View Full Version : [4e] Character backstory any good?

Mauril Everleaf
2009-01-31, 10:53 PM
So I am working on a character backstory for my Hobgoblin Paladin in a FR-esque campaign. It just feels too...generic. Any pointers on how to uniquify him a bit?
Hadrik was born to a warrior clan, like all hobgoblins seem to be. But his was a clan that taught against ownership, individuality and attachment. They lived by a code of honor, duty and justice. Because of this tradition, Hadrik was raised communally; the entire community was his mother, brother, father, sister. Being a warrior clan, he was raised under the standard of battle. Everything was viewed as something to be conquered, and every concession considered a shame. For this, Hadrik was trained in all sorts of battle, both physical and mental. He had tutors to train him in battle, in arms and armor, until he was more comfortable with them than without them. He was also trained in oratory, taught that a battle won with words was an equally glorious victory. He was taught not only the history of his clan and of hobgoblins at large but of as much history as the clan elders could obtain. “Know your enemy” is as close to the heart of the clan as “defeat your enemy”is.

In his studies and training, Hadrik showed special aptitude for battle and felt special devotion to the Lord of Battle, the clan's patron deity. He felt that his abilities were not his own but gifts from the Battle Lord. Hadrik's clan had produced countless fighters and warlords, but they had never commissioned a paladin. In order to fulfill his devotion to his god, Hadrik had to leave his clan and head north to find an order dedicated to one of the incarnations of Battle Lord willing to initiate him into their order. But racism against goblinoids was stronger than Hadrik imagined. He had expected to be turned away by many communities, but not all of them. The humans and dwarves feared his intentions, and the fey races would not even let him within bow shot of their walls. Hadrik was left to wander the wildscape between the settlements between the settlements until he decided that he should simply return home and take up spear with his brothers.

On his journey southward, Hadrik was visited in a dream by an angel of Tempos, the Storm Lord. The angel brought the hobgoblin a message that Tempos, whom Hadrik had known as the Lord of Battle, had granted favor to the pious hobgoblin and that he would be granted the abilities and blessings of a paladin of Tempos's order. The angel was tall, carried a hammer and bore a shield and his eyes seemed to crackle with lightning. When Hadrik awoke he realized that he had made camp among the ruins of an abandoned temple. Believing his dream to be genuine and feeling a new strength in his heart and limbs, Hadrik set home with new resolve, knowing that he had been initiated as a holy warrior.

Hadrik returned to his clan to share conquest and his journey with them, as well as all the new knowledge he had gained. The clan celebrated his return and bestowed upon him a suit of plate armor, a shield and the finest hammer the clan had ever smithed. Knowing that he was destined for better things, they commissioned Hadrik to return north to seek the victories that the Lord of Battle had awaiting him.

Hadrik is a span over a fathom in height and weighs roughly fifteen stone. His hair is raven black and coarse as a horse's mane. He often sports long whiskers on his jawline, not quite connecting on his chin. His face is chiseled and hard, his jaw set and his brown eyes narrow. His teeth are surprisingly white and equally sharp. His lips are almost non-existent beneath his wide and upturned nose. His body is lean and muscular, not hiding an iota of his strength. His hands are large and rough-worn from gripping his hammer and shield. His skin, like all hobgoblins, is an earthy red-orange.

He is rarely, if ever, seen unarmed and unarmored. What little he wears that is not metal remains its natural color, his leather brown and his wool off-white. The only adornment he has is the fist and thunderbolt of Tempos painted on his shield and hanging from his neck. Hadrik is relatively reserved in all things, except battle. He believes that a battle of wits or of words is best won with a level head but combat is won with ferocity. He constantly endeavors to hone his mind and body, feeling that it will better ensure victory and this honor for his god.

2009-01-31, 11:40 PM
I like it, personally. He's:

a) Not a Drizz't clone (like many monstrous-race characters are)
b) An interesting combination of brutality and level-headedness
c) Mechanically valid (Its not like you make a Demonic Gnoll Bard or something)

I would like to see him with an MC Barbarian, to represent those times when fervor for Tempus consumes him and he loses his cool (i.e. "Rages").

Also, Channel Divinity: Righteous Rage of Tempus is a must-have, both for the RP potential (bringing back the good ol' smite), and for the sheer awesome.

