D&D: Character's Backstory

July 20, 2018

So, you want to create your Dungeons and Dragons character. You have come to the right place!

If you're following the Player's Handbook, you already know you'll need to choose at least a race and subrace, class and subclass, and background. You'll also need a name for your character, as well as to decide their gender and approximate age. You can also decide (or roll) for their height and weight and choose other physical characteristics for them, which will help you describe your character to the DM and the other players. Some Dungeon Masters might even ask you to choose an alignment, personality trait, ideal, bond and flaw.

Even though it may seem a bit time consuming (and maybe daunting) to come up with all of this on your own (especially if it's your very first or one of your first D&D characters), the truth is you'll find on the Player's Handbook all the information you'll need about all of these topics, allowing you to read the thorough descriptions and choose the ones that you think might best suit your character. There are even online resources that make this task even easier, like lists with all the personality traits, ideals, bonds and flaws compiled into one page, for easier research. And, if you're a bit more adventurous or a more experienced player, you can also find plenty of custom homebrew (fan-made) races, classes, and backgrounds online for you to play with.

However, there is one last thing you will need for your character: their backstory.

But what about the backstory? A character's backstory serves mainly two purposes: it allows you as a player to get to know your character better, which will allow you to more easily and intuitively roleplay them, but it also gives the DM some information he or she might want to incorporate into the story, solidifying your character as being a part of the world, and thus increasing the players' engagement.

While it's true that there are also a few resources (such as The Ultimate RPG Character Backstory Guide by James Damato), coming up with a good backstory can certainly be a bit trickier than coming up with the rest of the things for your character.

However, coming up with a backstory for your character helps you have a better understanding of who they are as a person, as well as their hopes, dreams, and fears, thus allowing you to better roleplay them during the D&D sessions.

The complexity of your character's backstory will also depend on how much time you have to create one. Are you creating a backstory for a session you'll be having in one or two weeks? Or did your regular session not happen for some reason and you all decided to just play a one-shot instead? If that's the case, and you're trying to come up with a quick backstory for a last minute game, Bacon has 6 basic questions you can easily answer to create a neat backstory for any character, even if you're making one in the nick of time:

1. Where was the character born?
2. Who are their parents?
2.1 Are the parents/family still alive?
3. What was your character doing before the adventuring life?
4. Why did your character leave their previous life?
5. What did your character leave behind?
6. What does your character want? (motivations)

The first five questions help you design a proper backstory for your character, while the last one helps you set up for their future.

If you have a bit more time to work on a more elaborate backstory, there's also the 20 Questions To Deep Character Creation article, which is quite good.

Another crowd favorite is having people other than your character's family. Did your character have any love interest? Any friends? Any childhood rivals? Most DMs love these little details, as it's something extra they might want to use somewhere down the line. Also, these don't necessarily need to be human. Did you leave behind a dog or cat because you suddenly became allergic to them? Did you grow up surrounded by blink dogs because your parents were Beastmasters or breeders of exotic creatures? Just food for thought.

However, there is something else I personally like to do when I'm creating more elaborate backstories when I have some extra time: use them to explain my character sheet. Is my character proficient with a specific tool or instrument? Can they speak an exotic language? Are they carrying an unusual item? I try to include in my background a small explanation for these things.

What about you? How do you usually come up with backstories for your characters?

Go ahead, treat yourself to something else:


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