Three down, seven to go! Check back on the first two posts (Icon; Ace Pilot and Bounty Hunter) if you want a bit of background on those Starfinder Themes and the role they play in character creation. Now, let’s tackle the Mercenary and Outlaw themes.
There isn’t much more I can expand on regarding Themes specifically, so maybe I’ll just impart a few thoughts on backstories as little tidbits for you to ruminate on. Maybe I’ll sprinkle some powdered sugar on top. Maybe!
The point of a backstory is to provide a framework that serves as a backdrop for your character:
- What do they believe?
- What quirks do they have?
- Why are they the way that they are?
We are all products of our environments, and it is that environment that you are trying to envision.
Leave spaces in the narrative to come out during the game; if you fill in every tiny detail then there won’t be anything for the GM to work with and incorporate into the story. Loose ends are the best! They can be woven into the narrative in order to enhance the game.
Even if you’re playing a pre-written Adventure Path or Module, a good GM will use the gaps in your backstory to help engage your PC and keep them interested. And when you’re talking about the sheer expanse of the Vast in Starfinder, let your imagination run rampant on WHO your character is! Starfinder Themes are a nice paste you can spread over your character to stick new things on top of.
(For more on creating a great backstory.)
Alright, now we are primed to talk about the Mercenary and Outlaw Themes. There is a “bad boy” mentality that naturally comes into the conversation with each of these, but let’s list out five brief Theme concepts that stretch the boundaries of the basic definitions of these words.
Starfinder Theme Focus: Mercenary
“Whether you take jobs that match your ethical beliefs or you fight for anyone who can afford your services, you are a hired gun. You might take pride in your past accomplishments, proudly displaying trophies of your kills, or you might be laden with guilt over being the sole survivor of a mission gone terribly wrong. You most likely work with other mercenaries and are familiar with the methodologies of military actions all across the galaxy.” – Starfinder Core Rulebook
You’ve always seen yourself as a protector – whether someone needs a watchful eye to make sure they stay out of trouble, or if an estate needs to reprimand unwelcome visitors, you can answer that call.
Your allegiance follows the flow of credits and you won’t let your personal beliefs get in the way of whoever’s paying. Nobody’s breaking Non-Disclosure Agreements, but you wouldn’t be dissuaded from providing your security services for a direct competitor.
Do you run a small-scale Security Detail or are you a division of a larger corporation? Do you specialize in a particular type of work, such as being a bodyguard or providing cyber-security? Where is your base of operations, or do you require on-site lodgings in order to provide the best service?
Were you a part of a specific military before becoming involved in security or have you never tied yourself down to a specific group in that capacity? I see Michael Weston from Burn Notice as a decent example of a Mercenary in this vein – aiding through the completion of odd jobs and using his unique skills to outthink his opposition.
You believe that the Divine shape the universe through the people that inhabit it. After all is said and done, and your Light goes out, you want to be sure that your deeds didn’t go unnoticed from the powerful beings above.
For this reason, you wear every Divine symbol under your shirt, prominently displaying the current recipient of your unwavering homage and devotion. For you, it isn’t a matter of lacking faith; you are just covering your spiritual bases. Or maybe you have followed a strict belief to a single deity for your entire life, pledging your devotion whole-cloth from day one.
Do you play a prominent militaristic role while professing your faith or do you sell your services in a more charismatic avenue? Are you convinced that your actions are tipping the doomsday scales in your favor, or is there a crack in your faith? Have you served in any Divine-fueled wars or defected from a losing side?
A character falling into this category should have their religious preference tied into their backstory, which had likely followed their interests, skills, and hobbies. I can’t stop thinking of medieval crusaders in this regard, but there is a lot of flavor to dip into here.
In the Pact Worlds, corporations might as well be planets for all the power that carry, and they probably have a militaristic presence of some kind. A corporate consultant could specialize in offering recommendations to specific equipment and weapons, or perhaps they aren’t involved in a violent capacity at all. They could be ruthless and tactical, pulling the strings from behind the curtain or offering suggestions on where to shave off the excess fat of the company.