Mauril Everleaf
2009-02-01, 12:28 AM
I've already got the character built, and Righteous Rage of Tempus is in there. I was waiting on PHBII before MCing to Barbarian (possibly Thaneborn for the CHA synergy). I'm having an artist friend do a character sketch based on this bio. When he finishes, I'll post it. But anyone have any more critiques?

2009-02-01, 12:51 AM
I like it. Great stuff. :D

2009-02-01, 01:57 AM
First off, great job! It's hard finding a balance of little backstory vs. railroad backstory, and Unique vs. Mundane

Constructive Criticism:
*The part about Hadrik's community family- seems a little spartan and disciplined for a pack of Hobgoblins, but it's not a sticking point. Do they have a name?

*Finding training as a Paladin from Paladin's with a different patron deity seems a little strange to me. It might have made more sense in 3.5 when all Paladins were pretty much the same (i.e. LG). You'd also think that Dwarf and Human Paladins would be more open minded, but again that is explainable. He's a giant armored Hobgoblin after all.

Mauril Everleaf
2009-02-01, 02:10 AM
The clan doesn't have a name yet, but yeah, they are supposed to be rather Spartan-esque. :smallredface: Any suggestions on clan names?

As far as the humans and dwarves not accepting him, my DM's world has a pretty strong distaste for goblinoids. But good point about searching for a random deity... I should probably fix that to something more specific.

EDIT: The linework on the sketch is done, so I thought I would go ahead and post that. http://i138.photobucket.com/albums/q265/mauril_everleaf/paladin-linework.jpg

2009-02-01, 05:12 AM


2009-02-01, 06:07 AM
*The part about Hadrik's community family- seems a little spartan and disciplined for a pack of Hobgoblins, but it's not a sticking point. Do they have a name?

I was always under the impression that Hobgoblins were very militaristic.

Grey Paladin
2009-02-01, 12:25 PM
I was always under the impression that Hobgoblins were very militaristic.

^ has it right.

2009-02-01, 12:40 PM
Why did the clan care enough to try for a paladin?

2009-02-01, 02:14 PM
What if the Clan where a clan of Devout Hobgoblin Mercenaries? Their entire society built around providing the manpower to hire themselves out, and preserving that manpower so the clan can continue to survive.

mainly the Metzada series of books.

Being fantasy... the priest of the Hobgoblin tribe got a prophesy that the tribe would die unless your character was sent out into the world. So your character, despite being a good warrior, was sent into the world to find his destiny (the Durkon plot trick).

Mauril Everleaf
2009-02-01, 04:07 PM
Well, it wasn't the clan so much that wanted Hadrik to be a paladin, but Hadrik himself. Kind of implied in the story is the desire of the clan for Hadrik to just become a fighter or warlord.

Yakk: I like your idea there, and I may just try to incorporate that into the story somehow. I just may have to go and work up a whole story for the Clan too. But if I do that, I'm gonna need a name for it...

2009-02-01, 09:23 PM
That's a pretty cool backstory, but I think it's missing some pretty important bits.

The important points I see in a backstory are:

1. The defining moment in the PC's life to date. I didn't really see one in Hadrik's tale.

2. The PC's driving force. What is his goal? I don't think Hadrik really has one of these either? He wants to serve Tempus, but how does he plan to go about that.

3. An enemy. DMs love it when you give them an opponent that your character will automatically want to defeat. It makes it much easier for them to plant plot hooks.

4. Associates. What is the PCs place in the world. Again, this ties largely to plot hooks, but it also helps to ground the PC in the "real world". It can also help your DM create the world in which the PC exists by filling in the little details that otherwise they'd have to struggle with.

If you can tick each of those boxes, then you've got at the very least a serviceable backstory.

For the purposes of comparison, this is my current FR character's backstory:

10 Summertide 1479

His Excellence,
Aunthir Cormyr
High Cleric of Tempus

Your excellence,

I must thank you for your gracious offer to allow me to serve the people of Arabel as a prelate in our most holy Order. It is rewarding beyond my ability to record here that you would choose me above the numerous other worthy candidates for that sacred post.

Unfortunately, I must decline.

