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Atarax
2015-06-03, 08:22 PM
Thinking a lot about PC backstory lately for an upcoming campaign I'm DMing. I'd be interested in hearing of good examples any of you have had with a DM or player using a PC backstory to enhance the game.

If you've had no good experiences, let's hear the worst experiences :)

Luminestra
2015-06-03, 09:26 PM
I used to require back stories for my games, but I noticed most of my players were not interested and eventually dropped the requirement. If players want to give me backstory thats awesome, but I've found that a lot of my players will develop their characters while they play and don't quite know their character until they play them for a bit.

The worst backstory I ever got was a character who had an irrational hatred for snow and violently attacked anything snow related. The reason this is my worst example is because the player was trying to justify disruptive behaviour with backstory.

Cealocanth
2015-06-04, 12:04 AM
Last year during my pirates-in-an-ice-age campaign, one of my players were particularly eager to write out a full fledged backstory for their pirate character. They were playing the swashbuckling rogue, born on a ship and forced to take a side during the shattering of the empires. He gave me names of his old ship's captain, several major members of the crew, some general personalities, and even some information on how a ship may function in such a setting. Most of my prep work up to that point was in the world's history and the political disagreement. While I had busied myself with designing empires and creating a post-apocalyptic Golden Age of Piracy, he had provided much needed information on bringing the campaign down to a more personal level. A well written backstory, in other words, helped to transform what would have been a political intrigue campaign with a pirate twist into a swashbuckling and treasure hunt game, which was much more fun. Also, it turns out that there is nothing more fun than when a player gives you a villain and you get the rights to flesh them out and transform them into something truly worth fighting against.

Worst example? In the same campaign, albeit several months after the campaign had already started, a new player, used to more open ended "do whatever you want, all game worlds are viable" sort of game, provided me with a generalized backstory for their dragonborn paladin. It was the kind of backstory that read like the player would rather be playing any other game, but they used it anyway because they liked the character. Basically, the character was a paladin of an isolated cult of samurai dragonborn located somewhere, she was "the chosen one" who would bear a crystal crown with the soul of a powerful ancient dragon that granted her the paladin powers, and that her character was the chosen missionary into the lands of empires so she put all of her points into Charisma and Intimidate. I was an inexperienced GM at the time and actually allowed the "let the paladin not need a moral code of any kind" card, and allowed her to bring in very distinctly Japanese flavors and morals into the pirate game. It wouldn't have been a problem if A. Her character lacked the means to make any NPC do anything she wanted and B. She hadn't such an overbearing personality, but this was not the case. I'm not blaming the downfall of that game on her backstory, but I am saying that I learned the lesson of saying no when a player brings you a Mary Sue.

Aliquid
2015-06-04, 12:32 AM
I find a group backstory helps enhance the game.
Ask the players:
-How do you know each other?
-Why do you trust each other?
-What is your teams adventuring "style"?

Get them on the same page from the beginning and you stop a lot of group dynamics issues.

Atarax
2015-06-04, 02:14 AM
I find a group backstory helps enhance the game.
Ask the players:
-How do you know each other?
-Why do you trust each other?
-What is your teams adventuring "style"?

Get them on the same page from the beginning and you stop a lot of group dynamics issues.

I know there are many good reasons to initially come up with backstory, but I'm after how people use it once the campaign is underway. Give me a good example you've seen of the group being more on the same page or having better dynamics because of good backstory?

valadil
2015-06-04, 02:53 PM
I posted a few personal favorites of mine on my GM blog, which I no longer update. http://gm.sagotsky.com/?page_id=22

Here's the dirty secret. As a roleplayer, *I* get a lot out of writing the character. It helps me find the voice. And it gives the character some momentum coming into the game. I hate being told "you're in a tavern, introduce yourself" when I haven't even met the character yet.

I write backstories primarily because they help me roleplay better. If they don't help you, don't write them.

Some GMs are capable of taking things from the backstory and putting it into the game. Personally I think that's cool and I try to do it for my players. But having that actually happen requires the unlikely combo of a player who likes that and a GM who is going to do that. Most GMs requesting backstories are on a power trip and just want to assign homework for the privilege of getting to be in their game.

TheThan
2015-06-04, 03:12 PM
I posted a few personal favorites of mine on my GM blog, which I no longer update. http://gm.sagotsky.com/?page_id=22

Here's the dirty secret. As a roleplayer, *I* get a lot out of writing the character. It helps me find the voice. And it gives the character some momentum coming into the game. I hate being told "you're in a tavern, introduce yourself" when I haven't even met the character yet.

I write backstories primarily because they help me roleplay better. If they don't help you, don't write them.

Some GMs are capable of taking things from the backstory and putting it into the game. Personally I think that's cool and I try to do it for my players. But having that actually happen requires the unlikely combo of a player who likes that and a GM who is going to do that. Most GMs requesting backstories are on a power trip and just want to assign homework for the privilege of getting to be in their game.

I totally agree. I like writing back stories for characters. it's fun. writing a back story can inform the Player as to how the character operates, what he/she/it thinks, feels and does.

Luminestra
2015-06-04, 04:18 PM
I posted a few personal favorites of mine on my GM blog, which I no longer update. http://gm.sagotsky.com/?page_id=22

Here's the dirty secret. As a roleplayer, *I* get a lot out of writing the character. It helps me find the voice. And it gives the character some momentum coming into the game. I hate being told "you're in a tavern, introduce yourself" when I haven't even met the character yet.

I write backstories primarily because they help me roleplay better. If they don't help you, don't write them.

Some GMs are capable of taking things from the backstory and putting it into the game. Personally I think that's cool and I try to do it for my players. But having that actually happen requires the unlikely combo of a player who likes that and a GM who is going to do that. Most GMs requesting backstories are on a power trip and just want to assign homework for the privilege of getting to be in their game.

I've never thought of this. I'm going to have to try it out for my next character, thanks! ^_^

Eisenheim
2015-06-04, 04:35 PM
Let's see:

In a star wars infinities game, I had player make a seventeen year-old jedi apprentice who grew up on tatooine and decided she had a crush on Luke Skywalker. Made all our interactions with the main film cast kind of awesome.

Fate Characters are all fairly backstory heavy, but the spirit of the century game I played in has emphasized that. We've had a few adventures focused on PC backstory aspects that were still fun for everyone. We went to a hidden temple to try and find survivors of the massacred mysterious monastery one PC escaped as a child, and we had a great dracula adventure with someone who's trouble was "the blood of dracula flows in my veins."

I don't know if it will be good, but I'm currently planning to drop an NPC into my next adventure who will be a kind of cautionary tale, showing where one PC could have wound up if they hadn't left the nefarious people who trained them.

Karl Aegis
2015-06-04, 05:50 PM
The NPC being introduced is an acquaintance of the... summoner.

The summoner decided he performed the Shinobiization surgery on this young woman a few years ago. She looks like she has been active, but she also shows sign of addiction to a drug used in secret ninjutsu skills. We can assume she wants to make contact with the summoner to pass on some information at the very least or to recruit the summoner for a mission. We can also her reward for completing this mission is more drugs to feed her addiction. Finally, we can assume the summoner has seen this woman naked, due to performing surgery on her.

