How to Create an Awesome D&D Character Backstory!
Guest Blog by Ashley Gage
So, you’ve got a new dnd character, huh? With a shiny new character sheet and you’re eager to start playing and see what they can do. But something you may be struggling with is coming up with a more in-depth character backstory. Well, that’s where I come in. I’m here to show you the ropes on how to spruce up any character and make them the most fleshed-out version they can be.
A good place to start is with your PC's home life. Do they have parents? Siblings? What are their names? Are they married or do they live alone? Creating a family dynamic can help ground your character within the world and supply some extra NPC's in a pinch.
Next, and probably the thing I see most new players struggle with, is finding a motivation for your pc - what makes them want to be an adventurer? They could be seeking to avenge a fallen family member, or maybe they’re doing it for some extra cash. Perhaps they’re on a journey cross-continent and they’re picking up odd jobs along the way. Hell, maybe they’re out trying to find their lost dog. Anything you can think of that can give your character direction within the campaign can get you invested in the world and make playing that much more fulfilling.
Now that we’ve established some basics, let’s spice up this pc. A lot of the backstory you create for yourself may not always appear in gameplay, but the better you know the character you’re playing, the better you’ll be able to navigate how you interact with the world around you. Some good questions to ask yourself:
How does my character behave under stress? Do they carry any special mementos with them? What’s their sense of humor like? What habit could they have that may annoy their fellow adventurers? Are they keeping a secret from anyone? Why? Do they have any phobias that might impede their adventuring?
These character traits all serve to help you roleplay your pc to the best of your ability and makes them feel real within the world your dm has created. If you’re having trouble picking out some character traits, try paying attention to some of your favorite characters within the properties and franchises you already watch! What drives these characters to do what they do? If you had to pick three words to describe them, what would they be? Watching others can oftentimes be the best inspiration for how to create your own unique character.
Now if any of this seems overwhelming, have no fear. If you’re stuck or confused about your character- talk to your dm! They can help you flesh out any character traits you’re looking for, as well as help you with new info, like where your pc comes from in their setting, or what social class they may be. Dnd is a collaborative game and dm’s are there to help make sure your pc is getting what they need and that you’re happy with the character choices you’ve made.
As a template for what we’ve covered so far, let’s use one of my old PC's, Savannah. Savannah is 19 years old and a sophomore in college. She has a dad named Wayne, a younger brother named Owen, and a robot dog named Kiwi. She lives on campus at school, but when the campaign started, she had no motivation! The dm and I found her motivation once the campaign started, and she joined a group of students trying to save the school from an old curse. Some character traits I found through gameplay is that she cracks easily under pressure and finds it impossible to talk to a cute girl. She also carries a necklace with her mom’s photo in it as a memento. Not everything you see here became relevant to the gameplay, but it made it much easier for myself as a player and for my dm to understand who Savannah was as a person, and that helped create narrative moments that furthered her development as a character.
You’ve created a family, you’ve got the motivation, you have character traits coming out of your ears- you’re ready to go! The campaign is well underway and yet, there’s one last tip I will leave you with. Allow room for your backstory to change. Everything we’ve talked about so far is great and can be built upon and expanded as far as your imagination will take it. But as the campaign continues and changes, so should your backstory.
Maybe your pc overcame that fear. Maybe they discovered they were adopted, and they have a whole new set of family members. Maybe they found their dog! Now what? Backstories are not meant to be stagnant, set in stone pieces of information destined to never change. New experiences and events that your pc goes through will undoubtedly shape your pc further and impact parts of who they are, and that’s okay! You don’t need to come to the table with 100% of your character figured out. Let your dm and fellow players/ PC's help you tell stories that shape your pc into who they are and who they were meant to be.
At the end of the day, dnd is all about you and your group of friends and what y’all want to get out of the game. A backstory is a template to help you get into character and to guide your character through the world and help inform the choices they make. Backstories are allowed to bend, break, and change altogether. Go as in-depth or as basic as you want. Keep adventuring, keep exploring, and keep learning. Happy Trails!