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  1. - Top - End - #1
    Pixie in the Playground
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    Aug 2020

    Default Make interesting backstories!

    Hey guys! I looked over the rules and didn't see anything against this, so here goes...

    I have just started a new Pirate Themed campaign in 5e, and my players have come through very well in coming up with interesting backstories. Even better, they left a lot of blanks for me to fill in. I have a deep love of using players' backstories in complex ways, coming up with twists and turns they don't expect, and trying to have them come away going, "wow, I never would have seen that coming!"

    Unfortunately for this, I also happen to not be very good at it.

    So my intent in this thread is to post what the players gave me, and kind of "crowdsource" some brainstorming. I've never been much of an out-of-the-box thinker, and my goal is to provide the best experience possible for my players, so I would love to hear any ideas y'all have on these!

    If this sounds like something you'd be interested in, let me know down below and I'll start putting them in!

  2. - Top - End - #2
    Orc in the Playground
     
    RedWizardGuy

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    Mar 2013
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    Utah
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    Male

    Default Re: Make interesting backstories!

    I'd be happy to be involved.

  3. - Top - End - #3
    Pixie in the Playground
    Join Date
    Aug 2020

    Default Re: Make interesting backstories!

    OK!

    Let's see, the first backstory is for a female elf monk named Artemis Blight.

    For a bit of context, this campaign takes place in my homebrew world of Ordon, which is centrally dominated by a Solar Empire. Far to the west lie the Endless Forests of Stal, and to the East lies the Shackles, a pirate nation. The Shackles is where this campaign is taking place.

    Here's what I was given:

    "On a dark and stormy night, an unknown traveler bearing a small elf child begged shelter and refuge from the monks of a monastery on Daggerfall island. He bore many wounds, as did the child he carried. He believed himself to be amongst the Shackles, half the world away, and spoke of the terrible monster that he believed had torn them. The man lived under the care of the monks for many weeks, repeatedly telling his fevered tale, before finally dying of his wounds. While the elf was able to heal, the unknown injury had left it horribly scarred, and unable to speak. The monks continued caring for the child, teaching it their own unique ways and eventually learning to communicate with their hands through Thieves Cant.

    "Once grown, with her elven wanderlust, aided by a hatred for monsters, she took to the sea that surrounded her, carried by the skill and knowledge of her monk upbringing. By sea and by foot, she journeyed the southern edges of the Empire, seeking knowledge of the creature that had marked her, and of the Shackles. Even in the Imperial City, she was unable to find a scholar or caster able or willing to identify the monster whose mark she bore. Guided by a thief with whom she could ‘speak’ she joined a pirate vessel bound for the Shackles. It didn’t make it, being instead captured in a bloody battle by an Imperial battleship. Thus was her second hatred born. Eventually she escaped, and was able to to sign herself to another ship bound for the Shackles. Destination, Planks Landing…"

    After this, she was sold into slavery on board the ship of one Arronax Endymion, a former Empire Sailor turned pirate captain of the Shackles, and a very politically involved one at that. She worked her way up the ranks, and eventually was awarded freedom by her captain for her exemplary service. After almost 10 years of that work however, she decided to stay on as a paid "enforcer" for the captain on land.

    First of all, this is awesome, and I'm so proud of what they came up with. Of course there are several questions left unanswered here. Daggerfall Island is on the other side of the map from the Shackles, so how did a man and a baby end up there? What kind of monster could have done this? Who was this man?

    I have considered this monster a bit, and I still don't have anything concrete. I considered the monsters integral to the main storyline of the campaign, but none of them fit the description (except maybe the Kraken, but it's been locked away for a thousand years...). I also considered the idea that the reason this monster could not be found was because it was, in fact, a humanoid individual, but I still have no idea who it would be, why they would do such a thing, or how any of this information would get to the character anyway.

    I have a few various scribblings, but I would love to get some input from the community.
    Last edited by MorningStar; 2020-09-23 at 03:30 PM.

  4. - Top - End - #4
    Barbarian in the Playground
     
    Composer99's Avatar

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    Sep 2013

    Default Re: Make interesting backstories!

    The monster could be an aboleth, beholder, or mind flayer with spellcasting capability, or something of that nature.

    Perhaps this creature is an analogue of Jon Irenicus (the principal antagonist of Baldur's Gate II), who carried out many monstrous magical experiments, often involving torture and horrific transmutations. Perhaps this creature was engaged in such an experiment when something went catastrophically wrong, blasting it into another plane of existence and Artemis and her caretaker to Daggerfall Island.

