When I create a new tabletop character, I like to have a written out backstory for them. In large part it’s because I need writing practice, all the time, and this is a way to make me write something. Especially as creative writing of that storytelling sort is often all tied up with my Achilles heel, dialogue. But it’s also a fun way to shape the character and give the Game Master something to play with as the tale is told.
Some characters started with a question, such as Maeve the 5th edition Tiefling warlock. I started wondering what would the child of a child-eating witch be like? Why would a child-eating witch raise a child, anyway? Well, what if the child wasn’t like others, what if she was an abandoned member of a race that would potentially be problematic to eat? Tiefling came from that question, descendant of demons would potentially be non-appealing as a meal. And without going the evil route of the mother, where does that lead someone as a class? Why doesn’t that figure turn out evil? It lead to some fun writing and reasoning. And as I wrote the story, I found the fey a feasible way to take this strange child into an adventurer archetype, with the warlock class and the Archfey patron. So with a lot of fun giggles I wrote out the story of the ever-naive and optimistic Maeve.
Flynn Keller, the Jack-jacker in Iron Kingdoms got a similar story-driven start. The exact image was of a character cresting a hill back to their allies, with a banner-bearing robotic icon of the Protectorate of Menoth (the religious fanatics) in tow, yelling for his allies to get the paint to “disguise it, quick”. What classes would it take to accomplish this impossible task of stealing the giant steam-powered robots of war? What kind of person would even try something like that? So he was formed as an arrogant, impulsive, teenage boy – one with a shady background as a rogue and a magical spontaneous style as a sorcerer. I recently went back and read this story, and while there were some edits required, for the most part it was still a strong story – normally reading old writing is a cringe-fest so this was kind of nice.
However, sometimes story would be putting the cart before the horse. In the case of Ciara of Serric, the dwarven cleric, I just wanted to try a cleric, and the dwarven pantheon sounded like fun in the Iron Kingdoms setting. Then I selected clan Serric, as a tie in to the story in progress. Working with my GM we decided that the reason she left home was on orders of her family to find a husband. From there the story developed naturally in the course of the game. Her written background was a sparse and quick outline, and details are getting filled in as time goes on.
Other times it’s a chance to challenge myself to be something I’ve never been before – like Cindy the Nosferatu vampire in our Vampire: The Masquerade LARP (Live Action Role Play). I was doing a one off character for the night, so I went bruiser, took some major flaws like thin blood and amnesia (why write the story for a character I’m only going to be once?). I rarely play physical characters, so this was a way to roll out without overthinking it – of course the fact that I played the character for years afterwards and had to deal with all the blows I’d lined myself up for was… interesting. When the head Storyteller writes your background and slowly unveils it for you… watch out! Sudden turns and sharp story curves ahead, for sure.