Chicks Dig a Rock Solid Backstory

2007 August 15
by Vanir

There is one very common thing that’s always puzzled me about a lot of D&D games I’ve played in. Frequently, the players start the campaign in a random tavern, and the DM asks everyone to introduce themselves. Then everyone works out how they met and why they’re adventuring together. Then, 9 times out of 10, everyone runs off and nobody ever mentions anyone’s backstory ever again.

What a waste! Your backstory is the foundation on which you can build an excellent character!

Here are some tips on how to build a good backstory:

  1. Where does your character come from?
    This can be as simple as deciding what country/region they’re from (especially in an established game setting), but it can also include things like family background, income level, and other environmental factors.

    For example, let’s take two identical twins. One grew up in an affluent family in a big city in a peaceful nation. This fellow is going to look at the world in a vastly different way than his brother, who grew up in a small desert village frequently terrorized and robbed blind by bandits.

    HOW these two would look at the world differently is up to you.

  2. Crisis is the birthplace of change.
    Your character got the way they are somehow. Was he beaten up as a kid? Did undead kill his family and he were raised by the cleric that saved him? Something got you to this point.

    It might not be anything so climactic as the previous examples. It could be that nothing has gotten you to this point yet and your character is about to find out what it is he’s supposed to do with his life. Just look at any 16 year old and try to tell me with a straight face that they aren’t in a constant state of crisis! He might have noticed he’s good with a sword that he found in a field somewhere, or discovers that light comes from his fingertips when he thinks about it hard enough.

    Whatever you decide, this is a good time to figure out why they decided to choose whatever class they did. If you’re having trouble with this, think about how you decided what to be when you grew up. And remember, PC’s can’t just coast through college! Usually.

  3. Why are they here right now?
    At some point, you’re going to have to figure out why your character decided to show up where the other PC’s are. One of the best parts about writing a good backstory is that the more you have, the easier it is to do more since you already have a base to work with! Use what you’ve come up with in the previous tips and think of a reason your character would be here right now.

    Your characters don’t necessarily have to be wandering around aimlessly. Perhaps someone sent them? Maybe they saw a fat, rich-looking merchant wander into the tavern and he looked like an easy mark.

  4. Work with the other PC’s!!!
    Nothing helps a backstory like someone else who shares it, and this makes roleplaying 20x more fun than normal. Maybe your PC grew up with your friend’s PC in the same village? Maybe they’re members of rival tribes forced to work together? Maybe his character thought your PC’s sister was hot, and you have to constantly make sure he doesn’t hit on her between adventures. Get a partner in crime, and make up stories together.
  5. Work with your DM!!!
    This helps so much it’s not even funny. Talk to your DM about the campaign setting, the places you could come from, how adventurers are seen where you’ll be wandering around, etc. Tell them well before the campaign begins what you’ve got in mind. You just might find that some of the story involves you (and your backstory) directly. And that makes it real easy to get completely engrossed in the story.
  6. Think about continuity.
    You don’t have to get crazy with it, but it does help if you double check to make sure all the stuff you just made up makes sense so everybody doesn’t get confused. Especially if other people, like Dungeon Master people, are going to be writing material based on it.
  7. Don’t get delusions of grandeur.
    It’s probably not a good idea, especially for a 1st level character, to write about how she singlehandedly fought off a whole war party of orcs and saved her village. It probably won’t gel with your character’s current capabilities. You don’t necessarily have to write your backstory as if it was your character’s very first adventure, but make sure it reflects your character as they are at this point in time.
  8. Don’t be afraid to be different.
    Some of the best characters I’ve ever played have been real oddballs. As long as you think it’d be fun to play (and the DM allows it!) get weird.

Once you have your backstory, make the occasional reference to it in-game. Let it color the reactions your character has to the things occurring around him. Let him tell stories of home, and talk about his hopes and dreams to the other PC’s. And let your imagination run wild.

Until next time, keep having fun the best way that works for you. -V

One Response leave one →
  1. Josh permalink
    September 9, 2007

    Ok, a truely scientific poll shows exactly 50% of chicks dig a solid back story.

    My polling data is not a ranom subset of chicks, but of ALL chicks. Well, all chicks in earshot at any rate. Both of them. (and they boh play at least once a week.

    Still, my methods are sound. I demand the article be renamed “(some) Chicks Dig a Rock Solid Backstory (even though all of them seem to write one)”.

    Thank you, please drive through.

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