How To Build A Great Character Backstory

The best part about playing a game like Dungeons and Dragons is that you don’t need to play in someone else’s world, instead you have the freedom to craft your own world with one-of-a-kind characters and adventures. All you need is some pencils and paper, a set of dice and your imagination! But for all of you who struggle to come up with character backstories – don’t worry, because you’re not alone.

Before we start talking about building backstories, let’s talk about why we even need backstories. I mean, can’t you just create a character, give them a name and call it a day? Well, I hate to break it to you, but no you can’t. If your character doesn’t have a compelling backstory, it’s possible that role playing them will be harder for you because the players just don’t have enough information. More than that, the Dungeon Master will also have a harder time coming up with engaging scenarios for  the game. So basically, not having a good backstory will just make the game less interesting – and nobody wants that to happen, right? 

And once you’re ready to dive into the world of creating a character, believe me, the options are endless. But of course, putting together a good backstory is also the hardest part of the puzzle and it can get a little overwhelming. So, the key is to take it step by step. But before I tell you what goes in a backstory, let me tell you what absolutely doesn’t. While some people might think that you should go into as much detail as you can while giving your character a backstory, you need to leave some space for your character’s personality to grow and shift during the actual game – that’s the point of the whole game. And while you’re at it, you might also want to make sure that your character’s story doesn’t take over the whole game. Unless you want to start some drama at the table, make sure your story doesn’t steal away anyone else’s spotlight. Keep it short and improvise when you need to, without sealing your character’s fate beforehand. 

Now that you know what not to do, how do you come up with a story that’s not overwhelming but is still interesting enough for the game? A backstory is where you decide that hey, I want my character to have so and so skills. So make sure you know that whatever you choose for your character aligns with the world that the Dungeon Master has created. A great tip is to link your character’s backstory to some element or event occurring in the world or if you’re imaginative enough, you can even link it with another person’s backstory. This just helps the game come together in a more interesting way. 

The best way I’ve discovered to create complex and engaging backstories is asking yourself a bunch of questions that will set the theme for your character. Start off with this question: Who is your character? Now this obviously includes answers like your character’s age, their family, where they were raised, what has their childhood been like. And once you’ve established that, move on to deeper personality traits. What is your character’s moral code? And why is it that way? If you really want to, you can bring things like their race, friends, relationships and even careers into the equation. All that matters is that whatever you decide to include should have a role to play in the overall narrative and growth of your character.

If you’re still having trouble figuring out your character’s personality, here’s a tip: Every story needs some drama – and all you need to do is find the right one. The important thing to note is that your character should be treated as a real person. They can have a family, friends, some enemies – so bring them all into play! Maybe your character’s family was murdered by a deadly beast. How will that impact your character? They might set out to seek revenge or they just might always live in fear. You see how you can pick and choose? It’s looking a little easier now, right? And once you’ve figured out small details of your character’s life, you’re now ready to move on to the bigger questions. 

The second question you need to answer is: What is your character’s motivation? Keeping in mind the backstory and personality traits you’ve already set for your character, come up with something concrete that they want in life. And remember, a good story should ultimately give us a strong character with a clear purpose. So, if you’re thinking of things like world peace or cheating death – stop right there. As great as they sound, are they personal to your character? If the answer is anywhere close to a no, don’t do it. Instead, say your character is a soldier who has returned back from war. And the only thing he wants now is to forget that ever happened. See how that’s a bit more specific but still vague enough for the Dungeon Master to play with? That’s when you know you’ve come up with a good backstory. Remember that backstories are just starting points and they rarely ever come into play once the game starts. So give yourself something that you can easily pursue through the course of the actual game. 

Starting off from your past and motivations, once your character starts levelling up in the game, the third and final question to ask is: How will your character’s backstory affect them in the narrative? As much as your character is a starting point, it also affects their future at one point or the other. Let’s say your character was a criminal in the past and is now running from the law. While creating your backstory, include elements that can easily come into play and will allow the Dungeon Master to hold over your character’s head to make the game more interesting. But the key here is to make sure that these pressure points aren’t overwhelming.

Depending on the kind of backstory you create, this can also include your character using their backstory to define their choices. Which means that they can either reject or accept their backstory which will ultimately help them make decisions in the game. For example, if your character has certain memories located with a place or a person and on their adventure, the Dragon Master makes them come face to face with something like that, what will your character choose to do? You see how all of the elements in your backstory come into play with the narrative of the game? If you manage to come up with a story that can be moulded into a scenario by the Dungeon Master, that’s when you know you’ve done a good job. Once you create a complex character, the possibilities are pretty much endless. 

In addition to all of these questions, remember that you always have a choice to shift things around. If your backstory can’t be connected to elements in the world, don’t do it. The key is that whatever story you come up with flows naturally and doesn’t sound too dramatic or too forced. Work with other players to develop stronger characters and come up with a story that’s simple yet engaging enough to become a part of the main narrative – because that’s what’s going to make the gameplay more interesting for you.  Now that you have all the secrets to develop some kick-ass background stories for your D&D characters.

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