Does anyone have any tips for writig a good backstory for your character?


So, Being a rather new player who isent very good yet, This is something I have a realy big problem with, Making a good backstory for my characters.. So I was curious if anyone had any tips for writing a backstory that I can use for this character I'm planning..

Pathfinder Adventure Path, Lost Omens, Rulebook, Starfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Maps, Starfinder Roleplaying Game, Starfinder Society Subscriber

Where was the character Born?
Who are/were the characters parents?
Why did they leave home to become an adventurer?
What did they leave behind?
What are their goals?
What is something the character fears? Like dying alone for example.

Also really think about and describe what the character looks like, and how they act.
What's their world view? Are we all doomed or is there hope?
How trusting are they?

There's some really good videos on You Tube for character generator guides.

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Adventure Path Charter Subscriber

Try to avoid writing too many character backstories based on tragedy and drama. I know adventuring is an insane profession, probably indicating some kind of warped personality, but there is such a thing as way too much pathos.

Why do you need a backstory? To help you visualize and play your character? To give your GM hooks to develop stories with personal connections to your character? Another reason?

The answer should seriously impact the way you write your backstory.

The Character Background section of Ultimate Campaign has lots of ideas.

The Exchange

If you craft your PC first, before the backstory "jells", you might want to take a look at what Traits you gave them. Why do they have THOSE traits... what connects the PC to that Trait?

Why I need a backstory? Mostly to help the character come alive for me. My other characters (Human Cleric, Elven Alchemist in this campaign and Human Brawler in the other campaign) havent had backstories, I havent been able to realy think of anything other then "Joined the mercenary band to make money for drinks and to get people to fight" (That is what little I got for my brawler.. Not much to inspire me to play the character..)

So this time i decided to do it good, Make a backstory, Help me figure out the character and bring him alive, RP him better and figure out how he would act in diferent situations and what drives him and such.

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im a big fan of stealing ideas from better writers than myself (so... pretty much everyone).

Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

For some inspiration, you could try taking a look at some fictional examples of the type of character you'd like to make. For example, if you're making a rogue, check out books/TV shows/movies that have thieves or other characters who do roguish type things. (Some fictional examples of rogues off the top of my head: Locke Lamora, Saffron from Firefly, most of the characters in Leverage...)

Sometimes I start with the backstory first; sometimes a class or archetype inspires an idea for me. Focus on what makes your character an individual, not just a collection of stats on a page. For example, in a game I'm in currently, I have a warpriest of Ragathiel (formerly Vildeis, but that's another story). She has the focus on fighting evil-doers that you'd expect for a warpriest of Ragathiel. She also is somewhat haunted by growing up in an orphanage dedicated to Eiseth and raised to fight on the side of evil, used to talk in a really archaic manner (using "thee," "thou," etc., though she's moved away from that recently), didn't know her actual race until recently (she's a suli, but looks fairly human), and really, really likes baking. Finding little details that help your character stand out--without making them into a one-dimensional gimmick--can really help.

If you search "character questionnaire" on Google, it comes up with a bunch of questionnaires designed to help flesh out characters. Some of them are more geared towards fiction writing, but they could work just as well for PCs.

This one is one example, but there are a ton of them out there.

A good backstory should enrich your playing, not intrude upon it.

It should offer assistance to the GM in creating plot hooks that would be meaningful to you, but never tell the GM what do do.

It should explain how the character came into the adventuring life.

Sometimes, I had a clear backstory in mind at the time I made the character; sometimes I had to get to know the character before he or she told me their backstories. Sometimes, I had sort of a rough idea, and it fleshed out later on. Let it happen. Don't force it.

Sometimes you don't need a good backstory for the character, only a good personality. Often backstory drives personality, but that is not required. If you have trouble with backstory, concentrate on personality.

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Look up the Ten Minute Background if you need some prompts or structure for the backstory, in a format aimed at RPGs.

Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber
avr wrote:
Look up the Ten Minute Background if you need some prompts or structure for the backstory, in a format aimed at RPGs.

+1 (and link) for the Ten Minute Background.

Thanks for all the tips! ^_^ i have started, Very slowly, Working on the backstory. I have a few ideas ^_^

Silver Crusade

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Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

Keep It Short and Simple: maximum allowed backstory length in my games is one page of text. This motivates the lazier players ("look it's just one page!") and limits wannabe fanfic authors who would go for a novella if not reigned in.

