How to give your D&D character a great backstory

Too often we see the same character backstories: The thief with a heart of gold. The last son of a noble house. The annoyingly heroic paladin. A dark elf with, ahem, two magical scimitars.

But we can do better, can’t we?

A character backstory is important, and a good one is even more so. It influences how you play your character, what their motivations are, and how they react to all kinds of situations (roleplaying and even combat, too!) when you’re playing games like D&D and Pathfinder.

So how do you come up with a good backstory?

We have some ideas.

Model your character after another character you really like. This can be a movie character or one from a book or comic. Whatever. If you dig their story, you can use it as a template to craft a new one.

Use a provided background or trait. D&D’s 5th edition has a load of backgrounds to help you create your character. They’re in the free basic rules, the Player’s Handbook, and almost every published adventure. If you’re playing Pathfinder, use the traits from adventure paths and other sources to craft a backstory. Though spelled-out backgrounds like those may seem limiting, they actually offer a lot of customization. And nothing says you can’t use them as the basis to create something new.

Start with an occupation. What is your character’s job? Most aren’t strictly adventurers or at least don’t start out that way. Ask where they work this job? How did they learn how to do it? Where did they come from? You’ll start racking up details fast.

Give your character a problem to solve. What are they seeking? Is there a mystery they’re after? What long lost question are they trying to solve? Once you figure out that they’re attempting to discover who murdered their grandfather, you can decide how else that motivates them.

If you’re playing an evil character, give them a reason to be evil. Evil and murder and plunder just for its own sake is rarely fun or interesting. Give them a patron or religion or some kind of force that guides their evil hand and makes them do the bad things they do.

Have your character live by a code. It’ll put your character firmly into the lawful side of the alignment chart, but having some kind of law, code, or set of rules by which they live may help you play out the character well. What is the code? Why do they follow it? Are they strict in abiding by the law? What would cause them to break the rules?

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