Character Building 101: Character Background and Where to Share

Posted on January 3, 2013 by


So you’ve finally built that perfect little character. You’ve added the numbers, you’ve found a name, and a style, and a rich personality with a quaint cockney accent, and finally you’re starting to feel like you’re finished.

this guy

Or you’ve skipped all of that, and made this guy.

But it’s not enough, you want more, and I know where you can find some of that sweet satisfaction: Backstory.

More than just a verbal exchange between you and your dm, backstory should be a lush landscape of character history, something from which a struggling character can feed and grow. This implies a great deal of authorship and hard work and can seem rather daunting, but as with all things D&D, it should be an opportunity for creative fun.

My core group of players has taken a unique and rather organic approach to fulfilling character growth outside of the standard build-and-play elements of D&D. Originally created to organize schedules and establish game details, social media forums dedicated to current games have blossomed into a digital renaissance of creative writing and roleplay, all centered around our love of the characters. This came about organically, perhaps with one group member out of town but itching to be involved, or two players who want to explore the relationship between their PC’s when there’s no immediate opportunity within the plot. I can recall many moments of dialogue just as spirited and intense as in-game conflict, and at the very least, roleplay on Facebook (or other sites?) serves as an excellent place for plot transitions, prologues, and epilogues.


D&D Facebook relationship: complicated

Here are a few quick tips, and an example of my own backstory writing:

  1. Create a Facebook group where everyone can organize games and post whatever strikes their fancy. It’s practical, and opens up a much wider arena for ambitious character discussion and world building.
  2. When writing, use the vernacular of your character as much as possible. Avoid a neutral narrator, and don’t recount a general outline of your character’s personal history. You want this to be as immediate and genuine as possible. Have your character tell a personal story, a vignette of something revealing about their psyche.
  3. Don’t be afraid to engage with the other characters and your DM, and don’t be afraid to write things that aren’t directly linked to either. Take risks, and write when the mood strikes you.
  4. Don’t step on anyone else’s toes. Write with others, not for them.
  5. Have fun with it!

So here’s an example of some backstory writing I did during Kyle’s seminal High Seas game, for one of my favorite characters, Aziman the Blood Dancer. Enjoy “Wasps of the Blood Tree”:

blood wasp

‎”Let me tell you about something from my only home, something about the viciousness of the gods and their subjects.” Aziman’s teeth glint in the light reflected up from the sea as he slowly spins in a lazy pattern of steps.

He halts, hair slung over his left shoulder in a woven cord. “Blood wasps. You see, the Blood God had her harpies. Huge things, bodies the span of an elder’s hand.” Aziman stretches his own hand out to demonstrate.

“They were sacred and hated and feared equally. They’d lived too long that close to her, these insects dusted in the essence of virulent life. And so they were vicious, and so they were absolute in their need to kill.”

Aziman has been moving his new blades as he speaks. Already, cuts have begun to appear on his hands and arms, bleeding freely. The moving crimson tinged blades seem to flow around him, while he begins to spin again.

“And they did kill, so vicious were they. A red swarm could rend a man, form a beast of slaying mist, overwhelm his every defense. They would often destroy themselves to exact their toll of fury, their still stirring bodies dashed upon the poor souls that strayed too close.”

His feet stop, locked into place, and he throws his blades quivering into the deck at his sides, punching shallow divots into the woodwork. He pulls some fabric from his pocket and begins wrapping his weeping wounds.

“I had to eat one, once.”

He sighs.

“So hungry is the Blood God, that one must kill to serve her, and all the while die to do so. Live by killing until the Blood God takes what she’s owed, and do it well. Embrace it as the wasps do. Drink of life when you can, so that you may live. That’s what I learned.”