I particularly like the idea of someone walking around with a clipboard and conducting interviews with employees like Office Space. But how does that tie to a Mercenary? Maybe it’s the company itself – weapons contractor, thugs for hire, etc. Or, perhaps the war lies between a rival corporation and you are involved in espionage and marketing attacks to gain market share.
Targeted advertisements, facilities sabotage, and staged product recalls are only the tip of the iceberg.
You have connections. We aren’t talking about a guy who does your dry cleaning or a farm with the best space radishes; these are high-level, big-time connections that puts credits in pockets and shapes the political landscape of the Pact Worlds.
The companies on the money-side of the table tell you which babies to kiss and which people to schmooze. If your efforts lead to a political victory, lax taxation, or breaks in long-standing mercantile tariffs, then you get paid handsomely as well. Having the backing of a wealthy corporation is influential in the complicated game of thrones and your ability to reach across planetary lines to make hands meet in a mutual agreement is second to none.
Are you employed by a certain company or industry, or do you represent the lawmaking bodies? Do you have morals where you would refuse to make connections that conflict with your personal beliefs? Are you sincere in your work?
Have you been known to exercise a position as a double-agent or worked to tack on seemingly insignificant riders to laws that will add up to accomplish a more grandiose goal? You’re likely trained to handle yourself in case deals go sour, and can get out of hairy situations with your wit or your weapons.
The transgressions of the current government have gone far enough, and it is time for someone to lead the charge against their injustice. That someone is YOU.
Whether it be a local affair to overthrow a village leader or an elaborate scheme to take down an entire planetary government, you have the tactical mind and leadership ability required to gather people behind a cause. This might not even be your brainchild – perhaps you were hired to be the face of the militaristic front or to train the rabble that will be storming the frontlines of the fight.
Is your identity a secret while you infiltrate the ranks of the very government you’re trying to unravel? Are you merely a voice blasting through the sound-waves, promoting action or demanding change?
Why do you fight? Is it a personal grievance or is your reasoning more utilitarian than that? How is the revolution designed to be won and what are the conditions of a victory?
From a grassroots movement to an all-out war, there are loads of potential for a character who wants things to be different.
Starfinder Theme Focus: Outlaw
“Due to the sins of your past or your current unlawful behavior, you are a wanted individual somewhere in the Pact Worlds. You might not even be guilty and are striving to clear your good name. Or you might fully admit to being a criminal but believe the laws you break are unjust. Whatever the case, boarding a starship headed to the Vast might be just the thing you need until the heat dies down—or until you’re dragged off to prison.” – Starfinder Core Rulebook
You weren’t about to twiddle your thumbs and patiently serve out your sentence. Through careful planning, tactical bribes, and a healthy serving of luck, you have broken out of prison and now you’re on the lam.
I’m sure that the going hasn’t been easy – between hiding from the law, committing other crimes to stay alive, and disguising your appearance, it’s been a challenge.
Did you have anyone waiting for you on the outside, or have you been begging, borrowing, and sealing to get by? Did you escape because you were wrongfully convicted or did you have some unfinished business to take care of? Were you a part of a criminal organization that lacked direction after you were locked up?
What about going forwards – do you have a new identity that you’ve been working to build? Is this a backstory within a backstory situation? Were you partially rehabilitated? Did a couple screws get popped loose while you were in the clink, or are there any specific life-changing moments after your capture and sentencing?
From the details of the escape, to acquaintances made behind bars, to plans for the future, this one has some long legs you can use to take some great strides.
By day you work a nondescript job behind a desk but once night hits you are something else entirely. Alternate personas, white lies regarding your whereabouts, and layers of complex secrets define your alternate exploits.
In your primary life you might display yourself as completely average, but your other identity has an astronomical bounty on their head. What sorts of activities do you participate in while you’re on and off the clock? Are you more of a Robin Hood character or an independent crime fighter who bends the rules and laws to bring justice to those who would normally get a slap on the wrist?
