PC backstory


Gamer Life General Discussion


Do you and the PC (or for players reading this thread) or GM work together to plan this out or do you even do any at all?

Also, if you are a GM and PCs DO create a backstory how much do you honestly use? Is there ever a dispute on where you take it and where the PC saw it going?

I have a campaign thats through it's first session and since the players weren't really all that into backstory before but have suddenly "come alive" with roleplaying I'm asking them to make some stuff up to define their characters.

I'm usually the type of GM that wants to resolve backstory hooks early and then get on with what I had planned for the main plot. I am just wondering what everyone else does.


Out of my current players, only one of them really roleplays at all.

Whenever I try to help them come up with a backstory, they basically have the attitude of "just say he's from wherever."

I've introduced hero points and xp rewards as of last session that are all RP related in hopes that they'll do it for the mechanical gain and then maybe enjoy it.


Fleshgrinder wrote:

Out of my current players, only one of them really roleplays at all.

Whenever I try to help them come up with a backstory, they basically have the attitude of "just say he's from wherever."

I've introduced hero points and xp rewards as of last session that are all RP related in hopes that they'll do it for the mechanical gain and then maybe enjoy it.

I sweat Fleshgrinder, your post and profile scream that your my GM.


Mark Hoover wrote:
Also, if you are a GM and PCs DO create a backstory how much do you honestly use? Is there ever a dispute on where you take it and where the PC saw it going?

A lot of the flavor of my campaigns are built on the PCs backstories. I barebones the whole thing, get their backstories, then flesh out the world. Generic evil minion guy #2 becomes one PC's rebellious older brother mentioned in the backstory, and so on.


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I tend to write extensive backstories. I have run into at least one GM that strongly dislikes player backstories.


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I encourage my players to write detailed back stories. They don't always comply with that request, but when they do I strive to incorporate elements from it into the game as best I can. A childhood friend make make an appearance, or an event from the character's caused difficulties for the party.

The players have control of the background elements and personalities before the campaign starts. Once the game is underway, though, I take full control of these things. I make an effort to preserve personalities and concepts a player defines as part of the back story, to respect their original creative process, but otherwise everything they come up with goes straight in my tool box. If a player objects to the way I present their dear Great-Aunt Mabel, I point out that NPCs live their own lives and can undergo changes and events as readily as any PC. I try to keep any developments in these NPCs' lives consistent with the establish background; Aunt Mabel probably isn't going to be revealed as alpha of the werewolf pack that's been terrorizing the countryside. That said, she may have fallen in with a charismatic charlatan, or perhaps even died when goblins or other nasties attacked the family farm.

The presence of PCs has a marked impact on the world around them. Their absence should also be able to result in a similar impact.


Do you guys have any tips for getting your players more involved in the RP part of the RPG?

My players are all primarily console videogame players, so they approach gaming very differently than those of us who grew up on PnP/TTCG etc.


I try to get a thorough backstory from my players at some point, but I typically only require a rather barebones one to start; I have a lot of players who will come up with a basic concept, then flesh out the details of the background and come up with new plot hooks, new prior entanglements, and such like after the character has been played for some time and they've gotten into the groove.

One thing I like is passing out this questionnaire. This is the one I received from the Lore Oracle in my current PbP, hence his answers. (My players stay out!)

Spoiler:
5 things your character is afraid of, in importance of the level of fear:
1. Death of a family member
2. The Apocalypse
3. Meeting the true owner of his Urumi
4. Romantic interest in him
5. Blindness
4 things their character loves dearly, in order of importance:
1. Ai (mother)
2. Aria (sister)
3. Aisha (sister)
4. Damien (father, absent)
3 things they are embarrassed about:
1. He's a virgin
2. He lives in the "working rooms" section of a dockside "tea house"
3. His father is a pirate and his mother a "courtesan"
2 things they are proud of:
1. Earning his own way honorably
2. His knowledge
and 1 thing they'd be willing to kill to keep a secret:
1. The secret times/places/codewords he uses to stay in touch with his father.

His is the most complete; the gunslinger and bard in the party sent me mostly-filled lists, and the magus - whose player is very heavily on the side of "I need to play my character for a while before I can flesh her out more" - sent in one that's only about a third complete. As logn as they eventually get touched up, after the players have had some time to get the feel of their character, I'm typically okay with it.


My current GM really worked out his world, so we create a good base for a background story just by picking one of his location-based traits that every player is required to pick. I know that sounds restrictive, but the ones he makes are slightly better than the base and very diverse. He does allow each player to put in the amount of work into their background that they want, but the more you put in, the more likely you are to see your story working into the plot.

When I GM, I like to sit down with the players in a pre-game session and ask them questions about their characters. I offer suggestions when they get stuck or ask them to think about certain points and get back to me. These pre-games probably aren't for everyone, but most gamers do like to talk about either their character's stats or story. As long as everyone gets a chance to talk, these sessions go well. Besides, I usually make a habit of gaming with people that are just fun to talk to. There is always a great deal of pointless non-gaming conversation and at least three or four movie quotes.

I cannot speak for others, but on the questions of how much of their backstory I use, the answer is as much as I can. When you start at level one, this is usually only so much. The background story quickly becomes the stuff they did to reach level two or three or four. For those few times I have done a higher level campaign, I will try to use as much as they give me to work with, but I find that in-game adventure feel more real to the players than background stories.

This was more than I intended to say, but I hope that answers the OP questions. That's my 2 coppers.