There you go, you got an NPC connected to one of your PCs, a general guideline what this person is and some possible motivations for the NPC to be there. The DM has some idea of what to do with the NPC. There will probably be some concern showed by the summoner over this shinobi's drug addiction, some concern why one of their patients sought them out in the first place, and maybe some teasing. There will be pantomime between the PC and the NPC until they get to speak to each other. Both should know how to communicate to each other using gestures to set up a secret meeting hidden in plain sight somewhere. There is so much fun with pantomime.

oxybe
2015-06-04, 05:59 PM
Currently playing a Wookie in a Star Wars Edge of the Empire game.

My backstory is "The Empire are Jerks (because Kashyyyk)" and "Jaggis (one of the PCs) is a cool dude (because he got me off Kashyyyk)"

That's it. It ties me to another player character (Jaggis), it gives me motivation to do the thing (rebel against the empire), it informs of where my character lived (in the rather wild planet of Kashyyyk so survival skills, some melee combat ones) as well as some personality traits due to his culture (wookie, so things like the life debt) and some of his past can be inferred due to important events that happened during his life (Occupation of Kashyyyk).

So we have a large, brutish hulk who's trained survivalist and combat skills, escaped slavery with the help of another, feels animosity towards his former captors and reverence to his savior.

That's basically all I need to integrate my character into the game and group, the specifics of his personality will be developed as I play him since I never found myself playing the character to the personality I wanted him to have when I wrote longer backstories. Anything beyond getting your character to mesh with the group & setting is done for your own enjoyment. If the DM demands more then that, it's dumping busywork on the player.

Nowadays I just write enough to get my guy into the group and into the narrative. The rest is played by ear. Any GM who can't accept that probably isn't one I want running my table and one I would likely excuse myself from.

Freelance GM
2015-06-04, 08:47 PM
My favorite part about 5E is that players have to make a token effort at backstory during character creation.

As a DM, I prefer it when players work with me to make those backstories, so that the game doesn't start and a player asks, "So, wait, why is my character here?"

My personal favorite example of backstory improving a game was, well, actually I kind of secretly hated it at the time, but it worked out really well.

In the first session, it was revealed that not one, not two, not even three but FOUR of the party members were runaway Elf nobles. They all decided this independently, without knowing what everyone else was playing.

However, once all four players and I knew their characters were all runaway Elf nobles, we collaborated on more of a backstory for the next adventure. We decided that they were all cousins, and their parents were also runaway Elf nobles. As a result, they each grew up in a different part of my setting, allowing each player to keep their own unique backstory, but the five of us collaborated on fleshing out the tragic events that caused their family to fracture.

They still wound up in an adventuring party together by sheer chance, but their backstory created a chance for collaborative storytelling that made their roleplaying experience richer, and also helped me flesh out the Elves of my setting.

Telok
2015-06-04, 09:51 PM
Backstory gives me a feel for the character, both as a DM and as a player. Since my group is generally zero backstory I've started cutting corners and using DF or an online generator.

Thagerriffic Stronginthearm was born to Urdim Keltaran the Miner and Likot Likotsat the Mason in the spring year of the decade 1051 at Koganusan (Boatmurdered), an outpost of dwarven civilization of Kinmelbil, "The Oaken Tomes".

Late in the decade of 1054, after a battle with several rogue elephants killed several dwarves, Thagerriffic applied for a position in the fortress guard. He was turned down due to his inexperience in combat. After asking around and determining that the best way to "get experienced" was in a big city Thag joined a pair of wandering gnomish spell-slingers who needed an escort to the biggest city in the world. Eventually he will return to Koganusan and join the guard, run for election as Sheriff, and possibly even get promoted to Hammerer. A dwarf can dream...

Thagerriffic Stronginthearm has been happy lately. He has been annoyed by birds recently. He has admired own fine axe recently. He took joy in slaughter lately.
Thagerriffic Stronginthearm likes dolomite, copper, jade, and mules for their stubbornness. When possible he prefers to consume cave fish and cow's milk. He absolutely detests lizards.
He needs alcohol to get through the working day and hasn't had a drink in far too long. He likes working outdoors and grumbles only mildly at inclement weather.

Otis LaForce has been quite content lately. He slept without a proper bed recently. He took pleasure in slaughter recently. He has been tired of drinking the same old booze lately.
He is the son of Stukos LaForce and Dumed Hopefulcrafts. He is a faithful worshipper of Chelmaka, a worshiper of Otallihn and a casual worshiper of Morr.
He is a member of the Daggers of Honor, a commune devoted to magic and naturalism located in Altschlos. He arrived at ________ on the 3rd of August .
He is fifty-four years old, born on the 22nd of February in the year _______.
He is broad-bodied and fat. His hair is clean shaven. He has a clear voice. His lips are thick. His noses is slightly hooked. His ears are somewhat narrow. His eyes are bronze and slightly close-set.
Otis LaForce likes electrum, rubber tree wood, giant lynx teeth, mountains, traction benches, high boots, ballista arrows, blue peacocks for their enormous fan tails and emperor penguins for their coloration. When possible he likes to consume fisher berry wine and goats milk cheese. He absolutely detests lizards.
He as an amazing memory, a great deal of patience and willpower, but he has poor focus.
He is quick to anger and to forgive. He can handle stress. He enjoys the company of others. He isn't given to flights of fancy. He appreciates art and natural beauty. He finds rules confining. He is self-disciplined. He takes time when making decisions. He needs alcohol to get through the working day.
A short, sturdy creature fond of drink and otters.

http://www.random-generator.com/index.php?title=Fantasy_Character_History

Character Story
Legitimacy: legitimate
Family Head: a first cousin
FH's Occupation: herder
Birth circumstances
Siblings: zero
Place of Birth: a voyaging ship
Unusual Birth: none
Life Path
Childhood Events
survived encounter with deadly monster (horrors from beyond)
Adolescent Events
despotic ruler outlaws parents, but ruler overthrown and parents elevated in rank
Adult Events
developed expensives tastes.
Suggestive Questions
What did you draw up from the well on Delver's Hill that day?

Eisenheim
2015-06-04, 11:36 PM
I'll also say this, for the group of friends I regularly GM for, the whole thing goes like this

I pitch a game, which includes some ideas about what kinds of PCs are appropriate, or some elements that all the PCs will necessarily relate to.

We hammer things out, dropping and adding from the initial pitch, until everyone is happy with idea for what kind of game we will play.

My players make characters who fit the proposed game and are well-integrated into the setting, because we've been building it together for a while, or are all already familiar with it.

I run the game, and a lot (hopefully at least 25% and increasing as the capaign develops) of it winds up being about the backstory, goals and relationships of the PCs.

I would never want to run a game where backstory was optional, or where players built without a session zero that gets everyone on the same page about the game, which includes players highlighting the issue they want to deal with, which will likely be reflected in character backstories.

Atarax
2015-06-05, 09:59 PM
...Most GMs requesting backstories are on a power trip and just want to assign homework for the privilege of getting to be in their game.

IT'S TRUEEE!!! BWA HAHA HA AHA!!!

You're telling me imma create a WHOLE KINGDOM and you can't figure out where you freakin came from?

(Not really)
(Maybe like 25% really)

Bard1cKnowledge
2015-06-06, 03:11 AM
The worst backstory I ever got was a character who had an irrational hatred for snow and violently attacked anything snow related. The reason this is my worst example is because the player was trying to justify disruptive behaviour with backstory.

