When building a character, a question that often comes up is, “What should my backstory be?” The answer is not so simple. There are two ways to do a good backstory. One that is heavily integrated with the plot and the world, and one that is left open so it can be woven in over time. Both have their merit of course, and I have personally done both. In the following article, I will go through and explain the pros and cons of each option.
We will start with the more involved of the two, more backstory heavy, and pre-integration.
My example will be Fredricks, a character that I made with the person running the game. Fred was an exiled emperor of the empire we were running around in and was made to provide the main plot device moving the story forward. He had a rich backstory, integrated NPC’s, and enemies that gave the players a force to oppose. He stood out on the forefront of the campaign as one of the driving forces against the antagonist faction and the glue that held the party together. His well-established backstory was essential to the plot and the GM used it to propel the story forward.
On the other hand, we have Kevin.
He was the first character I ever played and was brought in mid-campaign. He had no backstory, no connection with the world or other characters and no purpose. As I said, he joined mid-campaign and I had no forewarning that I would even be playing a tabletop game that night. I was nervous and did my best for a first try. As the campaign went on, I found ways to integrate his very scarce backstory with the world lore. Small things at first, such as a forest he was in before (he was a resurrected druid named Kevin), then larger things like a notorious villain that was responsible for my characters pre-campaign death (which got better). When all was said and done, Kevin seemed like he was a more established character in many small ways the seemed more fun and natural than telling everything at the start. I’ll always remember him as a very fun character.
So now the comparison, and of course the contrast. While having a well-established character is probably easier for the GM, a lighter backstory can (with the right GM) be more natural-seeming and add plot devices as the game goes on. Of course, if your GM wants more backstory then make one, but it’s fun to be able to go light and see what happens. Not every character need to be the grandson of a legendary hero or be raised by a religious order to be the destroyer of the dark god. Sometimes you’re just a normal person who made a friend that asked him/her for help. Both are good and having players do both will usually be the best option. That way players with a five-page backstory can deepen the plot while the lighter backstory players can deepen a few situations or motivation. Or gain more motivation and story over time.
In closing, Both are good and it’s up to the GM to decide if they are OK with a lighter backstory. I’ve had fun with both but there is a reason Frericks was my favorite character I’ve played. Freddy had the drive, he had a goal and that’s important. Alternatively, Kevin was fun and relaxed. I had the freedom to explore his past and decide how it affected each situation. All PC’s need a goal, or a reason to be risking their lives. Sometimes it’s simple, like friends, wealth, power, or adventure. Sometimes it’s to save your empire from the tyrannical clutches of the usurpers. All work, but sometimes you feel like one more than the other. Sometimes you want to be an important figure, other times you want to be a man from the woods.
How do you normally create a backstory in a Campaign? How much do you prepare? Let us know in the Comments!