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Born Heroic: A Player’s Guide to Childhood (Part 2 of 2)

Born Heroic: A Player’s Guide to Childhood (Part 2 of 2)

Landscape featuring the sarcophagus of Horus the Child (Harpocrates)

Enamored

When you were young you met a real-life hero. This hero might have been passing through your community on Very Important Business; or maybe your hometown was the focus of your hero’s quest (thanks in part to the mysterious hedge wizard living on the edge of town). You got a glimpse of this hero and even a passing pat on the head, and for years afterward you boldly reenacted your hero’s legendary deeds. Sure, the family pet was a poor substitute for an adversarial dragon, and the neighboring kids didn’t like being called the horde of Avak’nogtuan, but this grand vision of heroism became your passion. It wasn’t long before you began to contemplate heroics of your very own (and your hometown was more than happy to let you run off into the world to pursue them).

Expelled

Kids often get into trouble as they learn the norms of their community, but you never seemed to learn your lesson. Whether trespassing in neighbors’ homes, getting into fights, or sticking your grubby hands where they didn’t belong, you were always the subject of harsh punishments and disapproving stares. Sometimes your actions were motivated by simple curiosity, other times by anger or the thrill of doing something forbidden. But pinching sweet candies eventually turned to pilfering coins, and curiosity about what was in the attic turned into infiltrating the reliquary of the local temple. After offending nearly every neighbor it was possible to offend (and some of them twice), you were finally cast out into the world, encouraged by your community to go inflict your vices on somebody else. So far, that’s exactly what you’ve done.

Grief-Stricken

You lost your loved ones when you were very young. You quickly learned that even civilized lands are subject to capricious forces such as plague, natural disaster, and war. Whether you were taken in by strangers or had to survive on your own, you quickly lost any emotional connection to your hometown. You became viciously independent, at first a survivor by luck, then later in life a survivor by sheer force of will. Some say you were a hard child who grew into a hard adult, but you’d say that you know better than most just how painful—and how foolish—it is to lean on people who are here today but gone tomorrow. You kept that attitude for a long time, when your motivations were entirely mercenary. Having met new companions, however, perhaps this attitude has begun to slip, and maybe you find yourself holding onto your newfound friends.

Pressured

You were a child destined for greatness—and nobody was surer of it than your parents. At every turn you were reminded that so-and-so trapped two goblins in a larder at the age of twelve, and what’s-his-name learned his first cantrip when he was six by rubbing a loaf of bread against a dire rat jawbone. You were always told you could do better than that. Although you might have been interested in swordplay, magic, languages, or some professional trade, you quickly lost that passion once your parents took notice. They forced you to spend all your time practicing or studying, and every subject lost its luster. It wasn’t until you were older that you sloughed off parental expectations and struck out on your own, disowned and penniless. Maybe now you feel as free as you ever have—or maybe deep down, you’re still hoping to win their approval.

Protective

Growing up in your hometown, you sometimes witnessed thefts or assaults; even as a child you defended the victims and confronted the perpetrators. You grew up believing that these crimes were unacceptable and, more importantly, avoidable. As you grew older, you decided you’d do your best to stop the spread of evil wherever you found it. Your effort hasn’t always been met with success—more than once you’ve been beaten up and robbed by thugs who don’t appreciate your meddling. But you’ve also protected commoners from ruffians, defended the livelihoods of honest merchants, and apprehended dangerous criminals. That has always steadied your resolve.

Rapt

You’ve always loved a good story. Whenever your elders retold events from their youth, whenever itinerant bards regaled the community with legends of old, you sat as close as possible to hear their tales. These stories inspired you, drew images in your mind of faraway places and age-old customs and heroes and scoundrels and monsters and villains. At first you were content simply to hear these stories, but later they only aggravated an itch to see these legendary places for yourself. As soon as you were old enough, you embarked on a great journey into the world, intent on finding fabled lands, meeting interesting people, and living new stories for yourself.

Wandering

For you, no punishment was ever as excruciating as being confined indoors. As a child you could rarely be found in your home; instead you crawled through gardens, explored fields and farm houses, and ran far beyond the boundaries of your community. Sometimes you’d disappear for days at a time, worrying relatives and causing the local watch no end of headaches as they tried to find you. Every time you were pulled back home, you’d ruined another set of clothes and learned a bit more about the World Out There. You climbed trees, dug holes, clambered atop overgrown ruins—then sped off toward whatever great destination you spotted along the horizon. One day, your eyes caught something interesting in the distance and you simply forgot to return home. That’s when your life truly began.

5 thoughts on “Born Heroic: A Player’s Guide to Childhood (Part 2 of 2)”

  1. Thank you Jeffrey for this most excellent ideas on how to start interesting backgrounds for adventurers but also for their nemesis – will make good use of them, be assured.

  2. Right on! I especially liked this part of the article. Part I gave enough to tease my own ideas but this really blew me away. Looking at some of these “archetypes” of character backgrounds I can see how and why someone becomes who they are.

    I look forward to seeing more of your work, you have my attention sir.

  3. I loved the first part, and this one might be even better! I especially like the Enamored background, aspiring to be like the idol you met all those years ago. Might also set up a long term goal of meeting said hero, which could make for some an awesome story arc.

    Bravo, Jeff! Both articles in their entirety are both well written and extremely usable in any D&D game. I’ll be coming back here for sure the next time I need inspiration for a new character.

  4. I agree with Cass, add a couple +1s and these would be great traits. I like the Pressured childhood, it explains why someone well trained and from a privileged background would stoop down to lead the life of a low level adventurer.

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