, by Second Rat Games, is a random character background generator for fantasy RPGs. There is nothing system specific in the book, so it can be used with any fantasy system you want. Character backgrounds are determined by rolling dice (usually d100) on a number of different random tables. I think the best way to review a product like this is to simply use it and see how it works. Thus, I will be creating a character background during the review, to allow me to comment on each step of the process as the authors of the book want you to do it. As is common with all random generators, it is highly likely that all of the results that come from the random tables won’t mesh well together. The authors provide the following instructions on how to handle that: “The best use of this book is a springboard for your imagination. When all of the rolling is finished, you will find the character’s past roughly detailed. From there, all you need to do is smooth everything out, play up any coincidences you find, and ignore anything that does not fit in your mind. The tables are there to help you, not dictate what you must play.”
That is sensible advice. With that covered, let’s dive right in.
The book includes a handy worksheet in the back that helps you keep track of what you have rolled throughout the generation process. This is helpful because a few results provide modifiers to rolls on another table, and there is a good amount of information to remember. With that worksheet ready, I decide that this will be a male character. The book assumes that your character is male and not evil. The gender part is really easy to ignore (it just effects the wording of descriptions), and the alignment part can be adjusted, but that will take a bit more work. To keep things easy, let’s say our test character is a male named Siler. I’m not going to determine his character class ahead of time, so we will have to see if the background tables point us in any specific direction.
Section I of the book includes what it refers to as “unalterable” information, which generally indicates events and circumstances of childhood that the character did not have the ability to affect. Table A is Family Status. A roll of d100 gives a result of “22,” indicating that Siler grew up in a lower class family. This provides a -5 to the roll on Table F, Occupation. Oddly enough, it doesn’t effect the next table, which covers Family Wealth. I roll a “51” on this table, providing a result of comfortable. So while Siler’s family is on the lower rungs of society, they are doing okay and not living hand-to-mouth. Table C covers the climate where the character grew up. A roll of “34” indicates a sub-tropical climate. Table D generates the general terrain where the character grew up. A roll of “50” indicates tropical terrain. (This meshes pretty well with the climate result, but sometimes you can get a nutty combination between tables C and D, like your character growing up on a tropical glacier. This is where the author’s note about ignoring whatever you don’t like comes into play.)
With that nailed down, we move on to Table E for community. A roll of “49” indicates that Siler grew up in a town, which is pretty normal, and provides a bonus to the occupation roll. Strangely enough, there is no possible result of “farm,” which I don’t understand. Isn’t the farm boy with a head full of stories and dreams one of the standard fantasy archetypes? I guess “frontier homestead” could fill that role, but this seems like a strange omission. Table F, for occupation, actually consists of two separate tables. The first table determines who holds the occupation, and a roll of “22” indicates that Siler’s father was the sole breadwinner during his childhood. The second table provides the actual occupations and a roll of “50” indicates that Siler’s father was a fighter during Siler’s childhood. This can be interpreted lots of different ways, but we will ignore that for now. The occupation table is quite extensive and provides dozens of different possible results. Sometimes the results don’t mesh well with family status and wealth, but the standard “ignore what you don’t like” rule comes into effect there. Table G indicates the location where the character lived during childhood. A roll of “70” indicates that Siler grew up in a hut. Table H is used to determine Siler’s actual birthplace, as well as his birth order. A roll of “50” says he was born in a barn. Next we determine the family birth order, and a roll of “35” indicates that Siler is the first born of the family. The book then instructs me to roll 1d6-1 to determine the number of siblings, with a note that non-human species may roll different dice depending on the campaign setting. This is a situation where the GM needs to have an answer ready. Since this is a test run, we’ll just go with the standard die type. I roll a “1,” which tells me that Siler has no siblings. This completes Section I.
Section II is shorter and covers the history of the character’s family. Table I provides notable parental events. The book instructs you to roll twice, but you can really roll as many times as you feel like. I’ll stick with the standard two rolls. Each event consists of two rolls. The first indicates which parent has the event, and the second roll provides the actual event. Siler’s first family event affects both parents, and event roll “85” indicates “Parents are respected and feared in the community for unknown reasons.” The second event affects the father only, and a roll of “69” states “Parent possesses information that if it were to get out would save the family but for reasons unknown, the parent has not released it.” Huh. I am then instructed to pick one sibling and roll a childhood event for them on Table K. Since Siler has no siblings, I will skip that step. Table J is the next table, covering family legacy. This indicates what, if anything is notable in Siler’s family history. A roll of “33” indicates that an ancestor was a famous fighter.
