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  1. - Top - End - #1
    Orc in the Playground
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    Default DMs: What should I put in my backstory that you find helpful?

    As the thread says: what do you find helpful? What do people add that makes it worse?

  2. - Top - End - #2
    Barbarian in the Playground
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    Default Re: DMs: What should I put in my backstory that you find helpful?

    My preference is for a back story to be no more than a couple moderate paragraphs laying out who you are, where you came from, why you're out poking gnolls with pointy things instead of staying safe at home and how you acquired your initial gnoll-poking (or toasting, etc) abilities. As a level one character, you're both not an exceptional thieves guild master or general but you are a step up from the common folk so a little story embellishment is appropriate. Add in a couple potential hooks that the DM can use in the game but nothing that leaves a weird hole if the DM doesn't use it (i.e., "I've been haunted since the death of my sister" vs "Every waking moment of my life is dedicated to avenging my sister... except right now where we found a cool skeleton tomb")

    You're certainly welcome to describe your entire family tree for seven generations if you feel like it helps you get more into your character but I don't want/need that so keep it as a solo project.

  3. - Top - End - #3
    Titan in the Playground
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    Default Re: DMs: What should I put in my backstory that you find helpful?

    Quote Originally Posted by blackjack50 View Post
    As the thread says: what do you find helpful? What do people add that makes it worse?
    Long-term goals and emotional relationships, together with indications of what the conflicts within those relationships are ("I want to win my mom's open approval by doing heroic deeds, but she can't give it to me because she's a private person who isn't demonstrative in public") how you'd like those relationships to be used by the DM (onscreen conflict? offscreen motivation? "I'd prefer for my relationship with my mom to be managed offscreen so that my mom can be the version in my head, not the DM's head").

    Attitudes toward, relationships with, and conflicts with other PCs are also very helpful, especially if both players agree to the dynamic. "I love нападение like a brother, and would trust him at my back in a foxhole, but it frustrates me that I can't take him anywhere without him making a scene. I wish he would just learn to behave himself." Then the other PC (нападение) says, "I wish Vance would just let me be myself and not be so controlling all the time in public." At some point they may resolve this conflict and maybe create a new dynamic, but this lets me as DM know that I shouldn't skip over "boring" scenes like pleasant social interactions with friendly NPCs--I should drill down and give Vance and нападение a chance to embarrass each other.
    Purple text = personal judgment which I don't expect you necessarily to share. YMMV.

    Everything on the Internet is opinion but purple text is my way of highlighting that I am not interested in persuading you to share mine.

  4. - Top - End - #4
    Barbarian in the Playground
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    Default Re: DMs: What should I put in my backstory that you find helpful?

    I imagine a few core questions:

    1a. Why are you adventuring?
    (This could be anything from having no reason to stay to your long-term objectives.)

    1b. If possible, why would you be with this party?
    (This might get fleshed out during gameplay, but it's ideal to have some reason why you're compatible with the party -- even if it's as simple as already being partnered together by someone else.)

    2. What are your short- and/or long-term goals?

    3. Ideally -- but optionally --, what are some open questions you'd like to solve or things your character doesn't know about your backstory? If you have open questions, those can be woven into stories or plot hooks.

    Ideally I also like to get an idea of the personality and fighting style of the character, but those can be more straightforwardly stated outside of the backstory. Thinking about them ahead of time can be useful for guiding the backstory, though!

  5. - Top - End - #5
    Barbarian in the Playground
     
    PaladinGuy

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    Default Re: DMs: What should I put in my backstory that you find helpful?

    Where you are from, where you have been, and the life changing events that lead you to 1st level. Work in your background and languages.

    Things that make it worse, are things like writing in powerful contacts, items, wealth, etc.

  6. - Top - End - #6
    Troll in the Playground
     
    PaladinGuy

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    Default Re: DMs: What should I put in my backstory that you find helpful?

    How much a DM wants/needs is based on the DM, however there are some general things.

    1. Why are you adventuring?
    2. What is your primary goal?
    3. Some conflict with local agents/guilds/people/family to give the Dm something to rif off of.
    4. Some important people in your life for your DM to manipulate your PC with
    5. Anything important to class. I.E. Warlock pact terms.



    Personally I do a bullet-ed list for the DM as a TL:DR that looks something like this.

