Dungeons & Dragons Online

Advice on Background Stories

After seeing another post asking for help on implementing player background stories, I thought I would pass on some great advice that has been given to me.

The first and most obvious is to settle expectations with your players. What kind of background are you expecting? Are they normal people? Should they all have ties to a cult? Epic level 20 heroes?
Talk about that at session 0.
Be open with them about their backgrounds. If a player tells you an idea they have, and you have a place it would fit really well, tell them.

Maybe they want to be part of a cult. You happen to have some cult plot planned. Explain that you have a cult they could have been part of, and then talk about what it would have been like to be part of said cult.
If they like it, that’s awesome!
If they dislike it, talk and change a few things.
If they hate it, offer them another rival cult, or look for different ways they could be tied to the original cult.

Different tables have different levels of background transparency. In my experience, having backgrounds be completely secret can get a little boring, as only one player will know when something cool or exciting happens in relation to their background, until everyone has shared their story.

Now that doesn’t mean everyone should know EVERYTHING, but knowing a few things out of game works really well. It also makes it easier to roleplay together to bring out background information.

For example:
One player might be the runaway princess who didn’t want to get married. What the others know off game, is that she is a noble who has run away from home.

And if two players have places in their background they could overlap, tell them and have them work together. The more overlap the players have, the easier it is for you to give them something they can all relate to or find interesting.

Restrict backgrounds to one page plus a little wiggle room.
The page includes:

  • A short recap of their life before the game.
  • Their long term goal, and maybe a few short term ones
  • Their greatest fear and/or something they are afraid to lose.
  • A list of the most important NPCs in their life.
  • One to three ideals they try to follow.

Now you as a GM have everything you need to tie their stories together or into the plot.
Make their important NPCs quest givers, villains, damsels in distress.
Dangle their fears in front of them.
Offer breadcrumbs that lead them towards their end goal.
Challenge their ideals.


Watch out for character goals. If a player comes from a land that has been poisoned and the people are dying, and every second they don’t return with a cure, they are responsible for even more deaths.

That isn’t motivation. That is an entire plot that can feel more urgent than the actual plot that you had planned and trumpf the other players own goals. (That is unless the plot you had planned was to infiltrate a magic lab where the cure might be, in which case it is a great fit.)

Character motivation is something that should be applicable in most situations.

A bard who wants to be famous, so they socialise, leave their card behind and offer to play music every chance they get.

An artifier might be working on a great invention and is trying out different materials they are willing to go far to get, and often ask for input from other scholars in return for doing quests.


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