Backstory Part 2: Creating a Useful History
When playing Dungeons and Dragons, Pathfinder, or any other table top game before you can even break in your first set of dice you need a character. And the key to a good character, in part, is a great back story.
Backstories are the beginning of every DnD adventure. Not only can these stories inform your D&D style of play but they can also strengthen the bonds that you make in game with other party members. Today i want to talk about creating a USEFUL back story.
Your main story is in the present not the past
Here is a situation I found myself in often as a DM: A player comes up to me with a story about their character. IT. IS. COMPLEX. There is a magic sword, a missing father, a tattoo that they don't remember getting all linking to some sort of "chosen one" type prophecy. Players, your DM probably loves you. But they do not have time for all that noise! What these type of back stories offer are plot hooks (and extra work) your DM is not planning on following. Instead of writing your own destiny into your back story, let the story that is actually being told be your destiny. Find that story together as a party. Let the story you are having be the most significant and influential thing to happen to your character
Your backstory should primarily inform your style of play
Is your character brutal or merciful? Hasty or Cautious? Maybe they have been burned before and they are not willing to just right into action. Maybe a lifetime of killing has left a bad taste in their mouths and they would rather try to subdue an opponent instead of striking the mortal blow. The rules of the game tell you what you can do. The backstory helps you figure out why and how you would do it.
Is your character a wallflower or a rock star? Does a childhood spent in wealth grant them a sense of entitlement? Which Hogwarts house would they have been in? These types of questions lead to a good sense of HOW the character would act.
One trap I find some players fall into is making a backstory that would EXCLUDE them from social interaction. They want to play loners with trust issues. Which is fine but be warned. That means you'll be sitting around a lot while other party members get to role play. If you want to play a loner, find ways that you can use that past to interact. For example, maybe you have bad blood with orcs because they killed your parents. You may be aggressive with them but also use that opportunity to give you a type of character that you LOVE interact with. Maybe some gnomes took you in and you're tight with them. You can also find a topic that your character enjoys discussing enough to risk chatting with strangers. In the real world I know very shy people that once you get them talking about sports, or Pokemon, or cars they open up because that is something they love. Maybe for your character it is weapons, magic, or crafting. Just give them something to love.
David Derus is the owner of Dice Envy. He is a long time gamer and DM. He lives in Los Angeles with his amazing wife Karla and with his dog, Mouse.