What is a backstory?
Think of a backstory as the biography of your character. What do they look like? What’s his or her name? Where do they live? What do they do for work? What class are they? What race are they?
In essence, you’re writing a short story to bring your character to life.
How long should it be?
In all honestly, shoot for a couple paragraphs of well thought-out well detailed background. You don’t need anything longer than that. Keep in mind you have to remember these details as the game progresses, so make it as memorable as you can.
Also, keep in mind that your DM has to read and interweave backstories for every single character playing the game. Try to make it easier on them by not submitting a thesis paper as your backstory.
You don’t need a novel
You really don’t need more than a few paragraphs. Take your time and write well detailed sentences, but don’t write a book. The goal is quality over quantity.
Leave some things unanswered
It’s important that you don’t explain EVERYTHING about your character in the backstory. The backstory is simply to help the DM and other players understand who your character is and how he or she plays into your campaign. It’s not a full fledged biography.
Don’t shoot for a full backstory, let it unwind naturally while you play.
Like I said above, you don’t need a novel. You also don’t need to divulge every little thing about your character. Does your character eat ham sandwiches at the local tavern every Sunday morning? Great! Keep that out of your backstory and mention it in conversation with a townsfolk WHILE in game. Some part of your backstory are better kept in secret, away from other players. You want your story to progress naturally throughout the campaign and not be tied to a script you wrote up before the game even began.
Here is a quick example I put together for a homebrew campaign that I just started last week.
Name: Sarril Kol
Race: Half Elf
I never met my true parents. In fact I’m sure they’re both dead at this point. To the best of my knowledge, My mother is (or was) Elven and my father was of human descent. There is little known about which strain of Elven blood my mother had. Or what she passed onto me.
I was bartered away as a child to a group of monks from the Callif Monastery in the Northeast, toward the Southern most tip of what’s known as Wuthals Spine. The Callif Monastery is known to be predominately Elven. It was not often that a half blood took up their ranks. My parents hoped that by offering me up, they could make amends with the Gods for bringing half elf offspring into the world. Most humans treat me as their own while I am looked down upon by elves for being half blooded.
I’ve trained my entire life, following the Callif ways of hand to hand combat. That is… Until I was exiled for breaking oath. I was marked as a traitor to my peers. No other monastery would take me in. I now travel from town to town, city to city scrounging by with whatever coin I can obtain. Betting on myself in hand to hand combat or the occasional bar fight is how I get by. I do dabble with more lucrative methods though. I do what I must to survive. No matter the price.
Quickly now. The sun is rising. I must get going.
Note it’s length and some of the open ended statements. I didn’t want to give too much away to the other players, but I also wanted to capture who and what Sarril Kol is. Although (intentionally) incomplete, please feel free to use my example as a blueprint or guide to help you along with your characters backstory.
Have you written your own backstory before? Take a minute to share it in the comments below, I’d love to check it out!