character backstory

Some days you can spend hours finely crafting the important character beats in your backstory, heaping on lavish descriptions of their childhood home and just how sad they felt when their parents died. Other days you have 15 minutes to throw one together before hopping into a game your friend just texted you about.
So, here are 4 steps to build your backstory in 15 minutes.

1. Go With Your Gut

Because you only have 15 minutes, go with the first thing that pops into your head. You can always refine it later, but it’s vital that you don’t spend too much time thinking about a particular choice. It can be a fun exercise to try to justify these choices later on. 

2. Pick Your Character Motivation

This is the most important part of your background, so be sure that it is something that you feel excited about playing. You can use this template to build your motivation quickly.

I must [action verb phrase] in order to [desire]

The action verb phrase should be something your character could do, not a state of being. This makes the motivation playable, not just a series of states your character passes through. For example, a doctor does doctoring by performing exams, seeing patients, or performing surgery.

The desire part of the motivation is the thing that your character most wants to gain, achieve, do, or become. It can be a stative verb as long as it excited you (and your character). 

Here are a few examples of motivation:

I must find a powerful sword in order to recover my soul from a lich.

I must avenge my master in order to find inner peace.

I must prove myself in battle in order to win the affection of my spouse.

3. Define Your Cast Of Supporting Characters

Create a list of 1-3 supporting characters that can serve as allies or enemies to your character. These can be great adventure hooks for your DM to work with and can be integral to the story of your character’s life before the adventure. 

Here are some possible archetypes to work with, feel free to roll a d6 to choose one at random:

  • The old sage/Mentor
  • The antagonist
  • The rival
  • The lover
  • The friend
  • The idol

4. Come Up With An Event That Connects You To The Other Party Members

This is key, as your connections to the other characters in the party are more important than any other part of your backstory. It gives you an instant relationship to play with and skips the bit of figuring it out in-game. 

Feel free to let the relationship evolve during the campaign, but have at least a basic opinion of each of the characters in the party. Use these questions to help figure out those relationships, or roll a die equal to the number of party members and randomly assign them to a question.

  • Who do you feel most comfortable telling secrets to?
  • Whose judgment do you respect?
  • Who would instantly drop everything to help you?
  • Who is the best one to party with?
  • Who would you go to for advice?

With these four steps, you can quickly build a backstory for your character. You can even use this as the basis of a backstory that you then expand on. Don’t worry about getting it wrong, or making it interesting. Just make it exciting for you

Have fun, and trust your gut!