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View Full Version : DM Help Issues with Player: Do Your Homework Edition



Ninjaxenomorph
2015-11-16, 10:08 PM
So I'm running a Pathfinder game, and I'm having trouble with a few players, some more than other. It's an urban campaign set in a world we (me and two of the players) are testing, and while intrigue is sorta low on the totem pole for now since the party is still relatively unknown. I have five players, whom I will address by their classes:

Medium- The one who initially came up with the setting. Originally he GMed the group, until it bloated and I suggested we split into two groups. We hemorrhaged players, and now I'm the only GM. He had to switch out characters after the first session, since I deemed his first character irredeemably evil. I decided to make him change characters to nip the problem in the bud before alignment issues came up. His current character is a bit ambitious in concept, but the only problem we seem to have is that he says "My character wouldn't do that" when the activity in question is to actually go adventuring and do stuff in general. Medium has gotten me a backstory.

Wizard- The other co-developer of the setting. Playing a full arcane caster for the first time, and is slowly getting the hang of it. Is a much better face-man than the Medium, despite a 8 charisma difference. No backstory, but I've been verbally told a rough outline.

Barbarian- New to the system, but one of the oldest players. Has trouble with the fiddly mechanics, but overall solid. Very good at guiding the team, and giving me advice when I need it. Has gotten me a backstory. It's simple, but it's all I asked for.

Slayer- A new player. Forgets to use abilities, but picking up the pace. Is a couple with the Paladin's player. She has a backstory, but its scribbled on the back of a notecard. Which I have only seen a few times.

Paladin- The other newest player, a bit faster on the uptake than his girlfriend, but isn't taking the game seriously enough for my tastes. Rolled up a dwarf paladin despite all of my advice not to, and followed that by assigning his stats in a very sub-par manner. Started by having a joke name, followed by a joke religion, and hasn't gotten me a backstory.

Now, it might just be me, but the first thing I ask players for after character creation is to give me their character's backstory. I prefer something involved, that I can bring up. Three of my players have not gotten me a backstory. For two its just a matter of typing up and sending me what they have, but for the Paladin's player is starting to get on my nerves in this respect; I've told him to get me a backstory, and he's blown me off.

So, two questions: How to make my players buckle up and give me a backstory, and how to deal with this player. For the former I am thinking about imposing an XP penalty per session until they get me a backstory, but I don't really have a solution for the latter.

cobaltstarfire
2015-11-16, 10:41 PM
Is there any particular reason why the players absolutely must give you a backstory?

Ninjaxenomorph
2015-11-16, 10:56 PM
I'm a story-driven GM. If I don't know where these characters came from, I can't tailor my plans for them. What would Star Wars have been if Han wasn't fleeing Jabba?

JoeJ
2015-11-16, 11:05 PM
If a backstory is that important, then create one yourself. A player who is not interested in creating a backstory for their character is most likely also not going to object to anything reasonable you come up with.

Ninjaxenomorph
2015-11-16, 11:07 PM
I have threatened that, yest. I've also informed them that the backstories I create aren't the... most flattering. A pair of bounty hunters from a Star Wars game were pretty much indentured to a guild because they never gave me a backstory.

StealthyRobot
2015-11-16, 11:41 PM
If you make him a backstory, try to make it cool. That way he sees it and is like, "woah, thats pretty neat."

I have also had a player who refused to make a backstory. He didn't come to the first session because of it.

cobaltstarfire
2015-11-16, 11:42 PM
If they don't give you a backstory just don't tailor the game for them beyond mechanics. Some people like to come along for the ride, or prefer to have the game be the characters story.

You don't need characters to start out with a backstory in order to build a story with them.

Ninjaxenomorph
2015-11-16, 11:57 PM
If they don't give you a backstory just don't tailor the game for them beyond mechanics. Some people like to come along for the ride, or prefer to have the game be the characters story.

You don't need characters to start out with a backstory in order to build a story with them.

... Except they do. In my game at least; I recognize there are other ways to address a character, and I recognize there are other ways to run a campaign. Compositing the player's backstories, the setting, and the campaign direction I have in mind together is my way.

JoeJ
2015-11-17, 12:00 AM
I have threatened that, yest. I've also informed them that the backstories I create aren't the... most flattering. A pair of bounty hunters from a Star Wars game were pretty much indentured to a guild because they never gave me a backstory.

I didn't mean as a threat. Just create a backstory that you can work with, and that the player will think is cool.

Flickerdart
2015-11-17, 12:01 AM
What would Star Wars have been if Han wasn't fleeing Jabba?
Pretty much the same - Han would have taken Obi-wan to Alderaan anyway because it's easy money, and the only other time Jabba becomes involved at all is a few encounters at the start of Return of the Jedi that could have been cut without anything important being lost.

Ninjaxenomorph
2015-11-17, 12:26 AM
Pretty much the same - Han would have taken Obi-wan to Alderaan anyway because it's easy money, and the only other time Jabba becomes involved at all is a few encounters at the start of Return of the Jedi that could have been cut without anything important being lost.