Use Archive of Nethys' automated random background generator as a starting point.

In case of writer's block, apply alcohol and scantily clad members of attractive gender.

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Merellin wrote:

Why I need a backstory? Mostly to help the character come alive for me. My other characters (Human Cleric, Elven Alchemist in this campaign and Human Brawler in the other campaign) havent had backstories, I havent been able to realy think of anything other then "Joined the mercenary band to make money for drinks and to get people to fight" (That is what little I got for my brawler.. Not much to inspire me to play the character..)

So this time i decided to do it good, Make a backstory, Help me figure out the character and bring him alive, RP him better and figure out how he would act in diferent situations and what drives him and such.

Okay, great. You need some cues as to how to play your character at the table. While the character's previous life is important to explain how he behaves, you're probably more interested in personality rather than length back-story then?

Anyway, my favorite tip regarding developing characters is to keep it short. To for a concept that sums up everything important. You could start with the concept and then write additional, length backstory. Or you could start with one of those typical, 2-3 pages long descriptions of the character's upbringing and early life and summarize it with a concept once you're done. Or you just settle with the concept, it could be all you need.

So, what is a concept? To me, it should be a single sentence (or a handful, if you must) that describes the character in terms of class and race (actually, those are the least important bits), background, personality and appearance. Like this:

»Alyn Selwe is a good-looking, blue-haired half-elf swashbuckler who hides her insecurities, stemming from a harsh upbringing in an orphanage, behind a facade of daring bravado.«

That single (albeit fairly long) sentence tells us a little bit of everything about Alyn. How she looks, where she comes from. A bit about the first impression, the way she's likely to act when around strangers, and a bit of personality that will probably only be openly shown towards those she grows to trust (such as party members). What's missing is probably a goal or motivation - maybe one could be worked into the concept, maybe Alyn doesn't actually have one right now.

If you're not satisfied with only the single-sentence concept, it's fine to write more stuff. But since it should help you play the character at the table, it should be written with that in mind. Standard backstories are hard to reference during play, since they are often 2-3 pages long and written in first- or third-person prose without any meta (the backstories I've seen rarely acknowledge the fact that the character is a PC i an rpg, they're written 'in universe').

My favorite RPG, which really helps you develop an interesting character, is Mouse Guard (based on another game called Burning Wheel, but I haven't played that one yet). Mouse Guard makes you write down three things about your character on the sheet: Belief, Instinct and Goal. While they have mechanical meanings in Mouse Guard, they could be ported over to Pathfinder and used as guides.

Goal is short-term, sort of the 'quest' for the session. Only, normally only one PC has the actual mission as her goal - the other players choses goals for that develop their characters ('I want to learn to hunt') or develop their relationships with other PCs ('I will make Captain Sybel acknowledge that my eager and rapid decision-making is a boon to the patrol'). You could port Goal over to PF and make a small goal for your self each session. Perhaps to remind you to show different parts of your character ('this session, Alyn should tell the other PCs about what little she remembers of her parents').

Instinct is rather gimmicky, but actually says a lot about character. They can be something like 'I draw my sword at first sign of trouble', 'Always consult a mage when dark magic rears its ugly head', or 'Never delay when on a mission'. They should be something that you could mention/do almost every session.

Belief is perhaps the hardest to sum up. Its what your character believes in, perhaps what her motives or longterm goals are. 'I will make a name for myself' or 'No victory without sacrifice', 'Knowledge is a weapon'. Belief should influence your character's decisions. A character with the first belief should be on the lookout for ways to prove herself. A character with the second should be careful, anticipating what could be lost, what can be protected and then be ready to sacrifice what must be.'

Maybe Belief, Instinct and Goal isn't for you, but the gist of it is that you should have something at the table that reminds you of how to play your character.

Lastly, a tip on how to make your character's ..., well, character show in game. It's hard to convey large amounts of information in roleplay, nuances are often lost. Most of us aren't great actors and everyone is preoccupied with bashing goblins, which means that if you play with small clues to personality traits and hidden backstory chances are none will notice. You have to be open and direct.

Take my example, Alyn Selwe. She grew up on an orphanage, an experience which has scarred her with insecurities. She hides those behind daring bravado. But how would that upbringing and those insecurities show if she hides them? She'd come across exactly as every truly daring swashbuckler if you don't make an effort to show something more.