    • Grew up on the streets in the Bridgefront of Old Korvosa
    • Pincher who lives in a hand made hastily erected lean to in the bridgefront district, but often has to move when kicked out.
    • Spends days exploring the city, hidden in the shadows and observing the people there. I learned elven hanging out in the Elven conclave of the South Shore. Also learned some basic magic them for protection (mage armor).
    • Broke into the Verso Hall in Theumanexis college and sneaked into classes on Illusion. It peaked my interest and I committed the movements and incantations to memory. I havenít been able to master it, but have learned a few parlour tricks that help me make some money to survive (learned Silhouette and Minor Image from this).
    • Friend addicted to shiver, Student at Theumananexis who helped sneak me inside
    • Investigated and found that the drugs came from Gaedren Lamm
    • Contact with Cerulean Society (rogues guild). They noticed my shows and the lifting of some purses during the shows and demanded their cut
    • Want to become rich so that I can give money away to create an orphanage that take children like myself off the streets and give them a home.
    • The easiest way to do this is to be entered into the breaching ceremony. So, Iím trying to gain contacts and skills to get me into the contest in the future years.



    This is for an arcane trickster that I will start playing within the next few months (the campaign is a PF adventure converted to 5e). It gives the DM a rough outline of where he is most comfortable and where he would know locations in the city. Why he has Magic Initiate at level 1, is going to be an AT, and speaks unusual languages. Creates a conflict with the starting bad guy (Gaedren Lamm) per DMs request and the adventure prompt. And his goal in life and how he hopes to do it.



    I also have a 1.5 page narrative backstory I wrote that is more fluffy and descriptive. That is mostly for me since I wanted to do it and there is another person at the table who loves reading them to get to know who the character is.



    Note though: Some of this is the results of a back and forth with the DM. Often times it is better to leave out particular people known in a location and given themes instead (a merchant, labors guild, thieves guild, etc). Then the DM can give you particular people that you know.

  7. - Top - End - #7
    Titan in the Playground
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    Default Re: DMs: What should I put in my backstory that you find helpful?

    OP may also want to check out Knife Theory: https://www.gmbinder.com/share/-L-9CvlTWhoADagJfSZO

    Snippet:

    Quote Originally Posted by https://www.gmbinder.com/share/-L-9CvlTWhoADagJfSZO
    When writing a character's back story, it's important to include a certain number of "knives". Knives are essentially anything that the DM can use to raise the stakes of a situation for your character. Anything that can make a conflict personal, like a threatened loved one or the appearance of a sudden enemy. They're called "knives" because the players lovingly forge them and present them to the DM so that the DM can use them to stab the player over and over again.

    When building a back story, your players should give you 7 - 12 knives. There are a variety of knives your players can give you. Here are some examples:

    A named person your character cares about, living or dead (e.g. sibling, spouse, childhood friend)
    A phobia or trauma your character has experienced
    A mystery in your character's life (e.g. unknown parents, unexplained powers)
    An enemy your character has
    Any ongoing obligation or loyalty your character has
    An obligation your character has failed
    A serious crime your character has committed
    A crime your character is falsely accused of
    Any discrimination experienced (e.g. fantasy racism)
    A favored item/heirloom
    A secret your character is keeping
    Purple text = personal judgment which I don't expect you necessarily to share. YMMV.

    Everything on the Internet is opinion but purple text is my way of highlighting that I am not interested in persuading you to share mine.

  8. - Top - End - #8
    Dwarf in the Playground
     
    GreenSorcererElf

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    Default Re: DMs: What should I put in my backstory that you find helpful?

    What the others have said but I'd want to add a taste of the central theme you're reaching for with your character.

    Like one rogue who met the Queen Of Air And Darkness under a moonless sky and learned to deceive the eyes as well as the mind speaks to a different type of story than a rogue who raised herself on the streets of Luskan and learned a few tricks following around and mimicking members of the Arcane Brotherhood, which is totally different from a rogue who grew up in the lap of privilege under the weight of expectations but slacked off during his arcane tutelage and always found himself getting into trouble with the law.

    All of these are mechanically identical arcane tricksters, but the personalities and central themes of the stories are wildly different. The first might have strange fairytale themes about accepting gifts from the unknown, the second might be a search for self-actualization and a place of legitimacy, the third might be reconciling with familial responsibility and what is owed to one's bloodline.