The implied answer to my rhetorical question was that Han's character would have been cheapened.

Basically, this boils down to I'm running a serious game and some players aren't taking it seriously.

Comet
2015-11-17, 04:19 AM
Backstory is not homework. You don't issue penalties for players who are doing it wrong. You are not a teacher and your players are not ten years old.

Just tell your players that you would all have a more interesting story if they gave you some background information about their characters to work with. If they don't want to, tell them you're just going to make stuff up. That can be fun for the players to discover, too. Getting the players interested in contributing to your story is all about getting them excited about that story and that's not going to happen if they're just getting ridiculed and penalised because they're not satisfying your inner George Lucas.

Or you could just get new players if these ones are so bad at serious gaming.

tgva8889
2015-11-17, 04:45 AM
From my reading, it sounds like what you want from your players and what your players want from the game don't align. In such cases, the best policy is always to have a conversation where you explain what you want and why you want it, and you give the players the chance to explain what they want. Perhaps it is as simple as discussing a reasonable compromise; there are many short backstory tools that exist. Perhaps it is simply that what the two of you want out of this game does not align, and you might have to change your expectations, play a different game, or play with a different group of people. Making sure everyone is on the same page is helpful to making sure everyone has a good time, which you should really want more than anything else. (Unless you don't like these people, in which case why are you gaming with them?)

As someone who likes to do what you do and has had a wide variety of backstories to deal with in a campaign (from someone who wrote a small essay to someone who gave extremely short bullet-point answers to someone who just stream-of-consciousnessed for a few minutes) I can certainly understand your frustration. However, these are always things you can bring up with your players and ask them about. I would certainly say "I can't use a backstory I don't have" is a reasonable thing to say to your players; if someone has a backstory that they want to be incorporated, they need to give you some words you can use. Perhaps focusing the initial story on background elements from the players who have actually given you those elements might inspire the players to say "oh, that's cool" and write some background (or at least develop a background of some sort) so they can get included in a similar way. I'd avoid negative punishment, as such actions would more likely inspire me to leave a game rather than actually submit a backstory with effort applied.

It's possible the player is just a flake; I've played with someone like this. If the person says things like "Yeah I'll get to it" and then never does, then perhaps it's time to move on without them. Sometimes you can't change people, and in that case perhaps that person is just not a person you should be playing this RPG with. I've certainly done this with a friend before, and I think me and my players have been happy with the results despite us liking this friend otherwise.

DiscipleofBob
2015-11-17, 10:08 AM
Maybe they don't know what their character's backstory is yet. Sometimes all the player has is their stats on paper and hasn't figured out every minute detail of their childhood yet.

I'd say just make sure everyone's on the same page in terms of the party working together towards whatever the plot is, and let things be figured out over time. To some players, backstory isn't important, but maybe after a few sessions and they see what kind of long term game this is going to be they'll be able to come up with something.

Ninjaxenomorph
2015-11-17, 10:12 AM
We've been playing for two months. I asked for backstories before we started, and I ask every time we meet.

Bulhakov
2015-11-17, 10:53 AM
Basically, this boils down to I'm running a serious game and some players aren't taking it seriously.

Do the players want a serious game?

This comes down to the frequent argument who's more important - DM or players, and why are you gathering to play at all? In my long DMing carreer I always took the stance that the DM's job is to give the players what they want, and help everyone to have fun (not force them to). If some players are ruining the fun for the others - bring up the issue, resolve conflict, etc. But if some players are ruining the fun for you but everyone else is enjoying the game - I say suck it up and adapt a more casual style, so everyone has more fun, or just don't DM.

Segev
2015-11-17, 10:54 AM
Games are for fun. If "homework" isn't fun, people are less likely to do it. Do you want them in your game? If so, work with them, don't berate them. If you don't want them in your game (perhaps because they won't put in the time and effort you feel is necessary to make the game enjoyable), that's fine, but you need to recognize that and let them know this.

If you want them in your game and don't want to just kick them, then don't tell them they owe you a backstory, like they're wayward students and you're their teacher. Instead, invite them to spend some time with you coming up with backstories.

Don't use "I'll make unflattering backstories" a threat. That's antagonistic and punitive, and not likely to make them enjoy the game more.

Instead, look at what they're building and think about what YOUR plot could use, and then discuss with them options and ideas for how their PCs fit into the world. Run ideas for their backgrounds past them; they might latch onto something and build from it, or they might just say "sure, whatever," but either way, you'll have a backstory they are at least not upset with and thus everybody can play in the depth you feel necessary.

ReaderAt2046
2015-11-17, 12:06 PM
It's also possible that your problem players want to determine their backstory organically, during the course of play.

