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D&D General Character Backstory System That Works

GilMan21

Nice Fella.
Backstories for Your Character
A lot of people ask me about when they should provide the backstory for their character. Many people—and I am the guiltiest—show up with their starting character and oh the backstory they have. Pages on pages.
And then they take a bullet or arrow and alas, they are gone. Their story about losing their parents in the village or growing up on the streets on the moon of Blacar is simply deleted or even worse, just handed off to the next character (it’s my uncle! Whoops!)
I think every time a character levels, gets better, receives a new skill or boon, they get to answer one simple question about their backstory.
  • What is a fear they have?
  • What is something that they have sacrificed and why?
  • What is the name of a childhood friend they’ve lost touch with?
(I wouldn’t have the same question for every character. I suggest making it random or at least a batch of questions you’re interested in.)
As the character grows, their backstory does as well.

What else would you want to know?

This is an excerpt from Burn the Tavern Down, a newsletter about good RPG ideas.
 

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iserith

Magic Wordsmith
I ask players to provide a backstory that is no longer than a Tweet. Just enough to get the basic concept across. During play, if they feel inspired by what's going on, they can add to it via character dialogue or to justify some action or another. Over time, this builds up into a more complete picture that is a great deal more memorable in my view than writing it all out before the game begins (and doesn't risk wasted effort if the character buys the farm.)
 

cmad1977

Hero
I ask players to provide a backstory that is no longer than a Tweet. Just enough to get the basic concept across. During play, if they feel inspired by what's going on, they can add to it via character dialogue or to justify some action or another. Over time, this builds up into a more complete picture that is a great deal more memorable in my view than writing it all out before the game begins (and doesn't risk wasted effort if the character buys the farm.)

Yup.
 





the_redbeard

Explorer
Having the option of dying before the game even starts was a stupid idea. It's completely pointless.
It's a mini-game of push your luck. How many terms do you go? Do you quit after that promotion, or do you keep going?
Traveller has lots of mini-games within it (like trade), but character generation is the first one.
 

Ratskinner

Adventurer
If you have a chance to do a "Session Zero", I highly recommend it. see: the Fate SRD. Blades in the Dark also has players choose two NPCs to have relationships with, one positive and one negative.

It brings the players into the creative process of generating the world a bit more than D&D usually does. Whether that's tolerable or not is up to you.

Ideas for D&D-specific Session Zero:
  • Have the players pick 2 or 3 drives, and explain the nature of those drives in their history. (Like: "Duty: My family comes first.")
  • Describe the area and setting you will be starting in. Have each player name at least 2 NPCs in the area, and their relationship to them. One relationship should be positive and one should be negative.
  • Especially if you are not starting at level 1, have the players invent a few previous adventures and explain how each affected their relationship to one of the NPCs and one of the other PCs. Three previous adventures is usually plenty to "web" the group together.
 

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