    This can help determine which parts of the story should be highlighted. Say you're up against the Cassalanters in Dragon Heist; the first one might be more sympathetic to them because they got played by an alien entity, the second might be more interested in the common folk who are often the victims of the Cassalanters' machinations, the third might be more focused on the children who stand to suffer the consequences of their parents' decisions. So if I'm DMing, I'm going to make sure to highlight those parts of the story so your character can step into the spotlight for a bit.

  9. - Top - End - #9
    Ettin in the Playground
     
    Zombie

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    Default Re: DMs: What should I put in my backstory that you find helpful?

    Why are you where the adventuring starts. What are you wanting to get out of adventuring. The first may be as simple as I grew up here. The second is hopefully more than $$.
    I am the flush of excitement. The blush on the cheek. I am the Rouge!

  10. - Top - End - #10
    Dwarf in the Playground
     
    GreenSorcererElf

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    Default Re: DMs: What should I put in my backstory that you find helpful?

    Quote Originally Posted by MaxWilson View Post
    OP may also want to check out Knife Theory: https://www.gmbinder.com/share/-L-9CvlTWhoADagJfSZO

    Snippet:
    This is great, I'd also want to add an old tip I heard a few years back.

    Give your character something they know about and share at will.
    Something they know about and keep secret.
    And something the character doesn't know, but that should come out at some point in the story.

    Like 1:
    1) I got my sorcerer powers because my father did experiments with the Spellplague.
    2) My father was actually a psychopath who kidnapped people and exposed them to the Spellplague to see how they'd mutate; he was found out and executed for his crimes. That's why I use a pseudonym instead of my family name.
    3) He wasn't actually executed and still lingers in the deepest dungeon of the king's castle, experimenting on prisoners and providing the royal arcanists with mad but sometimes useful theories about the nature of the arcane.
    Last edited by Evaar; 2020-01-22 at 02:00 PM.

  11. - Top - End - #11
    Barbarian in the Playground
     
    Kobold

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    Default Re: DMs: What should I put in my backstory that you find helpful?

    Quote Originally Posted by blackjack50 View Post
    As the thread says: what do you find helpful? What do people add that makes it worse?
    What's helpful is:
    The loose threads of the previous life.
    The current goal and what its payoff will be. Maybe a future goal.

    What's not is:
    A long winded mary sue screenplay origin story that does nothing to explain their skills, goals, aspirations, and levels.
    Too much detail that makes it harder/impossible to fit into the setting.
    Completely ignoring what the DM told you in the pitch of the campaign. DM sez "We travelling overland to defend the border for the crown." PLYR sez, "Drow artificer working on special item in basement lab."

  12. - Top - End - #12
    Barbarian in the Playground
     
    RedWizardGuy

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    Default Re: DMs: What should I put in my backstory that you find helpful?

    I try to keep it simple, and ask for only 3 things:

    - What motivates your PC? (this allows me to give the PC better hooks into the story)
    - What does your PC care about? (this allows me to raise the stakes of the story by endangering it)
    - Who would your PC like to meet in their adventure? Who would they want to avoid? (this lets me personalize random NPCs by tying them into the backstory of the PCs)
    Last edited by Merudo; 2020-01-24 at 07:11 AM.

  13. - Top - End - #13
    Orc in the Playground
     
    HalfOrcPirate

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    Default Re: DMs: What should I put in my backstory that you find helpful?

    As a DM, I'm generally more interested in your future than your past.

    Consider your starting level, if you're starting at level 1 don't give some sad/tragic/epic tale.

    Useful things to know:
    Where you're from. If you don't know the world ask for a map/description or just say "a town in the mountains" and ask the GM to give you the name of somewhere to fill in that space.

    Who is important to you (AND ALIVE). Very bored of orphans with no ties to anyone. A name and their relation to you helps a lot.

    Why you're not somewhere more comfortable than adventuring.

    How you got your power. This is VERY important for Warlocks.

    How you came to be at X starting location.

    In my games I tend to have a central story. If you show up to one of my games with a backstory that I have to bend over backwards to shoehorn in alongside the main campaign, I won't. I'll just ignore it.
    e.g. a current campaign I run has a central story around the subject of racial divide and oppressive government, slavery and resistance. If your backstory involves a campaign into the abyss to save your sister... sorry, she ain't getting saved! If however your sister was taken by slavers and delivered to the tyrannical government to work in their foundries then we'll definitely be visiting that backstory.