My tiefling warlock in 5e is afraid of fire

Yes, tiefling, a humanoid with demon in their lineage, afraid of fire

She just mostly cowers and look away though

When she was young she lived with her mother just outside a large city, her mother would often go in to tell fortunes. One day she told a noble a "false" fortune depicting his demise. He took it as an insult and had her burned at the stake for the crimes of treason and witchcraft. The entire time her mother was (slowly, fire resistance) burning to death, she was calmly singing a song. So now my warlock avoids fire and cooked flesh like the plauge

oxybe
2015-06-06, 04:27 PM
The worst backstory I ever got was a character who had an irrational hatred for snow and violently attacked anything snow related. The reason this is my worst example is because the player was trying to justify disruptive behaviour with backstory.

Dude, I'm Canadian and after surviving a grueling 18ft of snowfall (often in large "whelp, better shut down parts of the city" storms) last winter, I'm starting to get an irrational hatred of snow.

Seriously snow, you're kind of a jerk.

Bard1cKnowledge
2015-06-06, 05:55 PM
Dude, I'm Canadian and after surviving a grueling 18ft of snowfall (often in large "whelp, better shut down parts of the city" storms) last winter, I'm starting to get an irrational hatred of snow.

Seriously snow, you're kind of a jerk.

You're Canadian, you can't be mad. You feel too sorry to be mad

Mark Hall
2015-06-06, 06:24 PM
IMO, one of the best options is to sit your players down and come up with how they know each other. They need to have connections to at least 2 other people in the party, whether it be a place they're from, someone they hate, a group they belong to, or whatever.

In the past, I've had DMs give flat XP bonuses for backgrounds. One offered 1000xp per page of backstory (this is in 2e). My brother and I turned in 17 page backstories, while others were lucky to make a page.

goto124
2015-06-07, 07:12 AM
XP for backstory sounds like a bad idea. One or two people are several levels above the rest of the party- there's a huge power imbalance within the party.

Calen
2015-06-07, 07:52 AM
The game I DM most of the players gave me back-stories prior to the game. Each one of those gave me an element that changed how the world worked.
Why do dwarves hate mixed race relationships? Because they can't have grandchildren.
Why are so many players interested in the orcs? Clearly they are not a minor race that hides in the mountains.
Why is the wizard considered such a outcast from the magic culture? I guess the magic culture needs to be more regimented.
So backstories can work if the DM is willing to meet you at least half-way. (For example I did end up saying no to a shifter race because I had no idea where to put them, but the player and I came up with a Half-Eld/Half-Orc and they were happy.)

From the player side of things I have made two characters that had a decent backstory. One I am the only player that has a connection back to the city we started in. The others are travelers and such. Now we have ended up in the past and I am meeting NPC's with my surname. Very cool.
The other backstory I made a dwarf that hated dragonborn (based on the starting information that tieflings and dragonborn were the bad guys). Ends up that one of the party members is a dragonborn… That leaves my in kind of an awkward spot to say the least.

So yeah, the DM is as critical to the backstory as the player is.

Mark Hall
2015-06-07, 12:48 PM
XP for backstory sounds like a bad idea. One or two people are several levels above the rest of the party- there's a huge power imbalance within the party.

He didn't expect the amount to which we'd go overboard.

Bard1cKnowledge
2015-06-07, 01:42 PM
....huh, maybe I should give lesser minor items to players depending on back stories as incentive

Again, I always make backstories. I posted my 5e warlock, now for a pathfinder char of mine

"Most gnomes are loved by the other races. This is not the case. Slip never really had a thing for laws, rules, or any sort of things that restricts his personal philosophy, if you want it, take it. One day he received a tip of a lot of money passing through, some duke relocating his wealth or whatever. He thought just a handful of that would be enough to set him for life, of course he'll go for it.

All to late he realized it was a trap, just for him. Bloodied, bruised, he somehow escaped and his in the forest. As he was about to fall asleep and rest, an old man dressed in blue robes came up to him 'I don't suppose you have any spare food or coin to spare for an old man.' "Piss off, you ain't looking for food, you're here to mug me." 'Why would I do that, exactly?' "It's what I would do, target the weakest, take all but his small clothes.' The old man merely chuckled. 'I see your wit has not been scarred. Much unlike your face.' Slip scoweled, bad idea. 'What if I told you that your destiny lies not in basic thievery?' "I'd stab you if I weren't nearly dead." 'And I would snap your wrists. Now then, what do you know of the gods?' "They're not real." 'Which is why I'm picking you as my champion.' "Excuse you?" The old man gave a wide grin. 'What better champion for Iorori than one who cannot go any deeper? Someone who can only go up?' And with that, he vanished, leaving a scrap of cloth with a blue hand on it.

After his encounter, Slip looked up anything he could about that symbol, learning the ideals, trying to be a better person than he was just so he can see that old man again, only to give him a few choice words"

Kiero
2015-06-08, 03:54 AM
Backstories are a vital part of nailing down important details before a game begins and establishing some connections with the setting, and particularly to the other PCs. They're not a chance for player wish-fulfilment, but a means of providing the GM with hooks. They're also a means to define the events that shaped the character into the person they are at the start of the game, rather than them being a cipher or little more than an avatar for the player's own desires.

I find bullet-pointed lists of facts work really well for being concise and easy to digest.

For my character in an nWoD Mass Effect game:

Origins


Born on Aegis (Attican Beta/Odysseus System/fifth planet) in 2158.
Military family; grandfather Hector (Captain - retired), father Julius (Ops Chief - honourably discharged), uncle Alejandro (Gunnery Chief - KIA) and aunt Susana (Staff Commander - active) all served in First Contact War.
Mother Ariel is a geologist originally from Aegis. It was her idea to combine her talents with Julius to found their firm.
Killed a batarian raider when he was 15.
Father opposed joining military, in spite of his own service and setting up a mining business using technical skills the Alliance taught him.
Enlisted at 18 just after the Skyllian Blitz in 2176 (wasn't old enough to sign up before then).
Older sister Helen signed on to an explorator/prospecting crew and is the XO aboard the MSV Jules Verne.
Younger brother Isaac has fallen under the sway of the Terran Defense League, a "pro-human rights" group (read: supremacist militia) in the Skyllian Verge




Military History


Served in a Marine Recon unit attached to the 4th Frontier Division, fighting pirates and slavers, as well as the odd batarian privateer.
Was part of the operation on Torfan in 2178, under Lieutenant Kessler; Kessler got half the company killed and himself mortally wounded. Ortiz managed to salvage the situation and intended to bring the Lt out to be court-martialled for his actions. However Kessler died before they were evacuated, and his influential family applied pressure on the survivors to change their stories.
After the operation Ortiz was commissioned 2nd Lt (a letter of recommendation for OCS from Kessler was "discovered" amongst his files) and given a medal for his actions. He spent the rest of 2178 and the early part of 2179 in Officer Cadet School studying and training to be an officer.
The remains of his company was split up and reassigned, sworn to secrecy about what happened on Torfan (and all were compensated in various ways to purchase their silence). It only took one "accidental death" of someone threatening to talk to make them realise the necessity of this. No one has really talked since then.
While they've all tried to forget it, Ortiz is something of a minor celebrity because of his actions, one of the few "good news stories" they were able to salvage from a thoroughly brutal and unforgiving operation.
As a result of his actions on Torfan and following his time in OCS, he was sent to the Interplanetary Combatives Academy in late 2179, passing the N1 course.
Was wounded in 2180, spending several months recovering while they grew him a graft-replacement for his injured hand.
Resigned his commission in 2181 when the term of his original enlistment was up.




