From the Vault: Dark World: PC Backgrounds

Recent discussions on the Daddy Rolled a 1 blog have got me thinking about weird or "gonzo" fantasy gaming, which made me harken back to my abandoned Dark World campaign setting. I never got around to running any games in this wonderful world of weirdness, but I used some of the bits and pieces and ideas in a couple of other short campaigns set in a nebulous, sandbox world (that could probably retroactively be dropped somewhere into Dark World with ease).

One of my favorites was this little piece, the PCs' Backgrounds table:

Secret Background Table (1d50)
1. "That copier's REALLY broken...": You’re an office temp from 20th- or 21st-century Earth. You were trying to fix a broken mimeograph/copier when – FLASH! You woke up here 3d30 days ago with a terrible headache. You have 1d4 possessions appropriate for your decade. (Do not roll on the PC’s Items of Interest table.) You refuse to acclimate to this weird place; however, your natural talents made you ripe for one of the human character classes. Your dress and mannerisms should reflect the decade you’re from. The DM should give you up to 5% bonus experience points for role playing your decade exceptionally well. Roll 1d6 to see what decade you’re from:
1: 1950’s
2: 1960’s
3: 1970’s
4: 1980’s
5: 1990’s
6: 2000’s
2. Polymorphed rodent: You are the result of a test of a wand of polymorph other. You've been a person for 1d4+2 months now and are still trying to get the hang of doing things the human/demi-human way.
3. Thog!: You are Thog. (Or some other one-syllable name.) Thog not speak word with more than one sy… sy… sound. (You are, of course, a thief or fighter.)
4. “Who am I?”: You have no memory of anything prior to 1d4 days ago. You still know how to use your skills, etc., but everything else is a blank. You don’t even know your own name.
5. Normal Joe/Plain Jane: You are actually pretty normal: your parents are alive and well, you have well-adjusted siblings, you had a normal childhood, and you really don't have a lot to complain about. In fact, you’re a little… too normal. Make 1d3 additional rolls on this table.
6. Illusion: You are actually just an illusion, and people could disbelieve you if they had any reason to. You are determined to make sure that everyone doesn't disbelieve you at the same time, because you’re afraid that you might cease to exist.
7. Disney Princess: You are the Disney Princess of your choice. Somehow your “happily ever after” was stolen from you and you ended up here. While you do want to get back, you are noticing you can do things here that were impossible before, like curse, or be unladylike in any other manner…
8. Which one is real?: You have the same appearance and background as the player seated to your left – EXACTLY the same.
9. “Uh oh...”: You rolled to check your character’s Secret Background, and you – the player – had your mind transported into your PC’s body in the fictional game world. Crap, the DM loves TPK's too....
10. Caused a great tragedy: You inadvertently caused a tragedy in your homeland that cost many lives and destroyed your entire community; the survivors became refugees and moved to other lands. To the best of your knowledge, no witnesses survived to tell the tale of your part in the now-infamous catastrophe. You hope...
11. The last of your kind: You're not human, elf, or anything else that anybody recognizes. As far as you know, you're from an entire race of others like yourself, but you are apparently the last of your kind. All you know of your past is that as a baby you were left on the doorstep of the orphanarium...
12. Shunned for bizarre religious beliefs: You are a member of a fringe cult whose beliefs and practices creep out normal folk. If the locals find out about your beliefs, they’ll form a mob armed with torches and pitchforks and run you out of town.
13. Traumatized ex-soldier: You are a grizzled veteran, and your military experiences have left you physically and emotionally scarred. Work with the DM to determine how your physical and emotional trauma presents itself.
14. Man-beast: You are an uplifted simian, dog, cat, or some other common animal. You’re mostly anthropomorphic, but your appearance clearly gives away your origins (ape face, snout, heavy body hair/fur, etc.). You may be of any human character class. You’re unsure of your origins; all you remember is that you were part of an enslaved work/military detail and escaped into the wilderness.
15. Fleeing the legacy of an evil family: You don't share your real family name because your family is renowned throughout the realm for its disturbingly evil doings. If the locals find out who you really are, they’ll form a mob armed with torches and pitchforks and hang you from the nearest tree.