Shadow Lodge

Pathfinder Adventure Path, Companion, Lost Omens, Rulebook Subscriber
Mark Hoover wrote:

Do you and the PC (or for players reading this thread) or GM work together to plan this out or do you even do any at all?

Also, if you are a GM and PCs DO create a backstory how much do you honestly use? Is there ever a dispute on where you take it and where the PC saw it going?

I have a campaign thats through it's first session and since the players weren't really all that into backstory before but have suddenly "come alive" with roleplaying I'm asking them to make some stuff up to define their characters.

I'm usually the type of GM that wants to resolve backstory hooks early and then get on with what I had planned for the main plot. I am just wondering what everyone else does.

With mine it usually ends up some combination of working something out with a player as they are building the character and stuff that builds up as they play. Also since I run a homebrew world I usually try to let them in on the creative process and have them help me design the places and cultures that make up their characters little world prior to adventuring, in this way it helps the players get invested in the world they are in as they now have a better understanding of it and are more tempted to help save it. The other rule I try to stick to especially with groups that start a low levels is to keep their past open or a bit vague so that I as a GM have room to incorporate it with what I'm planning for later. The other thing I try to impress upon those players who are really into it is to remember that as GM I'm the final arbiter on what kind of things they could put into their backstory and the overarching plot of the campaign itself meaning that they need to give me room to make their story work. I will say there can be nothing worse then a player who's built a backstory that runs totally counter to what you are planning and doesn't get that something needs to change in order for their favorite character to solider on.


As a player and as a GM I find backstory a great springboard to adventures.
As a player I try and add things that would be interesting to follow up on... Conversation with GM recently:
"Why is Maergen not living with other Dwarfs? OH I see here that his fighting philosophy is counter to Dwarven norm (dwarven rogue with sneak attack).. OHH you say his hold's honor was impugned by this strategy and drove your people out?
I wonder... I'm guessing that some dwarfs would like to "silence" the fact that your clan did this..."
So now he has a recurring threat.

As a GM I had a player write as an aside that her character was afraid of spiders. When I threw spiders at the party, she booked from the fight and ditched her party. It was pretty awesome in an RP way and the rest of the party spent the rest of the adventure harassing her about "Is that a web?"

I've had Family members in danger, Mentors who ALSO created the party nemesis, a previous martial Affinity (knights the character had listed as his starting point) re-draft the wayward squire, an undefined "mystery" of missing time explained, A rejected suitor challenge a party member for another's hand in marriage.

lots of fun stuff that was DIRECTLY tied to the characters in question...


Fleshgrinder wrote:

Do you guys have any tips for getting your players more involved in the RP part of the RPG?

My players are all primarily console videogame players, so they approach gaming very differently than those of us who grew up on PnP/TTCG etc.

Check out this thread for some ideas.

New GM need some advice

My ideas were as follows:

The best way I know of to get new gamers to RP is push them to and reward them for staying in character. I don't mean taping their ears to an elf point or trying to speak with a dwarfish accent (though if you all like that there is nothing wrong with it).

Ex: A new player will often say something like,

Player, "The fighter will try to intimidate him into giving us info."
GM, "Ok, what do you say to him?"
Player, "Uhmm... threatening stuff."
GM, "You actually say the words 'threatening stuff'?"
Player, "What? No, I mean I make threats."
GM, "Sure, tell me what threats you tell him."
Player, "Uh... I put my axe in front of his face and say 'Tell us where they went.'"
GM, "Yeah, he'd find that pretty intimidating. So roll an intimidate check and take a bonus of +1 for decent threat."

Hopefully after a while you won't have to go through the first few lines very often.

The other side of that is you doing the same thing.

Don't say, "The mayor is really angry at you for disturbing him."

Do say, "What is the meaning of this? Who gave you the authority to inflict me with your presence during my celebration? Well, answer me you buffoon! If you don't give me an answer I like immediatly I'll have my guards haul you out of here in chains! Do you hear me?!?"

{{ NOTE: This is sort of an example of do as I say not as I do, because I'm not always very good at this myself. }}

But there were some other very good ideas in the thread.


@ Fleshgrinder: I feel you dawg. My players are all hardcore boardgamers and ALL tactical. I've run 3 campaigns previous to this one; in all 4 I've asked for some background stuff: where are you from, most important memory (good or bad), what's your family like and how connected to them are you, significant events.

In 3 of the 4 campaigns all my guys basically phoned it in with either no answers or one-worders. My favortie was I received a background for a Ranger in the second campaign: "Where is he from?"/"village"...that was the end of the answers. Player gets to the table and his ranger's name was still blank. He became "Ran Ger" the ranger.

I've tried hero pts, NPC boons and just good old fashioned encouragement and nothing seemed to be working. This current campaign I said instead of giving me individual backgrounds give me one thing that ties you all together: could be an event, a group. a race; whatever.

Now my game is a homebrew that is Ustlav without all the undead. I have the fey as a major protagonist, kind of a dark fairy tale. One of the players made 2 characters and named them both Grimm. The party together came up with the Archivist's Guild; an Indiana Jones kind of group funded through the Abadaran church meant to preserve antiquities. All the characters also worship Abadar.

So we began play and honestly it was the same ol...til the Grimms came in. The guy playing them really seemed bent on playing up the infamy of the last name. So I ran with it and started a series of emails just asking him about it. From these we created the campaign trait "Grimm Legacy" and established that the family of Grimm is kind of a massive clan scattered with many lines through the land, so there's a lot of "Von Grimms," or "of House Grimm" types around. This extended family produces prodigious monster hunters and Grimmen Hall in the main city has a hall of hunters and a collection of lore about different monsters.

