I reviewed James D’Amato’s original Ultimate RPG Character Backstory Guide and still highly recommend it for those who want to see an in-depth character creation for Fantasy RPGs. My favorite of his books so far is the one about creating better worlds, because it helps make a homebrew setting for adventures.
This Expanded Genre’s looks at more than just fantasy backgrounds but gives a genre specific guide for: Fantasy, Sci-Fi, Horror, X-Punk, Superhero and Western, with a roundup chapter that addresses all genres. The lists take advantage of different ways to randomize the readers choices with the “d20 Questions” start for each chapter. In fantasy one question asks, “Where would your character of heard stories of far-off places? What fascinated them the most about these stories?” The Sci-Fi section has a question, “What is a common technology that your character dislikes, fears or simply refuses to engage with?” while the Superhero chapter asks, “Was there a time in your character’s life before they had extraordinary powers/abilities? Do they look on this time fondly?”
Another randomization method uses cards instead of dice. In the final chapter that addresses all genres there is an exercise called “Juicy Secrets.” You choose a red card and a black card, with the red card signifying “prompts related to moments you suffered while protecting your secret” and black cards are related to moments your character and others suffered from the secret being revealed.
The Horror chapter is one of the more interesting. It is here we see D’Amato’s view of Horror RPGs and what keeps them interesting. Roll20 always has D&D as its top game but Call of Cthulhu is always second. In Japan Call of Cthulhu is the top TTRPG. He breaks it down by looking at the different types of characters one can play in horror and how it is vulnerability that defines your character in these games, not your strength. After all, how can one be scared or at risk if you are an epic hero with a magical weapon?
He also points to a great question we ask those in Horror movies and of course in TTRPGs, “why are you staying?” D’Amato offers up Financial, Guilt, Curiosity and other reasons with subsections in each. This combination of the character’s vulnerability and motivations to remaining in situations that exploit those vulnerabilities.
Another good element of this book is that it doesn’t just concentrate on the individual player but also on how players can have backgrounds that link them to others in the game.
The section on “Better with You” gives a list of possible ways one can share a past that binds one to the adventuring group. It’s in the All Genres Chapter and it is worth reading over a few times.
If you want to hear how D’Amato applies these insights check out his podcast. His time as a Second City alumni learning improvisational comedy makes his show funny and always surprising. It is part of the One Shot Podcast Network that has a whole community of different shows on TTRPGs.