Extra-military history


Went to Nguye’s graduation ceremony from the Grissom Academy in early 2178, where he was introduced to Sam.
While on shore leave on Illium in 2180, ran into an Eclipse enforcer and her Blue Suns trouble. Started the night in fatigues with his sidearm, ended it with his appropriated Blue Suns armour and assault rifle on the floor of her apartment. Hasn't seen her since and she never did tell him her name.
The man who gave up his armour and weapon was a well-connected Centurion called Cedric Drase. His older brother Louis is chief amongst those who swore vengeance on Ortiz for his death.
Kessler was related to the family running Hahne-Kedar; they haven't ended their surveillance and monitoring of Ortiz just because he's no longer in service. One of their venture capital subsidiaries is an investor in Penumbra for this very reason.
Went to Omega (to the annual “mercenary’s fair”) after his discharge to find his asari assignation of the year before. Instead he ran into Sam, their mutual friend Nguye and more Blue Suns trouble. The three of them managed to escape leaving a half-dozen mercs dead and firmly placing them on the Blue Suns ****-list. Nguye still joined Eclipse as a freelancer despite Sam and Russell trying to dissuade him.



For a historical Mage: the Awakening game:

Family


Jacob/Otetiani ("He Who is Prepared") is a mixed race Onondaga Iroquois. Ie he has a range of ethniticies from his parents, but considers himself Iroquois (his mother is Iroquois and they trace their heritage matrilineal-y). Jacob is what he tells Europeans his name is, he doesn't share his "real" name (only Sophie knows it of the PCs).
Those parental ethnicities are Scots-Irish and Onondaga from his mother, and French and Caribbean/West African from his father.
His Scots-Irish grandfather is your stereotypical grizzled old pioneer, he might be still alive, he might not - up to you. He fought in the previous war. His native grandmother is still around.
His half-Iroquois mother is a clan mother, one of the electors in the tribe and a politically connected and powerful woman in her own right.
His mulatto French father is a mercenary, both charismatic and driven by his passions but also totally amoral, in other words a Magnificent Bastard (in the vein of Marshal Rangard and Richard Masson).
He has no siblings (his younger sister died in infancy), but has a host of cousins (those on his mother's side are called "brother" and "sister" in the native style).
His mystical nature first began to manifest when he was a boy, he would see things that weren't there (actually spirits in a state of Twilight).



Warfare


When he was 14 he responded to the call amongst the Confederacy to aid the British in their struggle against the French (and the Iroquois traditional enemies).
Served as a scout and pathfinder for a ranger-designated provincial militia, David Robinson's Rangers.
Distantly related to Captain Robinson's family via his grandfather.
Took part in an ill-fated expedition to seize Fort Saint-Frédéric from the French.
His unit saved the survivors of Dowling's unit after they were betrayed by their own scouts. It was during this battle than Dowling Awakened.



Connections


He had a mentor, Sooleawa ("Silver" in her native Algonquian) a shaman whom he called "grandmother" (she was more accurately a great aunt) who was a Thrysus Arrow.
Some time shortly after her Awakening, he stumbled upon Sophie in the wilderness and rescued her from some Huron braves who were intending to take her captive. Sophie then spent a couple of months recuperating in his village and was adoped into the tribe and received some initial instruction from the shaman mentor.
Sooleawa was murdered by a spirit manipulated by a European mage.
He's on a vengeance trail to find the mage who killed his mentor.




For a historical M&M1e game:

Origins


Born in West Africa, taken as a war captive as a small boy.
His adoptive father, Thomas Henry Warburton, Viscount [TBD - looking at real ones to twist] bought him at a slave market in Salaga (northern Ghana).
Wrapped up in him wanting to prove that nurture, rather than nature determined a man's character.
Taken back to England and raised with his own son and daughters; always told he was "found while on expedition".
Unlike the Viscount's biological son, James, excelled at sports and martial studies the Viscount (a xenophile and dabbler in many things) favoured.
Both boys joined the Viscount while he was on diplomatic post in Singapore; encouraged to learn the local fighting styles.
When they returned to England, they brought an instructor with them.
Went to university [no idea what profession he was being aimed towards - perhaps law?].



Crisis


As an adult he was framed (by his adoptive brother, James) for murder and robbery (a servant was killed during a break-in, the stolen goods planted in his possessions).
His father's enemies were involved in the plot, police and judges were bribed.
Tried and sentenced to death; sentence carried out but his hanging was staged to make it look like he died.
Transferred to the lab of an alchemist [who needs a sinister Dr Somebody name] trying to perfect the moral character of a man - by "fixing" convicts.
His Elixir to Grant Virtuous Morality was a failure; perhaps because Ajax wasn't corrupt and debase in the first place.
Instead he was granted enhanced strength, stamina and healing, his physicality boosted to the limit of human potential (and beyond).
Feigning death after the transformation, he was able to break free and stole a sample of the elixir as he escaped.



The Calling


Found at some point by agents of the Ministry offering him a way to get his life back (since he was legally dead and a convicted criminal).
In return for service and he vial of the elixir he took, they would give him an identity and a job, and work behind the scenes to clear his (real) name, along with find out how it happened.
Some months into working for the Ministry, he began to get progressively more ill - their alchemist discovered the elixir was unstable and to avoid side-effects, he needed weekly doses of a tonic that brought the alchemical processes in his body back into equilibrium.
The Ministry's alchemist theorises that by adding specially-designed tonics to those already resident in his body, other effects might be possible.

Oddman80
2015-06-08, 11:55 AM
If I don't spend time flushing out a back-story - i have no clue how my character should act/react/interact when the first session begins. With in person or Skype games i usually go so far as to figure out accents/speech patterns and what not - to really make the character come alive.

Here is an example of what i came up with for a recent play by post:
Finnegan is a speedy little Halfling with shifty eyes, who is always searching crowds for the easiest mark. He likes to use big words in an attempt to hide his lack of education. That's not to say Finnegan is unintelligent. Quite the contrary is true - it's just that his high intellect usually is often only on display when it comes to quick thinking and strategic planning. He can also be rather charming when given the chance, but if you know him well, you would know that more times than not - when he's speaking, he's full of crap.

Finnegan is obsessed with knives. He loves to fiddle around with them and flash them when he is talking. It's unclear if he is trying to intimidate people or if he just loves them so much. As a piece of advice, though, don't ask him about his collection, unless you have a few hours free.

Standing just under 4'-0" he is actually quite lanky for a Halfling. He dresses in fine quality clothes (though none of the pieces seem to match very well) that he has had fashioned with hidden pockets throughout, to help hide things he has lifted. Below his clothes he now wears a shirt of mithral (a treasure he recently acquired during that false dragon fiasco) - as he still bears the scars on his chest that remind him that even he can sometimes pick the wrong mark.

Finnegan is the son of the town's butcher Liam Buisteirson, and a Priestess of Erastil, Keeva Buisteirson

Finnegan learned the subtleties of using a knife effectively while growing up working in his dad's shop (The Pious Pig). That is, he knows there are quite a few spots that, when a knife is swiftly swiped across, will take meat right off the bone. For good or bad, Finnegan has had the opportunity to learn that human anatomy is not all that different from that of a bull or a goat.

Finnegan has a number of close childhood friends in town - many of whom are now seedy and dangerous characters within the city's criminal underground and black market systems.

While he still works a few hours each day at the Pious Pig, and helps his mother on occasion at the local Temple of Eritrice (The House of the Heart Speaker), his evenings are often spent wandering the streets, picking pockets of the men and women in town as they head home from work. This latter activity has earned him the nickname Finny 2-10 (around him, you've got to keep both eyes on all ten of his fingers).