It came out of nowhere but now I've got similar emails out to my other players and I'm trying to see if I can get it to pan out. I'm creating background AFTER the game's already started and nothing so far that establishes specific Aunt Mabel types - just a general feel for what each character comes from.

So far I have a rogue with a serious Indiana Jones fetish, complete with whip and fedora; a blue-blooded alchemist w/the "rich parents" trait but then he says he wants a Harry Potter vibe; and a dwarf cleric of Abadar w/no real personality quirks other than he took "Nobility" as one of his domains.

All I can say FG is that you should have a frank conversation w/your players about how you feel and what you need to get out of the game to have your part of the fun of playing. If they're down then I say...give up. Let your players just ACT like their characters. Then extrapolate backwards and hand them a framework you think fits.

Ex: if you have a guy that is constantly killing and looting mercilessly and his personality is really vindictive, chances are he is a victim perpetuating a cycle of violence he was a part of. If he's also a loner w/no family or ties then tell the player they were taken from him...then the very next NPC he meets is a beggar in the street that suddenly recognizes him, calling him "brother". Reveal from there that when the pillagers raided them and the PC got away not everyone was killed. Now here's the best part: one of the family members who escaped is even worse than the player - a real scumbag commiting every sin imaginable. Now if your PC is no roleplayer he won't have any problem destroying the villain, but if there's a spark there at all then leave clues suggesting that the villain can be redeemed. A journal of regrets, minions who try to morally justify their master's sins, a Saranite cleric with a bleeding heart for the villain, whatever.

Its all of this that made me post this thread in the first place.


Umbral Reaver wrote:
I tend to write extensive backstories. I have run into at least one GM that strongly dislikes player backstories.

Some of us have bad experience with players writing enormously long backstories, being very obnoxious about introducing every damn part of their backstory into game and then being deeply offended by GM requesting changes to that backstory to fit the setting or campaign (especially when GM in question deviates his campaign from a written canon for established setting) or when GM actually uses and develops the backstory in his own way instead of strictly following the player wishes... Personally I like PC's backstories as long as they are not attempt to infringe on me being the final arbiter about the world, the setting, the NPCs and events and they are not too extensive.

Also, too much backstory may lead the player to focus too much on the past instead of present story. Some players try to derail the present story and demand too much attention placed solely on their characters instead of sharing the spot with other PCs.

Of course, those are usually extremes, but the extreme cases are what builds dislikes towards certain aspects of the game, not mild ones.


When I do have players who are more into the RP part, I tend to ask for light backstories.

I ask for general stuff. I want to know you came from a village, but not it's name.

That way I can weave them into the world and turn their general info into specific info.


BltzKrg242 wrote:
As a GM I had a player write as an aside that her character was afraid of spiders. When I threw spiders at the party, she booked from the fight and ditched her party. It was pretty awesome in an RP way and the rest of the party spent the rest of the adventure harassing her about "Is that a web?"

Hahah, we had something similar to this just this past Monday game. The party Gunslinger does a tough talk but apparently can't take what she dishes out. When one of the bad guys managed to return fire and land a hit, she dropped her rifle and ditched. It was perfectly in character, even if it would have left the rest of us to a near-wipe without the NPC Artificer we were working for tagging along (my witch with her dog mount, the monk, him, and a hireling fighter versus five bandits and their dog, minus our gunslinger).


Kydeem de'Morcaine wrote:

My ideas were as follows:

The best way I know of to get new gamers to RP is push them to and reward them for staying in character. I don't mean taping their ears to an elf point or trying to speak with a dwarfish accent (though if you all like that there is nothing wrong with it).

Ex: A new player will often say something like,

Player, "The fighter will try to intimidate him into giving us info."
GM, "Ok, what do you say to him?"
Player, "Uhmm... threatening stuff."
GM, "You actually say the words 'threatening stuff'?"
Player, "What? No, I mean I make threats."
GM, "Sure, tell me what threats you tell him."
Player, "Uh... I put my axe in front of his face and say 'Tell us where they went.'"
GM, "Yeah, he'd find that pretty intimidating. So roll an intimidate check and take a bonus of +1 for decent threat."

Hopefully after a while you won't have to go through the first few lines very often.

The other side of that is you doing the same thing.

Don't say, "The mayor is really angry at you for disturbing him."

Do say, "What is the meaning of this? Who gave you the authority to inflict me with your presence during my celebration? Well, answer me you buffoon! If you don't give me an answer I like immediatly I'll have my guards haul you out of here in chains! Do you hear me?!?"

{{ NOTE: This is sort of an example of do as I say not as I do, because I'm not always very good at this myself. }}

But there were some other very good ideas in the thread.

This can get very dangerous. If a player is not good at the social aspect of the game, but wants to play a social character, it's very easy for the GM to accidentally become a colossal jerk.

A player poorly adapted to social play is likely to be insecure about it, and playing a social character to have the feel of being successful in situations they're not good at in real life.

A GM smacking them down for not roleplaying out every word is doing the very worst thing possible. That is stabbing at the heart of the player's fears and anguish at inadequate eloquence.

It's a quick path to a depressed or angry player, or the loss of that player.

Sovereign Court

For every character I create, I write a back story. In the past it was more of a Wert is from here, parents name, siblings name etc, onto at age 11 this happened, at age 17 this happened and so on. Now I actually write a story. It will have a mix or mention of past in it and how the character might have grown up and continues on to when the leave for the adventure

In both my PF AP and my home brew I require every player has a background. I will reward them a few extra Xp just for doing it and more if it is good and detailed


Pathfinder Adventure Path, Lost Omens, Rulebook Subscriber

I find backstory to be extremely important, both as a player's tool and as a GM's tool.