At the beginning of a campaign I'm in, I had no backstory for my character beyond the idea that he was a generic sort of goon/bruiser. During the course of the first couple of sessions, I noticed that I was roleplaying my character as being a lot smarter and a lot more educated than a average street goon would be. So I started thinking about why a person who had been raised in the higher echelons of society would be pretending to be nothing more than a plain bruiser. So I came up with the idea that my character was a bastard of a high noble house, who had been raised among nobility due to his mother being the favored daughter of the House leader, but had been kicked out onto the streets upon her death. I floated this idea to the GM for approval, and he OK'd it. Shortly thereafter, plot points began surfacing that were connected to my new backstory (I ran into an old acquaintance who'd made good in a big way, and learned that my birth family was going through a bit of a succession crisis).

JoeJ
2015-11-17, 12:24 PM
I strongly recommend reading the post by the Angry GM about the eight kinds of fun (http://angrydm.com/2014/01/gaming-for-fun-part-1-eight-kinds-of-fun/). Not everybody enjoys coming up with a backstory for their character, and for some people, being forced to do so can ruin part of their fun.

Mark Hall
2015-11-17, 12:46 PM
So, you want backstories, they're reluctant to give you one. One option is to make that part of the game... they don't know where they came from. You start putting things in the game that react to the backstory they don't know.

Alternatively, rather than making a crappy backstory (indenture to a guild or something), make a convenient one. What will make your bigger story work? Nine times out of ten, I find a backstory gets you started, but the main drive of a story is what happens in the game. The players tend to be more invested in it, and they tend to be more invested as a group, rather than "Crap, we've got to deal with Bob's backstory" it's "We need to get the bastards who screwed us over."

Lvl 2 Expert
2015-11-17, 12:55 PM
I have nothing to add on topic, but this title is awesome. It sounds like someone is gaming with their parents. "That's 286 damage, you're dead, again." - "Go do your homework!"

Flickerdart
2015-11-17, 01:06 PM
The implied answer to my rhetorical question was that Han's character would have been cheapened.
Han's character would have had less stuff about him in the movies, but Star Wars would have been fine. The same is true of your players - if they don't flesh out their characters, the characters will be less interesting, but the game will be fine.

Ninjaxenomorph
2015-11-17, 01:15 PM
Part of this comes from the fact that in a lot of games I play, my backstories have been snubbed, even when others have theirs brought up. It's a sign of GM neglect to me when the GM does not consider the character and the backstory. I always look for ways to bring it up. For example, out Medium mentioned above is an important noble that fled her family. Her family is also the ruling family of a fairly expansionist empire; the next arc I have planned is going to start hinting that this empire is taking steps to take over the city. A player that dropped out had his backstory pursuing his father, who had insinuated himself into the city's underworld. Guess who would start antagonizing the party?

But yeah, my problem with this was stated earlier: I can't do anything with what I don't have.

Honest Tiefling
2015-11-17, 01:31 PM
Firstly, talk to them. Present them not just the request, but the reasoning behind it. Tell them you want it so you can involve their character. If it doesn't appeal? Then I suggest focusing on the ones who have.

Secondly, use the carrot, not the stick. If a player has given you a backstory, show off a few benefits of it. Give the wizard a bonus because he's wandered into another apprentice at the same mage academy he studied at. The Medium encounters rumors of a powerful doodad from the region they are from, so gain a bonus to know about it. Or heck, say that since they are contributing to YOUR fun, you're giving them an EXP bonus. A modest one, but never doubt the obsessive lust for experience points players have.

Thirdly, suggest the bullet format. Bullets are easily enough for me to read to comprehend, and not having to type up paragraphs has gotten me some backstories. Also, if they come early or the story focuses on someone else, see if you cannot get them to take a few moments to write an e-mail during that. They could be quite busy.

Fourthly, speak to the paladin. It isn't just the issue of no backstory, it is an issue of playing differently. See if there is a compromise that can be reached, and if he's aware he's ruining the game for you. Newer players don't always realize that their waaaaaacky antics are not amusing everyone. Asking for a backstory is not going to help after two months.

Ninjaxenomorph
2015-11-17, 02:01 PM
I have spoken to the paladin's player, and he has agreed to let me come up with a backstory for his character. And I have one in mind, one that both ties into the world and explains some of his... idiosyncrasies. Hopefully the other players will follow suit.

Segev
2015-11-17, 02:15 PM
I have spoken to the paladin's player, and he has agreed to let me come up with a backstory for his character. And I have one in mind, one that both ties into the world and explains some of his... idiosyncrasies. Hopefully the other players will follow suit.

Good luck!

Kami2awa
2015-11-18, 04:26 AM
The implied answer to my rhetorical question was that Han's character would have been cheapened.

Basically, this boils down to I'm running a serious game and some players aren't taking it seriously.

This is a bit harsh on your players. After all, gaming is a leisure activity, not a job! And it's one that inherently can get a bit silly. Your players may not be as on board with the serious business as you.

How much backstory are you demanding? A lot of people lack the time or energy (or creativity) to churn out reams of backstory, most of which may not come up in game. If I was insisting on backstory for my PCs, I'd ask for a few sentences maximum, or give them a short list of questions to answer.