My favorite way of doing that is to describe my PC in third person. Most roleplayers have two ways of talking: they announce to the table what their character is doing ('I hit the orc' or 'I walk up to the baron to talk') and when their character is speaking, they speak as their character ('How do you do, baron? Do you know anything about these new orc raids?'). 'Roleplaying', as in showing who your character is, is thought to take place mostly in the second way of talking, when you talk as your character. That's when you use catch-phrases, disguise your voice with an accent and what not. All well and great, but the restrictions of information conveying built into roleplaying often means that you can't really show the full character that you want.

So lets focus on the first way of talking. When you say what your character do. Take these moments to also describe your character. 'I brush away a blue tress in my face and then hit the orc' (that one's important, a PC's appearance is often described at the start of the first session and then quickly forgotten by everyone involved). 'I slowly walk up to the baron, startled at first as for a moment he reminded me of the warden at the orphanage but then I put on my normal, brave and charming face'.

You can use this technique for dialogue, to describe how you speak as your character. '»How do you do, baron?« I say with my most honey-dripping voice, then I switch over to business and ask »Do you know anything about these new orc raids?«

If the character starts low level don't forget to not make their background too epic. A first level fighter likely didn't overthrow the evil overlord and cast down his pet dragon.

Personality wise I like creating individual character 'quote libraries'. Get a book or webpage of. Quotations - one of the big ones covering vast topics, and start perusing topic and picking ones that sound like 'something your character might say or put on his wall'. Once you have collected a large number of these usually you have a good idea of your character's personality.

pocsaclypse wrote:
im a big fan of stealing ideas from better writers than myself (so... pretty much everyone).

As an English graduate I can confirm that pretty much everyone lorded as "good" is also quite a big fan of this.

Don't be afraid to use "tropes" or "stock" characters, especially when starting out. These "typical" character archetypes that we see over and over might seem cheap, but the value to them is that we're able to instantly connect to them.

I usually start with a character by trying to describe them in one line:

"A gunslinging wizard from Alkenstar that wanders the land in search of adventure, armed only with his pistol, his duster, and his wits."

Then I'll work from that starting point and try to figure out the details to figure out who that person is (making sure to make it the kind of character I want to play).

If you're into this sort of thing (not everyone is), you can try to develop a voice for the character. Like, an actual voice to use at the table when you're talking in character. Personally, I've *always* done funny voices; when I read to my son, everyone has a voice with their own intonation, inflections, accent, and personality. It's not for everyone, but for me, I find that finding the character's voice informs me a ton about that character. I was a theater kid and wanted to be a voice actor when I was younger, so this just comes naturally to me.

Once I have the character’s personality, I'll work backwards to try and figure out what might have happened to get them to their current self.

If you have a Harrow Deck handy, and want some outside assistance, you could try my Harrow Character Generation Method. Plenty of folks found it was helpful for developing backstories, regardless of whether or not you use it to generate stats.

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I'll be a bit of a pessimist and say: Don't write a backstory. Or at least not too much of it.

I've played with some people who write (or steal) pages of backstory, they get extremely excited about their character, only to find out that nobody cares. - People come to the table to play, not to listen to someone's sub-par story.

If you're going to write a backstory, only include parts that will affect the way you play the character (that will "explain" your character's choices and reasoning). Write it in a way so that your character can talk about his or her passed life in short stories around a campfire or in a tavern when it's "PC bonding time" - don't expect anybody to listen to a plot dump.

Otherwise, it's perfectly serviceable to play a character who doesn't have a particularly interesting (or not worth mentioning) backstory. Just being a simple guy who lives in the present - sometimes the best option.

Silver Crusade

i often write as i play, for example, we run into a village and someone has been kidnapped? i ask myself and kinda choose on the spot wether my character cares or not, from there why he does or doesnt and so one, for example, of course i care! why? because i can relate as a kid i was kidnapped by pirates... they ended up just throwing me off at the next port since my familly was too poor to ransom me and i was too weak and young to enslave properly...
i wouldnt recommand it for a long term campaign but it works great for a short term or even a one off...

Step 1- Talk to your DM.

Ask him WHY your character would care about the opening of the campaign. Don't worry about being interested in killing Lord Wears-A-Black-Cape. That comes *during* the campaign. But why are you in the starting village? This applies doubly so if you are a weird race. How do you know how to be (character class)? If you have any unusual gear (exotic weapon, etc.), where did you grt it? What god do you follow?Why? Super important if you are a religious class.