Similar to what Shalmdi said above, when I start a new campaign, I run a pre-game session in which the players develop their characters and we craft a setting-appropriate backstory for each character.

Fortunately, all of the people I game with are good-to-excellent role-players, and everyone enjoys this aspect of the game: the players don't get blindsided by creating a character that's inappropriate to the setting, and I get handed plot hooks that I don't have to write!

Likewise, when I'm a player, I like to be able to craft a PC with an extensive background as a role-playing aid. I prefer to work this out with the GM so that I create a character that's good for the setting.

Where this gets dangerous is when the GM either doesn't provide feedback or glances at it and says, "that's fine" without taking into account the direction of the campaign. I've played in games that started out one way for a session or two, then morphed into something completely different for the rest of the campaign. I usually get very annoyed by this kind of bait-and-switch.

Example: The bare-bones info was "Generic medieval fantasy setting. You all start in a city the size of medieval London." I created an urban rogue character, with contacts in the local thieves' guild, who was now mostly in disguise and working under an assumed name due to a "disagreement" with the local assassin's guild. I ran it by the GM who pronounced it a "great backstory!"

After three sessions, we ended up in a wilderness campaign, mostly on horseback, tracking down giant beasts that were terrorizing the countryside. I had no skill at riding, no wilderness survival skills, and no knowledge of monsters. All of the my special abilities were focused on humanoid opponents, and all of the points I'd spent on local contacts were now useless. And the whole subplot about being on the run from the assassins never once came into play.


So everyone's talked about how THEY write one, or if they require one or not, but few people talk about working directly with the players. Do you guys do that and if so how?

I describe above how I have worked with the players this time around. I've let them create a shadowy idea of their backgrounds, then pitched some details, and finally evolved something...at least for 2 of the PCs so far.

Hal hits on another point: how do you or your GMs use them, if at all? My plan with my current campaign is to resolve any obvious plot hooks early. By level 4 I want to be done and on to the main game.

That's kind of my motif: since levels 1-3 are so low powered anyway I want to use those to feel out the bumps in the road and resolve any pre-conceived plots my players engineered. That way they're not waiting around for an assassin's guild to come calling.

This doesn't mean its forgotten. For example one of the Brothers Grimm wants to be honored as a monster hunter where the other wants to decipher his grand uncle's journal. By the end of level 3 I want to have a CR 5 monster notch on the one's scabbard with a portrait in Grimmen Hall to boot while the other will have used the journal to get them there. Hoewever their Legacy as Grimms will still persist and they will continue getting harrassed for their fame. There will be reminders and reoccurances of their backstory throughout even if it doesn't translate into a plot point.

Liberty's Edge

I like backstories as a way to make players justify their optimization.

"Why is your elven cavalier so specialized in falcatas? How did he come to be trained in such an exotic weapon? What does he think of the traditional weapons of his people?"

"When did your bard become so infatuated with dragons that he decided to be a dragon disciple? Has he ever met a dragon?"

"Was it hard for your wizard growing up so sickly (7 str) but hyper intelligent? Did he ever struggle with being so much smarter than those around him?"


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Paizo Superscriber; Pathfinder Starfinder Society Subscriber

I make my players fill out a 1- or 2-page questionaire for each campaign. I tune the questions to the specific campaign. They can fill in several lines after each question, or answer with single words. Regardless, I then try hard to bring their answers into the story.

Player Background Questionnaire for my Kingmaker campaign::

There is someone in Brevoy with whom you’ve had substantial conflict. Who is it? Why is there conflict between you? How does the conflict usually play out? The idea is to create a connection to someone back home that can be a source of friction.

Someone back home has been a substantial ally of yours; you get along very well. Who is it? Describe an occasion when the alliance came into play. The idea is to create a connection to someone back home that has been a positive influence for you. They need not belong to a PC class. Perhaps they will communicate news and rumors to you, or send new settlers or quests your way. They might even come to your assistance (or expect you to come to their assistance) in time of great need. OPTION: Briefly define up to three separate allies, each with a different relationship to you (parent/sibling/mentor/friend/colleague).

You carry a possession that has great meaning to you. What is it, and why is it so important? Preferably something other than a weapon, implement, armor, or standard gear. It is most interesting when it has a bit of story connected to it.

You have a secret that you hide from others (including the other PCs). What is this secret? e.g. A shameful failure or misdeed in your past that continues to haunt you; a bastard child; a broken betrothal; a fear or desire that affects your decisions. NOTE: This secret should affect the way you play your character, and/or reasonably be brought into play by the DM (eventually).

There is a troubling mystery for which you don’t know the answer. What is this mystery? e.g. A sibling (or your betrothed/ lover/ best friend/longtime rival/mentor) vanished while traveling abroad (or from home or their workplace); you lost something precious to you; an unusual object keeps reappearing in your possessions no matter how often you lose or destroy it; an animal or person keeps watching from a distance, though you never get close (or learn nothing useful when you do); you were once found wandering in the woods with no recollection of how you got there or what happened for a missing period of 10 days/2 weeks/2 months. NOTE: This should be a mystery your character wants to solve, that can reasonably be brought into play by the DM at some point in the campaign; the DM has creative control of this mystery’s final answers.