Secondly, why not let them create ad hoc backstory after a few sessions of play? My experience is that this leads to backgrounds that actually fit the character's performance and behaviour a lot better.

Comet
2015-11-18, 06:43 AM
I had a period where I though that creating the kinds of dramatic stories I saw on TV and in literature was the goal of playing roleplaying games. So I enforced that vision on my friends, telling them pretty aggressively to create backstories and otherwise take things more seriously.

Their playstyle did not change, they did not take things that much more seriously and I feel like I almost lost them as friends thanks to them feeling like I did not appreciate them at the table. But they did turn in their backstory homework after that: a page or two of the most bog-standard orcs-killed-my-parents stuff you can imagine just written to get it out of the way. They did this even months later when I had mellowed out somewhat and no longer explicitly demanded it. Again and again, those two pages of barely new material for each character.

I had accidentally taught them that this hobby is about bogus paperwork and an entry fee of two pages filled with Times New Roman. They never saw backstory as an opportunity to influence the story, they just thought they had to hand out a token gesture of effort to justify their presence at the table.

Amphetryon
2015-11-18, 07:22 AM
... Except they do. In my game at least; I recognize there are other ways to address a character, and I recognize there are other ways to run a campaign. Compositing the player's backstories, the setting, and the campaign direction I have in mind together is my way.

From what you have said, it doesn't seem to be the way your Players are particularly interested in. Are their opinions on the matter important to you, or not?

Kami2awa
2015-11-18, 07:29 AM
By expecting players to do additional work outside of the session, you may be hugely overestimating how much free time they have. Any of them work full time? After a day's (or night's) work they may not have a lot of time or energy to do anything. Any of them have children or other family commitments?

If you need backstory so strongly, it might be good to have some time set aside during a game session to create it - this is time people have already put aside for gaming, so why not do it then? It would also potentially allow your players to create interlinked backstories that explain why they are adventuring together!

Ninjaxenomorph
2015-11-18, 08:21 AM
Again: 1) we've been playing for two months and they are still putting me off 2) I spoke to the player, and we agreed it would be easier if I typed up a backstory for him. Which I did, last night. It took me half an hour.

AtlanticZealot
2015-11-18, 05:34 PM
Again: 1) we've been playing for two months and they are still putting me off 2) I spoke to the player, and we agreed it would be easier if I typed up a backstory for him. Which I did, last night. It took me half an hour.

I have a suggestion you may want to try, given your strong preference for a fleshed out backstory for these PCs.

At the start of each game session ask your players to give you a single bullet item that describes some interesting event or fact or quirk in their PC's backstory. Give them a minor xp bonus for it, with a slightly better xp boost for the PC that comes up with the best one (either by contest or your decision).

Such as:
- My (insert relative) was a powerful (class)
- Bards have a song about me wetting my pants
- I murdered an intruder in my house when I was 12
- I wanted to join the thieves guild when I was young, but my father forced me into my wizard apprenticeship.
etc.

As sessions continue this will flesh out their backstories with personality more and more.

Amphetryon
2015-11-18, 05:44 PM
Again: 1) we've been playing for two months and they are still putting me off 2) I spoke to the player, and we agreed it would be easier if I typed up a backstory for him. Which I did, last night. It took me half an hour.

That reads, from here, as an indication of "insufficient free time is no excuse; look how quickly I did a backstory." Off the top of my head, this could indicate that you like doing backstories (as your preference for them also indicates, in contrast to what some of your Players' reluctance with backstories indicates), that you enjoy story writing (useful as a DM, to be sure, but hardly a universal trait among gamers), that you're a very fast typist (again, not a universal trait), or that your mind is more oriented toward words and stories than toward numbers and strategy (yet again, not a universal trait among gamers).

The fact that you could whip out a backstory in half an hour is no indication of how long it might take another Player, who could just as easily take 5 minutes or 5 hours to produce roughly the same work, depending on motivation, skill, and personal preferences.

hifidelity2
2015-11-19, 06:33 AM
I like my PCís to come up with some back story but only very high level

Within my group there are players who if I let them would hand me a LARGE folder with their back story and others who donít really care

I therefore ask for a new bullet points Ė normally along the lines of
- Family Ė Alive / dead. If alive how many and where(ish)
- Where do you come from
- Whats your profession (before becoming an adventurer)

Thatís enough for me to start adding some PC specific hooks / plotlines. Normally as they encounter them so they start to flesh out their backstory with the proviso that I have final say (so they canít change something mid adventure)

goto124
2015-11-19, 06:37 AM
Would you accept a player who wrote "please don't make plot hooks directly tied to the backstory" in the backstory? Many players don't appreciate e.g. parents getting kidnapped as a way for the PC to do something about it (this is why parents get killed off). How exactly can one 'refuse' to rescue the parents and not get hit with the Evil alignment?

