The No-Prep Way to Use Character Backstory In a Campaign

When dungeon masters join the characters’ backstories to their marketing campaign, the sport feels extra private to gamers. Revisiting a backstory shines a highlight on a personality and contains them in a method that highlights a personality’s distinctive significance to the marketing campaign. By character backstory, gamers contribute to the marketing campaign world. Utilizing that backstory within the recreation acknowledges the worth of the participant’s inventive contribution. That recognition feels nice.

However the Dungeons & Dragons rulebooks embody no recommendation for dungeon masters aiming to make use of these backstories in play. I’m right here to assist.

The simplest methodology for pulling a backstory right into a D&D recreation follows the strategies of one other sort of real-time, collaborative storytelling: improv theater. “The primary rule of improvisation is AGREE. All the time agree and SAY YES,” Tina Fey writes in Bossypants. “If you’re improvising, this implies you’re required to agree with no matter your associate has created. So if we’re improvising and I say, ‘Freeze, I’ve a gun,’ and also you say, ‘That’s not a gun. It’s your finger. You’re pointing your finger at me,’ our improvised scene has floor to a halt.”

Improv’s “Sure and…” precept permits DMs and gamers to work collectively to deliver character backstory into scenes. Suppose the occasion visited Waterdeep and also you, as DM, needed to make use of one thing from a personality’s backstory to attract them in. If a personality’s backstory included a historical past as a gambler wandering from city to city, fleeing indignant marks and playing money owed, then the scene would possibly begin like this.

DM: Zand, have you ever ever gambled in Waterdeep?

Zand’s participant: Sure, and I’m preserving my eyes open for… (appears at fingers) …Knuckles. I owe him.

DM: As luck would have it, you see Knuckles going throughout a crowded market sq.. He appears your method.

Zand’s participant: I stroll to Knuckles and say, “Howdy pal, I’ve an irresistible alternative that may pay you again for what I owe.”

Typically gamers can contribute backstory to swimsuit a scene with out a lot improvisation, as a result of they imagined extra of their characters’ histories than the DM is aware of or remembers.

“Sure and…” builds creatively. The scene and the sport strikes ahead as a substitute of getting caught discovering settlement. Second Metropolis explains, “The fundamental idea of those two phrases is that you’re up for something, and can associate with no matter will get thrown your method.”

Not like performers in an improv scene, gamers don’t should be up for something. When a DM elaborates on a personality’s backstory to suit the marketing campaign, the additions won’t match the participant’s imaginative and prescient. In a recreation, gamers make investments time and creativeness of their characters, in order that they should preserve management of their proxies. Gamers can at all times pause the sport and clarify {that a} little bit of invented backstory doesn’t match their imaginative and prescient.

This type of spontaneous addition of character backstory resembles one other approach the place the DM has the gamers contribute to the world-building throughout a session. Examples vary from asking the gamers to invent a distinguishing characteristic for a monster to having gamers describe the oldsters within the inn. That follow can change into a jarring reminder that the characters dwell in a made-up world with none reality. Inventing or recalling backstory feels extra comfy as a result of gamers really feel accustomed to imagining that a part of the story. The DM asks questions and the characters know the solutions, even when the gamers should dream up the small print.

After all only a few actors and storytellers perceive this type of in-game collaboration. Typically such provides stumble. The DM says, “As you eat your meal, somebody you acknowledge out of your battalion walks in. Which one grew up right here?” After which the participant locks up. I don’t bear in mind something about that, the participant thinks. What would you like from me? You possibly can nudge the scene alongside by spelling out the provide. “Would you prefer to broaden in your character’s backstory by telling me the title of somebody you fought beside within the final struggle? What do you bear in mind about them?”

When the approach works, it looks like inventive magic—the most effective case for connecting backstory to the sport in progress.

Associated:

Subsequent: Extra on bringing backstory into campaigns.



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