February 20, 2009
Word of Wizards - Excerpts: Backgrounds
Player's Handbook 2 Excerpts: Backgrounds
Today's excerpts shows us the new system of backgrounds. I was looking forward to this actually as I wanted to see how 4E will try to implement backgrounds as part of the game mechanics.
One of the main reasons why my players are not motivated to come up with a good back story for their characters is because there is absolutely no mechanical benefit whatsoever by the rules as written and therefore not really worth the effort.
Although this is not something entirely new of course, there was the Characters of War article from (then still free) Dragon 366 which introduces a list of backgrounds and archetypes that provided mechanical benefits to certain skills.
This excerpts states that there will be 5 categories of backgrounds; geography, society, birth, occupation, and racial backgrounds. Players are encouraged to pick 3 elements out of these to create a decent background but it does not explicitly state that you cannot take more than that. Each background is associated with certain skills, language or has a regional benefit (like in the Forgotten Realms)
However, you are only allowed to benefit from only one of these backgrounds. It could either be adding an associated skill into a class skill, getting a +2 bonus to an associated skill check, learn to speak, listen and write a language or gain a regional benefit. So mechanically speaking, there isn't really a good reason to pick more than one background if you already have your eyes set on a particular benefit that you want your character to have. The examples given in the excerpt seems to confirm this fact with characters having 3 backgrounds but only has benefit to one skill.
Compared with the backgrounds from Characters of War, these benefits are streamlined but much more underpowered which makes it pretty disappointing for me. It seemed to had a pretty good concept behind the design but breaks down under the mechanical circumstances. I understand that backgrounds should not be a license for powergaming but even the backgrounds from Characters of War provided more than one benefit to a character and the designer warned powergamers that it would not unbalance the game.
At the end of the excerpt, there are samples of racial backgrounds for the Deva but my enthusiasm for them is already lost.