portray a certain history. Maybe you're from a small village that was decimated by an angry horde of Serenwilders who didn't like the colour of the houses in your poor village. Backgrounds can be a great way to let other players know where you come from, what biases your character has, and so forth. Remember, however, to keep your background "believable". Being the son of a divine/god without their consent or saying you were born from the twisting fires of hell aren't going to be taken too kindly by other players.

3. Change is evident in an every day life. Things change, life changes, and so must you change. In any basic fantasy novel (or fictional novel, science fiction, etc), the world evolves and changes to suit the current events. Without change, things would be rather black and white. Take the initiative and let your character evolve in ways that would help them grow as a mortal creature (or maybe not help them) and have fun with it.

4. When working with your background, just as the original posting said, know where you're going to go with it. However, don't think for a moment that your character is going to remain as they are now. As stated earlier, change happens. Take that into consideration when writing your background. If you take both of those into account, direction and consideration of change, you're background will not only be believable but actually might surprise you at how well written it is.

5. Let's face it. Everyone wants to be that brooding character who stands off in the distance, hair billowing in the wind, and a grim appearance on their face (thank you Sean Connery), but if we were all like that, we'd all be trying to behead one another for the next 1000 years. By adding quirks to your character and really contemplating on what sort of character you want to play, you can really set yourself apart from everyone else. However, try not to stand too far apart, as some people might actually find this more annoying than interesting. Think of your favorite novel series or your favorite fictional piece; what did the characters do in that book/series that made it so memorable? They were all different, more than likely.

6. Humor is a great thing. Remember to use it in your background. People are going to someday, at sometime, read through your background. You don't want them to be pulling out their own eyes after reading it. A touch of a good sense of humor makes the background believable, your character believable, and will make the person read it actually remember who you are.

Oh, everyone knows how important a background is, and thanks to the author for giving out tips for writing a background. I, however, don't have a concrete background, just a mental note of it. Surprisingly, it works well for me. Marina's comment complements the author's article and upon reading it, I guess I may have to write a background now just to add to the flavour of my character.

@Ayisdra: I reckon "The best tip? Don't write a background." is arbitrary, since each side of the coin works differently to a player. Some people would find writing a background a perfect avenue to start their role-play while you have your own way of doing and sustaining your character. Cheers!

One of the common mistakes players make is to describe themselves in ways that embody cliches of power and perfection. Mysterious people abound in MUDs. So do those with tortured, anguished pasts. These backgrounds are cliche and will be taken as a sign of an immature player. Let your character's status and power be defined by his or her actions and make your background stand out by making yourself look *normal*.

To add to what you said about being normal and not being perfect, I think one of the memories I will always recall was when I came across a bard-type person from Serenwilde. Now, when you consider a bard, you think of someone who can put some of today's greatest singers to shame. However, this particular bard was quite the opposite. When he role-played, he would role play the woodland creatures actually trying to get away from his music, rather than towards. The best example I can think of was when he would sing, he would role-play squirrels grabbing berries from a nearby bush and stuffing them in their ears. Hilarious and complete opposite of what you'd expect from the bard.

Some of those squirrels probably should have thrown nuts at him.

I have a text file with 20 questions that I fill out when making a new character, and answer them in character. It helps to flesh a new character out a bit, as well as practice their dialogue.

Ooh

Kind wish I could see that. I bet it's interesting.

Personally, I'm a fan of leaving some open ends in my character's histories. Giving yourself some definition and purpose is excellent, but if your history is too restricting you may find yourself losing out on excellent opportunities. Say, for example, leaving one parent mysteriously out of the picture opens up the possibility to find that parent later vice being completely orphaned and knowing your parents are dead. Similarly, you may end up finding half-siblings in the aforementioned case! But Tip Number 3 is by far the most important. You won't be happy with any character if you don't take ownership of that character and make them something that is fun and engaging for you to play. A little effort goes a long way!

