Here’s some tips and examples for creating a great character backstory. We’ve also got a tool to create them easily with GPT-3 for Dungeons & Dragons type tabletop games!
When it comes to a character backstory, there is no “right” way to go about it. The most important thing is to just have fun and make the character believable and relatable to the audience.
When writing a backstory, it is always good to think about it like a short story. You want to get the audience to empathize with the character, and how they got to the point they are at the start of the story.
Creating Good Character Backstories
Below, I will give you seven good tips for creating D&D character backstories that you can also use for other tabletop RPG systems.
Tip # 1: Keep the Backstory Short and to the Point
Think about it like a short story without any fluff. Don’t try to give the audience a history lesson on how the character got to be the way they are. Instead, give them a short story about what made the character who they are.
Obviously, the character’s backstory may need to be more in-depth if they are a main character. But, for side characters, you can keep the short and to the point. For example, a short backstory could be:
“Growing up as a farmhand, my character didn’t have much opportunity for adventure and dreams of grandeur. That all changed when a group of mercenaries arrived in my village looking for recruits. The leader of the mercenary group offered me the chance of a lifetime to experience the world and make a name for myself.”
Looking at this short example, we can see that there isn’t much detail, but the character is relatable and believable. This should be your main goal when creating a character backstory. When you give too many details or make the story too long, it can get distracting and boring for the reader.
Tip # 2: Make it Meaningful
The backstory should be meaningful to the character and the campaign they’re currently in. The reason for this is to make it easier to fit the character into the plot. It is good to think about what the character’s backstory means to them and the campaign story.
For example, if you created a character named Jed. He was a farmhand that was taken in by a group of mercenaries. The group offered him a chance to become an adventurer.
Now, if the group of mercenaries was part of a story about saving the kingdom from an evil warlord, this backstory would work great.
Here’s another example of making a character backstory meaningful. A backstory about a character named Claire that was a queen’s handmaiden. The queen is killed by a thief, and Claire becomes queen.
This could be a good backstory for a campaign where the group of adventurers are hired to find the thief. It would be a great way to get the other players to empathize with the character.
Tip # 3: Make the Backstory Believable and Relatable
When creating your character backstory, you want to make it believable and relatable. This makes it easier for the audience to empathize with the character.
For example, let’s look at a backstory that is extremely believable. A backstory about a character named Sam. He lived in a small village where he always dreamed of becoming an adventurer. He made friends with an elven ranger named Lorelei. She promised to take him on adventures if he became an adventurer.
Here is a less believable backstory:
“My character was born into a long line of royal blood. After the death of his father in battle, he became king of a large kingdom. From a young age, my character was trained by the best warriors and wizards. He quickly became the strongest and smartest king of all time.”
This is an example of how the story is not believable. A king could not become king at the age of 15 and be the strongest and smartest king in history. That story is just a little too far-fetched for most people to believe.
Tip # 4: Don’t Focus on the Past
When creating the character backstory, don’t focus on the past. Instead, you want to focus on how the past made your character who they are today. This is done to show how the past is affecting the character’s point of view in the campaign.
Another great way to look at this is to focus on how the past affected the character’s personality. You want to write a character backstory that shows how the character’s past has influenced their personality. This makes the character more believable.
Here is a good example of this:
“My character was born to a poor father. His family lived on the streets, begging for food. They had no money and no place to go. This part of my character’s life made him believe in the power of gold. He spends most of his time trying to earn more and more gold.”
This is an example of a believable and relatable backstory. It shows how the past has affected the character’s personality and point of view.
Tip # 5: Don’t go Overboard with Details
When creating the character backstory, don’t go overboard with details. When you go overboard with details, the character backstory can become so long that it stops being good. You want to make sure to keep the story short, to the point, and to the point.
For example, let’s take a look at this story:
“In the city of Pointville, there lived a man named John. He lived with his mother and father in a small house that was only a few blocks away from the city square. John was a kind and generous man that had many friends. His mother was a VERY strict woman that always worried about him. John had a dream of becoming a warrior and defending the city from evil.”
This is an example of an overly descriptive backstory. You don’t want to go overboard with details. Instead, you want to show a lot in a few words.
Tip # 6: Ask Yourself if the Backstory is Entertaining
The purpose of your character backstory is to entertain the audience. If your story isn’t entertaining, then it doesn’t do its job. When writing your character backstory, ask yourself if it is entertaining to you. If it is entertaining to you, then it will also be entertaining to the reader.
For example, let’s take a look at this story:
“My character was born to a poor family. Being poor, he was teased by all the other kids in the town. He was bullied often because he didn’t have any money or a place to stay. This made my character very angry. He constantly tried to prove his worth to the other villagers by stealing food and money from them.
When he was caught stealing, he was sent to jail. The other villagers were happy that he was sent to jail for a short amount of time. While in jail, he learned how to beat people up with his brawny arms. He was such a big man that he was able to break out of jail with ease.”
This is an example of a backstory that is entertaining, but it goes overboard with details. A backstory like this is entertaining to read, but it may not be entertaining to play.
Tip # 7: Don’t Forget to Have Fun
When writing a character backstory, don’t forget to have fun. If you have fun writing the backstory, then the audience will have fun reading it.
For example, let’s take a look at this story:
“My character was born to a poor family. They were so poor, that my character’s father was unable to find work. This put a huge strain on my character’s family. My character’s mother worked as a cook for a local inn. My character’s father worked as a cobbler. The two of them used their skills to make enough money to live on. While they were struggling to make ends meet, my character was often bullied by the other kids in the village. The only thing that stopped the bullies from beating my character was his mother’s cooking. My character often went to his mother’s work to eat some of her delicious cooking. One day, my character’s mother was killed by a wild animal in the woods.
My character was devastated by the loss of his mother. He promised to avenge her death by going to the forest and hunting down that animal and killing it. Eventually, my character hunted down the animal and killed it with a spear he made from a tree branch. After the death of his mother, my character started working for the local inn as a house boy. The owner of the inn was impressed with my character’s cooking skills, and he became the inn’s new cook.
The character backstory above is entertaining. It is short and to the point, but it still has some detail. The story goes over the past, but it focuses more on how the past has affected the character. There are a couple of different endings to the story, to give you some ideas on how to end the story.
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