He was only caught once... sort of... last year. The day after he had snuck into a local jewelers shop, and taken a large shipment of diamonds from the back safe, he was questioned by the town's guard. They informed him that the jewelry shop had been protected by magic, and that an investigator had been able trace the latent magic straight to his house. Finny's silver tongue worked its wonders, and between his litany alibis and excuses, and the fact that they were never able to recover the diamonds, he was released.

It may be of note that, within a week of Finny 2-10's release, the judge that heard his case hosted a great party that is still talked about to this day. They say the party had more fine meat than anyone had ever seen in one place before.

The attention Finny 2-10 got after the diamond heist was a blessing and a curse. He has been hired for some high quality jobs since then, but whenever diamonds go missing in the city, he's the first person the investigators visit.

So that whole diamond recovery job got a little hairy at the end - I don't think any of my 'fellow party members' would say otherwise. When we confronted those cultists about the diamonds, and Allanath demanded that they fetch their leader - none of us were prepared for the violent reaction that the devotees had. Sure - some of them ran off into the woods, but the ones that remained fought like wild animals... It was freakin' nuts! I made sure the group saw me fighting for a bit there, but the way I figured it - if I was gonna have ANY shot at pocketing some of those diamonds before the Vonder Twins (Victor & Vance) found them, then I needed to make my way into the cave all hell-for-leather-like.

By that point we were pretty sure the whole dragon thing was a sham, but the last thing I expected to see when I went in that cave was Squizzy!

Tico "Squizzy" Tinkerson and I go way back. That crazy gnome and I grew up on the same block, even. Squizzy's like twice my age - but you know that don't mean much with gnomes... He and I were always runnin' schemes together growing up - but where I preferred the thrill of taking what I wanted off of my marks without them knowing, Squizzy preferred coming up with clever ways to get the marks to just want to give him what he wanted.

Before the unexpected run-in in the cave - I hadn't seen the runt for almost a year. Rumor was he was working a long con, but the details were all super hush hush. I had no clue he had set up a pyramid scheme that put him at the head of a radical cult.

We just stared at each other all speechless-like for what felt like an hour, before Squizzy goes to grab what turned out to be a bowl filled with the diamonds - it had just been sitting there a few feet from me - resting on an altar.

My brain finally kicked on and I told him not to take the diamonds - that if he did, the ranger in the group would surely track him down... Honestly - I'm not sure how I did it, but I convinced him just to take a small handful - still a ridiculous score by any measure - and to take off before the others found him. The fool actually thanked me and took my advise... Dumb runt!

Unfortunately, after I was sure he took off, I didn't get my chance to follow suit. Before I could get back to that glorious diamond bowl, the freakin' Vonder Twins came bursting in with the rest of the group in tow.

They actually made me turn out my pockets to prove I hadn't gotten any wise ideas - so I try telling myself that it was a good thing I hadn't gotten back to that bowl... But I know I coulda' palmed those stones if I had gotten a chance, and none of them would have been the wiser.

Maybe it's all for the better, though. After all - we did end up getting a share of the recovered loot when we delivered it back in town. And - even better - I think some of these rubes may even trust me now. It's not like I wish any of them harm or nothin' - most of 'em are actually pretty solid blokes - might just stick around, and see where this whole thing leads...

Finny isn't quite sure if he's seeking fame or infamy - but the little bit of notoriety he earned from the diamond heist last year went straight to his head, making him even more arrogant than he had been. So when the group of adventurers came to his door, questioning him about the latest theft by that creepy dragon cult, 2-10 thought he could show the amateurs what was what. After all - it might be fun working on the laws side for once, instead of constantly having to look over his shoulder for the presence of the constabulary.

Having now seen the riches one can acquire through adventuring, Finny 2-10 thinks he might be ready to move on from petty crimes... That is, if he can break himself of the compulsion. But for now, he has his mid set to bigger things. He's looking for a job that will inspire bards' songs and tavern tales. He's not sure what that would entail, but he's keeping his eyes and ears open.

Nerd-o-rama
2015-06-08, 12:36 PM
Generally as a GM I require a backstory that gives me a general sense of who the characters are and what sort of situation they're coming into the game from. When I want a more roleplaying-involved game, I also ask for (and mechanically reward, if I think it's viable) NPCs and plothooks, because that's players helping me do my job. I've gotten a lot of mileage out of player-created NPCs and subplots already in my Princess: The Hopeful game (it helps that NWoD 2e sort of builds the subplot-crafting into character creation with Aspirations).

As a player, I usually roll with whatever the GM asks for, or come up with a paragraph or three to do what I ask for as a GM: give a sense of where the character's coming from and provide the GM with plothooks if he or she wants them. I'm not a big novel writer, or someone who wants to write a big chunk of the campaign setting - I just want to have a bit of a story.

Rad Mage
2015-06-08, 12:39 PM
The best example I can think of, interestingly enough, is when I didn't have time to write a backstory. I made the character last minute at the meeting and threw in the "I have amnesia and don't know who I am" because I was pressed for time. I expected it to be mostly ignored.

In the campaign, through out all of the usual adventuring shenanigans, the party is dealing with the after effects of the actions of the resident BBEG. Eventually we discover that somewhere in all of his contracting with demons and political assassinations and puppy kicking he had vanished without a trace. No legacy or backup plan, this dude was just gone.

Eventually, in an attempt to track him down we summoned one of the demons he formed a contract with.

Party: "Where's BBEG? What's he up to?"

Demon: "Ask him yourself." Points to me.

Turns out my amnesia was part of a magical experiment gone wrong. The adventure quickly changed from "Bring the BBEG to justice" to quest for redemption and trying to use my newfound station to fix the political clusterduck that was left in the BBEG's absence.

One of our better campaigns.

Segev
2015-06-08, 03:56 PM
If I don't spend time flushing out a back-story - i have no clue how my character should act/react/interact when the first session begins. With in person or Skype games i usually go so far as to figure out accents/speech patterns and what not - to really make the character come alive.

Here is an example of what i came up with for a recent play by post:
Finnegan is a speedy little Halfling with shifty eyes, who is always searching crowds for the easiest mark. He likes to use big words in an attempt to hide his lack of education. That's not to say Finnegan is unintelligent. Quite the contrary is true - it's just that his high intellect usually is often only on display when it comes to quick thinking and strategic planning. He can also be rather charming when given the chance, but if you know him well, you would know that more times than not - when he's speaking, he's full of crap.

Finnegan is obsessed with knives. He loves to fiddle around with them and flash them when he is talking. It's unclear if he is trying to intimidate people or if he just loves them so much. As a piece of advice, though, don't ask him about his collection, unless you have a few hours free.

Standing just under 4'-0" he is actually quite lanky for a Halfling. He dresses in fine quality clothes (though none of the pieces seem to match very well) that he has had fashioned with hidden pockets throughout, to help hide things he has lifted. Below his clothes he now wears a shirt of mithral (a treasure he recently acquired during that false dragon fiasco) - as he still bears the scars on his chest that remind him that even he can sometimes pick the wrong mark.

Finnegan is the son of the town's butcher Liam Buisteirson, and a Priestess of Erastil, Keeva Buisteirson

Finnegan learned the subtleties of using a knife effectively while growing up working in his dad's shop (The Pious Pig). That is, he knows there are quite a few spots that, when a knife is swiftly swiped across, will take meat right off the bone. For good or bad, Finnegan has had the opportunity to learn that human anatomy is not all that different from that of a bull or a goat.