16. Haunted by a ghost: You are haunted by the ghost of a former fellow adventurer, friend, or family member who believes his/her death was your fault. The apparition cannot physically affect you, and no one else is able to see or hear it. Which begs the question: is it real? Or are you just crazy?
17. Hunted for a crime you didn't commit: You are wanted by authorities across the realm for your heinous crimes... even though you've not committed any. There's also a large bounty on your head, and you're worth more dead than you are alive. If the locals find out who you really are, they’ll turn you in for the reward.
18. And what’s your name?: You believe that anything with a proper name is capable of thought and speech. You regularly have conversations with inanimate objects. Oddly (to others, at least – it seems perfectly normal to you) you occasionally seem to be able to get useful, actionable information from them. (Thanks to Craig and "Mr. Clang.")
19. “I'm from Earth’s future.”: You are from a world of advanced technology, where you were a test subject for a prototype time/trans-dimensional/quantum tunnel machine. You ended up... here. You're assuming the machine worked, and this is the past/another dimension/an alternate universe.
20. “I'm from Earth’s past.”: You are from 17th- or 18th-century Earth, and you have no idea how you ended up... here.
21. The man who fell from the sky: You are a stranger from a strange land: a distant world, a different dimension, whatever. Your home world exploded/dimension collapsed/whatever ceased to be; but instead of being destroyed you literally fell into the World. (You still have the bruised hip to prove it.) You are – for the most part – anthropomorphic, although clearly not of a race that “belongs” here. Strangely, your native language is very similar to one already spoken in the World. (You may choose the language – your version sounds like an archaic dialect of that language. Any additional languages you speak are from your own world/dimension/whatever and are useless in the World. Or are they?)
22. Escaped experiment: You have no memories prior to 1d3 days ago. You awoke (roll a d6):
1-2: On a dusty shelf as a gray cube; your body formed in about 30 minutes
3-4: Fully grown, in a vat of mustard-colored goo
5-6: Fully grown, strapped to a metal table
Events of that day are a blur, but you vaguely recall fleeing from some sort of laboratory complex into the wilderness...
23. Your body is not your own: You are an escapee from an Alchemite facility, where your brain was removed from your body and kept in a jar. You escaped by "hijacking" the mind of one of their human/demi-human/humanoid servitors, and are now hunted by their agents. Your body’s original owner is still trapped within you, and can do nothing except occasionally use your voice when you are drunk, asleep, or at other times when your willpower is lessened.
24. Reborn from dead hero: The sages have declared that you are the spirit of an ancient hero, reborn, and that you are destined to lead the people to freedom/victory/the Promised Land. You are revered in your homeland and within certain religious circles.
25. Reborn from dead villain: The sages have declared that you are the spirit of an ancient evil, reborn, and that you are destined to lead the people to utter destruction. You are hated and feared in your homeland and within certain religious circles.
26. Shamed by cowardice: You found yourself at the Crossroads of Destiny, where your action alone would decide the fate of an entire nation. Unfortunately, you didn't have the intestinal fortitude to get the job done, and your single moment of self-serving cowardice has led to you being labeled an "arch-traitor." Your name is now used throughout the World as a household euphemism for cowards and cowardly behavior.
27. Fleeing failed marriage w/kids: You took to a life of adventure to escape your nagging wife, her beastly mother, and your five monstrous offspring (none of whom – oddly enough – bear the slightest resemblance to you). Death in the maw of a purple worm is far preferable to the life you left behind. Her mother has hired agents to find you and bring you back home, where you belong.
28. Runaway aristocrat: You are a member of a prominent noble family, but you have no interest in living the life of an aristocrat. Your family has sent agents to find you and bring you home, where you belong.
29. Fleeing an arranged marriage: You have taken to a life of adventure in an attempt to escape an arranged marriage. Both your family and that of your prospective spouse have sent agents to find you and bring you to the altar, where you belong.