Now we move on to Section III, which covers the character’s specific history. Table K covers childhood events. The player is instructed to roll twice on the table, but you can roll as many times as you want. I roll twice, getting a “25” and a “85.” This indicates “Child falls down a well. While down there, he finds a treasure. He is brought out of the well but tells no one of what he found (see Table GG),” and “Character’s parents are killed by a powerful wizard.” We will discuss Table GG shortly. We then proceed to Table L, which covers events during adolescence and early adulthood, and indicate events that have happened relatively recently to the character. The player is instructed to roll three times. I will note that in a game where the default assumption is that beginning characters are teenagers or otherwise inexperienced, rolling three times on this table can indicate a level of experience that doesn’t make sense for a level one punk with a sword. The GM should use discretion for how many rolls make sense for the assumed starting level of their game. Anyway, let’s stick with the standard and roll three times, which nets a “73,” a “27,” and a “97.” This provides the following results: “Character has an unusual fascination with clocks and timekeepers. He can build a wide variety of them, given materials and time;” “Character gets a tattoo (see Table II);” and “The party encounters a very young evil dragon. Although it is only about four feet long, it is a hard fought battle. Many injuries later, the party succeeds in defeating the wee dragon. While not as epic as fighting an ancient wyrm, the character can boast that he defeated a dragon.” The last step in fleshing out character history is to determine the character’s hobby, which is determined via one roll on Table M. Siler rolls a “37,” indicating his hobby is heraldry.
The last table that everyone rolls on is Table N, which determines major character personality traits. The player is instructed to roll four times to determine dominant personality pairs, and then to roll a d10 for each pair and assign a result to one side of the pair. Siler ends up with the following personality pairs: punctual/tardy, self-confident/self-doubting, diplomatic/tactless, and forgiving/vengeful. My d10 rolls are six, two, seven, and four. I decide that Siler gets a “6” in tardy, a “2” for self-doubting (hey, he killed a dragon!), a “7” for diplomatic, and a “4” for forgiving (hey, his parents were murdered!). The other side of each trait is determined by taking ten minus the assigned side. For example, the “6” in tardy means that Siler has a “4” in punctual. This means that if you want to mechanically determine whether Siler is on time to something, you roll a d10, and there is a six in ten chance that he is tardy. If you have a personality in mind you can ignore this section, but I see merit in rolling anyway, as it may detail a side of your character’s personality that you hadn’t considered, and can help determine how strong that trait is.
We have now finished (with a couple exceptions) the background generation process, and we still have over half of the book left to cover. That is because the entire back half of the book consists of Section IV, Other Tables. These are all of the tables that we didn’t roll on earlier, like Table GG and Table II. These cover all sorts of different things, and an exhaustive survey of them wouldn’t necessarily make much sense outside of the context of developing a character. So I will just roll on the two tables that I was sent to by Siler’s childhood and background events. Remember when he fell in a well and found a treasure? Table GG indicates what he found. Table GG is titled “Gifts,” as it is used for anything that your character gets that was not earned. A roll of “99” indicates that Siler found an unusual mount (large cat, giant snail, etc.) at the bottom of the well and somehow kept it hidden as he was rescued. Wow, that makes no sense. I’m rolling again, getting a “68,” which indicates a valuable book. A book in a well, huh? That doesn’t make much sense either. I’m moving on. Siler also got a tattoo, and a roll of “49” on Table II indicates that it is a tattoo of the sun.
At this point, Siler’s background is complete. He grew up in a lower class family that lived comfortably. He grew up in a tropical area with a sub-tropical climate, so Siler is used to heat and lots of plants and wildlife. He grew up in a town, where his father worked as a fighter. I’m going to interpret that as his father being in the town guard/militia. Siler grew up in a hut (since it is a tropical town and his family wasn’t rich), and was born in a barn. He is the only child in his family. During childhood, Siler noticed that both of his parents were respected and feared, but he didn’t know why. Siler’s father also had information that could have helped the family out in some way, but he never divulged it. Siler had an ancestor who was a famous fighter, and since his father is a fighter as well, I’ll say that his family line is filled with fighters, so he is destined to follow in their footsteps. During childhood, Siler fell down a well. He was supposed to find treasure, too, but since two rolls on the table provided results that didn’t make sense for this circumstance; I’m just saying he fell down a well, so he has some latent claustrophobia from being trapped down there. A bit later, Siler’s parents were both killed by a powerful wizard. I’ll tie this to the secret that his father knew, as well as why Siler’s parents were feared, as his father had crossed this wizard in the past, which impressed everyone in town, but they all knew that the wizard would come back some day and they didn’t want to get caught in the blast radius, so to speak. An inventive GM can surely work with that as a plot thread. Now that Siler is orphaned, let’s say that his fascination with timepieces comes from being taken in by someone in town who made such things for a living. Siler then got a tattoo of the sun (typical youthful indiscretion), and was part of a group that killed a baby dragon, which is surely just the first step on his path to being a great fighter. His hobby of heraldry doesn't make sense to me, so I'm going to ignore it and just go with timepieces as his hobby. Siler is also somewhat tardy, is full of self-confidence, is pretty diplomatic, and is somewhat forgiving of others. That is a pretty good background, and helps explain why this person would be an adventurer as well as providing some potential plot hooks for a GM.
I have found through the creation of almost a dozen different characters that this book does a good job of helping flesh out character backgrounds. I don’t think I have every rolled up a background that made consistent sense all the way through, but usually there are only one or two things that don’t make sense, or don't fit, and get ignored. Also, the event tables include some results that indicate the campaign world has a lot of magic in it. If your specific game has a lower level of magic, you can just ignore high magic results, but be aware that they are there. All told, though, this is a very handy product if you like to randomly generate character backgrounds. The personality section is also handy for fleshing out the personalities of significant NPCs in a game, so this book isn’t useless to GMs.