One of the lessons I have learned is to ask what role the family you are generating plays in your game. The answer to that question will govern exactly how much detail you need to create.
The family trees I have created for my Houses Major exist primarily to add a little flesh to the historical narrative of my campaign. I enjoy history, and I enjoy writing history, but history is the story of people, as well as events. It is the tragic stories of, primarily, human strivings, successes and failures, opportunities lost due to short-sightedness, or cunning plans adroitly executed by astute forethought and skill, that make history come alive. If history provides the "What?", then it is people, and their motivations, that provide the "Why?".
Sometimes, in the course of character creation, it is worth creating the character's immediate family - an elderly mother, a dissolute father, estranged (or otherwise) siblings, dependent children, can all provide motivations, plot hooks, complications and surprise twists for an adventure. Here is a simple way of randomly drawing up a family:
- Roll 2D6 - there are 2 - 12 people in the character's immediate family.
- Determine sex of family members - Roll 1D6 for each family member; 1-3 Female, 4-6 Male (if Aslan 1-4 Female, 5, 6 Male).
- Determine age bands of family members - Roll 1D8 (or D10) for each family member; result is the decade of age the individual is in: eg 1 = age 0 - 9, 2 = 10 - 19, 3 = 20 - 29, etc.
For example, I have just generated Saariki Hassoon, a Marine. After serving four terms in the Marines, Saariki Musters Out at the age of 34. I decide to generate her family and roll 2D6, getting 8. There are 8 people in Saariki's family.
I then roll 1D6 for each individual to determine their sex and roll:
|1D6 = 2||1D6 = 6|
|1D6 = 4||1D6 = 1|
|1D6 = 2||1D6 = 2|
|1D6 = 6||1D6 = 4|
I then roll 1 D10 to determine the age bands of the individuals and roll:
|1D10 = 9||1D10 = 1|
|1D10 = 1||1D10 = 5|
|1D10 = 5||1D10 = 5|
|1D10 = 3||1D10 = 9|
So, bringing the two sets of rolls together, I have the following:
|1 Female aged 80 - 89||1 Male aged 0 - 9|
|1 Male aged 0 - 9||1 Female aged 40 - 49|
|1 Female aged 40 - 49||1 Female aged 40 - 49|
|1 Male aged 20 - 29||1 Male aged 80 - 89|
The Male and Female in their 80's could be husband and wife. We then appear to have three Females in their 40's - probably sisters, and daughters of the elderly couple. At age 34, Saariki could be the elder sister of the Male in his 20's, or the baby sister of the three 40 year old women. The latter is unlikely, as this would imply that the Female in her 80's had baby Saariki when she was 46 (assuming we make her 80). If one of the three sisters is 49, it is possible that she could have had Saariki when she was 15 or 16 - unwed mother and all that sort of thing. The two young Males could be the children of one of the three sisters, the children of the Male in his 20's, or even Saariki's children, especially if she had a couple of Garrison assignments in her last couple of terms in the Marines and decided to start a family.
The lack of Males in the middle age range of this family is interesting. I could change one of the three sisters into a Male and that could give Saariki and her brother two parents. Alternatively, I quite like the idea of a family of strong, career-minded women who have loved and lost, or made do when fickle relationships have gone sour.
For setting final character ages, and the relationships between the various characters, one could roll a D10 to establish exact age, or one could shuffle the ages backwards and forwards slightly to get a better fit. Bear in mind that in a relatively technologically advanced society women will tend to have children between the ages of 18ish and early 40's with a trend towards starting families later. Men would possibly become fathers from a similar age - late teens - and can become fathers into their 50's or 60's, particularly if they remarry a much younger woman. And while advanced medical technology and anagathics will most likely prolong lifespans, I suspect that this will encourage people to start families later in life, but will not necessarily increase the number of offspring per relationship.
And so after a bit of a play around, I ended up with a family tree that looks like this one above. I've added two dead Males and one live one (Astranor, the husband of Asanoursu, the youngest of the three sisters). I also made Goushansu, Saarika's mother, slightly older and gave her a husband who died about four years ago. Saariki, herself, is a widow, as her husband, Philcan, died seven years ago. It is likely that her two boys, Atephet and Kosaari, have actually been raised by their grandmother, Goushansu, while Saariki has been deployed.
And there you have a nice, relatively simple, method for giving a character a family.
Next: Expanding this out for a Dynasty.