Ninjaxenomorph
2015-11-19, 08:38 AM
Well, I wouldn't go for such a plot unless there was a reason for the parents to be kidnapped: persecuted, nobility and the like. If I were told by the player not to use their backstory, I would be baffled. Since that is explicitly the reason I ask for backstories; if they don't contain anything to have conflict over, what is the point? Might as well have them pop out of the ground fully-clothed and geared.

tgva8889
2015-11-19, 08:47 AM
Well, would you accept a player who didn't want their backstory to be referenced in such a way during the game, but rather wanted to play a character with effectively no past of meaning? Given that you require backstories in your game as a matter of course, I can see how someone would write a backstory because you asked but prefer it not be used because they simply don't want it to be referenced for that particular character for whatever reasons they may have.

goto124
2015-11-19, 09:05 AM
What if, instead of writing a backstory, a player described the character's personality, goals, fears, etc? Could a GM build plot hooks on those instead?

hifidelity2
2015-11-19, 09:15 AM
Well, would you accept a player who didn't want their backstory to be referenced in such a way during the game, but rather wanted to play a character with effectively no past of meaning? Given that you require backstories in your game as a matter of course, I can see how someone would write a backstory because you asked but prefer it not be used because they simply don't want it to be referenced for that particular character for whatever reasons they may have.

If a player does not want family involved then they can always be orphans, have come from a long way away etc
The point of a back story is to allow me to award XP basedon thier roleplaying (where it interacts with the plot) and to give me plot hooks that involve the PC's
...and yes you can not rescue your mum / brother and not be evil if you can come up with a suitable backstory to justify it

Character goals are totally valid (want to become head of the bards guild, etc) as part of a story

tgva8889
2015-11-19, 09:42 AM
Maybe someone doesn't want plot hooks that involve their character. Maybe someone wants to get roleplaying XP for interacting with your world in an interesting way absent of their actual character history.

If I can write a backstory that you can't reference, why are you making me write that part of my backstory? If I submit to you only the parts of my character's background I want referenced in the game, is that acceptable?

mephnick
2015-11-19, 09:53 AM
DMing is about flexibility and working with all kinds of players. You don't get to just have it your way or you'll end up with no players. You should probably read the Angry DM article linked.

I love character backstories, but not a single player in my current group is willing to write one. We're all very busy with kids/families/work and just no one wants to do it. Guess what? We're 8 levels in now and it hasn't made the game worse at all. The characters have grown into themselves while the game has progressed.

How old are you and your players? I find as you get older and more experienced you stop caring about pointless things, like doing homework for a table top game.

Mark Hall
2015-11-19, 11:31 AM
This is actually one place I find Hackmaster's random approach to be fantastic for building characters. You get a variety of random traits, and I find that I'm naturally making them into a story.

For example, one character (http://rpgcrank.blogspot.com/2013/09/momma-tried-character-intro-for.html), got rolled up having two living parents, 4 siblings, 3 of whom didn't like me, and, due to some weirdness of the dice, more mastery in the Church of the Eternal Lantern than in the religion of the Traveler, of whom he was a cleric. This led to a character who had been raised in the faith of the Eternal Lantern, but who "defected" to the Traveler before the game started. He's got family back in Cosdol, on the other side of the mountains, but he makes his living traveling, partially working as a guard and general handyman, and generally helping to make the roads safe.

For a pregen for a convention game, I rolled a halfling thief. Overall, really good stats, but he had a 4 intelligence, the flaw Pocking, and an unnaturally high score in Fire Building. While he doesn't have an actual FLAW suggesting pyromania, it's definitely something that's going to get worked into his character... and his pocking is probably from fire wounds, rather than disease. That he was in a batch with a gnome rogue with horrible (nigh shopkeeper) stats, but amazing Charisma and great Looks (for a gnome) and the Needy flaw had me casting them as a pair... the clever-but-needy charismatic rogue, and his stupid, fire-loving companion.

All of this comes out of random rolls, generating a background that gives me blanks to fill in, instead of a clean sheet of paper and "Here, write something."

Ninjaxenomorph
2015-11-19, 11:53 AM
But something was still done for those characters. If the players in question had randomly determined things I would still use that, because it is something.

Mark Hall
2015-11-19, 11:56 AM
But something was still done for those characters. If the players in question had randomly determined things I would still use that, because it is something.

Do you have some options for them to randomly determine things? Some tables they can roll on and so on?

LnGrrrR
2015-11-19, 11:57 AM
I'd echo what others said; do what's convenient for you. It can also be great for plot hooks. Wait until people come to view the paladin as a member of the team... and then in the middle of the night, a group of thieves surprise the party and kidnap him. (Or take him aside and explain your plan, ask him if he doesn't mind being kidnapped quietly, then he's just missing when they wake up, and they find clues pointing to his whereabouts.)

And you can still let the paladin play of course! Have him escape while in transit, and you'll have a group of enemies you can bring back later.

GorinichSerpant
2015-11-19, 12:46 PM
As far as the Paladin not taking the game seriously, a way to resolve that is by making him the comedic relief character. Like how CP30 and RTD2 in Starwars, or Nick Bottom in Mid. Summer's Night Dream are. There is plenty of precedent for silly characters in serious stories.

cobaltstarfire
2015-11-19, 01:44 PM
if they don't contain anything to have conflict over, what is the point?.

