After the stats are rolled and the class chosen, there comes the ritual of equipping a new character. Players roll to see how much cash their rookie PCs have to spend, and then pore over the equipment lists and select the gear they think will be most useful. To some it's a highlight of the character creation process; to others it's a tedious exercise that may be ameliorated by the offer of a set of pre-generated equipment packs.
What it isn't usually, but could be, is an opportunity to build a little bit of character background.
The "starting gold" (or silver, or whatever) isn't necessarily actual coin; it's the total value of stuff that the beginning adventurer is able to scrape together by any and all means. That isn't a new idea; I've seen it bandied about a fair few times before. But, if the new PC isn't buying all his or her equipment fresh from the local merchants and traders, where does it come from?
That's where the fun comes in. After the player has purchased equipment, whether in a pregen pack or a la carte, choose or roll randomly (1d8) one piece of equipment.
4-6 Armor or shield/clothing
7 Class specific item (holy symbol, thieves' tools, spell book, etc.)
8 Miscellaneous equipment (item of at least 10 gp value or equivalent)
How was it acquired?
1 Gift or inheritance
2 Found it
3 Won it gambling
4 Stole it
5 Payment of a debt
6 Bought from a pawnbroker/junk dealer
Gift or inheritance: Another character bequeathed the item to the new PC. Roll 1d8 for the identity of the benefactor. Roll any die for the person's sex: Even, female. Odd, male.
1 A parent, grandparent, aunt, or uncle
2 A sibling or cousin
3 A mentor
4 A friend
5 A mysterious stranger
6 An authority figure
7 A romantic admirer (50% secret)
8 A monster
Found it: The character discovered the item, apparently abandoned. Roll 1d6 to determine where.
1 On the side of the road
2 Left behind at an inn or tavern
3 In the marketplace after hours
4 In an alley
5 In an abandoned building
6 On a dead body
7 Buried in a field
8 In a hollow tree
Won it gambling: The character won the item on a bet or in a game of chance.
Stole it: The character or an associate purloined the item from its previous owner. (If the player doesn't wish the character to have larceny in his or her past, the item was awarded in a judgment against the previous owner for an offense against the character or his or her family.)
Payment of a debt: The character received the item as payment for a debt owed to him or his family.
Note that the item doesn't necessarily have to be acquired recently, right as the character begins an adventuring career. It could be, but it could just as easily have been in his or her possession for months or years prior.
Previous owner is (1d3)
3 Missing for 1d10 years
Appearance of the item (1d6)
Special properties (1d8)
1 Has great sentimental value to previous owner
2 Unusually durable
3 Sign or symbol: Of a guild, a noble family, a secret society, a military order, a pirate captain, a merchant house, a religious cult, or whatever you like.
4 More valuable than typical (book price x 1d4+1)
5 Secret: The item conceals a secret, such as a map drawn on the back of a breastplate, a diary inside a hidden compartment in a backpack, a document rolled up inside a weapon's hollow hilt, or a password engraved on a blade.
6 Stolen: The item was taken from its rightful owner.
7 Part of a matched set (Where are the other parts?)
8 Roll again twice
Why go to the bother of figuring out these seemingly inconsequential details? Because it's a quick and easy way to give a character some background, some points of reference in the game world, and maybe some motivations and adventure hooks. Details can be created right away, or left vague and filled in as the campaign progresses.
Why did the character's mother give him an old sword? How did she come to have it herself?
Who was that nameless hooded man who gave the cleric a gold holy symbol, and why?
A childhood friend gave the fighter her shield, but has since died. Will she carry that shield in memory of her friend, even passing up better ones?
The magic-user finds a navigation chart on a page at the back of his spell book, marking a location that's impossible to get to just yet. Will the party gather treasure in eager anticipation of discovering what's there?
It turns out that the suit of armor you picked up from the pawnbroker is stolen, and that device on the breastplate is the seal of the royal guard. Surely that won't lead to trouble, will it?
After adventuring for a while, you meet another adventurer who carries a sword that's a perfect match for your dagger. Does friendship, rivalry, or mutual curiosity ensue?
The clasp on the cloak your brother gave you is the badge of a secret society. You only find out when you meet members and they treat you as one of them.