You have a particular patron who suggested you for the exploration of the Greenbelt. Who is it? What is their interest in this project? What is it about your relationship that makes them think you’ll be a particularly good agent for their interests? The intent is to give you a connection to someone with a political axe to grind. Possible “interests” might include: stabilize the southern border as an future ally for Rostland against the north (Issia); report to someone whose loyalty is to the north (Issia); find means to help prevent civil war between Rostland and Issia; find valuable resources that can be exploited for profit by wealthy investors from Brevoy; represent a specific noble house or other person or group’s interests; OR, your patron might be someone who is politically connected and to whom you owe a debt, and you may not know their actual agenda at this time.

Describe your ideal spouse. This campaign will span years of game time – and many if not all PCs will eventually have families of their own. Assume this, and give some thought to how you want this to develop for your PC. You may already be betrothed or have a beloved. You may already be married. More likely, you will find your true love during the campaign – but it is up to you as the player to help make this happen, both by being open to it, and by providing the DM with enough information to ensure that good candidates can be introduced. You are quite welcome to help create your NPC future spouse, within reason.

What do you like to do when you have down-time? What sorts of hobbies and interests does your PC have? The idea is to make your PC more rounded and interesting by thinking about things other than adventuring that he likes to do – and what sorts of businesses he’ll eventually be interested in promoting. Does he collect something? Make something? Play a musical instrument? Would he rather carouse in a tavern or read a book? Does he enjoy the theater? Dancing? Gambling? Fine food?

Define your family. Either create a family tree, OR list three to five family members of importance to you.

What non-Ruler posting(s) will you as a player be aiming for? For optimal player cooperation, aim for a listed role, and let the eventual “ruler” be chosen by the party for in-game reasons. Each role utilizes ONE of the two attributes listed.

Liberty's Edge

I don't terribly mind characters without significant history but I do want my PCs to have thought about what their characters tick.


(quoting Umbral Reaver)

This can get very dangerous. If a player is not good at the social aspect of the game, but wants to play a social character, it's very easy for the GM to accidentally become a colossal jerk.

A player poorly adapted to social play is likely to be insecure about it, and playing a social character to have the feel of being successful in situations they're not good at in real life.

A GM smacking them down for not roleplaying out every word is doing the very worst thing possible. That is stabbing...

Allowing white-washed and watered-down interaction so that somebody who is completely socially impeded can be enabled to pretend they are an elegant diplomat is not the way to go. Word tasks should require at least the core of an idea if they are meant to persuade or enlighten or intimidate. If I had such a character at my table, I would encourage them to scour the 'net and movies they like that appeal to what they see in their character, and create a "database" of sorts of the things their player would say in various situations, and to the extent that they were comfortable, freestyle from there. If somebody wants ME to do the work of making a world or playing a fully-fleshed character in one, and they also want to outsource the creativity of what they say to my imagination as well, they are not pulling weight. I would go to great lengths to help them deliver their goods, but I wouldn't deliver their goods for them.

I understand the escapist element and we're all playing to do and take part in events that are beyond the normal scope of our lives/abilities -- but the guy playing a chin because he's too frazzled to talk in regular life might as well get some REAL xp from those encounters anyway.

After being away from RPGs for over a decade I am realizing that it is a culture (for the most part) of very tolerant and accepting people, and for this it is also a cresh for less socially adapted folk (some of which are just eccentric, some of which are actually unpleasant) -- who fit in with these groups because they are welcome and because they can. Socially awkward folks better be prepared to work within this framework of understanding to produce an effect in game -- even if it's frustrating... those not good at the social aspect of the game can get better.

All this yelling "I Aid other! +2!" without explanation, or "I Intimidate him with scary stuff!" doesn't fly for creating an engrossing narrative. Which is what the story unfolding in any RPG should at least TRY to be, even if it can't always.

GMs don't "Smack down" players for not roleplaying -- at least not good ones... we ENCOURAGE... which should not be confused with the former. If sometimes it seems like pulling teeth, it's because we need a level of participation, and we are trying to cultivate it.


I've never "smacked down" a player for being good, or bad at roleplaying; at least I don't think I have. Anyway I've never been accused of such. My concern isn't making my players conform to my ideal...it's immersion, plain and simple.

For me to get the players to BUY a certain hook in the game, I need to make it relevant to them. In order to have any fun myself, I need to feel connected to the plot unfolding before us. Therefore we must all have buy in to the paradigm.

Consistently when I've had players make a background that they've ACTUALLY invested themselves in, to whatever level, then they are personally connected and therefore immersed in the game.

In the case of the guy that just wrote "a village" in one question and ignored the rest of his background (and his own character's name for goodness sake!) predictably he was never immersed in the game. This same PC wandered into a hallway, unarmored and alone, to check out some noises and was summarily torn apart by ghouls; he didn't care, just rolled up another guy and went to town.

Thats a fine style of gaming and I'm not condemming it; it's just not MY style and I don't game w/that guy any more. The guys I DO still game with are very much cut from the same mold. However I've had THE conversation with them, about my style, roleplaying, how I get enjoyment and such and they all SAY they want to be on board. But then...this thread; how do I coax out of them that which they already say they want to deliver but don't yet know how.


It's fine to help and encourage, but if a player's not comfortable, getting all indignant and self-righteous about their lesser degree of involvement is not going to help anyone.

Shadow Lodge

Pathfinder Adventure Path, Companion, Lost Omens, Rulebook Subscriber
Mark Hoover wrote:

So everyone's talked about how THEY write one, or if they require one or not, but few people talk about working directly with the players. Do you guys do that and if so how?

