D&D General Back story adventure

Dr Toad

First Post
Two of my players want to live/play out their back story. Trying to figure out the best way to do this in campaign. In preparation for this I have fleshed out back stories to include much more detail and history including places and past event in current campaign. I have only run three sessions ever as a DM and haven't played in 30+ years.

Ideas include:
  • Dreams/flash backs that connect them to current events but flesh out history, possible induced maliciously by an NPC to try and drum up painful memories to gain information about past events, gain advantage over players, or gain information to control them or harm their loved ones.
  • Separate campaign that starts with a younger version of themselves with other players being people in back story or NPCish characters.
  • Connect back story to current events via NPCs telling them about their history
  • Time travel event "back to the future" style having to fix the time line in their own history

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Unless you are starting higher than level 1, I'd watch out for doing super awesome things in backstory that they wouldn't be capable of when the game starts.


For a Star Wars campaign once I ran quick solo adventures for all the players to establish how their characters came to join the Rebellion. Obviously there wasn't a huge amount of depth, but it was fun.

If the campaign is already underway, but you still want to keep it exciting, one way to go would be to run the backstory from someone else's perspective: a mentor or older relative. The PC becomes an NPC sidekick, and you don't have to worry about the character becoming overpowered or dying - it's all part of the backstory.

Dr Toad

First Post
Good point on the awesomeness of the tasks. I like the solo campaign idea with the player as a 2nd/3rd party observer. With the solo adventure how did you involve the other players at all?


B/X Known World
I really hate players bringing involved and epic backstories to the game. If you’re playing a 1st-level character with zero XP, you don’t have 30-pages of backstory. You’ve got a paragraph at most.

If a player wants to play through something they have in mind, that’s cool. They’re handing you a plot hook they’ll always bite. Convert it from settled backstory to an active plot hook and play through it at the table. Take the backstory, roll it back to the point where it’s unresolved, then drop it in the game. Instead of “I quested for years and fought my brother for my birthright” it becomes “I need to quest for years and fight my brother for my birthright.”

Having something set in stone that’s already resolved in a specific way doesn’t sound fun to play through. There’s no danger or risk. No chance things can go sideways. So, to me, there’s no fun in playing through it. You’re following a script, not playing a game.


B/X Known World
That is my challenge making it playable without altering history, having it be too difficult, and making entertaining.
Right. That's the problem. It's set history. Which makes it basically impossible to play through. It's set in stone. It's doing a table read of a bit of the player's fiction. If they're willing to make it not history, rather something they need to do in the future, i.e. not predetermined, then you can make it playable. Because it's got possibilities. Good rolls, bad rolls, things can change, etc. If it's set in stone, there's no play there.

Like playing a game of Star Wars. Your players want to exactly replicate the first Star Wars movie. But as an RPG. Nothing gets changed and everything plays out exactly like the movie. Those are mutually exclusive. Either it's a game where things can change, or it plays out exactly as written. You can't have both.

Or Doctor Who. Your characters' backstories are fixed points in time. You can't change them. If you can't change anything, there's no point in playing through it. You're back to doing a table read of the players' fiction.

Your players are asking for the impossible.

"Play" or develop it by email. As others have said, any background experience etc are not adventures except in the theme of how a child has an adventure the first time they get ice cream, or see a kobold, or meet a celebrity, or visit some temple or library.

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