Design Diary No.7 PC Backgrounds

Since my last design diary, I’ve written two more sections of the Parsantium city sourcebook – one on trade and currency, and one on PC backgrounds.

Getting the Trade and Currency section done meant I’d finished the massive Life in the City chapter – an important milestone as this chapter is over 9,000 words and also covers Government & Politics, the army, Law & Order, Culture & Customs. For the Trade section, I wrote about the overland and maritime trade routes in and out of Parsantium, what goods Parsantium imports from where, duties and smuggling, and the city’s currency. It would be great to include a map showing where Parsantium is situated in the wider world in the book, like the original campaign map here, although I’m not sure I’ll have the budget. Also, since many DMs will probably use the city in their own campaigns, this may not be necessary. Let me know if you think this kind of map would be useful in the comments.

Chapter 3, Running a Parsantium Campaign, kicks off with a selection of PC backgrounds, designed to help players root their characters in the setting at the start of a game. My outline had a target for this section of 750 words but it ended up being over 2,700! I’ve included 16 backgrounds, including Arcane Apprentice, Feytouched, Gladiator and Merchant. Each has a description and includes one or two mechanical benefits, designed to work with either 4e and Pathfinder, and roughly equivalent to a 4e background benefit or a Pathfinder trait. Here’s a couple of examples:

Old Quarter Commoner

You come from a poor family struggling to make ends meet in the Dock Ward or Poor Ward of the Old Quarter. You might be a Sahasran, belonging to the shudra caste, or a half-orc. Either way, you work as a labourer of some sort, although if you’re a half-orc you might do an “unclean” job such as  tanning leather, slaughtering animals or undertaking. Alternatively, you could be a street orphan, running errands for local merchants and acting as a tout or unofficial guide. Whatever you do, it’s an honest living, and you are part of a community of folk in the same situation, meaning that you all look out for each other.  Life is hard, though, and you earn a pittance. If someone offered you a way to climb up the social ladder, you’d probably grab it with both hands.

Benefits: You gain a +2 bonus to Diplomacy and Insight/Sense Motive checks when dealing with other commoners

Platinum Knight-Errant

You belong to a fighting order of clerics, knights and paladins acting as the “sword and shield” of the Church of Bahamut, sworn to protect the god’s clergy and followers from harm. You were trained in the art of battle, and in the chivalric code of your order at the Celestial Bastion, the Platinum Knight’s chapterhouse in Parsantium’s Grand Ward. Your organisation helped Corandias the Stubborn recapture the city from the hobgoblins in the Great Crusade 100 years ago, and continues to defend Parsantium from her enemies when called upon to do so by the Basileus to this day. While most Platinum Knights are required to remain on duty in the chapterhouse, as a Knight-Errant you are free to wander the city and beyond in search of honourable adventures and quests in which you are expected to prove your chivalric values, protect the innocent and mete out justice.

Benefits: You gain a +1 bonus to attack rolls against hobgoblins and orcs, and a +1 bonus to Religion knowledge checks.

I’m going to be testing these out at UKT4. Players in the Parsantium game I am running there will be able to add one of these backgrounds to the 4th level PCs they bring along to the tweetup or to the pregens I’ve built. It will be interesting to see what people make of them and if any key archetypes or character types are missing.

Next up: Facilities and Services in the city. I want to keep this edition neutral so I’ll need to think about how I reference temples where clerical healing/raise dead is available and other NPC spellcasting. After this, I’ll be writing about campaign arcs and themes. Although I have a lot of ideas for this, I reckon this could be a section I’ll be coming back to again and again as I write more of the book.

Oh yeah, and the manuscript has gone over 30,000 words! I think 40,000 words for the whole book is looking on the low side 😉

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