I describe above how I have worked with the players this time around. I've let them create a shadowy idea of their backgrounds, then pitched some details, and finally evolved something...at least for 2 of the PCs so far.

For me it is usually thought out at a basic level with myself and the player during character creation so that we can know some the information that will allow me to build an adventure or modify an existing one so that it fits to the characters. After that though a lot of the character builds as we go with the missing pieces of the character filling in organically as we play, they run into more problems, and I introduce characters and bring bits of their past into the light.

Quote:
Hal hits on another point: how do you or your GMs use them, if at all? My plan with my current campaign is to resolve any obvious plot hooks early. By level 4 I want to be done and on to the main game.

For me it usually depends on the character, the plot, and how I feel it would be best executed. For most of my players they can end up with whole side arcs connecting their past events to the present ones or running villains or monsters that show up intermittently throughout the story. Right now they are at 9th and we are kind of in the middle of one of the PC's arcs and will surely have at least 2 more after they get out of this.

Your mileage for this approach may vary though as I run a homebrew in a home setting so their interactions with the world around them help out in building the world as much as helping them get involved. If you are playing an ap you may scale them back a bit to say having connections to certain minor villains that are already written into the storyline or being members of villages you are likely to pass through so that they can get a chance to shine and show off their work so to speak.

The other option is something a GM friend of mine pulls called a "flashback game". With these you design a mini adventure or encounter centered around a pivotal moment in the characters past and have them run it with their characters as they are now. Now this requires that you have either characters that have known each other for a while, some prebuilt ones that can be there, and the ability for your players to not get too persnickety about level and time stuff but the end result is quite cool.

The Exchange

Mark Hoover wrote:

Do you and the PC (or for players reading this thread) or GM work together to plan this out or do you even do any at all?

Also, if you are a GM and PCs DO create a backstory how much do you honestly use? Is there ever a dispute on where you take it and where the PC saw it going?

I have a campaign thats through it's first session and since the players weren't really all that into backstory before but have suddenly "come alive" with roleplaying I'm asking them to make some stuff up to define their characters.

I'm usually the type of GM that wants to resolve backstory hooks early and then get on with what I had planned for the main plot. I am just wondering what everyone else does.

There is always something attached to a PC and NPC. I don't care if it is Born in the village of Dirt...the next time the PC visits Home he finds the Village of Dirt burned to the ground and his parents impaled on a pole by Orcs and the next BBEG.


Some of my players do background stories for their characters; especially when they are 'feeling' the character. I tend to reward that investment with plot twists revolving around those characters (at minimum), and sometimes I make the mission all about their background.
Other players don't bother, so they are there for support...I guess that is enough for them, for the time being.
I am currently a player in a new campaign with 2 sides. We all have 2 characters: 1 good and 1 evil. I also have a CN character with a decent background. That background crosses with my good and evil characters. The GMs (we have 2) have also crossed the story with the bad guys we are all working against.
It is a rewarding experience.


Umbral Reaver wrote:
Kydeem de'Morcaine wrote:

My ideas were as follows:

The best way I know of to get new gamers to RP is push them to and reward them for staying in character. I don't mean taping their ears to an elf point or trying to speak with a dwarfish accent (though if you all like that there is nothing wrong with it).

Ex: A new player will often say something like,

Player, "The fighter will try to intimidate him into giving us info."
GM, "Ok, what do you say to him?"
Player, "Uhmm... threatening stuff."
GM, "You actually say the words 'threatening stuff'?"
Player, "What? No, I mean I make threats."
GM, "Sure, tell me what threats you tell him."
Player, "Uh... I put my axe in front of his face and say 'Tell us where they went.'"
GM, "Yeah, he'd find that pretty intimidating. So roll an intimidate check and take a bonus of +1 for decent threat."

Hopefully after a while you won't have to go through the first few lines very often.

The other side of that is you doing the same thing.

Don't say, "The mayor is really angry at you for disturbing him."

Do say, "What is the meaning of this? Who gave you the authority to inflict me with your presence during my celebration? Well, answer me you buffoon! If you don't give me an answer I like immediatly I'll have my guards haul you out of here in chains! Do you hear me?!?"

{{ NOTE: This is sort of an example of do as I say not as I do, because I'm not always very good at this myself. }}

But there were some other very good ideas in the thread.

This can get very dangerous. If a player is not good at the social aspect of the game, but wants to play a social character, it's very easy for the GM to accidentally become a colossal jerk.

A player poorly adapted to social play is likely to be insecure about it, and playing a social character to have the feel of being successful in situations they're not good at in real life.

A GM smacking them down for not roleplaying out every word is doing the very worst thing possible. That is stabbing...

This isn't just a social aspect. Reminds me of the time my GM tried to get me to roleplay out praying to my character's deity. Being a religious fellow, it made me very uncomfortable. I know of (but thankfully wasn't there for) another situation in a Vampire game where a GM insisted my friend roleplay out a graphic rape scene with two of her NPCs.

As for backgrounds, I go for a middle path - I don't write epics or even short stories, but they do hit the important points, describe the character's motivations and personality, and give a few plot hooks, often in the form of people he has to take care of, or unresolved issues.


yellowdingo wrote:


There is always something attached to a PC and NPC. I don't care if it is Born in the village of Dirt...the next time the PC visits Home he finds the Village of Dirt burned to the ground and his parents impaled on a pole by Orcs and the next BBEG.

and this is why a lot of players either won't make a backstory or write one that preemptively eliminates all plot hooks. A lot of players just can't be bothered to write a backstory, but others are actively trying not to give the GM any plot hooks or anything else that can be used to influence their character.


