Player Advice: Quick And Dirty Character Backstories

I like to write. I'm a writer. Write all day long. Writing for days! Writing is fun for me, so when I get the opportunity to jump into crafting a detailed character backstory arises, I jump at it like Jaws popping out of the water to get himself a tasty snack.

 "Imma gonna getchya"

But after composing a seven page epic on the early days of my character, how much of that is the GM actually going to use, if any. The GM has an idea in their head on exactly what they want in their campaign, and your samurai hobgoblin that was spirited a thousand miles away on the backs of dragons after seducing and betraying the fae queen and absconding with her scepter of everlasting life might be a little much for them to work in. 


If there is one rule I live by in my Game Mastering, it's keep it simple. It works just as well for players as it does their benevolent overlords. Complicated backstories can be fun to write, and a delight to read, but they are usually a nightmare to run. And as detailed as they are, they leave out a good deal of information. Practical information.

Below is my Quick and Dirty set of questions for a good, complete backstory. Simple, yes or no questions and a few fill in the blanks. With this you should be able to crank out a good, detailed backstory in under 10 minutes, saving you tons of time to enjoy a slice of pizza and pick out equipment while everyone else is slaving over their tales of woe during Session 0.

What is you name?
Was if given to you, or did you choose it?
If you chose it, why?
Do you have any parents? (Y/N)
If yes, are they alive?
If not, why?
Do you have any siblings? (Y/N)
If yes, how many and are they alive?
If not, why?
Do you have any living extended family? (Y/N)
If yes, who?
Who raised you?
Do you have a mentor or teacher? (Y/N)
If yes, who?
What DID you do for money?
What DO you do for money?
Do you have a hobby? (Y/N)
If yes, what is it?
Did anything traumatic happen to you? (Y/N)
If yes, what?
Have you ever been in love? (Y/N)
If yes, with who, and are you still in love?
If no, why?
Did you attend school? (Y/N)
If yes, what kind of school and where?
If no, why?
Have you ever done anything illegal? (Y/N)
If yes, what was it, and were you punished for it?
Where DID you live?
Where DO you live?
What is your highest stat?
Why is it so high?
What is your lowest stat?
Why is it so low?
What is your highest skill?
Why is it so high?
What is your lowest skill?
Why is it so low?
Do you believe in a God? (Y/N)
If yes, who and why?
If no, why?
Do you prefer Order or Freedom?
Do you prefer Mercy of Strength?
Do you prefer the Power of One's Mind of the Power of One's Hands?
What drew you to you chosen class and/or background?

By now, there should be a pretty good shape of your character forming. We know who you are, where you came from, and some important details of your life, which is really all a backstory is. If it feels a little generic or vague, don't worry. That is actually what we're aiming for.

Why you might ask?

The aim is to make a character for the game or campaign your character is playing it. To feel organic and fleshed out, it's important to have ties to that world. Work with your Game Master when you are answering the questions for ideas on how to connect some of the dots that immerse your character in the setting. If you have a mentor or teacher, it could be a patron that the GM is planning to use. If you have any family, they could be an NPC that is designed to show up eventually. 

"Though Thanksgiving gets a little awkward at the Battlebeard house."

The combinations are endless, and the more that you have that connects you to the people and events of the campaign world, the more fun you will find yourself having. You will become invested in it. You'll care what happens to it, and the people that live there. This not only helps with the immersion factor, but it makes everything more memorable, and after all, that's what we're doing here; making memories.

The beauty of this little questionnaire is that it is so generic, you can use for any conceivable system. Game Masters that want to give their NPCs a little more depth can use it to throw a little flesh on their bones. It's fun for everyone! Take it. Use it. Love it.

Stay in character, my friends
+Ed The Bard 

 Looking for some extra aids to make your game really pop? Check out the Open Gaming Store. Tell them The Bard sent you.

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