So there are a lot of things I like to use for my players when they bring a character into the campaign. I’m a huge fan of the 9 character questions, but that can be a little daunting. I also like having players know each other, and sometimes have a little dirt on each other’s past.
Yet, sometimes I get a new player in that just hasn’t thought out much of a background (other than what race and class they want to play). Or I’ve got a player that wants to jump into an existing group, and he is suddenly the new guy that doesn’t really know the other players (so that past history is a little sparse). I do put my foot down that the player has to give me something to work with. I think character backgrounds and bios are important. They are really a great source for thinking up future sessions and tailoring adventure hooks.
I ask players to give me a one paragraph bio. Just 3-5 sentences on where their character came from, and how he sees himself in the world. I always tag on one more question that they also have to answer, “Why are you an adventurer and not X like your kind?” This last question is very important and I throw in a little information in with it.
The ‘X’ varies, depending on the race of the player. I usually put some description of what I think most people of that race are in my campaign with the question. Some examples:
Goliaths – Why are you an adventurer and not hunting the plains with simple nomadic clans like your kind?
Tieflings – Why are you an adventurer and not enslaved by the evil Lord of Gorran like your kind?
Eladrin – Why are you an adventurer and not at war with the firbolg in the fey like your kind?
Now, I let players put whatever they want into their background. If they are from an educated family of Goliaths that love to read and are experts at arcane magic. Or the player is an Eladrin that longs for peace and the quiet solitude of the woods with his kin. I let them run with it. At the same time players know that most other people of that race are like something else.
Likely he might stand apart from his kind even more given the background he puts down. But at least the player has a better idea how his character fits in with the world, and possibly can serve as a motivation to broaden his character. Maybe that Tiefling suddenly thinks he should strive to free his kin (or he is fearful he will be recaptured). It’s a small detail, but can add a lot to such a simple paragraph.