The Mentor List

I lost contact with my mentor Joseph, who taught me swordplay.  It turns out that he was the brother of the woman that took on Llew as an Apothecary's apprentice.  We've just heard something about him recently, and it's interesting news...

What Is This?
This is a quick method for fitting background material, and character hooks, directly into character creation.  It can be used or adapted for use with most roleplaying systems fairly easily.

How?
First, grab hold of your system.  Now, look for skill or trait selection, or for class choices and apprenticeships.  That's where you'll add this bit, so that during character creation, you get this:
  • Step One:  When you select or purchase some of these items, you also need to make a quick list of names for the person that was your strongest mentor in that field.  If you're buying the Smithing skill, who were you apprenticed to?  If you're grabbing the Cleaving ability, who taught you that?  This probably won't be a comprehensive list; four to seven items is plenty.  In D&D, picking mentors for your class and starting feats would likely fit well - or for skills.  In Spirit of the Century, picking mentors for your top six skills might fit well.  Don't detail these people heavily; just give them names.
  • Step Two: Once everyone has created characters in the group, go around the table and have everyone name a mentor.  Each time a mentor is named by one player, another player should grab that name, and make up a detail about how that mentor relates to (or is the same person as) one of their mentors.  Each player should only "claim" one mentor to detail from another player.  One trip around the table might be plenty.  Two trips around likely means that the charaters are heavily linked - even if they don't know it.  Three trips should only occur in very tight-knit setups (characters are from the same village, or are all nobles in the same country, etc.)
  • Step Three: Go down your list of mentors you have, and make a quick note about your current connection to each person - so, Joseph the sword-teacher is "We've lost touch", while Sophia the mercenary cheif is "We send each other tips on good contracts", Mercer the thief is "He went missing in darkest Africa", and so on.  This must match up with the facts that others have created; if the system requires you to "buy" some kinds of connections, you must buy them.

Okay, so?

You now have a fairly simple cast of connections and contacts, that can be used for (and against!) characters, and which tie them in together.  By itself, that's fairly handy (especially for a GM), and it's not all that different from things many players do instinctively anyway.  But by making it formal and connected, you ease...
  • Hooks & Hostages: The obvious use for such characters is for them to be used as ways to pull the characters into new places and action, whether as hostages, mouthpieces, or whatever else might serve.
  • Character Backup and Trouping: If characters are part of a loose group that splits up and does a lot of different things, being able to hand a player "the old guy" as a side role to take on for a little while can make things go smoothly.  If characters leave the group or die, such character can also act as potential replacements.
  • Revelations: There's nothing quite like discovering that some part of your earlier life was arranged, or that one of your loving mentors was not who they seemed.  With a list of your mentors, a GM can arrange exactly that set of circumstances very easily.  Not only that, but if the setting and genre are all about manipulation, a stage could be added where players arranged matters, relationships, or contacts for one another in secret, in the past (if you've ever watched the TV show Heroes, this is how you get the Noah Bennet and Mrs. Pettrelli types to sing).