Written by Karyn Keene
A solid history establishes a character, gives them room for growth, sets them up to play well with the party, and includes enough plot hooks for the DM to pull your character into her world. So how do you go about writing something that does all this? See Part 1 for the first three tips, or read on to finish learning about RPG Backstories!
- Don’t Plan for Betrayal
Unless you have all agreed to be thieving frenemies, don’t work against the party. The fastest way D&D groups fall apart is when other players feel betrayed by someone at the table. While it could be interesting to sell out your team to the Big-Bad, it is not enjoyable to be on the receiving end.
Avoid this dilemma by giving your character reasons to work with the party. This doesn’t mean you have to be a “good” character or even that you might not question your loyalty at points – but you, as the player, should know that your loyalty will ultimately land with the party.
Sometimes, the story demands you betray people and good role-playing might require you do this. If this happens, just discuss the impending betrayal with your DM (and possibly the other players) so you can prepare for the effects of such an action. This once happened to me, when a fellow player warned me that his character would soon claim that he didn’t care about my character (who was his ward) and might leave her stranded if she didn’t remind him that he actually did care for her. I prepared for the social encounter and the scene played out great at the table.
- Include Plot Hooks
Leaving some of the backstory in your DM’s hands leads to a more realistic and interesting role-playing experience. After all, how many of us fully know what happened in our past? Adding a few unknowns and extra characters into your backstory lets the DM determine how past events shook out and lets your character integrate fully into their world.
For example, my character’s father, a military captain, brought her back home as an infant after one of his campaigns. He claimed she wasn’t his, but wouldn’t say anything else. This left the DM to determine if she was a princess, a rescued hostage, or a war-baby. My DM chose to make her royalty, but I didn’t know how until our campaign was almost over. Trying to figure out my character’s past throughout each in-game event was a LOT of fun.
- Use a Limited Perspective
It’s easy to get carried away when writing a backstory, especially if you love character writing! However, if you try to focus only on what your character would actually know, you work more mystery and intrigue into your experience of the game. If your brother ran away from home, you wouldn’t know that he became a master-thief. Then when he shows up to steal that super valuable artifact, you can be legitimately shocked.
Again, it’s best to leave these details to the DM. If you have a hunch about what happened, by all means let your DM know! When I DM, I vastly prefer to be given these decisions so I can surprise and intrigue the players as we go. It’s much more fun for me, and I know my players enjoy the ride.
With all 6 tips in mind, make sure to write a backstory you love! It should be fun, intriguing, and full of elements that you can’t wait to play out. If you are short of ideas, talk to your DM and see if you can work out something together.
Do you have any tips for writing an awesome backstory? Please share them in the comments section!
Art provided by Shelley Couvillion.