Art by Artastrophe
There are many character generators out there, mostly to help DMs come up with NPCs on the fly, but none of them are quite right for my needs. You know what that means, don't you? I've gone and made my own! My generators are system agnostic, but you can easily add any system-related options you want. The generators are not meant to draw up statistics, either. They focus on evocative details that give a greater and deeper picture of a person.
The Character Basics Generator sets up a number of parameters: Age, Reputation, Virtue, Vice, Recent Events, Desires, Physical Condition, Hygiene, Initial Impression, Sense of Humor, Availability, Habits, Profession, Hobbies, Religious Adherence, Religious Association, Religious Attitude, and Sexual Orientation. Any of these categories can be left out of a roll, removed entirely, or edited for your own needs swiftly. I am a big believer in Virtue and Vice when it comes to fleshing out characters, for instance; I use them across systems, but they are hard baked into the World of Darkness. If you want to replace them with Alignment, you can (or add Alignment and see how the three go together). The details are aimed at medieval characters by default.
The Character Background Generator whips up a lifetime in one click: Family Wealth, Family Lifestyle, Family Reputation, Childhood Homeplace, Parents, Early Parental Relationship, Parents Now, Relationship with Parent(s), Siblings, Relationship with Sibling(s), Extended Family, Friendship History, Major Childhood Event, Major Teenage Event, Major Young Adult Event, Major Adult Event, Major Middle Age Event, Romantic History, Marriage, and Children. Family Wealth might clash with Family Lifestyle, but some people live beyond their means or are close-fisted. If your character is an adult, you could ignore the Middle Age Event or add it to their adulthood experiences so far.
The generators are run through the RPGChartMaker site. If you like the options as they are, you can just hit the Roll! button to get a result. If you want to change the lists, you can add more in the List Entry box. You can drag and drop entries between the lists just by grabbing them with your mouse. If you don't want a list to be rolled, you can uncheck the box next to its name. You can even save your modified list to your drive and upload it on the site (to get a shareable link so you can get back to it on the site, click the Share button).
This doesn't take away the need for creativity; you will have to interpret the results, explain how they fit together, and perhaps change or ignore some aspects to suit your needs. But the generators should work well for both DMs and players. Did the PCs just take an interest in a nobody sitting in the tavern? Need a character for a game you were invited to at the last minute? Click away!
Let's look at the character I just rolled up:
Age: Ancient, Reputation: Unknown, Virtue: Self-Control, Vice: Sloth
Recent Event: Riot, Desires: More Time, Physical Condition: Decaying
Hygiene: Pleasant, Initial Impression: Ashamed, Sense of Humor: Cynical
Availability: Often Visited, Habits: Bragging, Profession: Carter, Hobbies: Juggling
Religious Adherence: Agnostic, Religious Attitude: Humble, Religious Association: Small Group
Sexual Orientation: Bisexual
This is a truly aged character who is in bad shape and probably dying. This person is social but doesn't have much of a reputation; this could be because of their constant bragging. Since the character is so old and being a carter involves hauling things around, it is likely the profession is what they used to do. But why do they seem to be ashamed? Is it because of what they've done to live? Or perhaps they are ashamed of the recent riot they witnessed? Either way, they will probably want help with their woes, since their sloth gets in the way of fixing their own problems. And if their sexual orientation never comes up, no harm, no foul. He could be a common old man about town, or she could be a fixture at a local inn. All we have to do is decide gender and give them a name (and I have name lists and generators here for that).
Let's learn more about this elderly character through the Background Generator:
Family Wealth: Poor, Family Lifestyle: Destitute, Family Reputation: Accepted
Childhood Homeplace: Isolated Home, Parents: Multiple Parental Figures
Early Parental Relationship: Parents Together Lovingly,
Parents Now: Parents Alive, Divorced Resentfully
Relationship with Parent(s): No Contact With One Parent, Estranged, Siblings: One Sibling
Relationship with Sibling(s): Infrequent Contact with Sibling(s), Uncomfortable
Extended Family: Moderate Extended Family, Estranged, Friendship History: A Few Stable Friendships
Loving, Major Childhood Event: Catastrophic Accident, Major Teenage Event: Family Financially Ruined
Major Young Adult Event: Changed Professions, Major Adult Event: Overcame a Phobia
Major Middle Age Event: Acquired a Scar, Romantic History: Many Partners, Only Sexual
Marriage: Married Once, Too Young, and Children: Fertile, Multiple Biological Children
Since the character above is so old, it is unlikely that their parents are still alive, so those results can be removed. Their family was ruined by a catastrophic accident, forcing them to live hand to mouth. Upon growing up, the character took any work they could, becoming a carter because there was so much to do. Instead of relying on family, they look to a few close friends. They've had many partners over the years but none are close, and it's likely their early marriage ended in divorce. But they have many children. (You could roll again on the Relationship with Sibling(s) list to see how they get along with their kids.) If you wanted an event to mark their old age, you could roll again on the Middle Age list. And voila! Now we know where they've been all these years.
Everyone has a job of some sort, a niche that they fill. Most people spend a good deal of their time working and some jobs come with a lot of politics. Was the local butcher framed by a competitor, who put poison in some meat delivered to the nobles? Are the guilds at war? Below is a small list of professions for NPCs taken from my own thoughts and the 2nd edition Dungeon Master's Guide. They are mostly general categories (I am not going to list every kind of cook, for example). If you have any suggestions, feel free to email them to me.
Animal Trainer / Breeder
Antique / Art Collector
Apothecary (part healer, part alchemist)
Appraiser (art, stone, etc.)
Barrister (a lawyer to appeal to court, king, council, etc.)
Bellfounder (caster of bells)
Bowyer (maker of bows)
Carter (someone who hauls goods)
Cartwright (builder of wagons and carts)
Chandler (maker of candles)
Dragoman (official interpreter or guide)
Draper (cloth merchant)
Drug preparer (processing)
Dyer (one who dyes clothing)
Engraver (either in jewelery or masonry)
Entertainer (not bardic level, knows music, jokes, etc.)
Farmer (on their own land or tenant farmer)
Food processor (butter churner, preserve maker, etc.)
Furrier (tailor of fur garments)
Glassblower (makes items made of glass)
Groom (man who tends horses)
Local Law Enforcement
Miller (operates a grain mill)
Minter (maker of coins)
Ploughman (worker of the field)
Prostitute (a non-skilled street walker)
Scribe (creates new written works)
Scrivener (copies written works by hand)
Shipwright (builder of ships, boats)
Swineherd (keeper of pigs)
Vintner (maker of wines)