When I joined my current campaign at the beginning of book 2/6 (RotRL), my friend suggested a backstory of "you've been sent to kill someone" since my character's a rogue. "Sure, sounds fun," I said, and suggested it to the DM. (If you're playing RotRL and haven't gotten to book 3, or are in this campaign with me now, stop reading here.)

This happened:
He proceeded to inform me on the first night that I'd received an official commission from Justice Ironbriar of Magnimar, which looked like this (he gave me a printed piece of paper). It said something to the effect of "the dog-riding halfling cavalier named _____ is evil and a threat to Sand Point and Magnimar, please dispose of him". Had the upstanding Justice's official seal on it, even.

Unfortunately, on my way to Sand Point I was ambushed by about 20 people, trussed up, beaten up, and thrown into a terribly frightful haunted mansion where I proceeded to have nightmares to rival any others. I woke up in a dark room, tied up and beaten [and diseased, though I knew it not], hearing noises that turned out to be a group of adventurers searching the mansion. Of course, it turned out that there was a dog-riding halfling with them...

For a number of sessions, I stayed with the group and tried to figure out how to fulfill my commission. I'd just purchased some poison and was going to make my move soon when we met (and killed, despite my character's objections) Justice Ironbriar in a cult-infested lumber mill...

Later on, we found a list of [what turned out to be] the cult's sacrificial victims, and there was my name on the list...

That was all the DM's doing based on a single idea, and it was pretty awesome. More recently, I ended up writing a more complete backstory which ties into and further explains the aforementioned details.

Dark Archive

How we normally do it is this. The GM lays out the type of game they want to run. Assuming everyone is on board with the idea then players make PC's to fit that campaign and send it to the GM. GM then makes tweaks to the backgrounds or make suggestions etc. This goes back and forth a bit till the PC has a background that fits the campaign and often has plot hooks that get wrapped into the campaign stories that come out later.

Like in a game i ran once two guys gave me backgrounds that had some similarities between them early on. But then something happened and their family died. One was a orphan of the state and the other raised by a distant family member. Both of them had included a brother that had supposedly died. So I worked it end that it eventually came out they was the brothers, who was just raised differently since their early childhood. The one that was a orphan had been severally wounded in the accident and we worked it that he had no memory IC of his life before waking up in the hospital just before going to the orphanage. I dropped a lot of little hints early on, eventually they figured it out and found out it was no accident at all. But someone had targeted their family cause of something their mother had found out all those years ago which was tied into a long term plot I had going on in the game. The players had no idea their characters where brothers for about half the campaign.


I haven't read the whole thread yet, but I do require backstories and I tend to set some requirements. I then try to weave backstory info into the campaign, to make it more personal to the PCs.

Currently, they are being jerked around by a trickster god (the PCs have no idea) so I just retconned all of their backstories (I figure a trickster god could make a level 1 PC hallucinate anything!) They're only just now finding out at level 7, as their beloved families have tracked them down for vengeance and/or to bring them to justice.


Pathfinder Adventure Path, Lost Omens, Rulebook Subscriber
Mark Hoover wrote:
So everyone's talked about how THEY write one, or if they require one or not, but few people talk about working directly with the players. Do you guys do that and if so how?

I like to run a pre-game session, where I lay out the general premise of the campaign, and where it starts. I then let the players toss out general character concepts, and I let them hash out the big-picture party composition stuff. My players are all very good role-players, so seeds of a character background story are usually pre-baked in their original concepts-- often before character class is fully hashed out.

I always hand out my player's guide before that session, but I'll do a quick check to make sure that everyone has read it-- and if not, I'll sum up the important points. I'll answer any questions about the setting and which character build options would be most appropriate for the setting.

Once that's done, we all work on why the PCs are at the starting point. Some campaigns need to assume the the PCs have known each other for years; others just need to have them be at a particular place at a particular time. By the end of the session, we generally have PCs created that are about 90% complete. I ask them to give me copies so that I can double-check the math, and to have them write up their backstories and send them to me at least a couple of days before the first "real" session. I'll then work with them individually to tweak the stories and/or build to make it more appropriate to the story. And, that gives me a chance to pull out any obvious plot hooks to incorporate into the main plot or subplots.


As far as adjusting story line with character backgrounds, I normally will throw a few questions at the players to get an idea of what they wish to accomplish. I then adjust the story on the fly, 'cause you never know what they are going to do during the game.


I really like having backgrounds from my players. I'm setting up Kingmaker in the fall (or winter?), and I've gotten good backstories from 2 of 5 players so far. One told me she wants a social rogue, and since we've discussed the "Game of Thrones" influences, she's thinking of "Sansa, but with brains." We did a lot of emailing back and forth in January and February, using the questionnaire seen above-- that kind of stuff really feeds my personal energy levels! So, now I've gotten her family placed against the background, and I am still considering threads to work her into future plots.

Player #2 was more focused on his build, but we did use the questionnaire to establish why he's using a class that's not normal to this corner of my world.

Player #3 has seen the questionnaire, but hasn't answered any parts. We have had discussions to place her PC in the world's story, and I'm building a list of places she's already seen or been.

Players #3-6 are new to me, and "haven't had time" to see the questions. I figure on granting bonuses, primarily in-game bonuses, for the first 3, in order to encourage the latter 3.