Finnegan has a number of close childhood friends in town - many of whom are now seedy and dangerous characters within the city's criminal underground and black market systems.

While he still works a few hours each day at the Pious Pig, and helps his mother on occasion at the local Temple of Eritrice (The House of the Heart Speaker), his evenings are often spent wandering the streets, picking pockets of the men and women in town as they head home from work. This latter activity has earned him the nickname Finny 2-10 (around him, you've got to keep both eyes on all ten of his fingers).

He was only caught once... sort of... last year. The day after he had snuck into a local jewelers shop, and taken a large shipment of diamonds from the back safe, he was questioned by the town's guard. They informed him that the jewelry shop had been protected by magic, and that an investigator had been able trace the latent magic straight to his house. Finny's silver tongue worked its wonders, and between his litany alibis and excuses, and the fact that they were never able to recover the diamonds, he was released.

It may be of note that, within a week of Finny 2-10's release, the judge that heard his case hosted a great party that is still talked about to this day. They say the party had more fine meat than anyone had ever seen in one place before.

The attention Finny 2-10 got after the diamond heist was a blessing and a curse. He has been hired for some high quality jobs since then, but whenever diamonds go missing in the city, he's the first person the investigators visit.

So that whole diamond recovery job got a little hairy at the end - I don't think any of my 'fellow party members' would say otherwise. When we confronted those cultists about the diamonds, and Allanath demanded that they fetch their leader - none of us were prepared for the violent reaction that the devotees had. Sure - some of them ran off into the woods, but the ones that remained fought like wild animals... It was freakin' nuts! I made sure the group saw me fighting for a bit there, but the way I figured it - if I was gonna have ANY shot at pocketing some of those diamonds before the Vonder Twins (Victor & Vance) found them, then I needed to make my way into the cave all hell-for-leather-like.

By that point we were pretty sure the whole dragon thing was a sham, but the last thing I expected to see when I went in that cave was Squizzy!

Tico "Squizzy" Tinkerson and I go way back. That crazy gnome and I grew up on the same block, even. Squizzy's like twice my age - but you know that don't mean much with gnomes... He and I were always runnin' schemes together growing up - but where I preferred the thrill of taking what I wanted off of my marks without them knowing, Squizzy preferred coming up with clever ways to get the marks to just want to give him what he wanted.

Before the unexpected run-in in the cave - I hadn't seen the runt for almost a year. Rumor was he was working a long con, but the details were all super hush hush. I had no clue he had set up a pyramid scheme that put him at the head of a radical cult.

We just stared at each other all speechless-like for what felt like an hour, before Squizzy goes to grab what turned out to be a bowl filled with the diamonds - it had just been sitting there a few feet from me - resting on an altar.

My brain finally kicked on and I told him not to take the diamonds - that if he did, the ranger in the group would surely track him down... Honestly - I'm not sure how I did it, but I convinced him just to take a small handful - still a ridiculous score by any measure - and to take off before the others found him. The fool actually thanked me and took my advise... Dumb runt!

Unfortunately, after I was sure he took off, I didn't get my chance to follow suit. Before I could get back to that glorious diamond bowl, the freakin' Vonder Twins came bursting in with the rest of the group in tow.

They actually made me turn out my pockets to prove I hadn't gotten any wise ideas - so I try telling myself that it was a good thing I hadn't gotten back to that bowl... But I know I coulda' palmed those stones if I had gotten a chance, and none of them would have been the wiser.

Maybe it's all for the better, though. After all - we did end up getting a share of the recovered loot when we delivered it back in town. And - even better - I think some of these rubes may even trust me now. It's not like I wish any of them harm or nothin' - most of 'em are actually pretty solid blokes - might just stick around, and see where this whole thing leads...

Finny isn't quite sure if he's seeking fame or infamy - but the little bit of notoriety he earned from the diamond heist last year went straight to his head, making him even more arrogant than he had been. So when the group of adventurers came to his door, questioning him about the latest theft by that creepy dragon cult, 2-10 thought he could show the amateurs what was what. After all - it might be fun working on the laws side for once, instead of constantly having to look over his shoulder for the presence of the constabulary.

Having now seen the riches one can acquire through adventuring, Finny 2-10 thinks he might be ready to move on from petty crimes... That is, if he can break himself of the compulsion. But for now, he has his mid set to bigger things. He's looking for a job that will inspire bards' songs and tavern tales. He's not sure what that would entail, but he's keeping his eyes and ears open.

By most standards I've seen, that's actually a very extensive backstory.

Atarax
2015-06-08, 07:11 PM
Here's the backstory for my question.

When I was a younger DM, the big appeal to me was designing castles and things and watching people explore them. Now, for some reason, I'm fascinated by the whole collaborative storytelling aspect. I make some, they react. I build off of their reaction. A shared fantasy with them in the driver's seat. Not a new concept for role playing, but I'm really just now fully getting it.

Thanks for replying to this thread. These are some great answers!
Keep 'em coming :)

Eisenheim
2015-06-08, 09:50 PM
have you tried fate, Atarax? It is a very heavily collaborative rpg, by default.

Mando Knight
2015-06-08, 10:33 PM
Currently playing a Wookie in a Star Wars Edge of the Empire game.

My backstory is "The Empire are Jerks (because Kashyyyk)" and "Jaggis (one of the PCs) is a cool dude (because he got me off Kashyyyk)"

That's it. It ties me to another player character (Jaggis), it gives me motivation to do the thing (rebel against the empire), it informs of where my character lived (in the rather wild planet of Kashyyyk so survival skills, some melee combat ones) as well as some personality traits due to his culture (wookie, so things like the life debt) and some of his past can be inferred due to important events that happened during his life (Occupation of Kashyyyk).

So we have a large, brutish hulk who's trained survivalist and combat skills, escaped slavery with the help of another, feels animosity towards his former captors and reverence to his savior.

That's basically all I need to integrate my character into the game and group, the specifics of his personality will be developed as I play him since I never found myself playing the character to the personality I wanted him to have when I wrote longer backstories. Anything beyond getting your character to mesh with the group & setting is done for your own enjoyment. If the DM demands more then that, it's dumping busywork on the player.

Nowadays I just write enough to get my guy into the group and into the narrative. The rest is played by ear. Any GM who can't accept that probably isn't one I want running my table and one I would likely excuse myself from.

I think that's largely helped by everyone having a solid point of reference due to it being an established setting. I mean, really, the point of a background in an RPG really is to establish who the character is and why the character is part of this wacky would-be A-Team.

The collaborative world-building part of longer backgrounds can be used to help get players familiar with the setting by letting them help define it, but for every Roy Greenhilt there's a Belkar Bitterleaf.

goto124
2015-06-08, 11:28 PM
The best example I can think of, interestingly enough, is when I didn't have time to write a backstory. I made the character last minute at the meeting and threw in the "I have amnesia and don't know who I am" because I was pressed for time. I expected it to be mostly ignored.

In the campaign, through out all of the usual adventuring shenanigans, the party is dealing with the after effects of the actions of the resident BBEG. Eventually we discover that somewhere in all of his contracting with demons and political assassinations and puppy kicking he had vanished without a trace. No legacy or backup plan, this dude was just gone.

Eventually, in an attempt to track him down we summoned one of the demons he formed a contract with.

Party: "Where's BBEG? What's he up to?"

Demon: "Ask him yourself." Points to me.

Turns out my amnesia was part of a magical experiment gone wrong. The adventure quickly changed from "Bring the BBEG to justice" to quest for redemption and trying to use my newfound station to fix the political clusterduck that was left in the BBEG's absence.

