So What’s It Like Working Here?

A little over a year ago, I talked about heroes/adventurers and their day jobs; not everyone can support themselves by adventuring, and not everyone wants to. The problem with these sorts of jobs is that many people just don’t find them interesting; they might take time away from a game group, seem “too much like real life” (yes, I’ve had complaints about this), or just be hard to come up with decent events for. But if you don’t do something with them, they may as well not be there, right?

The answer, then, is to come up with just enough detail to make it a worthy background. Here are some things you might need.

What exactly is the job? If you can’t summarize it, it’s hard to get it across, whether it’s being a doctor, teaching, serving as the translator for the God of Prophecy (irregular hours, but the pay’s good). Which leads to three simple questions: what does the character do, when does he do it, and who does he do it for? (In some cases, “How does he do it?” may also be applicable.

What are the people around him like? Just about any workplace is going to have at least one standout personality. Usually, it’s the boss, since everyone pretty much has to know who the boss is; likewise, it might be a similar-ranked coworker, or someone responsible for the character’s training—basically, someone whose name, position or personality sticks out. Once that’s established, occasional references to that person doing that-person-ish things can give a feel without actually requiring being there.

Are there any interesting tasks it involves, that fit with the job but are outside its norm and thus notable for the character? Try slipping in references to those while summing up downtime. Take my library job. There’s not much point talking about standard situations, since libraries are pretty universal. But on the other hand, if your first time meeting the commanding general is when she walks in unannounced one Saturday morning when you’re the most senior employee on duty, and you’re having to figure out how you’re supposed to act and how you tell her she’s got a book overdue, it’s something you’re not likely to forget. An offhand summary of a situation like that can say a lot about the job without having to spend time on it.

Then there are the situations that happen at work but aren’t necessarily work-related—or at least, not related to the character’s work. They don’t say as much about the job specifically, but they say something about what can happen there, a little something about the world, and a bit about the people, particularly in how they react to it. “The boss locked his keys in his car and wigged out about it, and now we’re all stressed” or “One of the patrons told me a story about nearly being recruited by the CIA, and I had most of a blog post on it by the time I left” is one thing; seeing a coworker who was missing and possibly confirmed dead at lunch the next morning and everyone acting normal about this is something else entirely.

So what is it like working for these people or in this position? You don’t need to write or play out half the workday just to get it across.

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