In this new TTRPG tool introduction and review, I will look at A State of Being: Worldview and Backgrounds. This was created by Creative Spheres Studio, a indie duo of C. Scott & Michelle Smallwood for Kickstarter Zinequest 3. This zine contains several smaller tools that work in concert to help define a character and provide on ways to connect the party together. At the end of the zine is a set of random tables that allow the player or GM to use them to get them started or for quick creation. The tool is fantasy targeted, but is otherwise rule and setting agnostic.
The Worldview section is described as a replacement for the alignment system used by D&D and some other RPGs. The main goal is to replace the external moral judgement of an alignment with a description of the character’s behaviors and motivations from the their own point of view. After all, a villain is often the hero of their own story. I doubt that tribe of kobolds your party fought with last week see you as positively as the miners that wanted to mine in their territory do.
The section contains nine example worldviews to get your group started like Hedonist, Anarchist, or Sceptic. This include a basic description of the worldview’s philosophy, ideal and oppositional characteristics, and what makes this worldview attractive for a character. However, I would hardly describe the examples as all-encompassing. There is a lot of room for new descriptions and personalization. To facilitate this, the authors also provide a brief recommendation on how to develop your own based on the model they used to create their own.
The Background section then fleshes out the characters by connecting them together with the party, the world, some key items that they own, and their own self-image. The creators have divided this creation into three elements, Bonds, Rumor, and Concept. They do not need to be done in this order, as some of these will require interaction and feedback from the other players.
Bonds are a simple concept to anyone who has played a Powered by the Apocalypse game or community-based games like Hillfolk. Essentially, the players should discuss together how the PCs know each other before the start of the game. Maybe the PCs are family, old business partners, or acquaintances through a mutual NPC. In any case, the players should try to create at least one connection between their PCs. The GM can also use the Bonds mechanic to connect PCs to NPCs, but the creators clearly state that any bonds with PCs must have the permission of all involved players.
Next, the Zine asks you to think of an interesting rumor about your character. It does not necessarily have to be true, but it will help define your character’s public persona and how the world perceives them. As the game goes on, the rumor may be replaced or new rumors added.
The final element is the Concept. It asks you to use one or two sentences to explain some basic. The creators mention that the Concept does not need to be finished before the start of play, but it should be defined early in your campaign and should be regularly re-assessed and revised as the events of the game changes your character. There are six questions or pieces of information that make up the Concept that should be answered with one to two sentences a piece.
Define why your character is their class or is a member of a faction.
How does your character view what what they do?
Describe an item you have and how it important to your identity.
Do you relate to the dog, wolf, or something in-between?
Describe a second item you have and how it important to your identity.
What is something in your heart that others can see?
To encourage the use of these tools in the game, the zine introduces a mechanic called Inspiration. They are points that can be granted to the player by the GM or another player at the table for resolving an ethical dilemma, invoking a bond in the party, or addressing a rumor. The creators intend on rewarding any engagement with the character’s Worldview and Backgrounds without harming the agency of the players and their characters.
Each player can hold up to two points at a time that can be used to reroll a check or to succeed on an action without rolling. Any unused Inspiration is converted to XP at the end of the session and points cannot be carried over between sessions. This is an increasingly common tool that is built into many popular TTRPGs engines, though they do not all approach the system in the same manner. This one most closely reminds me how you can gain and then spend XP points in Cypher to reroll a check for anyone at the table.
To better explain and explore this zine, I decided to go through the tool by creating my own Dungeons and Dragons PC, the sorcerer Zenu Pitts.
For Zenu Pitts’s worldview, I decided to make him an Anarchist. The zine descibes an Anarchists as being a person who “rejects authority and involuntary hierarchy.” Instead, prefer to defy social norms to better their communities and individuals. The exploitation of individuals for the rich or powerful of is an anathema to them.
Obviously, I could not create Bonds with PCs in this little experiment, so I used the randomized tables to help create bonds with two NPCs. Zenu has a friend named Jenny and a partner named Firmin who started traveling with Zenu out of a sense of wanderlust.
For a rumor, I also decided to use the random generator table. In this case, they provide 12 sample rumors on the table, then flip a coin to determine if it is true or false. The rumor prompt I rolled said that Zenu comes from a “Well-to-do family” and the coin flip said that this was false. I have decided that Zenu has a distinctive appearance that matches with the son of the local lord, making them easy to confuse for one another.
For the six concepts I wrote the following with some help from the random tables
Zenu Pitts is a Sorcerer because he wants to see how far he can push the rules of Magic.
As an Anarchists, Zenu sees himself as someone who pushes others to recognize their self-imposed limitations.
Zenu has a broken tin whistle. It was broken by his father because he wanted Zenu to focus more on his studies to take up the family trade.
Zenu relates to the dog in wolf’s clothing. He sometimes acts the villain to encourage others to improve themselves because he doesn’t really know how to do it nicely.
Zenu carries a bent copper coin. The coin is Firmin’s lucky charm.
Zenu is a Influencer.
This tool holds promise and in many ways it can serve as a starting point for those wishing to build richer characters that relate to their party and world in new ways. However, in many ways, this tool is exactly that, only a start. I feel this zine is held back is the level of detail. In some areas the sparseness is welcome because it allows for the user to fill in the blanks for themselves, but some mechanics and really could have used fleshing out. The one thing that a group might find most useful, the inspiration points mechanic, is not very detailed and take up less than a single page in the zine. I am also somewhat confused on what is meant by “resolving” a rumor. I could see potentially addressing or taking advantage of a rumor in play, but rumors like the kind that are discussed in the random roll table the don’t easily go away.
Therefore, I would only recommend this tool if you or your group are relatively new to creating character backstories or want to try a new alternative to define your character’s morality. If you are someone is used to going through these processes or are playing a TTRPG that has some of these things like bonds, backstory events, or XP points built in, you are likely already doing many of these things yourself.
A State of Being: Worldview and Backgrounds is available for purchase on the studio’s itch.io. There are also a limited number of Community Copies available for those experiencing tough times.