RPG Backstories


My favourite part of D&D to date has been pouring over resources and thinking up a backstory for my character.

I don’t have a long history with tabletop RPGs other than being interested in D&D for many, many years. In 2014 I was lucky enough to have coworkers who were interested in playing, as well as a wonderful GM. We started a D&D 4th edition party.  That was a good experience, but something about it didn’t really feel right to me; it wasn’t particularly engaging and the game felt repetitive.  I don’t blame this on my coworkers or the GM as I think they all did a wonderful job.  I didn’t really know what the disconnect was about; at least not until I started playing 5th edition.

My local game store has two 5th edition groups now. It was going to be a single group, but the turnout was 12+ people, so we had to divide. My new GM is very narrative focused, but I understand this is also a slight change between 4th and 5th editions. Probably the biggest change of all, though, is that I opted out of any prebuilt characters and created my own.  After the 2nd or 3rd session I picked up my own copy of the Player’s Handbook and started digesting it.  A couple nights there involved lots of writing and lots of reading.  I went way beyond the backstory requirements in the Player’s Handbook and actually shot completely wide of their goals.  But I think it was completely worth it.  I was fully engaged with my character and even today I’m constantly looking for ways to progress my own independent character-focused storyline.  I wish I had done this with my 4th edition character, too; but hindsight is 2020 as they say.

This post is a good reminder to myself - I haven’t finished merging my custom backstory with the gameplay/mechanics-oriented backstory system of 5th edition. My goal is to do that before our gaming session this Saturday.

On a slight tangent here - I picked up the Savage Worlds core book and Fiasco. Fiasco in particular is really curious. I’m interested in seeing how a really short RPG focused on tight, short narratives with very little backstory and preparation works out.  In D&D we get a focus on combat and levelling where narration and backstory improve immersion.  In an RPG like Fiasco we have little (if any?) combat or levelling but a very strong narrative and a lot of character interaction.  Yet all backstory in Fiasco is generated within minutes of playing.  Perhaps that’s the key - the backstories are all there - it’s just that the Fiasco system has formalized and streamlined backstories to such a high degree that it’s a nearly effortless piece to integrate.  (To be fair here - D&D 5th Ed. provides a very simple mechanism for generating a backstory that seems similar to what Fiasco does. I’m not sure if I like it, though.  At the very least, I really like spending a lot of time on that part of the game when given the option to do so.)