So I've started a 2nd campaign that is the antithesis of my regular gamers. A husband and wife team created such elaborate and open backstories that the entire game so far has revolved around them. I have to say while on one hand its great to have such great roleplayers it is a bit of double-edged sword because I intro'd one of my non-roleplaying friends into the game and he just sat there like a deer in the headlights.

Still I took many people's advice and laid it out: this is my game, my homebrew, and what you're likely to encounter. Then I sent out my questionaire thru email. I got back such interesting answers I re-wrote my game a bit around them.

So one player came up with a wizard, lost in the woods around age 5 and found by a doddering old master. He's grown up, finally returned to the world and found that his mother and father were killed that night he got lost. He's also re-connected with the daughter of a family friend (PC cleric) and his parent's former warrior friend, a dwarven fighter (NPC fighter).

The other player created a cleric of Erastil with an elaborate family and many ties to the PC's home town of Staghorn Reach. She also created a situation where there were great and evil wolves she saw in her youth. Finally since her parents and the wizard PCs parents had known each other the 2 had been betrothed in their infancy but now there is no way to enforce the marriage and therefore they're taking their relationship very slowly. To play off the big family and the marriage angle I created a cousin who is an opposite to the cleric in most ways (NPC monk/bard of Saranrae).

So now to the game: I'd laid it out that there'd been lots of fey activity of late in the area before the game. Also that the folks were real on edge and superstitious. The setting is kind of a "dark fairy tale". Also I have goblins moving back into the woods, seemingly under a greater direction than their own base desires.

Behind the scenes I've run flat out with the wizard's parents' death. It turns out the parents made a fairy-tale deal with the fey and were promised 2 kids; a girl and a boy. One would be due to the fey while the other could remain in the world. The PC doesn't know he has an older sister but at the next game session that bomb will drop.

Turns out the parents made the deal w/the fey, had the girl, and followed their end of the bargain, giving up their innocent daughter to the First World. Then a decade of infertility. They felt betrayed and hated the fey, so they became secret adventurers and hunte the creatures trying to find new ways to destroy them. Then suddenly they conceived and out comes the PC wizard. They quit their adventures and settled down but their past caught up with them. You see their daughter escaped from the First World and the fey came to collect the boy instead, as well as settle their debts with the PCs parents.

The main PCs sister has wandered the fringes of society, her madness barely in check, barely keeping herself off the radar of the fey. However now she's found a way to not only possess power but also has somehow gained control of a horde of goblins that she's now employing to hunt and torture the fey.

So the wolves from the cleric's background will be worgs employed by the goblins and bugbears on their fey hunts and other excursions. I am going to have the cleric's father be on the frontlines against this new humanoid invasion as part of the local militia and a plot arch sees him potentially slain in a mass skirmish with the foul folk.

Does this sound too railroady?


Mark Hoover wrote:
Does this sound too railroady?

My only concern would be the other players in the game since much of the plot revolves around the cleric and wizard.

Beyond that, it seems like you're just setting up the world around them. As long as you're prepared for what happens if they find a way to save the cleric's father, decide to join the side of the missing sister or even decide to leave the area for another, sounds fine to me.


@ Pold: I have only 3 players; the cleric, the wizard, and then a new player from last session playing a dwarf fighter. The dwarf is the bodyguard of the parents from the wizard PC's backstory; I was running him as an NPC but now he's a PC.

So far no complaints and that player isn't much of a roleplayer or a leader in game, so I don't anticipate any issues. That being said I will take this under advisement and work some stuff in from his backstory. His stuff is around a notable family of warriors and brewers from a nearby mountainous area and their dream for the PC to join the ranks of the stalwart defenders of the Hall.

I have one other NPC; a monk/bard and devout worshipper of Saranrae. She's a goddess of redemption. I'm fully prepared for her to champion the sister's redemption, though not at the sake of evil. If the players go that way the monk's down; if the players DON'T go that way the monk may still try to secretly save the sister (future plot point?)

The dad angle I'm also thinking about. The party met a wererat in hybrid form in the last game that got away. I'm going to have him show up to lead the local militia (there isn't one and the wererat poses as military leader). There will be a pair of plot paths dangled in front of the party; go with the dad and militia to the front or take on a special forces mission to go into enemy territory and strike at the heart of the evil.

If they go with the militia the wererat is going to stick close to the dad. At the zero hour he'll either kill or capture the dad and flee with some other militia folk he's converted into wererats if the party goes that route.

If they go special forces then upon their routine disease will be ravaging their little town and it will be a modified Hollows Last Hope to handle it. The apothecary in their home town just happens to be the PC cleric's mom so between the dad in danger and the mom suffering the disease it will hit very close to home. Finally some will succumb to the disease and die while others are transformed into wererats and the militia leader will be gone.


I have always asks for backgrounds from my players. I will give xp for backgrounds. The backgrounds become part of my world. Any NPC, wether it is a family member, rival, love interest, friend, or enemy, it may appear in the game. I usually will put a twist to it. This way it is not what the players are expecting. That way it is fun for both the players and me.


I'm a lazy GM/player.

When I play, I don't invent much backstory. I come up with a couple details, something that tells me how the character acts, or why. I come up with stuff during play that is relevant and fits. I use what happens in play to learn about my character, and use my character to help explain what is happening in play.

As a GM, I come up with a couple of ideas for the story, then I use my players backgrounds and input to actually flesh out the story. I ask the players questions about what is happening, I also use their table talk to make decisions. When someone says "you know what would be cool? If....", I totally steal it and use it. The player feels awesome for feeling prescient and I get a cool story idea.

I like coming up with cool stuff, but I like to do it on the fly. I also don't try to do it alone.

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