That's the point, there isn't any, so why are you wasting your time and the time of your players by bugging them for a backstory they either don't want or care to produce?

Mark Hall
2015-11-19, 01:51 PM
That's the point, there isn't any, so why are you wasting your time and the time of your players by bugging them for a backstory they either don't want or care to produce?

I had a DM once who would grind the game to a complete halt until we came up with a name of our adventuring group. This is the game DM who derailed Vampire games for detailed discussions about what kind of ammo we were buying.

Quertus
2015-11-19, 04:09 PM
If I were in the game, I would probably be in the, "please don't derail the campaign with a side quest based on my backstory - I don't want to be that special snowflake" camp.

Yes, Star Wars was probably a better movie (and certainly Han a better character) with Han Solo constantly looking over his shoulder, and being captured by Boba etc. But look at it from lei's player's point of view: she made this awesome backstory about being a senator in the galactic republic, raised in a noble family, etc, etc. She charted out who her family members were, which were still alive, and how old age was when they died. She even added in involvement with some group of rebels to help explain her diverse contacts. Then the GM disbanded the Senate five minutes into the first session, and literally blew up the rest of her backstory. Just when she was finally getting on board with this whole rebellion thing the GM had forced to take centre stage, the party decides to "Scooby Doo" because the GM keeps pushing *their* backstory buttons.

I think it is much easier to make a case for Star Wars as an example of how un-fun it can be to give the GM backstory. ;)

goto124
2015-11-19, 07:30 PM
Good backstory > or = no backstory >> bad backstory

Silus
2015-11-19, 08:50 PM
*Waves* Medium here, figured I'd weigh in on this and give my 2 copper.

I can see from a fluff standpoint why the Paladin doesn't have a backstory together (real life issues not withstanding). You, me and the Wizard are pretty well versed in the setting and the Barb and Slayer seem to have at least read enough or had enough explained to them about where their character's races came from that they could mock up something basic. The Paladin though is playing a Dwarf, and we, admittedly, have not done much to cover the setting's dwarves.

Personally, I'd run the whole thing as open ended. Need a plot hook to get us to [2Spoopy Dungeon]? Tie it into the Paladin by being like "Hey you get a letter from [person] that you know from [time/location] and they're asking you to help them with a thing". If they protest that their character doesn't know them just be like "Well it's been some time so you may not remember". Lack of backstory does not equal lack of character and a character/player that does not have a backstory can be very, very flexible for DMing.

Counter-wise, and on a personal (i.e. my character) note, there needs to be hooks that a character would go for. We've had this argument before where we're technically adventurers, but our characters are more than their classes. Just because some of us wield supreme arcane might, others can call down the wrath of the heavens and still others can bench press an ogre doesn't mean that our driving force is always going to be gold and glory. My character wants to help people by feeding the poor and tending to the disenfranchised and downtrodden. While I understand that the mission at hand calls for us to delve into a spoopy dungeon 'cause money, the Medium will have a hard time justifying the action when her time, to her, would be better spent tending to the poor and hungry. Just 'cause gold and magic items are good bait doesn't mean all the little fish are going to bite.

napoleon_in_rag
2015-11-19, 09:36 PM
I'm a story-driven GM. If I don't know where these characters came from, I can't tailor my plans for them. What would Star Wars have been if Han wasn't fleeing Jabba?


The back story for Darth Vadar is the prequels.

The prequels sucked and only took away from the original trilogy and Darth Vadar.

Spending a lot of time on on back story is overrated. You can be a great story driven GM without it.

Ninjaxenomorph
2015-11-19, 09:52 PM
Alright, I'm just about done being told I'm a bad GM for wanting to understand my player's characters. Having the topic closed.

Iamyourking
2015-11-19, 10:19 PM
For what it's worth, I agree with you. Not necessarily on the backstories, although those are always nice, but asking your players to do something out of game and having them not do it is immensely aggravating.

mephnick
2015-11-20, 12:11 AM
Alright, I'm just about done being told I'm a bad GM for wanting to understand my player's characters. Having the topic closed.

I'm not sure people are calling you a bad GM. More warning you that trying to force a certain play style on unreceptive players generally ends in disaster. You either shrug it off and run a lighter game or you find new players. Holding players hostage in a style they don't appreciate is bad GMing.

Knaight
2015-11-20, 12:49 AM
Alright, I'm just about done being told I'm a bad GM for wanting to understand my player's characters. Having the topic closed.

You aren't being told you're a bad GM for wanting to understand your players' characters. You're being told you're a bad GM because you're insisting that a player who isn't interested in making a backstory make one, because that's the way you have fun as a player and thus somehow that's the way they have to have fun too. That's not the same thing.