    If other victims of the monster survived the incident, they might turn up during the campaign, and the monster itself might appear as a minor antagonist, having managed to find its way back to this plane of existence and perhaps trying to rebuild its power and resources by allying with one of the major campaign antagonists. Perhaps something of interest, whether to Artemis personally or with respect to the campaign, can be found by exploring the monster's old lair.

    Depending on what aspects of Artemis' character her player chooses to focus on, this could lead to unearthing Artemis' origins (whether they were meaningful or not - maybe she was born to an important family and was kidnapped in infancy, in which case the one who brought her might have been a bodyguard or older relative seized at the same time, but maybe not), or a way of satiating some of the burning hatred in her heart by revenging herself upon the one whose malevolent influence was foundational in shaping the elf she is today.
    ~ Composer99

    D&D 5e Homebrew:
    Character Options: Fighter Remix, Paladin Oaths, Ranger Remix, Sorcerer Remix
    Playing the Game: Using Ability Score Variants
    New Subsystems: Combat Manoeuvre System, Weapon Generator
    Monsters: Yogg-Saron

  5. - Top - End - #5
    Orc in the Playground
     
    RedWizardGuy

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    Mar 2013
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    Utah
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    Default Re: Make interesting backstories!

    Do you want to play up the "unable" or "unwilling" part of identifying whatever attacked her? If unable seems to be the way to go, then I'd probably try for something very rare - homebrew if you feel like it, or something on the more obscure end of things that you just won't see elsewhere in the campaign. I might consider a chimaera, because the combination of the beasts would make it very unusual and difficult to identify when going that way. This doesn't get to why they are far away from where they thought they were, though.
    If unwilling, then I'd be more inclined to make it be something that is very powerful, and people don't want to get involved, which to me screams some sort of fiend. Perhaps the man was a member of a cult, and the cult was going to sacrifice the child, and he finally broke from them. He took the child, preventing the fiend from being able to make it fully into the world. The man could have had access to teleport, through his own skills or some type of item, and was using it to attempt to flee when the fiend attacks, mortally wounding him and throwing the spell off enough that he is far from where he thought he would end up. The reason for the child not being able to speak could be because they started to cut the baby's throat during the ritual, severing the vocal cords but not getting to an artery before the man rescued her.
    Or, if the Kraken is a major focus that you will be getting to, maybe it is some creature that is a harbinger of the Kraken. Could be the same type of ritual as the fiend, except done by a Kraken priest, as part of a ritual to free the Kraken. That would tie the backstory into the eventual release, and the man who saved her helped to push back that release for all of the years that Artemis has been alive since the failed ritual.

  6. - Top - End - #6
    Bugbear in the Playground
     
    RedKnightGirl

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    Feb 2006
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    California
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    Male

    d6 Re: Make interesting backstories!

    Who taught them their skills.?

    Where did they go to school.?

    Do they have a rival.?

    Do they have a reason to leave home.

    How did they get a start found a chest of silver coins for equipment.

    Did they have militarily training?

    Answer questions

    I had cleric that left because direct superior hated him. Head of that temple was favorable towards him but need more leveled clerics and information.
    Last edited by denthor; 2020-09-24 at 10:42 AM.
    9 wisdom true neutral cleric you know you want me in your adventuring party


  7. - Top - End - #7
    Pixie in the Playground
    Join Date
    Aug 2020

    Default Re: Make interesting backstories!

    Ok, I love all of these suggestions! Thinking about all the disparate pieces, here’s what I’ve got so far.

    So I was thinking about the monster that would have attacked them, and I think it was a modified animal. What’s more, both man and child were originally gathered to this tiny island for the sake of scientific testing.

    See there’s a wizard in my world who has been an antagonist across multiple campaigns. One of his main traits, however, it that he is currently experimenting with a new type of magic. He has learned to create entirely new substances, and imbue them with whatever properties he likes. This of course makes him a very powerful foe.
    As Artemis is a full-blooded elf and these events happened quite some time ago, I have come to the conclusion that she and the older man were test subjects for this material. The wizard chose a small island, and was working on bonding his materials to living flesh, and modified some animals. These two people would have been the first sentient creatures to have this done to them.

    Of course, they instead escaped, but not before they were both dealt wounds that resisted healing magic by a modified animal. Using some of the unique teleportation technology available to this wizard (since it is substance-based, I imagine that there was something like a teleportation circle that sent them off the island to the other side of the planet.

