A great thing about creating your own world when developing a homebrewed campaign, is being able to reign in your players just a bit during character creation. Naturally, you want your players to be able to create a character they’d enjoy playing, however, sometimes things get a bit stagnant or repetitive as the same type of character is created time and again. An alternative way to allow for a more dynamic party is have your players create their characters with no backstory (not yet at least) and then, depending on their race, class, profession, level, etc. you can then tell them not only where they were born and the culture they were born into, but also where they might have traveled in order to learn their skills. Then let them fill in their backstory with these new factors.
“How?” you ask, let me show you an example.
If you were to roll a character for my fantasy world of Pheh and, let’s say that the player wants the character to be an elvish bard. As the DM, you can inform the player that elves are more likely born to the land of Hymn but they are a culture of mostly druids, so their character would have to travel to Whahl to learn any real bard skills. The character would not only know their own tribe’s language and culture but would also speak Whahl as part of their bard skills and have traveled to various places in the process.
Or perhaps a warrior was born to a magical family. As Q’Atteari is a land known for it’s magical people, you as the DM inform the player that their character was born in Q’Atteari and must find a benefactor to sponsor him/her to venture to Ste’Mors to hone their skills. This can lead to another player tagging along as their benefactor or them being in service of someone and sent on the campaign’s mission. The character would now speak Chardle (the language of most of Q’Attearis) and S’Aer (the language of Ste’Mors). They would also know the religion and cultures of both those lands, adding to the character’s depth, knowledge, and possible usefulness.
Just as how a person cannot choose where they are born, nor what family they are born to, you can make a particular set of parameters for your players to create a character. This doesn’t mean you tell them they can’t be magically inclined, or not elvish, or not a fighter, but tell them that they have to work with the fact that they were born as a magically inclined elf in the land of Hymn and in order to become a fighter they traveled to Ste’Mors to master a particular skill set (and served in the Bolli military as is customary) and/or traveled to Q’Atteari in order to learn how to control their magical abilities. In other words, you can give them some interesting choices to help them develop a much more fleshed out backstory and character. Or perhaps they were born in the land that is already aligned with their character and thus are limited in knowledge to only their own people.
This also can help add some great quirks to a character, such as the daughter of a Bolli blacksmith who simply couldn’t get the hang of the craft but refuses to give up trying and often makes very odd armor pieces that don’t quite look right. Or maybe a Mors master warrior who didn’t want to serve his benefactor before serving in the Bolli military and thus dishonored his family while gaining fame as a warrior. Perhaps they’re a bard who learned Chardle (the magical language of Q’Atteari) in order to pretend she was more magical and convinces the wrong people she had abilities she didn’t. Perhaps it’s something she does as a bluff.
Using culture to help develop more interesting characters can really change the dynamics of a party but it can also be a DM’s helping hand as it keeps players from overreaching with their characters. An example is the fighter who wants to learn spells, they now have to travel and study in Q’Atteari in order to do so. Not only is this expensive but might take them out of the action for quite some time. It limits what they can go and do as well as what they can learn. This leaves them with having to use mostly scrolls to perform any magic. This also keeps casters from creating overpowered weapons, spells, or armor as they would have to travel specifically to Q’Atteari and pay a hefty fee to have something enchanted unless they had spent a great deal of their life in Q’Atteari learning all this already. That would also mean that their skill set would be narrowed down a bit too. If you spend years learning to be a master enchanter, you wouldn’t be able to afford nor have the time to become a master of another line of magic. Same with a warrior type who can be an elite warrior in at least one skill without being insanely overpowered.
It’s also a great way to help players that don’t know what to write for their backstory. Giving them a birthplace, culture, religion, and language they are born into will provide them with a foundation to build a story around. Sometimes players are just stuck on how to start a character’s story and this is a great way to give them something to work with that’s already established.
Plus, you have the great advantage of already knowing a character’s culture and would be able to know quickly if a character knew Chardle simply by noting where on Pheh they’ve studied/traveled.
So whenever you’re creating your fantasy world, keep player creation in mind. Make the places where one would learn skills far and wide or to a specific area. Create a world where they would have to adventure to learn more (and possibly work that into your storyline).