    "My sister/brother/son/daughter/childhood friend was captured by X so I'm now on the road looking for any leads that will take me to them". Is a good backstory with a future goal. It explains why you're now an adventurer.
    "I searched for answers but found nothing until I was offered a deal by a mysterious voice in the darkness. I help them & they help me." Is a good continuation of that story explaining how this character (warlock) gained their power.
    "She was taken by Slavers, I tried to fight them off but failed. I spent every day for the next 6 months training with sword, shield, axe, bow, anything I could get my hands on..." might work for a fighter.


    I think the best backstories can be boiled down to 4-5 sentences and fleshed out to maybe 4-5 paragraphs at most. More is just unnecessary.
    78% of DM's started their first campaign in a tavern. If you're one of the 22% that didn't, copy and paste this into your signature.

    Where did you start yours?

    The PCs, walk into a town they've never before visited together, all the villagers stop & stare at them. The PCs realise why when they get to the fountain at the centre of town, there are accurate statues of each of them, even down to the gear they currently carry. The statues have been here for generations...

  14. - Top - End - #14
    Bugbear in the Playground
     
    ClericGuy

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    Default Re: DMs: What should I put in my backstory that you find helpful?

    Is.... is this a question for a particular character? Or just a general guideline thing?

    Instead of listing what should be in your backstory, I'm going to talk about what _shouldn't_ be in your backstory, because for general guidelines, I find it to be more helpful.

    First, and most importantly, don't make your character too experienced. If you've already saved the world twice in your backstory, why are you level 1? Make your character appropriately experienced for where you're starting; if you're level 1, maybe you've just sworn revenge on your enemies; if you're level 5, maybe you've just saved a town. Don't make them sound more powerful than they are, though, because they're not and you'll have nowhere to go.

    Second, don't assume perfect information in your backstory. As a DM, if you hand me a backstory where portions of it aren't told from your character's perspective, that tells me that, if I try and put a twist on your backstory to make a cool moment for your character or the campaign, I don't want you (the person) to sulk because I "changed your backstory." Tell your backstory from your character's perspective. Who knows; maybe that character who appeared to be a kindly old mentor was actually a sub-boss for the big bad that was trying to recruit you. Just... give me room to play with stuff.

    On a related note: leave some ambiguity in your backstory. Maybe you only know what you've seen; you saw the knife come up to stab your sister and you heard her scream as you ran away, but you don't know if she actually died. Maybe she is alive and has been brainwashed by the big bad. But don't say "it happened only this way and no other."

    Third, don't make it so you've have no reason to be here. Give yourself a reason to even be on this adventure. Don't make a character who doesn't want to be here; if they didn't want to be on this adventure, it's easy enough to just walk away and that's no fun. It's also really annoying to the other players if you go off and go on your own side quest because you didn't want to go into the dungeon. Find a reason for your character to be there.

    ..... I have more, but I'll leave it here. These are my biggest DM pet peeves for backstories, but I have more. Maybe I'll post them later.
    78% of DM's started their first campaign in a tavern. If you're one of the 22% that didn't, copy and paste this into your signature.

    Where did you start yours?

    In a mountain after a cave-in.

    MY STATS OFF THE ELITE ARRAY:
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    Quote Originally Posted by Vrock_Summoner View Post
    I wish I had you for a DM...

  15. - Top - End - #15
    Bugbear in the Playground
     
    Tawmis's Avatar

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    Default Re: DMs: What should I put in my backstory that you find helpful?

    Your backstory should give your character their voice...

    Why are they adventuring? Why did they not just remain with the family, get married, have kids, live on a farm.

    Adventurers are a different breed of people; people who, for whatever their reasons, embrace danger and accept that their life might come to an unexpected and violent end.

    I happen to know someone who enjoys writing backgrounds for characters, if you have some general ideas... I - I mean, THEY - have a thread here on the forum...
    http://www.giantitp.com/forums/showt...und-written-up
    Need a character background written up? I do it for free but I am now taking financial donations through paypal if you're so inclined! <3 Now with over 150 character backgrounds written!

    Check out my 5e Module The Secret of Havenfall Manor over at DMsGuild.com! (If you check it out - please rate, comment, and tell others!)