Just a note for first level characters- you are not a badass yet. If you're really unlucky, a first level commoner could take you in a fight. So, no, you didn't join a band of mercenaries because they were super impressed with how awesome you are. A first level character is a small fish in a big pond.

1. The character needs a reason to be adventuring
2. The character needs to be able of working with the party

1. Not everyone has to be dead or dying. This includes non villains
2. Include details on how the character was raised. This helps flesh out personality traits considerably
3. Base it on multiple characters rather than just 1. If you use 1 character you end up playing that character. Adding multiple keeps it at least somewhat unique while still providing a very solid base to work with
4. Add twists but keep them unexpected. An entire background filled with inverted troupes is dull. Doing so sparingly makes them interesting
5. Leave potential plot hooks. Plot lines related to a character's backstory can be very interesting if done well. Some of my favorite adventures were based on other character's backstories
6. Work with the dm to world build. Most dms start a custom universe with more general ideas than specific ones. Talking with them during world creation not only helps the dm out, it connects you to his world. Thus making you more attached to it and your character
7. Spend some time coming up with random scenarios. Ask yourself what would your character do in that scenario. Answers that show personality are best even if it is practically saying "Hit it till it dies"

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Shamelessly copied from a writing guide (Gotham Writers)

Gotham Character Questionnaire

This questionnaire is found in Gotham Writers Workshop’s Writing Fiction.
You might start with questions that address the basics about a character:
What is your character’s name? Does the character have a nickname?

What is your character’s hair color? Eye color?

What kind of distinguishing facial features does your character have?

Does your character have a birthmark? Where is it? What about scars? How did he get them?

Who are your character’s friends and family? Who does she surround herself with? Who are the people your character is closest to? Who does he wish he were closest to?

Where was your character born? Where has she lived since then? Where does she call home?

Where does your character go when he’s angry?

What is her biggest fear? Who has she told this to? Who would she never tell this to? Why?

Does she have a secret?

What makes your character laugh out loud?

When has your character been in love? Had a broken heart?

Then dig deeper by asking more unconventional questions:

What is in your character’s refrigerator right now? On her bedroom floor? On her nightstand? In her garbage can?

Look at your character’s feet. Describe what you see there. Does he wear dress shoes, gym shoes, or none at all? Is he in socks that are ratty and full of holes? Or is he wearing a pair of blue and gold slippers knitted by his grandmother?

When your character thinks of her childhood kitchen, what smell does she associate with it? Sauerkraut? Oatmeal cookies? Paint? Why is that smell so resonant for her?

Your character is doing intense spring cleaning. What is easy for her to throw out? What is difficult for her to part with? Why?

It’s Saturday at noon. What is your character doing? Give details. If he’s eating breakfast, what exactly does he eat? If she’s stretching out in her backyard to sun, what kind of blanket or towel does she lie on?

What is one strong memory that has stuck with your character from childhood? Why is it so powerful and lasting?

Your character is getting ready for a night out. Where is she going? What does she wear? Who will she be with?

The better you know your character, the easier it is to write about him/her.

Some people like the (in my opinion, misleadingly named) Ten Minute Background but it strikes me as a mainly unhelpful series of checklists. What has worked best for me, as far as writing backgrounds, is to let things flow logically from motivation, personality, mechanics, and setting. These don't have to go in any particular order (especially since they can all build off each other) but I prefer to start with motivation, especially if I know what the first adventure will be.

Adventuring is an extremely high-risk occupation, and it is often not known to characters "in-universe" to be highly rewarding. So why is your character adventuring? If you know what your first adventure will be, why is your character going on that quest, specifically? Duty, honor, greed, contrition, duress, curiosity, and fear can all be valid answers (depending on the adventure) and certainly aren't the only ones. Any of these can inform a character backstory: Why does your character feel duty-bound to help these people? How did your character get strong-armed into joining such a dangerous expedition?

