So, you’ve been wanting to create a character for this awesome campaign you are joining. You love the idea of story and roleplay based games, but you’re going into uncharted territory. As a prerequisite of joining, your Dungeon Master requires that you write a short background story for your character. The problem you may be having is that you’ve never been much of a writer so you don’t know where to start. Well, look no further. Here are a few tips and tricks to help you build your very first character background or improve upon your backstory skills.
**As a quick disclaimer, this guide to creating a character backstory in dungeons and dragons is meant for those that want to have a more detailed backstory. If your Dungeon Master only requires that you write a minimum of a half-page or so, then take what we’re saying here and try your best to abbreviate. Keep it as short and simple as you can, unless you want more depth.**
As always, here’s a brief overview of what we’ll cover:
- Consider Your Character’s Basic Build and How You Want Him to Get There
- Origins: Parents and Family History
- The Early Years of Life: Childhood and So Forth
- Coming into Their Own: What did They do in Their Youth and What Have They Defined as Their Purpose?
- What is it That Brings Them to the Current Circumstances?
- Still Struggling? Find Some Help
Considering Your Character’s Build, and How You Want He/ She to Get There
Typically when I make a character, I like to build the character sheet first. If you are unsure on how to build a character, check out this step by step guide.
This will give me an idea as to how the character will function, what their alignment is, and where I want them to be when I start playing. A dashing, puckish rogue? A Rough, rugged barbarian? A hardened, faithful paladin? All of these things are important to consider when creating a backstory.
For instance, let’s say you want to make a cleric. You want to be the healer of the party. In order to be a cleric, your character must typically establish a faithful bond of worship with a deity. This can be a good focal point for your story. How your character came across said deity, and why they chose to devote themselves to this god must be answered. Perhaps your character’s family have been devout to this deity for generations and they are simply following in the footsteps of their ancestors. Or perhaps someone dear to your character fell ill, and they prayed to this deity for help. Thus, said deity answered their prayer awarding his/her faith and trust by healing their friend.
Maybe you don’t want to be a holy man, but instead a vessel for vengeance. Your character is an assassin, but why? What happened to this character to push them onto a path of vengeance? Is it personal? Or is it more a vindication much like that of a vigilante? Perhaps they are only interested in the lucrative bounty these assassinations bring and want nothing to do with vengeance.
The whole idea of this analyzing process is to find a solid base to build your character background up from.
Once you have this basic idea of what your character is and what their motivations are, creating a story around those central aspects will be a cake walk. Take notes on your characters basic wants, needs, and drives before you start writing.
Origins: Parents, Family, and History
Next, you’ll want to start writing your draft. I usually like to start with where my character grew up and to whom he/ she was born. Was the character’s family highborn nobility? Common folk? Or even perhaps of an even lower social class? What did the character’s parents do for a living? Are they still alive? Does the character have any siblings or other relatives? What is the history of your character’s family? Is there any significance to their ancestry?
You don’t need to spend any more time than you feel is necessary on this part. Just include details you feel to be important to your character’s development. Things that help to shape his or her name. Details that help you and your Dungeon Master get a good glimpse at where it was that your character came from and how that influences them.
The Early Years: Character Development
Now we’re getting to the fun part. After you’ve described your character’s family and heritage, it’s time to talk about what happened to them in their spring-time of youth. This is where you want to explain and elaborate on specific events that occurred during this time. I would say typically between the ages of 5 to 17 or so. Of course, you don’t have to be too specific on what age your character was when these events occurred. Just try your best to be brief and include necessary information.
For example, if I were to play a character on the path of revenge, that means the character would need something or someone to avenge. Perhaps he and his family were taken as slaves and were forced to live a harsh life of servitude, which ultimately led to the death of most of his family. This fueled his rage for his captors. Now, he is hell-bent on claiming his vengeance upon those who have stolen his freedom and the lives of those he loved.
Whenever you’re starting off with writing a story, it’s best to use events and occurrences that are based on things you have experienced, seen, or read about in your own childhood.
This will help the process feel a lot smoother and natural, rather than forced. It will also help with your ability to roleplay as the character because you can relate to him/ her in some way.
By now you should have a good idea as to what your character’s upbringing looked like. It is now time to talk about what has happened to them as they came into adulthood to the present moment. Ask yourself what has your character been doing with their time up to now? Have they been traveling and seeing the world? Perhaps they’ve stayed within a secluded cloister of the deity they worship? Maybe they grew tired of their mediocre life and chose to join a troupe of entertainers or adventurers. Try to come up with a series of events that befits your character, and explains how they acquired their current skillset.
While in this part of the story, I usually like to write about something or someone the character lost.
This can help to bring your character to life by giving you and the others something to sympathize with. It will help your character feel more real and believable to the Dungeon Master and your fellow players. Of course, you don’t have to do this. However, it is typical for most people that by the time they reach adulthood, they have experienced a significant loss of some kind.
You can even base the series of events off of a character you have heard of or were inspired by. Just be sure to throw in your own original twists to make the story truly yours.
What is it That Brings Them to the Current Circumstance?
Finally, you’ll want to close out your background story with how it is your player ended up in the party or at least where the character is when they run into the party for the first time. What were they doing and how did they get there? Were they tracking down a person that was linked to the murder of their family and taken prisoner by said person? Was your character wandering the woods contemplating the meaning of life when they stumbled across the party in a battle with a great monstrosity? Have they known members of the party for quite some time, and had a heartfelt reunion with them which lead to your character joining the group?
The best thing to do when ending your backstory is to keep it open ended.
The final sentence should be one that would leave the readers believing that this is only the first chapter of your story because frankly, it is. This is the opening verse of your epic poem, that you and your companions will contribute more verses to.
Still Struggling? Ask for Help!
If you are still having trouble coming up with a backstory you like, ask for some help. Find a friend you believe to be a good writer and ask their opinion and/ or aid. Better yet, ask your Dungeon Master for help. I can’t think of anyone better suited to help you craft a story than the person who has built the lore and history for an entire world that you are about to become immersed in. You can even ask some forums for a bit of help. D&D Beyond has helpful resources on tons of things, including creating backstories. There are plenty of people out there on the web, myself included, that are more than happy to help you out in crafting your character’s tale. Just ask, and trust me, you shall receive!
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Thank you all again for reading! If I missed something from here, please comment below and give your own thoughts. What techniques do you use when creating a character backstory? Please share!! Also, please don’t forget to subscribe to our email list for updates and more tips and tricks! Happy tale-telling!
Author: Ven’Orik (Zach)
I’m just a regular nerd with a passion for storytelling and fantasy. Growing up I read books by Tolkein and C.S. Lewis, and this solidified my love for the genre. I first started playing D&D when I was 13 and have been pursuing it since. I’m just here to share my knowledge and hopefully learn a thing or two from all of you as well!