Are your methods questionable? Do you kill? It’s hard not to use Dexter as a point of comparison for someone who uses illegal means to ensure justice is served.
Does anybody know about your double life, or do you offer your services to law enforcement agencies? Is there a contact on the force that helps you plan out your next target? Do you wear a unique costume or uniform or do you think it’s unnecessary so long as your face is hidden?
Not all heroes wear bedsheets.
White Collar Criminal
Blood is messy and it will spoil your freshly laundered clothes. Your crimes aren’t rooted in violence of the body, but in the acquisition of funds through discreet avenues.
Accounting errors, financial repossession algorithms, malicious software – you alter the bottom line of companies to fill your purse with those sweet, sweet credits. Maybe you’ve forged documents to give yourself access to places you shouldn’t be, or perhaps you’ve run pyramid schemes that have created an almost cult-like following behind you.
What sorts of crimes have you performed and what sorts of groups do you typically target? How large is the typical score? Do you use an alias or leave a calling card to pump up your ego or would you rather not take those unnecessary risks?
Did you have an inspiration or teacher for your work, or were your skills self-taught? Is this a full-time gig or do you have another job so that your extra-curricular activities are more of a supplement?
Neal Caffrey from White Collar would be a solid source of inspiration for this one, and he really is a jack-of-all-trades when it comes to these sorts of things. Think about how it translates to the world of Starfinder, where technology has progressed significantly and the possibility of scams is abundant – lemon starships, pre-Gap forgeries, and impersonations of diplomats who are literally planets away.
You are small-time but that doesn’t mean you’re any less talented than the more infamous criminals who are making bigger scores than you. In your eyes, smaller is safer since people are less apt to notice and the manhunt won’t be as dedicated when a booster gets stolen off a personal starship or a couple hundred credits get swiped from a stray purse.
Maybe you were raised on the streets and this has always been a part of you, or maybe you’ve resorted to crime to rebel against an unfair system. Perhaps you enjoy the thrill you get from the act itself, or you like to cut it as close as possible without getting caught.
Do you work independently or as a part of a team? Is there a special role that you fill? How much planning do you do before committing a crime or do you act within the moment? Are you skilled with a weapon or are your talents more in line with dexterity and a convincing tongue?
Do you have a stash of stolen goods or do you turn around and sell the hot items right away? Is there anything that you’ve stolen that has developed sentimental value?
You wouldn’t even need an evil alignment depending on your intentions and the severity of your crimes.
Do you have a quota? If so, is it more of a personal goal or an appointed goal? What if you’re not aligned with a deity at all, but you hop between them depending on the one that grants the most benefits? After all, nobody’s perfect.
You have your target and it is your job to eliminate that target without drawing suspicion to yourself or your employer(s). Secrecy is the name of the game and nobody is more meticulous in plotting out the precise details of your operation.
As such, your skills come at a high price, but people are willing to pay it knowing that you will be successful in fulfilling your end of the bargain. Your actions have ended wars and started them, reunited countries and torn them apart. From insignificant low-lifes to heavily guarded political figures, you fulfill whatever contracts are the most attractive.
Are you driven by money or do you believe that the results of your actions will align with another agenda? Is there a list of prerequisites that must be fulfilled before a target becomes an acceptable contract?
How do people get in contact with you? How do you provide your resume for the skeptical clientele without giving away your identity completely?
My fallback is Agent 47 from the Hitman series, since he is practically more machine than man which provides an interesting dynamic for the rest of the party.
Starfinder Theme Focus: Part Three Wrap-up
Another two Starfinder themes are in the books! Think about how you can add additional spins to these and how the other aspects of your character might tie into the Theme.
Can you picture a Vesk crunching numbers and pushing papers all day just to hit the streets as a brutish enforcer at night? What about a Ysoki rubbing elbows with some of the most elite leaders in the Pact Worlds?
All 10 Starfinder Themes: