How-To DM: Character Backgrounds in Campaigns

Dear Readers, this is going to be an interesting post… Be forewarned.

Let’s say you build yourself a marvelous campaign. You have a wonderful campaign world in which you have woven an epic tale of triumphs and failures.

You have yourself a wonderful world waiting to be explored and a story just waiting to be told.

You have imaginative and engaging, three dimensional NPCs, and the most wonderfully complex and complicated villains, and an awesome and powerful, if not totally epic “Big Bad” to end the campaign with.

Then you have them. You know, them. The Player Characters.

Well, now what?

You All Are In A Tavern…

Isn’t that how most campaigns begin? So often it does. Why is this? Because it’s easy.

That said, I have seen so many more interesting beginnings.

But really, your campaign beginning depends on a lot of factors. Does the party already know each other? Are they strangers to one another?

How do you get them all in one place to engage them in a story?

First things first, what are their backgrounds?

Character Backgrounds

We aren’t just talking about the character creation background, like sage, or noble, or acolyte. No, we are asking some serious questions.

Who is this character? Where did they come from? Who are their family? How did they become an adventurer? Did they even want to be an adventurer?

After getting all of these details from your players, you can then start intertwining them.

Here is an example for those of you who are familiar with the Inglorious Ingrates:

The party is heading back to the capital city after having been captured and working on their way to get back to the capital city. When arriving, the wizard, who has the noble background, begins to throw her weight around at the shops. The problem is nobody remembers her and says that she had died.

She further goes on to investigate this, to a degree, with the party, while the party is dealing with other plots within the city.

I don’t want to go further into detail in case you haven’t read “A Player’s Perspective” in a while, or are behind in listening to The Ingrates podcast.

Suffice it to say, the plot device based on her background was the center of an entire chapter, detailed and full of political intrigue.

Another character, the goliath barbarian, had written in his backstory that he was on a pilgrimage after his mate died, trying to die in glorious combat, but if he survived, he would be known to his tribe as a Revenant, a warrior without equal, and with great status within his tribe.

Circumstances brought him back to his tribe only to find out his mate was somehow alive after having watched her die. The rest of that adventure was fraught with questions as to how she came to be alive and why she rejected him upon their reunion.

All the while throughout all of this, the party keeps seeing a specific symbol, a skull with a dagger behind it, that keeps popping up. This is actually the main story line.

The chapter then culminated in a big combat encounter with the main bad guy of the chapter, the embodiment of the symbol they’ve been seeing, who was in league with the wizard’s family’s sworn enemy and rival noble house. To top it off, the villain was someone the party’s goliath knew!

Conclusion

Weaving character backgrounds into your campaign can be an arduous task. It requires a lot of forethought and planning. That said, it can be extremely rewarding, keeping not only the players engaged in the storyline and invested into the storyline, but having the characters themselves be engaged and invested in the happenings of your campaign.

What do you think? Do you like campaigns where the party’s various backstories are integrated into the campaign or do you like it more when they are unrelated? Let me know in the comment section below.

Published by The Daily DM

I'm just a DM telling the stories of my tables.

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