This was something that I saw on twitter, I believe, earlier this week or it was part of a podcast, Total Party Thrill, that I’ve been listening to, but it was a hypothetical about why someone might join an adventuring group if they have a nice normal backstory.
Why would a farmers kid who has had a nice life on the farm, loves their family, their whole family is still alive, and they have a sweetheart, why would they join an adventuring group?
Why would a noble who might not be in line to inherit the throne but they would have a very comfy and relaxed life with basically anything they could want join an adventuring party?
Why would a wizard who has a comfy job in a wizarding school with a family and their students love them and they won’t have anything else they want join an adventuring group?
Why would a cleric who has a community surrounding them that attends their temple, they all believe in the deity of the temple, and they have found their calling, why would they join an adventuring group?
The answer most of the time is that they wouldn’t. It doesn’t make sense for them to join a group because they have a good life. The most common reason would be that they want something more and something greater. That’s a pretty safe and simple story, but not all that interesting if you’re playing that character. So how are you going to able to spice up your characters story?
And when I say spice up the story, I don’t mean add in some tragedy. How are you going to make it more interesting without adding in some tragedy, some death in the family, some desire for revenge, some scandal happening to your PC?
Let me see what I can do with the four examples I gave of pretty comfortable backstories:
As cleric you’ve had a good life and have set up a nice temple and community in your peaceful little town. You have made friends and settled into a nice groove. One evening while you are praying you are shocked to hear a voice speak to you. It commends you for doing so well and tells you that there will be another cleric of your deity coming to town. They are older and have some information that you must carry on for them and find for them while they take over your duties. The next day a cleric comes to town and they tell you of an artifact, a relic of long ago, that would help increase the bounty of your farming communities crops and help the kingdom as a whole find peace. They are too old now to continue their quest to look for it, but your deity had sent them here to find you so that could continue the quest. It’s hard, but you have heard the word of your deity, and everything they said came true. You pack up your bags, promise to return, and say many a sad farewell as you head out on the road to find those who can help you complete the quest.
The life of an academic suits you greatly, you’ve spent years at the university studying, then teaching, and the city that you’re in has become your home. You have a family and two kids. You’re in the middle of a class when you get a message sent to you from an old teacher. They have some exciting news, they have discovered a lost ruins and texts for magics that you thought had been lost ages ago. You agonize over it for a week, but eventually, at the prompting of your spouse, you send a message back saying that you will head out there, you just need to convince the school that they should fund your research. When they hear about it, they quickly help you find an adventuring party so that you will be safe on your travels.
Your life has been practice sword fights, sitting through fairly interesting meetings, and generally learning how you’re going to be able to rule your lands when you inherit the seat of power. It isn’t much of a lands and you are going to be under the king, but that’s just fine with you. You’ll have a simple but nice life dealing with the problems of a few farmers about whose cow is whose when someone’s fence breaks. But you know before that you have one last thing coming up. You’ve been putting it off for a while now, because it isn’t something that you wanted to do, you’d rather learn from watching your parents at home. But every generation, the child who is taking over the seat of rule has to go out and see the real world like they were nobody. You understand why, it will give you a perspective on things, but you’re not all that excited about it. Your parents have put together a group for you to travel with, so the time has finally come, and you set out on your own, not sure what you might find.
Life on the farm has been wonderful to you thus far. You love the routine of it. You love your cows, your parents and siblings, and your sweetheart. The only thing you’re not sure about is if they think enough of you. They are the child of the towns doctor. You’re just the child of a farmer. You are betrothed and everything is set for you to be married in two years time. With the blessing of her parents and your parents, you decide that you are going to go out and see the world for a year so that you are going to better be able to provide for and help your sweetheart with their dreams as well as yours. After a tearful good bye, you set out on the road where you run into a band of adventurers who take your under their wings.
Those aren’t my normal backgrounds, there is no revenge in them, though I did keep the quest for a lost artifact that I’ll often use as a potential backstory plot hook. But in the case of the first two there is a big plot hook for the DM to latch onto. The last two fall more into the adventuring for adventuring sake. But because everyone has their family still, and they have a clear objective of what they are looking for and possibly timelines for things as well, there’s plenty to play around with as a DM.
With the cleric, the artifact 100% won’t do exactly what the legends say it will do, so yeah, you’re going to have to deal with that. Also, you’re going to be racing against someone else to get the artifact.
With the wizard, you are going to get to the ruins and find everyone dead from some curse and then you’re going to find that you’ve been cursed as well. Now you have a deadline to figure out how to break the curse that was laid upon the ruins so that you don’t end up dead as well.
With the noble, as DM I would have you stumble across a plot against yourself and your family to kill all of you. However, you’re only ever going to see the edges of the plot, unless you want to keep your disguise and infiltrate the organization and find out who is at the top of it and who is after your family.
With the farmer, something is going to happen to your village or your sweetheart. Most likely a questionable noble is going to show up in your village, fall in love with your sweetheart and demand to marry them. When that gets turns down because you are betrothed already to them, they are going to start demanding taxes and making the life of your town miserable and you’re either going to have to deal with that noble yourself or do something to get the attention of someone higher up to rein in that noble.
Which of these backstories would you want to play? And have you made a character before with a non-tragic backstory?
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