You are no doubt well aware of my unfortunate history, and it is for that reason that I feel that I must take my leave of Arabel for the foreseeable future. It may be that in the fullness of time and if the Lord of Battle wills it, I will return finally to this blessed city. If those circumstances arise, and if at that time you still wish to offer me a position of grace, I will consider the honour you pay me with even more gravity than I have weighed your current offer. However, in my present circumstances it would be reckless and unfaithful of me to take the position you have so graciously offered.

I understand that my decision will come as a shock to you, and may cause unintended difficulties for you and the Church, and for that reason I feel that a full explanation is owed. I trust that you will keep it in the confidence in which it is offered.

I was but a babe when the vestiges of the spellplague claimed my parents and I fell into the care of the Orphanage of the Hearth in Highmoon. My parents were travellers, and in those times of chaos and upheaval, they had no papers or friends to identify them. So I came to exist without a family name. I was simply Pieter. The sisters at the orphanage told me that my mother’s last words were for me; that she had urged me to “live, thrive and be strong”. To this day I regret that I was unable to hear those words myself, but they have been my guiding creed for the last three decades of my life.

I was eight when the Orphanage of the Hearth burned to the ground, and a caravan took my surviving companions and me to Arabel. On that journey I was introduced to Father Axis, a man of whom you no doubt have heard. He was kind to me, and at the time it was enough to attach me to him heart and soul. He noticed my seriousness, “excessive” he called it, and nicknamed me “the grim”. It was as close to a surname as I had ever known, and I bear it still. That indomitable servant of Tempus rode with us on that long cold road, and it was he more than the ill-trained and poorly paid militia who came to our aid when orcs attacked the caravan.

You have no doubt heard stories of his actions that day, but they do not do the man justice. I still remember with warm heart and teary eyes him riding out to meet the raiders head-on, Stormbringer held high and flashing in the morning sun. In moments he was surrounded by howling foes, but the old priest’s intervention slowed the greyskins long enough for the militia to form up. He carved a swathe through the raiders before they were forced to withdraw, and it is my eternal grief that he fell under a hail of axe blows before the militia could reach him. The retreating orcs dragged his body and Stormbringer into the forest and neither was ever recovered.

Of the children in that caravan, I know of four that have gone on to justify Axis’ sacrifice. I followed in his footsteps and became a priest of our Lord. Jacob Ettus rose to the position of magistrate in Highmoon, and when last I received word from him a half-year ago he filled that post still. Ariadne Cooper is a wizard of some note, serving as an advisor to a noble family in Waterdeep. I thought at the time that she was mad to undertake such a journey, but now I think I understand the feeling of longing that drove her so far away. And lastly, Rikki Hiltopple, a mischievous and carefree halfling child, has become a merchant of some note plying the waters of the Dragonmere with a fleet of dazzling merchantmen.

But I digress.

I have of late grown uncomfortable in our ministrations to the faithful of Arabel. For more than two decades I have been happy here, practicing my swordplay and my catechism, preaching to the militia and the citizenry of this wonderful city. I remember with fondness and pride our Order’s actions in the sewers beneath the city during the Night of Creeping Doom, and of my involvement in putting down and destroying that foul abomination calling itself the Faithful of the Ashen Covenant.

But lately my arms and legs complain about my stillness, and my heart speaks to me at night; urging me to leave the safety of this bustling populous and take my sword arm and my faith into the wilderness. I cannot stop myself from wondering what became of Axis’ body and Stormbringer, and whether I am truly serving Our Lord’s will by remaining here. Would I do more good preaching to the soft and pampered people of this city or by setting out for untamed lands where Tempus’ strength is needed most?

Forgive me for not raising my doubts with you personally. Your skill as an orator is well known and in truth I fear that you would persuade me not to undertake the journey I am about to make. But I feel in my heart and soul that I must; that I cannot truly be at peace within myself until I have pitted my sword arm and will against evil and achieved some feat of note that will bring glory and believers to the Church. Perhaps, Tempus-willing, I will recover Axis’ body and be able to lay that noble servant to rest. I dare not hope that I will be able to return Stormbringer to the Church.

I know that my decision is inconvenient to you; that my appointment would have offered a political solution to the current struggles between the moderates and the radicals within our Order. I hope that you will not be too displeased with me for abandoning you in your hour of need. But Tempus calls to me, and I must go.

