How to Flesh Out Your Character’s Backstory | Rollacrit

Struggle with creating your character’s backstory? It can be a challenging task, especially when you’re playing a new game. Getting inside a character’s head and thinking about their desires and motivations is a rewarding experience, but thinking about it and understanding the motivations of fictional or imaginary characters is a skill that takes a while to develop. Some people spend their whole professional lives (and tons of student debt) dedicated to breaking down the motivations, wants, and needs of fictional characters. Fortunately for you, I’m one of them.

Here are a few things to consider the next time you’re creating a character in a role-playing game, so you don’t have to minor in British/American literature to enjoy your next campaign.

No One Is Truly Evil

Even the Wicked Witch had a tragic backstory. It’s easy (and lazy) to say that a character is “evil” just because, so if your character is an evil dark mage (or something similar), think about what specific choices they might have made to get them to that specific point in life. Did they apply to study mystic arts and were rejected because of their race? Was their precious loved one murdered by the king? Did they get made fun of in high school and decided to study the dark arts for revenge?

Thinking about why a character is the way they are is really helpful in understanding their motivations.

Avoid Tropes

For the love of Athena, please, please, PLEASE avoid crafting your characters from tropes. Especially Mary Sue/Gary Stu characters. “Gary was so unremarkable except for his amazing looks, great power, and oh, did we mention he was the chosen one? Also, he’s in love with a vampire, a warlock, AND a werewolf.” No one likes Gary.

The exception: Have a game filled with nothing but character tropes and see what happens.

Give Your Character Connections

Whether you want to connect your character to other players, NPCs, or even an object, giving your character a touchpoint will give them something to care about and help you view them more as a “real” person. Having a character with no family, personal connections, or ties is always hard because there’s nothing there to ground them.

Give Your Character a Challenge

From peanut allergies to Kryptonite, a character become a lot more fun when they have a weakness or challenge to overcome. (Granted there’s no overcoming Kryptonite.) But you’d be surprised how much more realistic a fictional character becomes when they have challenges or obstacles to overcome, especially if those obstacles are ever-present in the game. Like Kryptonite. Because everyone has Kryptonite for some reason.

Think About Fashion

This one is a little out there. But thinking about what your character wears can tell you a lot about their personality. Do they dress for comfort or style? Do they dress in only the best clothes available? If so, how do they afford it? Thinking about something as “mundane” as style can help you examine your character from a different angle.

Next time you’re thinking about creating a character, think about some of these topics and see if that shapes how you approach characterization. Want more ways to flesh out your character’s back story? Let us know and we’ll put out a part two.


About the Author:

Michael Baker is the main content writer at Rollacrit with a flair for haiku. He previously wrote for ThinkGeek (and a bunch of other places). In his spare time, he enjoys playing tabletop games, writing about comics and pop culture, and cultivating his dog’s Instagram presence.


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