In your head you see the blood dripping from your half-orc barbarian’s ax. You’ve fantasized about him for weeks. Then you get to the gaming table and you realize two other players are running half-orcs…and they are all talking the same. “Grog smash dumb goblin!”
Regardless of what class and race you are playing, you will want your character to “pop,” to feel different from other characters of the same race and class. But how do you make your orc stand out from a pack of fellow green ax-smashing badasses?
1. Subvert the Trope
Every class/race combination has a certain set of tropes associated with them. One way to make your character stand out is to deliberately put that trope on its head. This can be played for comedy or can provide an interesting inner drama.
A pop culture example of the dramatic route would be Star Trek’s Worf. In the series, Klingons are often savage and warlike, but Worf subverts this. Raised by humans, Worf comes to value the Federation’s ideals and tones down the violent impulses that normally drive Klingon culture. The tension between Worf feels being caught between the two cultures provides many dramatic moments throughout the series.
The comedic route can also be fun at the table. Maybe your half-orc has a curious soft spot for cats and switches with disturbing ease between butchering humanoids ruthlessly on the battlefield and getting weak-kneed for furry fuzzy wuzzy felines.
2. Epic-ize a Real World Situation
Did you go through a quarter-life crisis a few years back? Or experience a tough breakup? Have a career change?
How would those real world scenarios have gone down if you were…a skull crushing badass half-orc barbarian?!?
Transform the experience of moving away to college into a story of your orc leaving their ancestral homelands for new opportunities. Or, if you had sharp learning curve at a new job, imagine how an orc would feel having to blend in among human and elven co-workers -er I mean adventurers.
The point is that when building a medieval character’s backstory you can still “write what you know” even if (hopefully) your real life job is not beheading enemies with a great ax.
3. Build Your Character on a Conflict
Sometimes the greatest battles are within a half-orc’s soul. (Though they’d probably never admit it.)
Perhaps your character hates the confines of city life…but fears that if they return to their tribe they would be viewed as a disappointment. As the adventure progresses your character would get to wrestle with the choice to make peace with their new home, or go back. Each campaign could present either the hope of killing a trophy glorious enough to earn a place back home with the tribe…or the possibility of realizing that their new home is right where they are.
4. Have a Joint Backstory With Another Player
Some RPG parties just assume that the adventures ran into each other at a tavern and decided to work together for fun and profit. But it can be fun to imagine how these very different characters came to work together. What would cause a half-orc barbarian to be best friends with an elven wizard? What did the small halfling rogue due to make a towering orc view them as a valuable ally? Building a backstory on a unique set of relationships can be another way to make your character seem like a full three-dimensional person…not just a generic race / class combo.
No matter what choices you make for your backstory, the important point is to have fun and remember, those dungeons aren’t going to raid themselves.