One of our better campaigns.

...If I were the player, I would've been... less than pleased.

Stuff like this makes me ask myself if I'm an unreasonable jerk.

DigoDragon
2015-06-09, 07:30 AM
IMO, one of the best options is to sit your players down and come up with how they know each other. They need to have connections to at least 2 other people in the party, whether it be a place they're from, someone they hate, a group they belong to, or whatever.

There was a brief Fate game I was in where each player had to come up with how they knew the PC to their left at the table. That was fun brainstorming and it led to everyone getting to know each other fairly well early on.



In the past, I've had DMs give flat XP bonuses for backgrounds. One offered 1000xp per page of backstory (this is in 2e). My brother and I turned in 17 page backstories, while others were lucky to make a page.

Yikes! O.o

I offer xp, but it's flat and static, not a "per page" deal. It's to encourage everyone to write me a few lines on their character's background and motivations for adventuring, but not a novel. Some used to give me 2-3 pages anyway.


One of the coolest backstory moments I've had was in an early D&D 3.5 campaign I ran. I had noticed when reading PC backgrounds that every player mentioned a relative that used to be an adventurer (most commonly a middle-aged aunt or uncle) and was the source for their character's inspiration to go adventuring. I went ahead and tied it all together-- these retired adventurers were all once part of the same team and came out of retirement to tackle an old BBEG they thought they killed off.

It just so happened that the PCs were starting to find out about this villain and fight her minions when the two teams bumped into each other. Hilarity ensued and the players all liked how that worked out. Also, no player had a relative that was their same class, but they did share certain traits in their style of combat. For example, the party rogue liked to sneak up on targets in melee and disable them with poisons. Her uncle was a wizard who liked to use illusions to sneak up on targets and then use touch spells to disable them with a similar effect.

Yukitsu
2015-06-09, 12:09 PM
I think the best back story my players have ever given me was for my horror campaign. He was a bit of a mad scientist who tried to apply steam to everything, so he had a steam powered pressure gun that was inferior to the equivalent era Girandoni air rifle. He was played as a pretty typical British scientist who's most notable feature was his mustache, he wasn't a great inventor or scientist and constantly got steam burns.

The best I think I ever gave my DM was an elven paladin in a setting where they were pretty much on the verge of extinction. He was a devout worshiper of the elven Pantheon and so went on a quest to help revive the elven nations and being entirely practical, he did so by just going out to get as much money as possible to get res spells cast, and to buy items that helped out with fertility problems. However, more than a paladin, he had been a rogue who was devoted to trickery, so when he later took up the call to help his people, he had a very conflicting set of skills.

Mark Hall
2015-06-09, 12:55 PM
So, for those wondering, here's the kind of stuff we'd turn in, because we could take the time to write 20 pages backgrounds, and the DM was willing to give us XP for it.

Cormac, a Druid/Bard (http://www.mymegaverse.org/nexx/tsr/cormac.html)

Averfin Steeleye. (http://www.mymegaverse.org/nexx/tsr/RYAN1.html)

Verdanic Blue-eye, the Penitent (http://www.mymegaverse.org/nexx/tsr/Ryan2.html)

Brother Glynnon Two-Tears, Priest of Ilmater (http://www.mymegaverse.org/nexx/tsr/Ryan3.html) (that's the one where my younger brother started at something like 7th level, while the rest of the party was 1st or 2nd).

Ghoruk (in which I make up a chunk of Forgotten Realms lore to justify my weird character) (http://www.mymegaverse.org/nexx/tsr/ghoruk.html)

Rad Mage
2015-06-09, 01:10 PM
...If I were the player, I would've been... less than pleased.

Stuff like this makes me ask myself if I'm an unreasonable jerk.

I guess it boils down to personal taste. Like I said, I didn't have time to flesh out the character so I didn't feel like I was being denied my initial character concept. If I had developed a backstory that was overwritten by this revelation, or had I been forced to play the character differently/switch to another character I probably would have been less than ecstatic. But all the GM did was fill in a blank that I admittedly gave him free reign to do whatever with.

It took a character I had little investment in and made him an integral part of the campaign setting. Having an evil, demonically empowered, self-declared God-King suddenly start traveling the world as a Chaotic Good bard made for some interesting adventures.

Telok
2015-06-09, 06:23 PM
I am beginning to wonder if much of the pro and anti for backstory is really based around people seeing backstory as an opportunity for roleplaying challenges.

If you want to roleplay and enjoy being challenged or try something new then you want backstory. In tying the character to the world you have chances for the world to affect your character's personality and actions. By possibly having goals beyond killing and looting the character can require you to adjust your expectations of the game and your role in it. This requires more work and thought than rolling dice and adding numbers.
If you don't want to roleplay, or you don't want the character to change or evolve then backstory becomes uninteresting to you. The character does not need to be connected to the world because loot and xp are all they want from the world. If something does not affect the numbers on the character sheet then you don't care. What matters is what you get to do with the character and anything beyond that is just wasted effort.

I could be wrong too, and I know that generalities cannot apply to everyone. But it seems like a general trend to me.

One thing I do see a lot of in these threads is fear. Fear from players about being screwed by jerk dms, fear from dms about jerk players treating their hard work like trash and disrupting the game.

valadil
2015-06-09, 08:33 PM
If you don't want to roleplay, or you don't want the character to change or evolve then backstory becomes uninteresting to you. The character does not need to be connected to the world because loot and xp are all they want from the world. If something does not affect the numbers on the character sheet then you don't care. What matters is what you get to do with the character and anything beyond that is just wasted effort.


I think most players who aren't interested in roleplaying aren't interested in backstory (although I certainly know exceptions). I would not assume the reverse is true. I think there are plenty of players not interested in backstory who do want to roleplay.

goto124
2015-06-10, 04:43 AM
I would not assume the reverse is true. I think there are plenty of players not interested in backstory who do want to roleplay.

Yea. I've been in the FFRP section for a while, and played with people using chars that don't have well-defined backstories. They do have some form of personality, there's a lot of 'make-up-as-I-go-along', and it's all fun roleplaying (because it's a freeform, there's no dice silly!).


One thing I do see a lot of in these threads is fear. Fear from players about being screwed by jerk dms, fear from dms about jerk players treating their hard work like trash and disrupting the game.

You may be right about this. And sometimes it's 'Fear from players about being accidentally screwed by well-meaning but incompetent DMs'.

Nerd-o-rama
2015-06-10, 09:22 AM
The best example I can think of, interestingly enough, is when I didn't have time to write a backstory. I made the character last minute at the meeting and threw in the "I have amnesia and don't know who I am" because I was pressed for time. I expected it to be mostly ignored.

In the campaign, through out all of the usual adventuring shenanigans, the party is dealing with the after effects of the actions of the resident BBEG. Eventually we discover that somewhere in all of his contracting with demons and political assassinations and puppy kicking he had vanished without a trace. No legacy or backup plan, this dude was just gone.

Eventually, in an attempt to track him down we summoned one of the demons he formed a contract with.

Party: "Where's BBEG? What's he up to?"

Demon: "Ask him yourself." Points to me.

Turns out my amnesia was part of a magical experiment gone wrong. The adventure quickly changed from "Bring the BBEG to justice" to quest for redemption and trying to use my newfound station to fix the political clusterduck that was left in the BBEG's absence.

One of our better campaigns.

It was the best plot twist in video game history in 2001, it can work in tabletop RPGs too.