30. Branded as a witch: 3d30 days ago, a group of witch hunters came to your village, looking for you! Your friends wouldn't defend you, and your family had their doubts as well. You were branded on the forearm with a mark identifying you across the realm as a witch. Fortunately, you managed an escape before the witch hunters could give you a “trial” and terminal hot-foot, and now you're hunted by the Inquisition and their nefarious agents who want to put you on a burning pyre, where you belong.
31. Deposed ruler: You are the “Butcher of [insert homeland here],” former dictator-for-life of that beleaguered city-state. You managed to escape a bloody coup, but you are hunted by agents of the ruling junta out of fear that you'll return and attempt to recover your position of power, where you believe you belong.
32. Twin sibling is a force for evil: You have an identical twin that is so corrupt and malicious that they have been exiled from your homeland for their evil ways. Folks often mistake you for them, much to your dismay.
33. Yandolian refugee: You are a refugee from the Desert of Yando; you escaped a Yandolian slave pit, and the slave masters have sent their agents to “collect” you. Create a Mutant Future character (of the fighter class and with hit points generated per the rules later), equipped normally, but you also have two randomly rolled Technological Artifacts. (Do not roll on the PC’s Items of Interest table.)
34. Carcosan wanderer: You were caught up in the flux of some errant sorcery and mystically transported to this world; you have no idea how to get back to your own. Create a Carcosa character, equipped normally, but you also have a Space Alien pistol with 1d100 charges remaining in its power cell. (Do not roll on the PC’s Items of Interest table.)
35. Body thief: This body isn’t yours; you stole it. You’re not sure how: 2d30 days ago you just suddenly became aware that you were, but that you had no physical form. You jumped into the nearest one you could find and fled the scene (of some sort of ritual or experiment). The body’s owner wants it back, and he and his friends are actively searching for it.
36. Buddy the Elf: You were raised by elves as an elf. Although in your mid-30’s, you only recently (and traumatically) discovered that you’re really a human. You’re on a quest to find your real parents. Your character class is elf, but you have none of the special abilities of that class.
37. Action movie hero: You’re the hero of an 80’s action movie. You pursued your arch-nemesis through a weird swirling vortex in his underground/mountain-top stronghold and ended up here. You’re armed with a big gun (that never runs out of bullets, except when facing aforementioned arch-nemesis) and a never-ending supply of cheesy one-liners. (Needless to say, your class is fighter and your alignment is lawful. Do not roll on the PC’s Items of Interest table.)
38. Action movie villain: You’re the villain of an 80’s action movie. Your goody-two-shoes arch-nemesis forced you to use an untested dimensional portal generator in your underground/mountain-top stronghold and you ended up here. You’re armed with a big gun (that never runs out of bullets, except when facing aforementioned arch-nemesis), no measurable sense of humor, and an evil streak as wide as the Milky Way. (Your class is fighter and your alignment is chaotic. Do not roll on the PC’s Items of Interest table.)
39. Flower child: You’re a 60’s Earth hippy. You were hanging out in your VW van, smoking some pot and listening to Leonard Nimoy ‘s groovy “Ballad of Bilbo Baggins,” when you passed out. You awoke (3d30 days ago) and found yourself here (without the van, et al.). You’re still not totally convinced that this isn’t all some sort of bad trip resulting from that last half-tab of LSD and your latest reading of The Lord of the Rings. (Dwarves and elves? C’mon! This can’t be real…) You seemed a natural fit for the magic user class. At least that’s what that dude in the trippy blue robes said before he taught you a couple far-out tricks.
40. “Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya…”: You have an unresolved vendetta that drives you. Whether it’s the six-fingered man that killed your father, or the one-armed man that murdered your wife, or some other crippled criminal or malformed malefactor that laid low one of your loved ones, you’re always on the lookout for that person so that you can exact your revenge. You even know exactly what you’re going to say to that person when you find them – and quote it to others ad nauseum.
41. “I thought you were dead.”: No matter where you go, people (humans, demi-humans, even humanoids – it doesn’t matter) say this to you. It seems that everyone knows your name (although the legends to which it’s ascribed vary widely and seldom have anything to do with your actual feats – or lack thereof) and they all think you’ve been previously inhumed. Who’s spreading these false legends about you? Perhaps more importantly, who’s spreading them with the belief that you’re no longer among the living?
