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In the gaming world, a character background is a brief story about the major things a character has done before they enter the events of a game. Some DMs will ask players to write something up for a character before the first game session, so that they have a better sense of their character. It can help a player learn about what their character is like and why. It can also help the DM get to know the characters, and to build plots using things from the past. Because, as we all know, just when you thought you've left the past behind, it comes up and takes a bite.

The interesting thing is, most gaming systems I've seen have not made a background vital to character creation, and have not offered much of a reward for players who make them. Stargate is a big exception.

Backgrounds in Stargate are basic plots that a player can choose to invest in for their character. This is a way for players to create plots around their characters, of their own free will, and that is not a small thing. Players are constantly surrounded by plots of the DM's design, but this system allows the players to pick things for themselves that they are interested in facing.

By spending skill points, a player can choose for their character to have mild amnesia, or owe a debt to some shady characters, or other such things. There is a decent list of backgrounds in the book and you can also make more. A background can have a rating from one to five, with one point indicating a mild situation, and five points indicating a monumental situation. It's the difference between starting to forget where you've placed your keys and completely having no memory - and needing your memories desperately in order to survive. Right now.

When the character faces their background during gameplay, they gain a certain number of experience points for dealing with it. If the background was only touched on and didn't cause too much conflict, the character gains a lower amount of experience points. If the background was a major focus of the session, the character gains a higher amount. This gives players a real reward for involving their characters in more complicated plots, and it can give the DM some fun material to work with.

If, however, the DM doesn't use a character's background for three game sessions, the player can "cash" it in for experience. The character will no longer have the background, but they will have earned some experience to make up for the skill points they spent. It doesn't help a player to have put skill points into a background for nothing, so having the option to "cash" it in helps if the DM is really having trouble finding a place for it.

Player characters are not supposed to invest more than five points at a time in backgrounds. They are also supposed to be limited to two different backgrounds at a time. Anyone who's watched the show knows that SG-1's members have had tons of backgrounds, and far more than two at once. It seems reasonable to place a limit on backgrounds so that they don't completely eat up a character's points, or the action of the game- there has to be room for more than a character's personal life, especially if you're running the standard, military-issue game. The DM might want to set a bit of a higher limit for advanced characters, since they will encounter more as the game progresses.

Some gamers have expressed the sentiment that they wish they could get more roleplaying into their gaming, more non-combat plots. This is one way to do so. The system is tailored for Stargate, and in some ways it might even be necessary. It can be difficult to make a military-based game more person-based; the backgrounds system can help with that. But it can easily be adapted to fit just about any other game, even if it is not in the same sci-fi vein. It might also be what a lot of gamers have been looking for: a system mechanic for those ghosts in the closet.

Example: Sha're, Daniel Jackson's Lost Love

Hammond: Is there something I can help you with, Dr. Jackson?
Jackson: Yes sir. I've come to tender my resignation.
Hammond: I won't accept it.
Jackson: I'm not military, sir. And it's a free country. Last I checked, anyway.
Hammond: You're obviously in an emotional state right now. You're making rash decisions. Why don't you take some personal time, then see how you feel.
Jackson: That's not necessary, Sir. I joined this program so that I could find my wife. I found her. End of story.
- Stargate SG-1, "Forever in a Day"

Daniel Jackson with Sha're

Sha're was a native of Abydos and was offered to Daniel Jackson as a wife when he first visited the planet in the Stargate movie. Daniel did not take advantage of his gift, however, but fell madly in love with her and gave himself to her instead. Their marriage was still in the throes of passion when Sha're was captured by the Goa'uld System Lord Apophis. Not only was she kidnapped and taken to a distant planet, Sha're was also implanted with a Goa'uld symbiote who took over her body. Daniel Jackson joined up with SG-1 with the purpose of finding his wife, and for a long time he fought to help her. Because of the powerful Goa'uld who kept her and her own symbiote, this Lost Love background would be worth the full five points. Sha're was taken from Daniel in just about every way she could be, until she was taken from him forever.