Also, the thread has tiptoed around saying that you're a bad GM for the most part. There's some subtext that could be read to that effect, and a bit slightly more overt that only came up after you waved the bad GM specter around a bit. What has been suggested a little less obliquely is that you're a highly inflexible GM insisting on doing things your own way, which could cause problems in the near future if you don't ease off a bit, realize that the paladin's player probably isn't interested in the campaign centering on their character's past, and sticking to all of the game events they will inevitably be involved in when you pull the character in directly.

Comet
2015-11-20, 01:48 AM
Would you accept a player who wrote "please don't make plot hooks directly tied to the backstory" in the backstory? Many players don't appreciate e.g. parents getting kidnapped as a way for the PC to do something about it (this is why parents get killed off). How exactly can one 'refuse' to rescue the parents and not get hit with the Evil alignment?

This is a really good point that I hadn't thought about before.

Writing a backstory means knowing that the GM is going to choose something from that backstory and throw it at you as the story of the game. Some players really don't want to choose what the game is going to be about before they've had the opportunity to see any of the world or the GM in action. I'm certainly like that, I 100% prefer making decisions about the direction of the game based on what I've seen and done in the game itself, not in some nebulous warm up excercise that might or might not translate into what the world and the fiction is actually like.

hifidelity2
2015-11-20, 05:48 AM
Would you accept a player who wrote "please don't make plot hooks directly tied to the backstory" in the backstory? Many players don't appreciate e.g. parents getting kidnapped as a way for the PC to do something about it (this is why parents get killed off). How exactly can one 'refuse' to rescue the parents and not get hit with the Evil alignment?
This is a really good point that I hadn't thought about before.

Writing a backstory means knowing that the GM is going to choose something from that backstory and throw it at you as the story of the game. Some players really don't want to choose what the game is going to be about before they've had the opportunity to see any of the world or the GM in action. I'm certainly like that, I 100% prefer making decisions about the direction of the game based on what I've seen and done in the game itself, not in some nebulous warm up exercise that might or might not translate into what the world and the fiction is actually like.
There is no guarantee that I will use any or all of a backstory (and I would normally only ask for anything for a campaign - not a "one off" adventure)
However having one shows that the person as placed a little thought into their character and as a DM gives me reason to (or not to) give XP (in the group I play with XP is mainly gained through story progression / roleplay. None of the DMs I play with give "10XP for killing monster X or 100XP for finding the treasure"

Afterall it is ROLE-playing - so you are playing a role - and for me this is not just a 2 dimensional fighter (apart from 1 offs) but a character that will develop over the years (I have 1 campaign that I have been running on and off with the same(ish) people for over 10 years. They may start off as a 2.1 dimension character but hopefully they will grow based on their experiences in the game

Comet
2015-11-20, 07:34 AM
There is no guarantee that I will use any or all of a backstory (and I would normally only ask for anything for a campaign - not a "one off" adventure)
However having one shows that the person as placed a little thought into their character and as a DM gives me reason to (or not to) give XP (in the group I play with XP is mainly gained through story progression / roleplay. None of the DMs I play with give "10XP for killing monster X or 100XP for finding the treasure"

Afterall it is ROLE-playing - so you are playing a role - and for me this is not just a 2 dimensional fighter (apart from 1 offs) but a character that will develop over the years (I have 1 campaign that I have been running on and off with the same(ish) people for over 10 years. They may start off as a 2.1 dimension character but hopefully they will grow based on their experiences in the game

See, I feel that character development is actually easier if you come to the table with as little pre-written material as possible. You start out with a character that has one or two defining characteristics, you see what kinds of characters everyone else is playing and what the world is like and you start to develop your own character from there session by session. If you feel like you need to add stuff you can just flashback to your childhood or whatever for a scene or two to add substance where there was none before.

I can write stuff on my own, roleplaying is all about coming up with things in a group. In my experience players coming up with elaborate backstories before the game starts just results in everyone doing their own thing and, in the worst case scenario, players clashing against each other because their characters are both incompatible and inflexible. "That's what my character would do" and all that.

Edit: Just to explain where I'm coming from more: I definitely prefer "100XP for treasure" to "100xp for good roleplaying". Players roleplay because that's what makes the game fun for them, not because they want to please a DM and get a pat on the head.

napoleon_in_rag
2015-11-20, 08:38 AM
Alright, I'm just about done being told I'm a bad GM for wanting to understand my player's characters. Having the topic closed.

You asked advice from an anonymous forum on the internet. You need to have thick skin.

I think most of us are saying that backstory is not a necessity for roleplaying and that you need to remember that your playing style is not going to be the same as your players.

Also, giving your players homework breaks the first rule of GMing, "Make it Fun".

Aotrs Commander
2015-11-20, 09:02 AM
Heh.

I have a touch of sympathy for DM. As a preparation-heavy DM, I have to get everything sorted out in advance. I don't always require a backstory, but for adventure paths - and usually new parties - one is needed to set up. Now, that said, I USUALLY these days simply don't bother troubling the players over it (especially if its set in one of my campaign worlds) and simply provide it to them once they've generated their characters.