If you have some ideas about personality, you can have that inform his backstory. Whether your character is cynical or idealistic, selfless or greedy, or even has some minor quirk, it comes about from the effects that experiences have on personality. Maybe your character is cynical because he witnessed the horrors of war up close as a child. Maybe your character is selfless because of the (perhaps undeserved) kindness he was shown by strangers. Someone who asked a similar question on this forum about how to write a background said he had an idea of his character being a tea connoisseur. Well, how did that come about? Does this character come from a wealthy or mercantile background? Did he visit a foreign country where tea is inexpensive, or does his character hail from that country originally? This then goes back to motivation: How does a character from a comfortable life decide to become an adventurer? What drives a character to go on dangerous quests in a foreign land he'd never even heard of until recently?

If you have your character's mechanics in mind already, those can inform the character just as well as doing things the other way around (and don't let anyone convince you otherwise). Why is your character the class that he is? Some skills can be handwaved as natural talent, but how did he get the Knowledge skills that he has? Or the Handle Animal skill, was he a farmer or squire? Is he a particularly good liar because he's experienced at it? If so, who did he lie to and why? How did your character discover his ability to cast arcane spells, or channel the gods' will? What was childhood like for a character with 18 INT and 7 CHA? Does 7 CHA mean he's timid, or off-putting, or caustic?

Knowing something about the setting can make things a lot easier regarding personality or motivation. For example in Golarion, a character from Galt may become cynical after having seen well-meaning zealots (often manipulated by power-hungry demagogues) tear his country apart. A character from Lastwall is likely to have an especially dim view of Orcs, and so on. On the other hand, you can often have the background and personality mostly finished before you anchor your character in the setting by adding details like where exactly he's from, or what organizations he's been part of. After all, some characters can be compelling, while at the same time are universal and timeless enough to work in any setting with a little adaptation. A character like Othello can exist in a prehistoric tribe, modern-day law firm, or space opera fantasy just as easily as renaissance Venice.

Finally, it's perfectly legitimate for a 1st-level character to have a sparse or mundane background. His upcoming adventures will be his background.

A good backstory provides two things:

1. It gives a clue as to how your character will behave in a given situation.

2. It gives the character a motivation for continuing on with the adventure.

The character should have some sort of inciting incident that set them on this path. It can be big and showy, or it can be subtle. Something that pushes you out of the nest as it were. If you want a fresh-faced young character, describe a simple, content life, and then something pushes them to go adventuring. How do they react to this event? What are their thoughts and feelings on it?

One of my favorite backstories was for 13th Age. In that game you have to declare your "One Unique Thing". It's something that is true for you, but you are unique in the world for this thing. I came up with a story of my character grew up poor and was a street ruffian as a teenager. He tried robbing a noble, killed him and was caught. Then he was sent to the gladiator pits for his death sentence and persisted for a long time. His "Unique Thing" was that one of the emperor's dragons flew into the arena one day and offered my character the option to leave. I took it and was now serving that dragon as one of his agents in the field. Nominally, my character had sworn allegiance to the Emperor and joined his army, but in reality, my character only served the silver dragon that freed him.

Whenever the GM wanted my character to go on an adventure, he only needed to have the dragon ask, and I went happily. When confronted with difficult choices, I knew that my character would be stubborn, willful and reliant on violence to solve situations. He would also be incredibly loyal to those who respected his freedom and were loyal to him.

An addendum to the people who have said to keep it short: you can add more background later if it is relevant and if your group is interested.

Many years ago I played a home-brew system that a friend is/was developing. Most of the other players, as well as the GM, were big into theater and/or writing. The players were awarded points (more like Karma in Shadowrun than like XP) for writing a background or doing something similar that would help him and the other players get a feel for the character. That was really all that was needed: a feel for who this person is. At a certain point in the game, my character had a very uncharacteristically strained interaction with another PC. In truth, I was having an off day and couldn't quite get into character, but in the session debrief (a core part of this system), a couple of the players commented on this interaction and wondered why my character acted that way. Even though I admitted that I was having trouble getting into my character, they still wanted to look at the in-character motivation. So that got me thinking about what in his history could have caused this, and I ended up writing an additional small piece that added another facet to that character.

In short, you don't have to do it all at once. Leave yourself some room to grow into the character.

Pathfinder Maps, Pathfinder Accessories, Pawns, Starfinder Society Subscriber; Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Superscriber

I write a minimal backstory to hook the character into the plot, but some of the best parts come from simply playing the first few scenarios. If my character does something I like and want to add as a bit of personality, I add it into my backstory.

Same with connections to other party members or NPCs. Sometimes I don't know who the character is until I've played for a while.

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