Lifepath System for D&D

I love lifepath generation. Similar to an active session zero, using lifepath generation lets you start a campaign with mechanics and a colorful backstory. In my experience it gives you a richer character whether you’re new to the game or a veteran. Lifepath generation hasn’t been an option for D&D before so I’m doing it myself! This is a preview of a product that I’m creating for The DM’s Guild. Let me know what you think!

This example is just part of what the final project will be: a character coming from a tradetown, not the middle of nowhere but a pretty remote place anyways. You can use this today to create a party that all comes from the same town (or similar tradetowns) but in the final product you’ll be able to have a party coming from many different regions.

1. Family

To start off with, where do you come from? What family raised you and what place did they hold in this small tradetown?

D20 RollPHB Race
1Dragonborn
2-4Dwarf
5-7Elf
8Gnome
9-11Halfling
12-14Half-Elf
15Half-Orc
16-19Human
20Tiefling

After you know what your family’s race is, answer the following question based on your result!

  • You are a dragonborn! Your self-sufficient clan engages in trade with this town. What goods do they trade in? You should also pick your Draconic Ancestry and decide whether everyone in your clan has this ancestry or if it’s a mixed clan.
  • You are a dwarf! Your people are fine craftsmen and probably frequent sights in town from your own lands. Are you from a hill dwarf family, living among the other races in your own proud communities, or a mountain dwarf, hailing from a buried kingdom under the ground?
  • You are an elf! Your people live very long lives which sets them apart from the other races of the land. Are you a high elf, steeped in magic, or a wood elf, whose soul resonates with the forest? You should also decide whether there is an elf community here in town or whether they are perpetual visitors.
  • You are a gnome! Your diminutive people live in the shadow of larger folk but they are busy and vibrant with crafts of their own. Are you from a family of forest gnomes, living within the rhythms of the woodlands, or a family of rock gnomes, tinkerers that create astounding clockwork toys?
  • You are a halfling! Your people love comfort and family, but are also widely traveled and easily adaptable. You might be a stealthy lightfoot halfling or a hardy stout halfling (your choice) but also decide whether your people are suspicious outsiders in the town or fully integrated neighbors.
  • You are a half-elf! You meld together the lineages of the fey elves and the populous humans. Decide whether you come from a half-elf family that lives in town or if you are the out-of-place half-blood child of a family that is all elves or all humans.
  • You are a half-orc! One of your parents or more distant ancestors is an orc, a monstrous race that has long been the bane of civilized lands. Did you grow up in a family that tried to protect you from the neighbors’ hate or were you an outcast who worked as a farmhand without knowing love?
  • You are a human! That should be easy to imagine! Humans are the most widespread race in the land and probably the majority of your town’s population. Do you come from a rich merchant family, a hard-working family of crafters, or a farming family on the outskirts of town?
  • You are a tiefling! When people see your horns and tail they are instantly reminded of the fiendish blood that flows in your veins along with your mortal side. Whether your parents are tieflings too or you are a strange anomaly, people hate you. Do  you hate them back or try to prove your worth?
Image © Wizards of the Coast

3. Childhood

The family you were born or adopted into is only part of  your origin story. Growing up in this small tradetown, you had childhood experiences that have shaped the adult you eventually became. Roll on this table or choose an option and answer the prompt to see what your childhood was like.

D10 RollChildhood Event
1Your family expected you to stay and continue their business or farm. When you first showed signs of leaving town were they supportive or angry?
2You used to play in the woods with your best friend from childhood. One day an accident left them seriously injured. Do you blame yourself or have you made peace with it?
3There’s not a lot to do in a small town, but you were lucky enough to have a pet as a constant companion. What sort of pet was it?
4One of your parents died when you were very young. How did they die? Did your other parent ever find someone else?
5As a child, you won a competition that you’re still proud of. Was it a race? A woodcarving contest? First prize for vegetables at the county fair? Describe it and feel the victory!
6Your family’s fortunes shifted dramatically when you were little. You might have gone from comfortable to impoverished or vice versa. Describe what feelings this left you with.
7You got a present as a child. It might be from your family or a friend but it’s important enough that you still have it. Describe what it is and who gave it.
8Someone broke your trust as a child. It might have been a friend, family member, or neighbor. Describe what you trusted them with and how they let you down.
9You were playing in the woods as a child and stumbled on something incredible. Describe what you found and what you did afterwards.
10Children make stupid mistakes but you did something big. You didn’t mean to but you made something bad happen and you never told anyone. What’s your secret?