42. “Rip Van Who?”: You fell asleep under a tree outside town – 1d6 x 100 years ago. You woke up 1d12 days ago, the same age as when you fell asleep – but with a long beard (sucks, if you’re a female) and toe- and fingernails. Everyone you knew is now long dead. You’re having a tough time adjusting to this new era, and seem to start most of your sentences off with: “Back in my day…”
43. Reincarnated and shunned: You were killed in an accident 2d30 days ago. Your friends and family raised enough money to have a travelling wizard cast reincarnation on your corpse. But when they saw what you’d been turned into, they and the rest of your community ostracized you. Roll on the reincarnation table to see what you were reincarnated as.
44. “I was a god, once…”: You were once revered as a deity or demigod. However, belief in you has waned to the point where no one worships you anymore; your temples and shrines have all fallen to ruin. As a result, you have become mortal and are no longer welcome in Valhalla or wherever your fellow gods hang out. You still recall and aspire to return to your days as a benevolent/uncaring/angry god, when people worshipped the ground upon which you walked. You will ascend again! All you need is a few faithful followers…
45. “Your grandfather slept with what?”: Although it’s supposedly impossible, your grandfather, umm… had an intimate relationship with some sort of monster or humanoid. The DM will choose one for you, and you have some noticeable physical trait – scaly skin; unnaturally thick body hair; a greenish, slimy complexion; a small horn in the center of your forehead; etc. – that belies your screwed up family tree but has no mechanical effect in the game. (It does make for interesting tavern conversation, though. Or maybe it’s just best to never talk about it…)
46. One of the living impaired: You died in an accident or from some illness, but due to stray necromantic magicks, you arose a few nights later as a zombie. Unlike most zombies, you retained your intellect and personality. Your body is preserved at the point of decay 1d3+2 days after death, and you smell strongly of funerary incense and perfumes, with a slight odor of decay lurking beneath. You are otherwise normal, except that you do not eat, drink, sleep, breathe, etc. You are also immune to disease and toxins. You do not heal damage, however; you must be repaired with whatever materials you can find to do the job. (Doing so takes the same time as normal healing.) You are immune to sleep, charm, cure wounds, etc. Your CHA score is treated as 6 when dealing with humans and demi-humans.
47. Child prodigy: You are a youth of your race (-2 STR and CON, +2 DEX and CHA) but mature beyond your years, and otherwise normal. And probably more than a little annoying – few people like a precocious kid.
48. “I’m getting too old for this shit.”: You are an elder of your race (-2 STR and CON, +2 INT and WIS) but still fit and active, and otherwise normal. And probably more than a little annoying – few people like a grumpy old fart.
49. “I’m not a doctor, but I play one on TV.”: You pretend to be one class; but in reality, you’re another. You have your reasons for doing so: you’re a thief hiding out from the authorities/the mob, a fighter scouting ahead for his lord, whatever. Regardless of the reason behind it, it’s imperative that you keep up the masquerade. To let the veil drop for even an instant could prove fatal to yourself or someone else important to you.
50. Simulacrum: You were created as a simulacrum of a powerful warlock. However, you came into existence with your own personality. Not content to wait around for him to skin-ride you or do whatever else he had planned for you, you got the heck out of there as soon as you could. You know he’s looking for you and it’s best to lay low, but posing as him to use his clout and connections could provide all sorts of benefits… (Your class is magic user.)

This was cobbled together from some of my own entries, as well as some inspired by these sources:
Other sources of inspiration for the Dark World and/or the Dark World-ish games I've run:
Thanks to the original posters for such great ideas!!!


  1. These are pretty awesome. Reminds me a lot of the random backgrounds in Phillip Jose Farmer's "Dungeon" series of books.

  2. Love it all, may steal it for myself :)

  3. These are great! Really creative stuff. Glad my blog post inspired you to post this!

    Let's see some more stuff!


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