In my case, what this means is usually a case of "you were born here, you grew up to do [this thing that yourclass/profession] and you were involved in [these events] and thus you ended up [here] for [reasons] at the start of the campaign." I tend to avoid too much on character motivatios, other than broad strokes, and very rarely set up any family-et-al based hooks or anything.)

When I do want the players to put in some input, the deal is that they can provide as much as they like, from a few sentences to a long backstory, and I will modify and fill out as required (only place names/immediately recent events etc etc if it's a fairly complete backstory - often the sort of details the players themselves can't provide since it's either my campaign world or they just haven't read up on it).

Case in point, I started about May writing a quest1 for a new party for a two-part day quest (the first part of which is tomorrow) wherein the characters ae gong be from the Aotrs (and thus Liches). So I said I did want some basic background off them. It took a great deal of nagging and reminding and chiving, but I FINALLY got the requisite few sentences out of the last couple of players last week...!

So, yes, sometimes, getting that sort of thing out of your players can be a bit like getting blood out of a stone...! My advaice then, is to do what I do; tr and persuade them to gve you something, and if all else fails, just write a reasonable one for them. (Be reasonable about it, don't penalise them if they can't find the time/aren't that bothered, as that's likely to cause more problems than it will solve.)



Fortunately, the daft buggers that keep coming to play with me are quite happy with me providing their backgrounds in this way.



1New party, new campaign, first new Rolemaster party in ten years... I've printed out 79 pages for tomorrow (of which 26 pages are the backgrounds for the seven PCs (+1 for the NPC - they need a squad of eight!), not counting the rules revisions, CAD model and other ancillery stuff...! (I've written less on whole campaign worlds...) I've actually sunk so much work into it, I'm considering a sort-of write up on the boards after the event (as some interest was expressed by ponythread) after the fact.

Mindtour
2015-11-20, 09:40 AM
Well, I wouldn't go for such a plot unless there was a reason for the parents to be kidnapped: persecuted, nobility and the like. If I were told by the player not to use their backstory, I would be baffled. Since that is explicitly the reason I ask for backstories; if they don't contain anything to have conflict over, what is the point? Might as well have them pop out of the ground fully-clothed and geared.

There's a simple backstory for him right there. Finding out who/what he is and how he was made. Why was he put here? What does he feel his motivations are after being birthed from the soil itself?

AtlanticZealot
2015-11-20, 11:45 AM
Alright, I'm just about done being told I'm a bad GM for wanting to understand my player's characters. Having the topic closed.

No need for that.

How'd he like the backstory you wrote for him? Is this even an issue anymore?

I'd say the worse thing you can do now though is show any sincere resentment towards the player (though occasional jovial mockery may be in order).

ko_sct
2015-11-20, 02:29 PM
I understand your desire to have your player make backstories. Personally, I always make a backstory for my characters. But they are always short and simple, like ; I was born in this village, both parents died in a fire when i was young. Was raise by the alchemists as his own son and apprentice, was always a bit of an outcast and loner with only one true friend [other PC].

The thing is that I don't actually like making backstories. So they are all super simple, My example is actually the backstory I had in one of the best game I played in. There was a lot of role-play, character growth, conflicts, and motivations. But they pretty much all appeared in-game as a result of what was happening.

As an aside, one thing I always wanted to do is give my players get-out-of-jail-with-backstory cards. Like, everyone has 3 and you can use them to add a convenient backstory element to the game. It would probably go somehting like

DM: You are cornered by the three guards, what do you do ?
PC: ''It's just a misunderstanding. You see, I was just passing by and.... Hank ? Is that you ?'' [Use get-out-of-jail card]
Hank the guard: ....Yess ?
PC: It's me ! [PC] ! Don't you recognize me ? We both worked as blacksmith apprentice in [Village] when we were young ! When did you move here ? And became a guard ?
Hank: By Pelor ! [PC] ! I didn't recognize you. It's alright guys, he's an old friend of mine.

Bam ! New NPC, and now we know that PC started a blacksmith apprenticeship in [Village] before becoming an adventurer.


Now that I think of it, the idea could be taken even further. How about most the PCs skill aren't decided in advance ? The encounter cliff and then decide whether or not they put point in climbs. That could be fun.

cobaltstarfire
2015-11-20, 03:39 PM
I usually make my characters to be mildly foreign to the setting location, that way I don't have to be as concerned about them knowing anything at all (this is in part because I tend to be overly worried about building a backstory that doesn't work or fit). I also play more to explore the world and stuff than I do to pursue any super specific goals. When I give the GM any hooks they're usually very open ended that way they can easily be woven into the overarching story and tie everyone together rather than being some thing exclusively for one character.

Though I also like to keep my backstories pretty short and sweet, the game is my characters important defining story not their past.

I can understand not liking to have ones backstory snubbed as a player, but one shouldn't project their own tastes onto other players. As a gm I've never cared if some folks can't/don't provide a backstory, usually the material I have gotten from those who do is more than enough to make an involved game, and usually those with no backstory find their niche and get involved in their own way too, be it through role playing, or through game mechanics.