    Now that the years have passed, the wizard is further along in his plans, but the island and its strange inhabitants are still there. I imagine that the party will initially hear a few rumors, but the plot will definitely direct them onto this island. And of course, if they ask too many questions, another monk (for good ok’ symmetry) will show up to put a stop to that - enhanced by this strange material.

    I think this will be pretty interesting.

  8. - Top - End - #8
    Pixie in the Playground
     
    DruidGuy

    Join Date
    May 2016

    Default Re: Make interesting backstories!

    I mean you realize there is nothing stopping you from going full Star Wars. Why should the Elf be some random child being experimented on, if she could instead be the wizards daughter, who he wanted to imbue with great power. You can leave it open till the very end if the wizard or the guy who rescued/abducted her was the bad guy. Maybe the person she was with as a child was the wizards assistant saving her from a fate he deemed worse than death (but which might not have been), or maybe he wanted her power for himself...

    Cliche bonus points if it turns out at the very end that she did in fact get imbued with some nascent power, and the solution to solving the situation was 'inside her all along'...

  9. - Top - End - #9
    Bugbear in the Playground
     
    RedKnightGirl

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    Feb 2006
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    California
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    d6 Re: Make interesting backstories!

    Quote Originally Posted by GuzWaatensen View Post
    I mean you realize there is nothing stopping you from going full Star Wars. Why should the Elf be some random child being experimented on, if she could instead be the wizards daughter, who he wanted to imbue with great power. You can leave it open till the very end if the wizard or the guy who rescued/abducted her was the bad guy. Maybe the person she was with as a child was the wizards assistant saving her from a fate he deemed worse than death (but which might not have been), or maybe he wanted her power for himself...

    Cliche bonus points if it turns out at the very end that she did in fact get imbued with some nascent power, and the solution to solving the situation was 'inside her all along'...
    How very Naruto a child with no parents imbued with great power.
    9 wisdom true neutral cleric you know you want me in your adventuring party


  10. - Top - End - #10
    Bugbear in the Playground
     
    Tawmis's Avatar

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    Mar 2004
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    Default Re: Make interesting backstories!

    As a DM, I love using backgrounds to get the players personally involved because now their characters are directly at stake.

    I also enjoy writing backstories (see my signature for the thread with well over 150 backgrounds I've written for folks on the forum!)

    So I'd be glad to jump in and help.

    Quote Originally Posted by MorningStar View Post
    OK!
    Let's see, the first backstory is for a female elf monk named Artemis Blight.
    Here's what I was given:
    I have considered this monster a bit, and I still don't have anything concrete. I considered the monsters integral to the main storyline of the campaign, but none of them fit the description (except maybe the Kraken, but it's been locked away for a thousand years...). I also considered the idea that the reason this monster could not be found was because it was, in fact, a humanoid individual, but I still have no idea who it would be, why they would do such a thing, or how any of this information would get to the character anyway.
    I have a few various scribblings, but I would love to get some input from the community.
    The idea that there's no "record" of what could have caused this opens up some doors.
    I was thinking, imagine an Illithid that's using Magic to have a crew enslaved - using fog to keep them covered - or maybe an Illithid that grew up in daylight (maybe captured, was a "prized possession" of someone until it became an adult and killed it's master - and now, has no sunlight sensitivity because of how it grew up). So an Illithid commanding a ship - and those that he or she captures - feeds on their brains. Those who wait to be fed upon, are injected with nonstop nightmares from the Illthid, to keep them weak and exhausted from fighting back. The Illithid captured the ship of a noble elf, and the guardian of the child, managed to grab the child and escape, after being enslaved on the ship for weeks - and inflicted with wounds, injected with nightmares, etc.
    So her vision of this creature - that she can barely recall - or you as a DM can slowly start to introduce in the form of nightmares of her infant childhood slowly coming back - as far as she can tell was some kind of "squid that attacked the ship." (The Illithid's features) As the adventure progresses, you can keep having her have pieces of the nightmare reveal the truth.
    As for how the guardian got from one side to the other, when he escaped, he escaped with some of the wealth of the noble, knowing he'd need it to protect the child.

    This allows you to create a villain (the Illithid Pirate) and build him (or her) up slowly, by revealing pieces at a time.
    Last edited by Tawmis; 2020-10-13 at 03:57 AM.
    Need a character background written up? I'd be happy to write one up for you! Now with over 150 character backgrounds written! How can you help me? Not required, but appreciated, if you're so inclined! <3

    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!)

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