  16. - Top - End - #16
    Bugbear in the Playground
     
    BarbarianGuy

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    Default Re: DMs: What should I put in my backstory that you find helpful?

    Put me down for wanting to know how you got here. I haven't really had any problems with people making powerful backstories for not very powerful characters, but that sounds pretty annoying.
    I usually post from my phone, so please excuse any horrendous typos.

    Quote Originally Posted by 1337 b4k4 View Post
    [to somebody getting upset over somebody else's house rule] Maybe you should take a break, you're getting rather worked up over magic elf games.

  17. - Top - End - #17
    Bugbear in the Playground
     
    Zhorn's Avatar

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    Default Re: DMs: What should I put in my backstory that you find helpful?

    Echoing Tawmis:
    Motivations to adventure!
    If your character's story was a ship you want more sails and less anchors.
    What I mean by this is you character needs to have more reasons to be moving around (sails) than to stay in one place (anchors).
    Why do you need to not be with your family/loved one(s)?
    Why do you need to be away from your research lab?
    Why do you need to be away from running the shop?

    Anchors are good in that they give a character a thing to care about, a post-end-goal to move onto and look forwards to at the end of their adventuring. BUT the need to be adventuring will always need to be greater.

    As a DM I'm less concerned with a character's immediate motivation and more their greater long term motivation.
    A short term goal works for a one-shot or single adventure, but it must be tied up by the end of that single arc and gives me less time to dig into the story. It just comes across too rushed and railroads the adventure into a guaranteed conclusion... "Beating the dungeon will save your sick grandma"
    If making a backstory for a one-shot or single arc, work with the DM to pick a goal that fits snuggly into the adventure they are presenting.

    Long term goals are preferable because you don't need to tie the story into the adventure directly or immediately. They can get clues and hooks to be weaved into multiple sessions, building up to a resolution some time down the road. And even when their backstory hook is concluded, the PC might have made some new long term motivations or become invested enough in the goals of the other PCs that they will continue to adventure
    Spoiler: Princess Bride (film version, 1987)
    Show
    Inigo Montoya's end goal was to kill the six-fingered man and avenge his father.
    The early days of his adventuring life was motivated by developing skills with the blade and becoming a great swordsman for the purposes of being a match for the six-fingered man
    In the film, Inigo finally meets the six-fingered man and gets his revenge
    Afterwards he takes up the offer from Westly to become the next dread pirate Roberts, and thus continues his adventuring career

  18. - Top - End - #18
    Dwarf in the Playground
     
    RedKnightGirl

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    Default Re: DMs: What should I put in my backstory that you find helpful?

    I like ties to organizations existing in the setting, be them good or bad. But then, I really enjoy reading setting books, and the modern ones come with like 10 hooks for any such organization so I have an easy time.
    yo

  19. - Top - End - #19
    Barbarian in the Playground
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    Default Re: DMs: What should I put in my backstory that you find helpful?

    I have a "one page rule". I don't really care how you write your backstory, lord knows I prefer to write stories and some folks just give bullet-points, but I make no promises to include anything you write in your backstory if it is over one page.

    What I would like to see:
    A couple notes about your hometown.
    -Where is it? What's it called? What's it like?(I leave my world "penciled in" so that players may make creative, if minor, additions this way.)
    A couple mentions of significant relations, positive and negative.
    -A best friend, a brother, a rival, a cruel boss, etc...
    A brief personal history with a couple moments of note.
    -Farmer? Criminal? Ever arrested? Did a really good deed?
    A reason why you're adventuring, a specific goal is a bonus, but not necessary.
    -Family sick? 8th son of a wealthy noble? Wanderlust?

    Good grammar is a plus, and legible writing is mandatory. If you can't write legibly with a pen or pencil, please type, if you can do neither, please do not attempt to communicate your backstory to me verbally, as I will not be writing it down for you, that's why I asked you to it in the first place.

    (If it's not included on your character-sheet header, then a brief description of your character, your Cha score is not a representation of your appearance in my games, you can be as pretty and uncharismatic or ugly and silver-tongued as you like, you may optionally roll a hard 3d6+cha to create a comliness score if you choose.)

