In the Starguild game, everyone has a background that consists of their talent, previous profession and home world. Here I will describe why this is, examples of each and why it is important in the game.
Why have backgrounds?
The number on reason is that it helps players to customise their character. To make them quickly distinct from other player characters, and to give an instant hook while playing them.
There are no non-human playable races in Starguild, for reasons that I explain in the article The influence of Call of Cthulhu. In many RPGs races are used to give stereotyped packages which support the stereotypes with ability score modifications, some bonuses to activities which are significant, and a bunch of ‘role playing background’ which gives players some ideas about how to play their character. The background rules I have here originally crystallised when I was reading the rules for Spycraft from Green Ronin. It seemed that in that game they had talents such as fierce, brainy, charming and so forth as a stand-in for racial benefits which might be seen in a more traditional fantasy rpg. I didn’t like their implementation very much, but I did like the general idea.
Starguild also doesn’t have “character classes”, which are prepackaged routes for progression for a character. Any PC can learn any skill, and can develop in any way that the player wishes over time. However, it is useful to gather together a group of skills into a “profession” so that new adventurers have a sense of what they have been doing up to now, what their trained skills are.
Lastly, each character will come from a particular regime and home world; that gives some social background and additional benefits. Let’s talk about each of these in some more detail.
Each character picks a home world. The first step is to choose the Regime that you want the character to come from. There are five regimes, and each of them has a typical naming scheme and a typical outlook on life to which characters may conform or rise against.
This regime is characterised by independence of spirit and rampant individualism. Those from this regime include fanatic loners who oppose any governmental control at one extreme, and those whose believe that freedom for everyone depends upon strong organisation. It is a great choice for those who always want to be pushing the boundaries and accepting new experiences.
This regime is characterised by religious ardour. Amongst its people there will be those who are fanatics and those who are moderates; those who give lip service and those who fight against it. Whether for or against it tends to be a defining element in their background. It is great for those who want a dour or a fiery temperament.
This regime is characterised by decadence, formality, aristocracy and eccentricity. Some of the people are snooty, and look down their nose at other regimes. Others are almost fey in their sense of fun and eccentricity. Federation worlds are a great choice for those who want to portray aristocratic, eccentric or mysterious characters.
This regime is characterised by arrogant militaristic governments. These worlds include those who have staked their lives and reputation on finding their place in the strict military hierarchy and others who have spend their life in active resistance to it. Union worlds are a great choice for those who want to portray militaristic or rebel characters.
League of Stars
This regime has no strong characterisation, but does contain a few interesting worlds in their own right.
The characteristics of ones home regime are not prescriptive; you don’t have to act like that. But it does give useful stereotypes which you can apply during your character generation.
Once you have chosen a regime, you choose a home world within that regime – the actual planetary system which you hail from. Each home world has a brief description about what makes it unique and it provides an appropriate skill specialty – the one thing that you know everyone from that world is able to do.
During the game your character can tell stories about their home world in order to regain spent conviction.
The next thing you choose is your characters former profession. There are separate lists for Core world professions and Frontier world professions, with a small overlap between the two. This profession is what you were doing before you started adventuring, and it gives you a number of things.
Each profession gives you four specific trained skills. To this you choose two more skills freely from the whole list. Mark this six skills on your character sheet as trained, you will get +5 on all skill checks which involve those skills.
Here is no restriction on choosing your additional skills – if you want to play a rough and ready miner who has also been trained in Pilot and Style then you certainly can. Similarly the refined socialite might be trained in Brawl and Sneak in addition to her four normal socialite skills. These choices might suggest something interesting about the characters backstory.
Each profession will also give you an association with a social group or organisation, and a basic rank within it. This reflects the lifestyle you are used to, the money you are likely to have on hand and so forth.
Your background will provide you with an NPC contact from your past. This might be a potential patron, rival, enemy or ally. Details can be filled in straight away, or they can be left as placeholders with the potential for the referee to bring them into play at a convenient time. Or, indeed, an inconvenient time! Typically professions with more apparently useful skills are more like to provide rivals and enemies. Those with less outwardly useful skills are compensated with patrons and allies.
Another way of recovering conviction
In the same way that you can tell stories about your home world to regain conviction, you can also tell people about your profession. This is especially the case when you can relate current circumstances to something in your past associated with your profession.
Finally you get to choose a talent, which gives you an adjective and a couple of early advances – ability score boosts, skill focuses, social edges, that kind of thing. You might be brainy, fast, gonzo, addicted, romantic or one of many others.
When you are clearly acting in a manner appropriate to your talent, you can recover one conviction point.
So there you have it – the backgrounds system in Starguild which differentiates characters at the start of their career, and through the interaction with the Conviction mechanics remains relevant for their entire adventuring life.