What’s your PC’s profession? I don’t mean what’s his class; I want to know what your PC does for a living. Have you even given any thought to this question before I just brought it up? Probably not. They’re looking to hit it rich by plundering lost dungeon hordes or by slaying monsters and claiming their loot. In short, PCs don’t have real jobs.
Very few classes are in and of themselves professions. I assume you could argue that Clerics and other divine classes generally work for a church, but I don’t think your PC should show up and demand a pay cheque for spreading the good word.
When D&D campaigns begin they usually start after the PCs have chosen to “go adventuring.” But have you ever wondered what all the adventurers did before they threw caution to the wind and sought out this new calling? Has that adventurer always wanted to be an dungeon-delving Sorcerer or an undead-battling Paladin all his life?
Think about the type of jobs your PC had growing up, and consider what he would likely have done had he not become an adventurer. More importantly think about what he’s going to do when his adventuring days are over. Putting a few important background details together before starting your fist campaign gives you a more well rounded character and a better picture of who he really is.
In the beginning
Think of the circumstances surrounding your PC’s birth. Was he born into the upper classes or nobility? Was he birthed in a Druidic circle as the fey creatures looked on and welcomed him into the world? Or was he born in a dark back-alley in the slums of a large city? Just because we first meet the PC in his early adult life doesn’t mean that there isn’t value in giving him a past.
How did the circumstances and location of his birth shape him early in life? Did he aspire to a lofty position in society or was his upbringing a struggle for survival? Did he come from a life of privilege or did he have to learn life’s hard lessons earlier than most in order to survive?
The location and circumstances of a PC’s birth will often have a huge impact on the person he becomes.
Earn your keep
By the time your PC reached puberty he no doubt had a job. It may not have been glamorous and it may not have been anything he had any desire to do, but necessity demands that everyone pull their own weight and earn their keep. The type of job your PC had most likely ties closely to his upbringing.
If he was raised in a farming community then his first real job was probability some kind of physical labour in the fields. If he was born into the middle or upper class then his job most likely relied on his mind as much as his body. His early jobs could have ranged from apprenticing under a merchant, to sweeping and cleaning up at the local inn, to attending to someone of higher standing then himself.
Regardless of your station in life you were surely taught to fight. In a world filled with creatures as deadly as dragons, it makes sense that all children are taught to use the most basic of weapons. The type of weapons and the amount of time spend learning how to use them will also be tied to necessity and convenience.
When I grow up I want to be…
As your PC learned more of the world around him he started to get a better idea of what he wanted to do with his life. If nothing else, it’s safe to say that he knew what he didn’t want to do with his life. It’s this decision or dream that ultimately led to your PC becoming an adventurer. But before he finally reached that point in his life, he was well on his way to having a regular job and leading a normal life.
Deterring what kind of life your PC was likely to have before the adventuring bug bit him will help you role-play the character better. If he was trained as a merchant, he’s going to have training in social skills, if he’s lived a sheltered life of wealth and privilege then he’s going to be trained in more knowledge skills, and if he’s spent all of his life around animals then he’s not likely good with people. Knowing what kind of jobs your PC had growing up and knowing what job he was most likely to have if he’d never become an adventurer provides you with an insight into his personality.
War changes everything
There are going to be circumstances that upset the typical career path of any PC. The most notable is war. Most societies in which D&D campaigns play out, war is always looming. In a campaign world like Eberron, a war that’s raged for a hundred years has just ceased. Whether you’re from a nation that’s just come out of a war or is likely to get into one, this is a huge wild card in everyone’s career path.
During wartime people fight to defend their home and protect their nation. Social status is not as important as your nationality. Nobles often fight along side peasants while defending the homeland they both love. Career choices during wartime are more specific to the war effort, but war presents fantastic opportunity. In the turmoil, deeds play a more important part in career opportunities than birthright. The kid from the slums who performs heroically on the battlefield (saving his regiment from certain death, for example) will earn the respect and notice of his comrades and superiors. These contacts can open door never previously available.
I’m an adventurer!
We fist meet your character after he makes that transition from normal NPC to heroic PC. Just because this is when you first start playing this PC doesn’t mean that he doesn’t have a past. By considering what kind of upbringing he had, and more specifically what kind of job he was supposed to have, you’ll be in a better position to determine this PC’s mannerisms and personality.
Your PC’s past doesn’t have to be as detailed as what’s outlined above, but even a few sentences will help guide you. After all, this is still your character so it’s up to you to create as much or as little of a back-story as you want to. Just keep in mind how much of an impact a person’s job can have on who they are and who they can become. After all, your PC won’t be an adventurer forever. When his best days are behind him what is he going to do while he lives out his twilight years? Having a normal career to fall back on is a good safety net just in case the dragon’s horde is empty when you finally get there.