How much back story do you allow/expect at the start of the game?
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  1. #1
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    ° Block Mort


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    How much back story do you allow/expect at the start of the game?

    My answer used to be - as much as the player is willing to write, but that's changed.

    Now I ask for no more than a short paragraph.

    Thoughts?

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    ° Block ccs


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    At least a short paragraph or two. And if a character is joining at higher than 1st lv. I expect a paragraph concerning each lv. Likewise if you're starting with any unique equipment.
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    I go in the opposite direction - we always do a session 0 for party/character creation. During this we work out at least thumbnail background as well as connection to multiple other characters.

    As a DM, I want hooks. More things both overt and subtle that I can tie your character into adventures. Generic "I'm here to kill things and loot their bodies" need not apply. Here's an article about making a good number of usable hooks.

    https://www.reddit.com/r/DnD/comment..._called_knife/

    I also enjoy player input on the setting. "Hey, the rogue just gave me a bunch about the guild he was in and the guard organization of the major city he was front. Fantastic!". "The barbarian just fleshed out details of his tribes beliefs and ancestor worship". These aren't directly backstory, but is details from players for me to incorporate which may touch on the question.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Blue View Post
    I go in the opposite direction - we always do a session 0 for party/character creation. During this we work out at least thumbnail background as well as connection to multiple other characters.

    As a DM, I want hooks. More things both overt and subtle that I can tie your character into adventures. Generic "I'm here to kill things and loot their bodies" need not apply. Here's an article about making a good number of usable hooks.

    https://www.reddit.com/r/DnD/comment..._called_knife/

    I also enjoy player input on the setting. "Hey, the rogue just gave me a bunch about the guild he was in and the guard organization of the major city he was front. Fantastic!". "The barbarian just fleshed out details of his tribes beliefs and ancestor worship". These aren't directly backstory, but is details from players for me to incorporate which may touch on the question.
    That's one reason I actually only want a paragraph or less. Any more is generally done as a group.

    I encourage the players to come up with a theme to tie the group together and help push the initial adventures forward.

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    I play AL - few people care about your backstory if it takes longer than 30 seconds to tell them.

    The few home games I've played in over the last 5 years or so...the DM's haven't really cared much about the backstories. They have a predetermined series of events for the campaign and that's what is happening.

    That doesn't stop me from writing backstories that range from a couple of paragraphs to a couple of pages. I just don't expect anyone else to care about it.

    As a DM, I like the players to come up with a backstory for their character as long as it fits within the context of the campaign world (no being responsible for world shaking events or deific interventions in your backstory). I'll try to use their backstory to create a personalized story arc for that character in the game, and tie it into the greater campaign story if I can. Sometimes it works better than others.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mort View Post
    That's one reason I actually only want a paragraph or less. Any more is generally done as a group.

    I encourage the players to come up with a theme to tie the group together and help push the initial adventures forward.
    I go more for things that push the ending adventures forward. I run multi year campaign (last two completed were 5 and 7 years, current is 3.5 and going strong). To fill something like that I need to both have arcs for every character where they get spotlight - and backstory hooks are a useful tool for that - and multiple campaign arcs. The campaign arcs by the end don't look like anything from when they started*, but they are partially seeded from those hooks of the backstory. I usually start with about three or four campaign arcs, and by the end of the campaign I've figured out how to tie them together.

    * "Started" - nothing I plan is "true" until it hits the table. So I revise what's the "big picture" as player interests are revealed and character actions occur.
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    ° Block Tony Vargas


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    Allow? Anything short of a novella, I suppose, would be tolerable.

    Expect? Nothing - some players just want to see how the character developes, its backstory discovered as it comes up in play or player is inspired - others just don't care, the implications of chargen are enough, they may even expect the GM to fill it in at times ("oh, hey, where're we from, anyway?)...
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  8. #8
    Most times my players are either not interested in creating a back story, or don't have the time to do so.

    But I did find a great chart that sorta fills in some of the blanks about a character's past.

    Social status
    birth table (first, second, 10th child, only)
    Parent's profession
    Parent's Status (living, dead) and if dead - how
    If PC is single/married/widowed
    If PC has offspring.

    Those tables give enough details about the character's past that most times fills the void for a back story. It also only takes a few minutes to do so the players like that as well.

    Sure there are no "Names" given. That can be added in later if the DM wants to incorporate some of the character(s)'s history into a current story arc.


    Only one time while as a player my DM wanted a more complete back story. One we could not share with other players. Information that would only be revealed in-game when required.

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    ° Block Arilyn


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    Quote Originally Posted by Blue View Post
    I go in the opposite direction - we always do a session 0 for party/character creation. During this we work out at least thumbnail background as well as connection to multiple other characters.

    As a DM, I want hooks. More things both overt and subtle that I can tie your character into adventures. Generic "I'm here to kill things and loot their bodies" need not apply. Here's an article about making a good number of usable hooks.

    https://www.reddit.com/r/DnD/comment..._called_knife/

    I also enjoy player input on the setting. "Hey, the rogue just gave me a bunch about the guild he was in and the guard organization of the major city he was front. Fantastic!". "The barbarian just fleshed out details of his tribes beliefs and ancestor worship". These aren't directly backstory, but is details from players for me to incorporate which may touch on the question.
    I like this approach as well. I find a session 0 often gets players pumped for the following week. Also, taking some time with character creation to establish ties and hooks just makes the game better.

    On the other hand, sometimes players with a sketchy or no background develop into the deepest characters, and others who arrive with a novella don't actually play to what was written. One of the longest and best campaigns we had was thrown together quickly. We were just going to use the characters for quickie, more shallow adventures as a break from our more "serious" group. They took over....The campaign was long, detailed, not at all shallow. We were planning on using published modules and adventures from Dragon magazine. I think we used two. The characters clicked, stories took off. It's still remembered fondly, and that was about 14 years ago.

    That's what I love about this hobby. You never know how things will unfold.
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    ° Block shidaku


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    My players are free to write as much as they want. I on the other hand am under no obligation to read any of it.

    All I ask my players to provide me is 5 important elements of their past, present and future. Just a simple list, so for example:
    Past: (things they had that they still value)
    Parents
    Home
    Sibling(s)
    Pets
    Farming

    Present: (things they have that they have learned to value)
    Loyalty
    Honesty
    Good Beer
    Adventure
    Pumpkin Spice

    Future: (things that they want to obtain)
    Wealth
    Home
    Family
    Chickens
    Clocks

    They can be singular words as above, or short sentences. Such as "I want to obtain the special clock my Grandfather made."
    This tells me WORLDS about your background without pages of fluff. Your grandfather made clocks. There was one clock that was "special" in some regard. You no longer have this clock. You may or may not know who has the clock or how to obtain it.
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