    Everyone who does this is rewarded with a magic item (or extra one if we're starting higher levels and you already have a couple). Sometimes this will be straight from the books, sometimes it will be custom.
    Last edited by False God; 2020-01-26 at 11:43 AM.
    Knowledge brings the sting of disillusionment, but the pain teaches perspective.
    "You know it's all fake right?"
    "...yeah, but it makes me feel better."

  20. - Top - End - #20
    Ogre in the Playground
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    Default Re: DMs: What should I put in my backstory that you find helpful?

    The answer is a well formated summary or outline.
    Flavor text is great but the easier it is for me to find and use players' backgrounds the faster I can fold them into the setting.
    what is the point of living if you can't deadlift?

    All credit to the amazing avatar goes to thoroughlyS

  21. - Top - End - #21
    Halfling in the Playground
     
    Beholder

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    Default Re: DMs: What should I put in my backstory that you find helpful?

    I find story hooks helpful. I find them more helpful when they're not buried in verbiage. If the player is flexible about how the backstory fits into the setting, that's also helpful. While I don't use the Traits, Flaws, etc., in 5E, I think they're helpful for the player to figure out, and I kinda like to see them (because I kinda like to see what kinds of characters I'm DMing). If you want to use your backstory to show me something specific about your character, that's fine, but try to keep it relatively short. My own backstories tend to be 1000-1250 words, including listing out the Traits, etc.

  22. - Top - End - #22
    Barbarian in the Playground
     
    Lizardfolk

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    Default Re: DMs: What should I put in my backstory that you find helpful?

    I find that that the more backstory included, the better. Nothing is as difficult to work with than a backstory that is short, vague, and airtight. In addition, such backstories are completely unrealistic, as everything feeds into another thing, everything is connected, and people are so much more complex than can be conveyed within a sentence or two. I as a DM love integrating my player's backstories into the campaign as a way to give the characters a personal stake in their missions (helps deter murderhobos) without assigning them emotions and bonds/flaws they as players don't care for. I had a DM that wrote out his player's backstories, and honestly it disconnected me from the character more than it connected me to them. So, as a DM I greatly prefer to have my players create a backstory for their characters, and in some groups (mostly creative-minded story focused groups) I ask that they write a short story from the perspective of their character to help them define to themselves who this character is and how they act in a given situation. It helps me understand them, it helps the player understand their character, and overall helps with immersion before session 1 even starts.

    Then again, I run a very very story centric campaign, and my experience leads me to believe such is the minor exception, as many of my DMs did not care much for story, back- or otherwise, and only wished to play D&D for the laughs and OOC socialization. So it really depends on what kind of game you're getting into. There is the joke of "Oh my character has a 15 page backstory" and that is often portrayed as being overly invested and a general group downer, but in reality, D&D is a great game because you get out of it what you put into it. Put more effort, thought, and emotion into it, and you'll get that much more out of it (assuming you have a competent DM who will reciprocate your commitment)
    "There are truly only 2 sources of conflict: Miscommunication, and Intolerance. Of the two, only one is acceptable."

  23. - Top - End - #23
    Barbarian in the Playground
     
    LordCdrMilitant's Avatar

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    Default Re: DMs: What should I put in my backstory that you find helpful?

    Quote Originally Posted by blackjack50 View Post
    As the thread says: what do you find helpful? What do people add that makes it worse?
    I want to know:
    Who you are, what you think, and how your character believes in approaching and solving problems. A drawing is great. General reasons for being an adventurer are also okay. One sentence or even a high level concept can be entirely adequate. As a PC, I usually just start with a high level concept, and my character becomes more fleshed out over time through play.

    Things that make it worse are things like 14 detailed generations of your familial line, the history of your character's people's struggles, or some specific reason for being an adventurer. If it's more than a paragraph, I'll probably skim it.
    Last edited by LordCdrMilitant; 2020-02-25 at 01:12 AM.
    Guardsmen, hear me! Cadia may lie in ruin, but her proud people do not! For each brother and sister who gave their lives to Him as martyrs, we will reap a vengeance fiftyfold! Cadia may be no more, but will never be forgotten; our foes shall tremble in fear at the name, for their doom shall come from the barrels of Cadian guns, fired by Cadian hands! Forward, for vengeance and retribution, in His name and the names of our fallen comrades!

  24. - Top - End - #24
    Bugbear in the Playground
     
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    Default Re: DMs: What should I put in my backstory that you find helpful?

    The thing that help me the most is places and people.

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