3. Adolescence

Once you grew up, you started to find your place in the world. What sort of person did you grow into? Roll on this table or choose one of the options to see what Background you have.

D10 RollPHB Background
1Acolyte
2Charlatan
3Criminal
4Entertainer
5Folk Hero
6Hermit
7Outlander
8Sage
9Sailor
10Soldier

Find the Background in the Player’s Handbook and make your decisions for Skill Proficiency and equipment, as well as noting down the Background’s other features. Roll or pick your personality, ideal, bond, and flaw and consider how they might relate to the decisions you’ve already made about your family and childhood. Whatever Background you end up with, answer the following prompts…

  • What did you like about this type of life? Or do you feel forced into it?
  • Who taught you what you needed to be successful at this sort of thing?
  • Do you still consider yourself to follow this way of life or have you left it behind now?
Image © John Wick Presents

4. Adventure Start

Somehow you went from small town adolescent to an adventurer. What happened to propel you into a life of adventure and risk? Roll on the following table or pick one of the options.

D10 RollEvent
1On a market day, an exotic trader came through and everyone was talking about it. The stranger’s look and speech stoked a fire in you to experience the wider world.
2You picked the wrong fight. Some bully in town pushed you too far and you fought back. Whether they survived or not it became clear that you had to take to the road.
3You had an incredible dream, one you can still remember vividly, about some far off place. You started adventuring to find that place and understand your dream.
4You’re just plain tired of this dusty town. You know the same people from the same families and you’re ready for excitement and adventure!
5A band of adventurers saw you and pressed you into service as a guide. You showed them where they needed to go but the brush with adventure left you hungry for more.
6You found a jewel half-buried in the dirt and when you picked it up you saw a vision. The jewel shattered afterwards but you feel the need to find out who that person was.
7You grew up reading about heroes, folk who protected the innocent and stopped monsters. Nothing happens in this town but out there you can make a difference.
8When you or someone you love got sick you made a promise. You prayed that you would serve the world if only this would pass. After it did, you set off to do your part.
9The richest person in this town thinks they’re a king because they have the most cows. There’s real wealth out there and you’re getting some for yourself.
10A friend from childhood left to become an adventurer. After they were gone, this place just seemed to small so you set off in their footsteps.

Fill in some of the gaps from this experience: who was involved, what you feel about it, anything you might still have as a result. This was a formative experience and it will help you with the next step.

5. Career

This is where you find your character’s class. In terms of the game world this is like a career that they follow: the way they make their living. Roll on the table below or pick an option and look up that class’s details.

D20 RollPHB Class
1-3Barbarian
3-4Bard
5Cleric
6-8Druid
9-11Fighter
12Monk
13Paladin
14-16Ranger
17Rogue
18Sorcerer
19Warlock
20Wizard

There are likely other decisions to make for your class, especially if you aren’t starting at 1st level, and you should have a clearer image of your character to make those choices. Think about their childhood and adolescence as you make your choices, and especially the event that propelled them into a life of adventure. Because you don’t have ability scores left, some of this will be left blank.

Whatever class you end up with, consider the following prompts.

  • What experience made you choose this path? Who taught you what you needed to know?
  • How long ago did you become this person? Did you learn the skills of this class recently or have you been working at it for a while?
  • When you retire from adventuring, are you going to move back to your small town or have you left it behind for good?
Forest journey from the Pathfinder Beginner Box
Image © Paizo Publishing

6. Abilities

Using one of the methods described in Chapter ## of the Player’s Handbook, determine your character’s ability scores. Pick scores that are beneficial to your class but also that reflect your character’s experience. They might be a wizard now but if they ran and fought a lot as a child they might have a higher Strength than other wizards. If they are in search of fame and fortune with a healthy dose of self confidence, maybe Charisma deserves a higher score than normal.

After this, you’re done! Finish up any lingering mechanics (including languages and hit points if you haven’t already determine those), pick your alignment, and start on your first adventure.

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