Table Top

RPG: To Backstory or Not to Backstory

So, I’m running with this building off of an episode of Total Party Thrill and a side project that I’ll be revealing soon, once I figure out how to do it. If you want to listen to Total Party Thrill talk about this, it’s on their website: and in particular in Episode 79 you’ll hear their thoughts on how to create a background and the different ways that you can do it.

As a player should you have a backstory?

The simple answer to this is yes. Do a backstory. However, you don’t need to have a complete backstory and it might be better to have a less than complete backstory.

Image Source: Troll And Toad

Okay, how much backstory should I write?

That’s the question, how much is the right amount of backstory to write. I would say hit on a few important events and things. Keep it fairly well focused to those major events in your characters life and leave parts of you backstory open, even around those major events. Maybe you fended off this monster that attacked your town. Cool story for a Folk Hero background in D&D, but even more interesting is if you know someone sent it, but you don’t know who.  Or maybe you were an orphan because your parents died. Classic story. But I would argue that even cooler would be that you were separated from your parents in an attack. As you can see what I’m doing with these changes is opening up your story to continue.

So do I really need to write a backstory then?

Yes, like I said before, write a bit of one. The thing with a backstory is that it means you as a player can help create the world and the story that you are going to play. It gives subplots for the DM to latch onto or maybe your story even weaves into the main story of the campaign. In Dungeons and Flagons we have spent a fair amount of time with Nimrose’s backstory because she doesn’t know what happened to her parents, she was left at birth. Turns out that she is an elf from the Fey Wilds, and that’s her backstory and ti’s still open, because she doesn’t know what happened to her parents, they could even be still alive.

What happens if I have a really cool story that I want to use already?

There’s nothing wrong with that, and as a DM, I could still spin that into the story. The example from Dungeons and Flagons would be FInja. Her story is pretty self contained. Her families house and village were attacked by a troll (I believe), and since no one in the town was that powerful, many people died. Finja, in a moment of need, was granted extra power by the deity Chauntea and struck down the troll. Now she was alone in her village until a paladin heard her story and took her into the white tower for training to become a paladin. I can’t really grab onto any mystery there, I could maybe send someone to say that a troll attacked again and set someone up behind it, but instead i went with, the quests and mystery and help are coming out of Finja’s backstory. It would be a whole lot harder for the adventuring group without the White Tower behind them.

Image Source: Troll And Toad

But what if I’m not good at comping up with a backstory?

Well, now it’s time to talk about the projects I’ve started in the last couple of days. Mad lib style backstories, to help the player who can’t come up with a backstory. Maybe you know that you want to play a paladin, well, you can choose form a background mad lib that makes you favored by the god or you can choose one that means you have a heretical teaching that you want to prove. Or maybe you even pull form the Urchin’s Quest mad lib where you are now going to be working for the church because of a shady past. I’m trying to build up a sufficient number so people can choose as well as creating a wide open option so that the stories are generic and players can really tailor them to what they want. This is an idea that I’m building upon form Total Party Thrill, and they even give another way to use it. That being, maybe you are player joining an existing campaign, you have an idea for a background, but there are going to be cities that are already exist, there are going to be deities that already influence the world, and there are going to be different political figures. Write your own backstory, but leave blanks for places and people that the DM can then help you fill in. That will then mean you drop seamlessly into the game world and hopefully seamlessly around the table.

Look for the mad libs to come out somewhere in probably March maybe April once I get a sufficient amount. I might go with a pay what you want option on DriveThruRPG, or I might just release them free here on the site, more information on that will be coming out eventually as well. How much of a backstory do you write normally?

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