In addition to creating with basic aging mechanics, I had this idea for creating a “generation” mechanic of sorts, to differentiate between characters born during one era or another. I think this would help lend a degree of significance to when a character is born. Time passes, and characters change.

Now, I know other games have done similar things with regions and such (see: Forgotten Realms regional feats, and Fourth Edition backgrounds and themes). Though after some consideration, I feel these systems have been confining, rather than flavorful. Background should never be a part of character optimization.

Let me back up for a moment and explain: in the past, Dungeons & Dragons supplements have offered a variety of alternate character options for choosing different background choices. This is super awesome and fantastic unless you’re loudly proclaiming that what you’re ultimately seeking is a balanced play experience.

Third Edition Dungeons & Dragons took a huge step forward in removing the restrictions on race and class that existed in previous editions of the game. A dwarf could be a warrior, a mage, a thief, or a priest, though they might be at a disadvantage if they chose one over another. They still had ability score penalties.

Fourth Edition eliminated ability score penalties and enabled an even greater amount of customization. While your dwarf would make a better fighter than a wizard, he would would no longer be at a distinct disadvantage playing as anything other than a fighter. Archetypes exist due to advantages rather than disadvantages.

Yes, there are a lot of half-orc barbarians and elf rangers, but that’s ultimately because half-orcs make good barbarians and elves make good rangers, and not because their racial pegs have been carved specifically to fit into class roles.

Fourth Edition even saw alignment restrictions lifted from classes like the barbarian, monk, paladin, and so forth. You’d think that Wizards of the Coast would’ve learned that flavor-based restrictions on character options were a bad deal. But with the advent of background bonuses and themes, it would seem not to be so.

Before that, however, there was a problem with racial feats, where choosing an elf or a dwarf would grant a character specific advantages in combination with their choice of class. This might sell a lot of books, but it’s difficult to factor into game balance and unnecessarily restricts character generation where players scramble for bonuses.

What does this all mean? Well, there can’t be a mechanical advantage to choosing one character background option over another, and backgrounds must not be exclusive by design. This, while also not presenting a labyrinthine level of character creation complexity. It must be fun, multifaceted, and playable. Also fun.