Origin Stories and Backstories

Hello Miscreants!

What, no news? Nope, don’t think so. Still waiting on SOMEONE (cough Tech puppet) to deal with a certain podcast, but nope, nothing major to announce this week.

Holy crap, shortest news post ever!


Rolling off the back of Thirsty’s post last week, I guess I want to talk about Origin Stories and Backstories.

What is an Origin story? What is a Backstory? 

Now these two terms are subtly different, and not always exclusive. an origin story tends to be where the major event that turned your character into an adventurer (talking in generalities here) and backstories are the little flavor stories that inform a character, gives them a heritage, a story, a reason for their little drives and dreams. Little scenes in their lives.

Do you need them when you start?

In most cases, a vague gist is good enough. At the very beginning, there are lots of factors that might impact the size of the backstory/origin – the world you’re playing in might not be fully fleshed out yet, you might not enjoy the game you’re playing yet, the character’s past may not affect the story in anyway shape or form or they might not have a high life expectancy.

As the campaign continues, your character will grow, as will their backstory. There is no need to have it all figured out when you start – or even at all as the game rolls on.

Let’s break this down a little more – let’s do the pros and cons.

Short backstories / origins

  • Sometimes, a single line (ok paragraph) is all you need. After all, the story you’re playing with your friends is about the current lives of your characters, not their pasts.
  • Your character might also be a simple one – not that they are cardboard characters, but just a simple one.
  • The life expectancy of a character might be short – long prose might be a hard pressed thing to do if they’re only going to live for a single session.
  • The context of the game might not warrant a huge rolling backstory with twists and turns.
  • At the start, at least, you may not have that much investment in your character – after all you haven’t had a chance to bond with them yet.
  • The tone of the game maybe just that of a less involved nature.
  • Simply put, there isn’t always time to create a huge backstory.

Longer backstories / origins

  • Some PM’s love character backstories to bring it into the main story. Helps the characters to be rooted/invested into the plot.
  • As a player, you can feel more invested in a character, and begin to have reasons for doing things the way the character does them.
  • A richer backstory can add a new dimension to a character and avoid them feeling like a flat caricature of an idea. After all, you’re playing a role – your battleaxe might actually have a deep emotional attachment and losing it might spark your somewhat idiotic barbarian into formulating a smart plan to retrieve it. 
  • The past can affect the future of a game, an old flame that can be used as a contact, a family you might have wrong etc. Great plot points that can be utilized for/against your character.
  • Having a secret, or hidden in depth past from other characters is sometimes a really interesting dynamic to play with.
  • You could just love writing, and enjoy the creation as much as the playing.

These longer stories will take time to develop – you don’t have to document everything from birth, family trees to the start of the game, many of these things will occur to you as you play the game. If your PM is cool with you generating content for their world, then go for it! And frankly, what PM doesn’t like people genning parts of the world that matter to a particular player – after all if they’re invested enough to want to write about it, let them – PMs can always edit and embellish.

The gist of what I’m saying is – a gist of a character is a great place to start. Actually building a more complex story does tend to rely upon a lot of the factors as described above – longevity, world building, storylines, campaign feel and time – and can be done over time. not everything has to be deep and complex from the start.

If you have a PM who asks for a little more, it tends to be along the lines of “the more you give, the more you get” and I personally love those games. If you can give more, and want to, then do it! Go nuts.

Note: Just check in with your PM before you go actually nuts on this, mainly because they might have ideas on the world, and obviously plot.

Time at the bar, drink up bitches.
– Blood, I will most likely laugh when you hurt yourself.

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