Exploring Backstories


Backstories are typically written before the game starts, then either not touched again or referenced a few times with plot hooks. Some characters might not have backstories at all, or didn't put much in them when the game was still new and uncertain. Yet as your game progresses these backstories can become more stagnant, outdated, or unused.

Requiring a character's entire history to be set in stone before the game even starts seems unreasonable, and there's nothing that says a character's backstory needs to be some old bit of flavor that sets the character in motion to the real story. In fact, involving a character's backstory is one of the best ways to get them motivated and engaged with your world. A lot of DMs will use it as a hit-list of names to threaten a PC into action, but all that does is teach players to not to write backstories that can be used to emotionally blackmail them.

Revisit these backstories, not just by introducing characters from that PC's past, but by actually visiting those events in the past. Powerful magic can even alter the flow of time, and an artifact or deity could tempt a PC with the opportunity to revisit and change an event they regret in their past. Actually visiting that event and playing it out can make for powerful roleplay opportunities.

Time Travel

Even without changing anything, actually visiting and playing out the events from a PC's personal history allows them to make changes or fill in gaps of their own story. Jump around to different points in their life, ask them what happened, and inject your own little problems or twists to make these events interesting. You may want to do this as private 1-on-1 sections, but I prefer having everyone be present and involved. Having the rest of the party there reacting or asking questions can make these moments in a character's history more powerful.

Be sure to give everyone a fair shot, this magic should affect everyone equally. Some characters are going to have more interesting story-lines than others, and if everyone is enjoying it then there's no rule that you have to cut it short to maintain a perfectly equal airtime. Some players may need your help to guide and shape the events into something interesting and some will just take the reins and run with it. Some players will shy away from the spotlight while others will linger in it, but every player will appreciate the chance to flesh out their character and create a more meaningful connection with your world.

The Far Realm

This could be a one-off event of wild magic, giving everyone a chance to revisit and revise their histories, or you could launch into an entire campaign of time travel and alternate timelines. The Far Realm, where aberrations like beholders and old gods like Cthulhu live, can be a good backdrop for this. People that enter and leave The Far Realm don't just mutate, but can also end up in wildly different times, hundreds of years in the future or past or within entirely new timelines. Getting back to their “home” timeline can be an adventure in itself.

As your campaign goes on and everyone becomes more comfortable with their characters, you can drop in these little visits to the past to act as a sort of “tune-up” for their character to help focus on their motivations or create entirely new ones. Often the best source of inspiration for a DM that doesn't know what to write has already been written for you by the players. When in doubt, a character's past often holds the key to their future.

Need more help with your campaign? Check out all the other tools, generators, and articles: https://www.kassoon.com/dnd/

This website exists thanks to the contribution of patrons on Patreon. If you find these tools helpful, please consider supporting this site. Even just disabling your adblocker will help (it's only text and plain image ads I promise). Becoming a patron will upgrade your account to premium, giving you no ads and more features.

Shout outs: Stacey, Lj Nielson, Daniel Wise, big jimbo, Conall Reilly, Alex, Violet Floyd, keith oneal rogers, Val Lorenzo Pilapil, Mika, William Bamann, Patrick Natale, Cam Largent, Thaddeus Johnson, Mykaela Grube, Jack Stevens, Sam Davis, Chandlor Desper, Layha Quinn, Rebecca Wheeler, Masca Boom, Jordan, Rincewind, Michael Hamilton, Rob Hale, Vedie V, Mylon Schroder, Nathan, Conrad Carlson, Tiffany Mathis, Joseph Mitchell, Jordan Florez, Devantre Blackmon, Robert Rich, Mohammed Murtuza, bob leponge, TheFiendSaint, Robin Ellis-Foster, Deanna Pyle, Jess, Meme Pitt-Melton, E.D.F., Lorena Stuart, Zee Livezey, Alexandra Nguyen, KuroKimora, ryan scott, Christianna Schommer, Kerry Melton, SpiritFang, Lizette Marie, DJ_Kelf, Insomic Panda, paige anderson, Cassandra Keyes, Simon Wegerstedt, Naomi B, Darel Boyer, Rupert Borthwick, Anthony Lopez, Nick Soucy, Melanie Warga, Jeremiah Walker, Randall Welker, Shyler Lance, Bryan Sheairs, Koto Sinclair, Max Hops, Sarah Holland, Joshua David Maddox, Jennifer Smith, Ray Bissonnette, Joe Dalby, Joline Tran, Matt Price, Yuki, ShortyMcgibble, mtnman1979@aol.com, Parker VanDerMeide, KFB_Patreon, David Davidson, eric sun, Bruce Willison, Gundar Wez, Ken Shapiro, Katherine Ekes Lewing, Matthew payne, Jacob Plummer, RiGarou, Rebecca Montelli, John Karels, Dylan Williams, Snowy Snow, Nahellion, Robert D O'Dell, Alexander Garcia, Serena Verden, Alexander Griffiths, SnipsGTI, bilbens baggo, Stuart, IbKelek, Galygious, T. Alexander, Tim Mason, Maxwell Mayer, Gannon Dubay, Thobek, Aaron Teupe, Celso R Garcia III, Felix Schmäche, John, Miss Zilla M, RRare, Jordan Brazeal, Kyle Clark, Jake Lane, Adam Ruiz, Phillip P Torchia, Conor Quinn, Natalie Luttrell, Balanced Game Review, Stefan Gottschalk's, Matthew Wood, Royce Dillard, DiegoDeath, Remora's Jewel, Bartis Edmond Hawley-Wall, Dawnwolf, Buffonturtle, Christina Majchrzak, jeremy baisch, Ivee Ransford, Zealot23, Bruxius, Shane Andrews, Andre Wills, CJMAXP, The Dreaded Squirrel, Chevy Jones, Keaton Permenter, Shazear, Curran Vallejo, Leanna Orr, Ezzela1891, John Nazario, Gary, Gordon Alexander Fallon, Jason Clark, Topher Scott, Max Puplett
Their contribution stands as a beacon of hope for all adventurers!

Become a patron


QR Code
QR Code
[-] Login▾

Make campaigns and save encounters / combats / dice rolls and more. One step!



Recovery Email (Optional):

Gift Premium

QR Code
QR Code