Segev
2015-06-10, 09:54 AM
It was the best plot twist in video game history in 2001, it can work in tabletop RPGs too.

Because I knew the spoiler before I played the game, I had fun with it. Last warning: this is about Star Wars: Knight of the Old Republic.




Still here?




Because I knew my PC was in truth Darth Revan, I went ahead and named him that. This leads to such wonderful scenes as Carson saying, essentially, "Man, I hate that Darth Revan guy. He's such a murderous monster. By the way, it's nice to meet you, Darth Revan!" and later your party reacting to the reveal with, "You mean Darth Revan was Darth Revan all along!?"

Mark Hall
2015-06-10, 11:14 AM
Because I knew the spoiler before I played the game, I had fun with it.
Because I knew my PC was in truth Darth Revan, I went ahead and named him that. This leads to such wonderful scenes as Carson saying, essentially, "Man, I hate that Darth Revan guy. He's such a murderous monster. By the way, it's nice to meet you, Darth Revan!" and later your party reacting to the reveal with, "You mean Darth Revan was Darth Revan all along!?"

I wound up naming mine something very close to Revan, IIRC.

Jay R
2015-06-10, 07:10 PM
In Flashing Blades, every player is required to have an Advantage and a Secret. There are several examples available in the books, but I once invented my own.

Jean-Louis is a Parisian street-rat. He was an orphan, raised by the nuns of Notre Dame, until he fled at age eight, upon hearing that he was to be taught Latin. Since then he has lived by his wits, developing the skills of a cutpurse and thief.

Jean-Louis was a foundling, left at Notre Dame in a basket. Nothing is known about him except that he was left with a satin blanket with the monogram "JL". Is it a clue to his parentage? Is he the bastard son of a noble with those initials? Or was he born to a servant girl who stole the blanket? Is he the inconveniently legal heir that somebody wants dead? He does not know, although he still has the blanket.

Note to GM: Neither the character nor the player has any idea what this means. If you choose to clear up the mystery, the secret could easily develop into a Secret Identity, Sworn Vengeance, or Blackmailed, depending on the details. Feel free to use it any way you choose. A monogram cannot be traced (how many JLs are there?), but it might be recognized by a family member, washerwoman, or the original embroiderer. It could also be a blind to the child's identity.

The GM picked it up and ran with it. Over the course of several adventures involving politics, religious wars, rivalries, and tavern brawls, we eventually discovered that Jean-Louis was actually born Jacob Laisne, the son of a Huguenot layer and a noblewoman - the daughter of the Count de Montpazat's younger brother. He has now met both sets of grandparents ( to whom he is an embarrassment), but the game died before we could found out what happened to his parents, or how he was taken to the church.

Cluedrew
2015-06-12, 07:25 PM
Personally I'll often skip the backstory as long as I don't need it to know exactly who the character is.

I had one character that I define exactly who they were without actually defining anything of how they got there. I often will define how they go there later, or at least any parts of it that become or might become important/interesting, but I usually don't need it to play the character.

bobthehero
2015-06-12, 08:50 PM
I don't often do backstories, but I've made one for Maximus, my upcoming Knight of the Sepulcher.

He was born into slavey and was a noticeably tough kid, picking fights with others and generally coming out on top. The master noticed that right away and he was sent to the gladitorial pits rather quickly, where he spent a good ten years fighting for the entertainement of the crowd. While he wasn't exactly a master of arms, he was pretty competent with that gladius of his and preferered to use heavy armor and a shield, his true talent was to make a show out of the fights, and after a few years, any fights where he was rumored to take part would usually gather a sizeable crowd. He was a master at showing off and adding drama to his fights, sparing oppenents he'd deem worthy and doing complicated displays before a fight, calling out his opponent. Life in the pits wasn't exactly nice, either, and Maximus turned out to be both bully and bullied as most as often as one changes pants, although whoever bullied him usually ended up having a rather angry Max jumping at him, as he'd be quick to take the upper hand on any would-be attacker.

His life took a turn for the worst (in his eyes, at least) when he was freed from slavery by paladins, who offered him a simple choice to join them in their fight agaisnt evil or to carry on with a life of his choosing. Since fighting was his life, Maximus didn't really though the whole thing through and joined without asking enough questions. And so began the rather short career of Maximus the Paladin, who managed to last exactly a year, before he fell and was executed by his fellow brothers (rightfully so, I might add, the whole bully part didn't exactly stay behind, and while he'd spare the occasional foe, they really weren't people you'd want to leave alive, he even tried to befriend a follower of Urgathoa, at some point, you can guess how that went)

And so begun another part of Maximus rather unpleasant life, he ded. BUT! Before his execution, he begun to blindly plegde his life to Urgathoa, in a deseperate attempt to stay alive. It didn't exactly worked as intended and came back more dead than alive, after a visit from dear ol' Urgathoa. His paladin powers corrupted, his mind slightly shattered, he's now meaner than he ever was and has a certain uh... taste for vengeance. He was hired along with two other adventurers to track down a halfling in another city, he died in the attempt, so did his companions and so did the halfling, incidentally (damn you DM with a story in mind, oh and time constraints, too! Damn you especially). He was ressurected by the same group and now sent to work with the same two companions, along with a few other new faces. What happens now? No idea, my job got in the way of the game and I won't be able to play until september, joke's on you (and me :smallfrown: )


A few things: This is an evil campaign, we agreed that the party wouldn't stab one another in the back and work together, everyone else is fair game.

DM allowed me to play a lawful evil Knight of the Sepulcher instead of being forced to be chaotic evil, LE is my favorite alignement and the DM also told me he'd prefer I use it, so really, its a win-win.

We start at level 5, DM told us we need to start the campaign dead, but the way we die had to make it so our characters would have a reason to want to comeback, in Max case, he died once to become a KotS, and then died before he could take his revenge.

The part about the 2 adventurers was a one shot our DM fired up to test our characters, be it shortcomings of the groups or we'd interact, infortunately, it was cut short, we had a blast, with noone having knowledge and me trying to intimidate an old lady, who ended up giving us pie and tea, we died facing an Aurum, I think.


So, thoughs? I tried to make it so the story would explain some of the feats and traits I took (Good with a gladius = wpn focus, not the best fighter = not a fighter, using performance combat and dazzling displays as its something he'd grow up doing, making a show out of every fights, a reason why he'd have antipaladin powers and why he's slowly turning undead, oh and traits, too)

Edit: oh and do point out plotholes and whatnot, I am not much of a writter and the story is not the deepest you'll see, but I quite enjoy it.

And finally, English isn't my first language, some sentences might have a weird turn to e'm, sorry

daremetoidareyo
2015-06-12, 11:34 PM
I had a player who loved weak characters. If they weren't weak, they were savants with flaws. In a Hell on Earth campaign, he statted out an accountant. An accountant with a minor in marine biology who had a honda civic that he took good care of. His backstory was all about how boringly plain he was, and what he did to remain plane after the world got bombed, mostly just sucking up to powerful people who needed a non-competitive male nerd for something. He wound up saving the day by bullrushing a big bad out a window to mutually impale himself and the badguy on a fence, and we got to keep his civic.

In an L5R campaign he rolled up a crane magistrate genius and totally neglected all physical stats. When the campaign became combat heavy, particularly around his backstory where he was investigating the disappearance of his kid sister during a magistrational clan child swap political thing, he burnt a bunch of shadowlands points for a game mechanical advantage during combat. He wound up a hyper intelligent Semi-Evil NPC before he could ever see the freedom of his kid sister.