Writing a background isn't easy, I'll give you that much. I spent a good week researching my own, and coming up with the events that spanned into one. Like I said, it isn't easy. Take your time. Visualize. Were you here when that happened? Did you see the explosion at that time? How old were you when you lost something? Everything has it's feel of modernness. You've got to create it, and let it flow. The hardest part is thinking about how it will perform. I say just write. It's not really the hardest part in writing, but the hardest part in creating. Try to think about events that COULD of happened and so forth!

Way back when I started Aetolia, writing a background was required. I miss that. Even if some of them were overdone ideas, it still forced people to get a sense of their character as a character, rather than a random person jumping into a MUD (which is fine, but I like RPers) and getting into a fight for no real reason.

At first, Slaver's Isle was the most awesome intro IR could come up with in regards to a background. Unfortunately, time has worn away some of the usefulness, as well as the easing up of background-requirements in a guild.

Now I'm just happy if I find someone whose background I can view. A surprising number of them aren't visible to me.

Backgrounds are just easy excuses to get PK on an org, in my opinion anyway.

When you're part of a family I feel. Then your background need to coroborate with several people's version of the story. That gets complicated to try and get the details straight haha

 

At least in Lusternia, well, aside from Jozan, and that was, I suppose, better than nothing.

Ask

If you want to know my background, ask me. I don't want it to simply be readable by anyone out there. I want to be able to decide what I tell to which person, at which time.

Wholeheartedly agree. It feels like there are too many 'perfect' people sometimes.

My background is a bit shady. I might not want the priests to know about my past,

Don't be lazy

?

???

The only problem I find when writing my background, is that houses require you write them fairly early on and at a time where you don't fully know the world yet.

I find it hard to write a background unless you know who your parents are going to be.  Its important for it to fit into your family. You can write a background that excludes theirs, effectively writing yourself in a box. It takes time to know who you are. Darn, I still don't know who I am. ;)

I agree with Solteria, also it's hard to write one when the other supose parent never shows, so you have to hopefully base your background on what you can dig up.  most the time half of you is in limbo (perhaps)

 

easy, my parents were mobs

hmm

could be.

I'm always envious of the people with a well established background, who know where their character is from and the viable avenues for it to go down in the future. Of course, so many of those people have been in the game for ages, so it's obvious that they'd build up the knowledge and the contacts to form their history, but for others (ie. myself), it's damn near impossible to have something cohesive.

And most of the comments.

Not bad.  I need to think more about my history.

Where was this article five years ago?

And wonderful posts. My only problem is unless I'm in the writing mood its hard to just sit down and do it. But when that mood does come around its like 10 pages and then I'm like, "Wth just happened?!"

aye

It is okay to write 10 pages, you can edit it later.

Don't try and set anything in stone right away. Play the game for a bit, learn the world, and you'll be able to say "I was raised on Ulangi", rather than "I was raised in some made-up settlement that exists only in my background, nobody else has heard of, and nobody will ever visit."

Also, don't confuse "interesting" with "unique". It's ok to want to be interesting, but that doesn't mean you have to be the last one of your kind, a half-rajamala half-atavian with different-coloured eyes that change colour when you're angry. Saying you're a rajamala from Onorel Village who got bored and wanted to see the big city is just as interesting - and it has the bonus of being plausible and relatable, not eye-rollingly cliched.

I could have used this article a long time ago. I focused my background on my parents and childhood like most people do.  Wouldn't another focus be better? It would at the very least be origional.

I say original is a good start.

It's alot more fun at least!

if only i can find a good backstory for me... not a lot of time to play at all...

I have a hard time coming up with backstory, etc.

Especially if you want it to be decent.

SUBU!SUBU!SUBU!

Nice read. I find that you need to have a feel for the game and your character first, before you can write the background.

I've seen to many people forcing their own ideals into a environment where they just clash too hard. Your RP should be influenced if not adapted to the game's lore, not the other way around.

And you don't need a special background to enjoy them!

thanks for all the great tips =)

Indeed, thank you.

Never been much good at writing descriptions, so ty!

oof. Have to work on this now. These Nihilist reqs are crazy!

good stuuf

People still do that raped and pillaged thing far too often, even had some people in Achaea pretend to be vampires or some such but its better than a fairy-style atavian.

You can RP a vampire if you just never cure yourself of Darkshade.