Scars as Backstory

I’ve been watching Season 2 of True Detective (You’ll remember my love of True Detective from my posts of Rust Cohle as a Dungeon Master, as well as the two main characters in Fate Accelerated). While it’s not as good as Season 1, I’m still enjoying it. Earlier in the season, Officer Paul Woodrugh, played by Taylor Kitsch, removed his shirt, showing off a series of bullet and burn scars across his body. While they’ve begun to discuss how he came to get those scars later on in the season, in the beginning, we had no idea, but it leant itself to a mysterious backstory, left the viewer very intrigued.

In the same vein, I finally saw Mad Max: Fury Road recently, which features Charlize Theron as Furiosa, a badass road warrior with only one arm. The other has been replaced with a jury-rigged mechanical one. They never talk about the mechanical arm or explain how she lost her arm, or whether she was born with only one arm. Instead, it’s left up to the imagination. She’s seen as just as capable as anyone else. If she were an RPG character, she wouldn’t suffer any disadvantages, it would be purely flavor for the character. She’s a brilliant character, and exploded on the internet when the movie came out as everyone’s favorite new badass.

Villains make great characters to give scars to too. Just look at The Joker in The Dark Knight. His scars lent an air of mystery and madness to the character.

Scars can make great backstory for your character, even if you never talk about how they became scarred. It implies the characters didn’t start fresh in life with no experiences upon character creation. Your character looks like they have acid burns across their chest and arms, and never talk about it? It can suddenly become very evident how they were wounded the first time they face off against a black dragon and the hero rushes forward in a rage. In the same vein, giving your characters scars throughout the campaign can add some interesting flavor. If, after a particularly brutal fight with a bugbear, your character ends up with a scar across his face, adding an interesting aspect to your character.

In Mordheim, one of my favorite tabletop skirmish games, you could randomly roll on an injury table. Gaining “Hideous Scars” gave you the Fearsome trait, forcing other characters to pass a morale check in order to charge you. Incorporating something like that could make for some interesting character moments.

Don’t be afraid to incorporate old wounds into your character. With D&D now emphasizing flaws to your character, if you have an old war injury, you can use that as a flaw for yourself to gain a little Inspiration here or there. So get out there, scar up your heroes, roll some 20’s, and scar up some monsters of your own.

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