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Using Backstory-A DM’s Guide

Backstory is one of those things that I find is commonly overlooked by players. Most people just want to make their characters and start playing. When you are a DM though, it can be hard to create a world from scratch (if you are into that sort of self-harm like I am.) I haven’t spent any time in the Pathfinder world, nor have I spent any time in the DnD world, even though I use their material. Most of this is because I didn’t even know about it for the longest time (go figure), and partially because it requires reading, which I tend to not do unless it accompanies some sort of funny cat video. That being said, I should probably post more funny cat videos on my posts.

I recently also found out that you can become a certified DM by Wizards of the Coast, because they tend to have a certification for everything. Maybe I’ll get to the level where I can do that one day, but until then, I’ll keep creating my own worlds until I find out how I can actually make a living playing DnD all day. Until I can become a professional in the DnD world, however, I’m stuck with my day job.

Back to my main point now, backstory is overlooked, but if you are a DM who actually likes to take the time to plan out a world and everything in it, backstory can be a huge help. There’s a video that I was shown by Cody Dube that has a few questions each character can ask to make a backstory. While you are checking out that video, try to check out some of the other stuff on that channel. It’s full of great information for DM’s and players alike.

Working with your DM to create your backstory is essential, and it usually goes in one of two ways. Either the DM gives you the world you are in, or if he’s lazy (such as myself) and wants you to help him create this world, he lets you give some ideas as to how you want to have your backstory, and then tweaks it to work with the world that is envisioned by the group by their backstories. I favor the lazy way because it actually creates a lot more involvement by the players from the beginning, and if the six questions from the video are answered by each character, you end up having a whole world built by the end of the backstory planning process. Not only that, but you’ve engaged your players in order to have attachment to the characters that they’ve created, rather than a simple spreadsheet with a whole bunch of numbers that may or may not get used.

Backstory also encourages role play. If you haven’t read any of my other articles yet, I’ll give you a quick synopsis: role-playing is important in a role playing game. Without it, you just have grinding, and no one likes to grind unless you are a skateboarder or some recluse playing WoW in your parents’ basement and never seeing sunlight. The more role playing you put into the game, the more enjoyable it will be for yourself and everyone playing. Even the DM might get a kick out of it by the end of the night.

It’s hard to be engaged to a story when all you are looking at is a piece of paper for a few hours a week and rolling a few dice, so backstory makes you live in this fantasy world rather than just maneuvering it.

How is your character creation process? What do you do for backstory? Do you encourage it? Do you skip it completely? How many licks does it take to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop? TELL ME!!! Our readers and I would like to know in the comments below!


Chock Schmidt is the RPG Guru for The Forge Herald. When he’s not asking a billion useless questions, he’s dominating the world in his imagination, usually playing a rogue with an infatuation for shiny things.


© 2016, Randy Schmidt. All rights reserved.

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