Yours in service of Tempus,

Pieter Grimm

It's written in first person because it helped me get into the head of the character, but that's probably harder to do for a non-human PC.

I wrote it largely with the intention of giving my DM as many "seeds" as possible to plant into the campaign and do with what he will.

This is the list that I gave him at the same time:

I'll leave it up to you to decide:

1. Whether Pieter's parents are in fact alive or dead. I deliberately had him be absent from them at their "deaths".

2. Whether Axis is alive or dead. He fell in battle and Pieter (and the rest of the faithful) assumes he is dead. If he is still alive, he would be in his 70s. Pieter would almost certainly recognise him if they met unless Axis is significantly different from the man he was. Please-oh-please do not make him the villain in KotS. I'd prefer him to remain a hero-figure, but if you do decide to make him a villain, please don't do it before Paragon. If this character arc is resolved too early and with Axis as a villain, Pieter would likely return to Arabel dispirited and never venture forth again.

3. What happened to Stormbringer. I imagine it as a paragon-level bastard sword with a radiant and/or thunder/lightning power or property.

4. Whether Jacob Ettus is still a magistrate in Highmoon and how he has faired in the six months since Pieter last heard from him. Pieter would have looked him up upon arrival in Highmoon, so let me know your thoughts on this before the campaign starts if possible.

5. What has happened to Rikki Hiltopple's mercantile endeavours. I included her because a merchant contact can be handy for story hooks and getting the party from point A to point B. Pieter is too proud and independent to call on her for help at every turn, so don't feel the need to "kill her" just to avoid overpowering the party.

6. What, if anything, Ariadne has been up to. I included her mainly as a way for the party to get from the Dalelands to the Sword Coast in a hurry if necessary or if the published adventures demand it (ie. if P3 concerns a threat to Waterdeep or Baldur's Gate). In the absence of any great need, I imagine she'll play very little part in the campaign. Waterdeep is just too far away.

7. What the Night of Creeping Doom was about. Whatever you decide, make sure to let me know so that Pieter has the requisite memories in case anyone asks : )

8. Whether the Faithful of the Ashen Covenant (a cult of Shar) was truly destroyed, and if not, whether their members remember Pieter Grimm from his prominent role in their purging.

9. Whether Archbishop Cormyr forgives Pieter for striking out on his own or whether there will be some political ramifications (such as an imposed penance if Pieter is ever found by the church of Tempus or, Tempus-forbid, excommunication), and what the respective groups within the church think. I imagine Cormyr as a cranky old moderate (or else Pieter wouldn't have apologised so much in his letter : ), opposed by the radicals.

10. What the moderates and the radicals in the church of Tempus are in fact fighting about, and whether it is a theological contest or there is the possibility of actual bloodshed. While Pieter might not know exactly what the trouble is about (he was moderately senior but definitely not in the upper heirarchy), he would have some idea and he'd also likely know how strenuous the debate was and whether any of the key figures were publicly the type to turn a theological debate physical.

Mauril Everleaf
2009-02-04, 03:38 AM
I just realized that I've spent the last two days on fleshing out Hadrik. Not just an hour or two each day, but I something along the lines of ten hours working on this. As it stands, I've got another two pages on Hadrik himself, and ten pages on his clan (which I have decided to call Daer Mith). I created 420 years of kingly lineages and achievements. It contains intrigue and advancement. I set them up a functioning system of government complete with a Hammurabi-esque laws and outlined their religion (only roughly, right now). I have created a very small list of hobgoblin words and now feel compelled to flesh out a hobgoblin language. I have created traditions, foibles and "flaws" in their culture. I have even outlined their battle training techniques. All in an effort to better figure out Hadrik's motivations. I've been researching hobgoblin lore, mythical and fictional, to determine accurate timelines for things. I've been researching Spartan, Hebrew and Norse history to compile into the history of Daer Mith. I spent much of last night studying up on constructed languages to figure out how to best build the Hobgoblin language. I think I have become lost forever in this character. What was meant to answer some questions, has created so many more. Now I have to figure out the history of the "south" where Daer Mith is located. That will likely require me to better flesh out the "north", and then the other countries, and their histories, and so on... Curse you all. :smalltongue: