Your Hero Has Done Too Much – D&D Advice
So you’re starting out a campaign at level 1 and you’re rolling into your first session with your rogue. They’ve gotten a name for themselves, they helped steal the royal jewels of Hemenklot and the Dwarven empire. After getting that money, they went and sailed around the world with no crew except for their best friend Ethiel Batherain the son of a noble family and heir to their estates. When tragedy befell him and he disappeared at see you had to bring the news to their family and your finance, Merriel, Ethiel’s sister. To prove that you were still worthy of her hand, they gave you a series of five tasks which ended with you besting a Rakshasa in a game of wits. So you’re very well prepared for the campaign.
Session one, the first thing you have to do to show off your skills is use a rope, attached to a flag pole and swing with it to a balcony. And you fall in your face. You try it again, and you fall on your face. Somehow you managed to leap from roof top to roof top and then repel down into a secret chamber to steal some crown jewels, but this is impossible.
So, what’s wrong with this picture?
There are probably a couple of things, but I want to talk about one thing in particular, and that’s having a backstory that is just too big for your level 1 character.
There’s a really strong desire to jump into an epic game and an epic moment with your epic character. But if the campaign starts at level 1, you aren’t epic yet. You might have had some small adventures, but to have big epic stories as to what’s happened in your past, it can be jarring when the reality of playing the character and the fickle nature of the dice end up causing your character to feel not like the backstory that you created.
So much of this is driven by wanting your character to be that end product of the dashing rogue who steals form the rick and gives to the poor, and can toss out a witty one-liner and insult the King and get away with it with a wink. Or to be Batman and the force in the dark keeping the peace. Or to be a powerful wizard hurling lightning bolts and calling down meteor storms on the heads of your enemies. But this is really the end product that you should be striving for.
At level 1, you are a hero, you are better than the average person, but there are so many bigger and scarier and more powerful things out there in the world than you. So when creating your backstory keep is scaled to who you are. Maybe you helped with the heist to steal the crown jewels, but you were just the lookout two blocks away. Maybe you did sale around the world, but you helped the cook on the ship and spent most of your time killing rats. Maybe you did have to prove your love and worthiness to your fiance and their family, and this is it. But it is about keeping your story in line with the level that you are at. You probably don’t have many big and grand adventures yet, and that’s why you are setting out adventuring now.
Now, I think to go along with scaling down your heroic actions in a game, you also need to shift the focus of your character concept. A lot of the time people end up with a way to big backstory because they start their character fully into the concept. Being Batman is an end goal, a bad one but one, so instead of thinking that you’re Batman from the start, think about the path that Bruce Wayne took to becoming Batman, you’re somewhere right after Bruce Wayne’s parents were killed at level 1, or Spider-Man before he was bitten by the spider. So your goal is to become Spider-Man or I guess if you have to, Batman. So what do you need to do to create those two backstories? If you’re Batman, be focused on revenge, be paranoid, and have dead parents, that’s the level 1 backstory for Batman. So, whatever your concept would be, consider where they would start at level 1 and when they hit level X where you want that concept to be fleshed out, what are the steps to get there?
Taking the approach of building towards and end character, someone who grows into that style of play you want over time, gives you a lot of motivation for what your character is going to do in the campaign, giving you clearer decision and role play paths. It’s also going to help keep that story from being too expansive or feeling like you should be better and leading to frustration because your character isn’t better or doesn’t match what you have in your head. Now, for some people they have a concept, they want to drop it into a game and play it immediately. So maybe you are Spider-Man, but you’re just learning the ropes, and consider how you want your character to grow more and more into that role so it feels more and more like your concept.
When creating a backstory do you just do something that has a lot of epic moments like I talk about, or do you build one that allows your character to grow into a concept? What’s the hardest part of doing it that way, because it is more difficult? What have you done to overcome challenges with a backstory?
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