View Full Version : Making a Back Story

2010-06-10, 04:58 PM
We've all been to those sessions. Perhaps you came up with an awesome build but neglected to figure out the history behind it, or maybe your character died suddenly and you need to come up with a new concept. We know it has to be good and intelligent otherwise the DM won't accept it. But that doesn't explain just how to do that.

Personally, I've always loved playing characters that are essentially advancements on old cliches, like a level 1 human fighter who was essentially just a kid eager to make his way in the world after getting off the farm, rather than the "destined to be great" thing some people seem to like playing to

As experienced game players, I'm sure the playground has a few opinions on how all of this works, and I'd like to hear some anecdotes, and possibly some suggestions on how to avoid mid game freeze-up when the DM asks you what your character's history is

2010-06-10, 05:06 PM
Usually I play the morally apathetic mercenary who by a bizarre stroke of luck, keeps showing up in town just in time to save the day. He doesn't really care, its just that villains keep getting in the way of him and where he wants to be.

Octopus Jack
2010-06-10, 05:16 PM
I usually build a backstory first and then work a character from that, but at the moment it seems to be the other way around. I'm currently playing as a CE gnome bardbarian who hid as his town was slaughtered by a warband roaving mauraders. This broke his mind as he followed their wake, admiring their work and abilities, finished off any survivors. learnt the way they fought etc etc etc. But most of my DMs don't really care about backstory and just want to get on with it so mostly it is me trying to justify my character's existance to myself.

2010-06-10, 05:22 PM
The way I build a character's personality and story is to start with the 'hook'.

What makes this character different (not their build or powers)?

Do they have a particular ambition? Conquer the world? Save their home village of throckmorton from the ravaging orc hordes? Impress Prince Pretty Hair so he'll marry you? Write a song so beautiful that Gods weep to hear you play it?

Is your backstory different? Raised by a vampire who longed for the days of living and was alternatively cruel and kind as whim took her? Half-elven in search of a father who left when you were an infant? Trained as a emotionless warrior since childhood who has now run away after beginning to fall in love?

Do you have an enemy that's odd or unusual? The local lord has been harrassing your family and particularly you and you don't know why?

Do you have a particular habit or vice? You can't resist beautiful married women? Do you have wanderlust and just can't sit still? Can't stay away from booze? Always have to be whistling a tune?

And so forth. I find that once you have a hook, you just work through the rest. Ask yourself questions about what you look like? What is your social class? How many children were there in the family? What is your current relationship to your family? Where are they? What do you like to do with your spare time? etc.

2010-06-10, 05:25 PM
I tend to make my characterís back-stories more or less normal. I once wrote a backstory about a demon hunter (nothing to do with warcraft), that was a lowly baker before a horrible event turned him onto the road of revenge. Well technically not revenge, he wants to return the souls of his wife and child, which were stolen by a demon. But up until that event, his life was pretty normal.

Thatís the thing, there has to be something to put a character onto the path of heroism. Whether thatís a personal goal, or a more open goal, there has to be some reason for it. Not everyone can be destined from birth to save a nation. Heck most people have no clue what sort of potential they really have.

2010-06-10, 05:35 PM
I tend to either write the backstory first or do the opposite. One of my characters backstory even became the focus of the campaign. Not to surprising since the backstory was pulitzer worthy. That character used to be a deity that gave up his divinity to bring back the other deities that had fallen. The ending being he along with the rest of the group set in motion for the fallen deities to return to power. The reward being the group are now deities themselves. My character is not like he used to be, but accepts it nonetheless since he had to compromise to pull it off.

2010-06-10, 05:48 PM
I'll usually come up with the backstory first. Giving myself an idea of who the character is allows me to build him better.

For example, my current Urban Ranger/Rogue is a detective for the City Guard. He was ordered to spy on the party, but ending up befriending them and has since quit his job to join them full time.

My current backup is a Horizon Walker, I've come up with the idea that he worships Fharlaghn and is an demon hunter. That's why he wanders through the planes.

2010-06-10, 05:58 PM
i have a thing for a chaotic neutral or evil guy who wants to cause havoc, and he alone can cause havoc

that stupid evil warloc's taking all the fun away from me, setting all those orphanages on fire that were MINE to light

stupid warlock

2010-06-10, 06:11 PM
While I'll sometimes write up a backstory before making the build, I usually end up having the character flow from the mechanics.

For example: when I read over both the Binder and the various Aberrant Marks in the Dragonmarked books, I immediately started creating a backstory for a character who incorporates that: a refugee who barely escaped the destruction of Cyre. Shortly after, he manifested an Aberrant Dragonmark. It soon spread and grew, manifesting in different ways (Mark of Madness, etc.). He soon began hearing whispers coming from beings in Xoriat and learned to bind their powers. Even though he's learned to harness them, they still have a dire influence on him--constantly whispering around him, distracting him (Inattentive flaw) and playing tricks on his eyes at the worst of times (Some combat flaw, like Noncombatant or Murky-Eyed).

It's fairly rough, (since I'm not currently active, so I don't feel a desire to fully flesh it out) but I like what's there so far.

2010-06-10, 06:25 PM
I'll come up with a character idea usually within a couple minutes - sometimes within seconds - of a game being pitched to me. This is typically somewhere around three to five words that describe what I'm aiming for; In a PbP I signed up for today, this was "Power demonic minion", which quickly attached "secret operative?".

From there, I flesh that out. In this case, I went with "What have I wanted to play that I haven't gotten the chance to do?"; The answer to this was duskblade. Being a gestalt game, I had to come up with the other side, and I went through several things. Monk? No, not a lot of synergy. Dervish? Doesn't mature fast enough. Wizard? Adds magical 'options' to my duskblade gish-ness, can tone back the uber-optimization to sane levels, and use the magic for mostly defense/utility, with a couple choice spells for using Arcane Channeling with. Perfect.

From there, I go back to the character design. Demonic - he became a lesser tiefling. Didn't have to be that direct, and I would've been happy with a human who'd traded his soul for the power he had, but tiefling is something I don't usually go with, so it was interesting. Personality - this is someone who excels at melee combat, and has a lot of magical "I don't think so" in his arsenal. He's also evil to his core. So, play up the Overconfidence, with a touch of absolute brutality; If he finds an opponent too easy for him, he likes to play with them a little, proving just how superior he is before letting them move on to their final destination.

Tie this all into the world- our limitations on characters were that we had to be working for a particular Overlord, and there was a lot of fluff about sacrifices made to demons to get power. I'm a demon (or Devil, but he sacrificed to both), but decidedly not earth-shatteringly powerful one, yet. So I was sent to this Lord as a gift from a patron, to whom this lord had been making sacrifices. As a result, I am entirely loyal to him, and to the ideal of spreading Evil in the world.

And finally, plot hooks for the DM. Missing family members, broken past, unresolved conflicts... stuff that the DM can work with, but doesn't have to if they don't want to. For this character, I have my "infernal patron", the guy who sent me to work for this Lord - and that patron may have his OWN agenda, of which sending me to work for this guy was a part of it. Left open so that the DM can say "By the way, Nefargul the Vile contacted you while you were on watch, says 'the time is now' - you're reminded that you also had this other job to do", which allows the DM to then tie the world around my character.