Can a character's backstory not be ZOMG TRAGEDY for them to be a compelling character?
I feel kind of insecure because I recently joined an Into the Abyss 5E campaign, and decided to play as a dwarf who was a shopkeeper and accidentally fell into a hole, aaaand that's it. I'm the only person who doesn't seem to have some dark secret or tragic history, and I feel like that might be a problem.
Let me guess, the DM is going to bullshit up that some faggot sacrificed your daughter and used her death to fuel some faggot spell to open a faggot hole that your dwarf fell into.
I had a character who was trying to earn money to open up orphanages for no real reason other than kindness.
So the DM decided to throw child soldiers at my character. Like, man, the fuck? You know I'm going to kill them and it won't change my alignment or whatever the fuck you're trying to do.
Sometimes DMs confuse me with their need to make things arbitrarily dark.
I'm not sure. What makes a character interesting? How he acts, what he does? If acting in a starkly different manner makes an interesting character I might be alright. Is that how you do it?
A character is interesting based on his actions and the motivations behind them, as well as his flaws and mistakes. Despite what some people will tell you, writing a novela about your character's past life really isn't all that useful or interesting.
Honestly, it's EASIER to make a character compelling WITHOUT a tragic backstory IMO.
See, here's the thing, without a tragic backstory, you've still got something to lose. Compare that to the angstlords who already lost their family, their waifu, their kids, and their dog, and there's pretty much nothing left that phases them anymore... it's boring as f*ck.
The best character I ever played in an RPing game was a student mage who just wanted to graduate magic school and become a teacher. No dead parents, no lost comrades, no tragedy... then when those things happened or threatened to happen during the actual game, it meant soooo much more and I was soooo much more desperate and compelled to stop it than I ever would have been playing just another grizzled hardass who's seen it all already. For something to be compelling you need a MIX of good and bad, not just bad.
>tfw you get tired of DMs killing your character's family so you just do it for him
This. If you look at videogames, particularly horror games or games that aren't supposed to be a power fantasy for the player, there's a reason the protagonists are usually normal people and not hardened badasses.
This. GM killed my younger sister, thinking I'd go on a rampage. I didn't, I just mourned and kept going. Later when the killer showed up on the express train to plot central station, I just murdered him in the street instead of playing the "dramatic tension game". GM had me locked up in jail and I started rolling a new character on the spot, because I decided I was going to serve my sentence proudly
That sounds more like a case of a bad GM than a case of making your character wrong. I managed to make it through that game without my character losing family, despite coming really really close at one point during a hostage situation.
>What makes a character interesting?
So this is a difficult question to answer, because interesting means a lot of different things to a lot of different people. So in this case we can limit it to your fellow players.
So your dwarf was a merchant who fell in a whole. Okay, so what is his goal? Most likely to get back home. Okay so what is waiting for him back home? Does his family depend on him? Are there people looking for him? Will his brother use this as an opportunity to take over his business and thus is fortune? What I am saying is that if we can understand the motivations of your character then we might be tempted to want to know more.
If he is limited to "He fell down a hole, and now he is just sorta here" he has no stake in anything going on, however if he has a compelling reason to go home (Considering you want to avoid tragedy, it can be as simple as he lived a comfortable life and just wants to see his family again) this can help others understand his actions and perhaps grow to like him -c-
Now I think you should also take his class into consideration. For example, what class would a merchant be? Well maybe a fighter, but where did he get martial training as a merchant? This can be elaborated on and help add depth. Maybe he is a rogue, that would make since. Perhaps he was not always the most honest merchant and that's how he learned to be a sneak thief. Once again its all about getting the other players to ask questions about your character and have an answer for them. Questions should always lead to more questions, it keeps people interest in the character and that is the key to making an interesting character.
Well okay, glad you don't need a book. I can tell you're interested, so I'll elaborate a little more on how my character, Gimnus, has been acting and why.
Gimnus Bronzefoot is a crude humored, vulgar, yet rational and methodical dwarf. Beneath the tapestry of complaints of conditions, swears under his breath and requests for tobacco lies a self reliant, hard working member of society, far away from many of the of the adventurers that seem to have sprung up. He's distrusting of others, stingy, and careful.
As a dwarf in a rather sparsely separated clan, Gimnus doesn't have many family ties. His life is his shop, where he sells bits and bobs that he pawns off of passing caravans and adventuring parties. He also gets things from abandoned ruins a distance from his village which, unfortunately, he fell in. Now he's been forced to adventure alongside three people who seem to be very rugged adventurers and one... thing with no face.
What do you think? I could tell you what he's done so far, too, if you'd like.
Thank you for the tips. I'd like to get better at writing compelling characters without dipping into the tragedy font. He did serve in the militia for a while, but it's been decades. I actually went in one or two levels below the other characters for the sake of staying, accurate. On the flip side I started with a greater amount of money than normal, thanks to being a shopkeep.
I wanted to add that nothing has to be super long, and that his personality and backstory go hand in hand. For example if you made him a rogue, and because of that he was not always an honest man, his personality should reflect that. Maybe on the surface he is polite and culture, but underneath he is a scheming and manipulative person looking out number one. Opposite of that if you decide that he is a loud and vulgar person you should have a reason for that as well. Maybe he was raised wealthy and thus always felt superior to others, so he says what he wants whenever he wanted because he never saw repercussions of doing so. Its really not hard, you just need to keep asking questions.
Sounds like a good start man. I do have one large piece of advice. Consume lots of quality media, you can find inspiration everywhere. I like to sit and watch stuff like HBO and STARZ series. The characters in those tend to be fairly good, and can serve as inspiration for a verity of things. I just finished the second season of Da Vinci's Demons and have fallen in love with Lorenzo Medici as a character.
Seconding. A good GM should want his player's characters to feel accomplished and fulfilled at the end of a story... taking away everything they're trying to protect doesn't achieve that.
That's not to say everything important to the player should have plot-armor and be untouchable... but a good GM should at least give you the chance to protect those things. If they're just doing stuff like >>45372276 and >>45372346 off-screen and not giving the player a chance to intervene, that's really shitty GMing.
Seriously, what is it with GMs killing family members? It's happened to me as well, even if I mention some long lost twin halfway across the world, he somehow ends up dying in my arms and the lich tears his soul or whatever.
And it's not just a single GM either, all seven I've played with has done this constantly. Is it like some secret GM cult secret? Tribute for the blood sacrifices?
Hell, one player even went so far as to create a massive 100-person list of relatives, the GM has killed 28 of them so far.
Seriously what the fuck?
oh, thanks. saved.
His personality is could be described as what you'd expect a fast food worker on a smoking break would act, along with a heavily practical view on things, an extreme attachment to his shop (it's all he owns; it's his figurative baby) and an extreme stinginess, to the point where he complained about losing a crossbow bolt that he fired into an eldritch abomination that the party was currently running from.
Its a trap that inexperience or armature DMs make, and the reasoning goes like this:
"The player chose to have living relative in their back story so clearly they care about them. If I kill or threaten them then I can ramp up the stakes an drama in order to make the players more invested"
When used sparingly, and I need to put extra emphasis on SPARINGLY, it can be an effective tool. However, because it is such a clear and obvious tool it ends up being heavily over used. Thus leading to players seeing it coming and try to avoid it happening. So now it is more of an annoyance rather than a tragedy and players will go out of their way to not have living relatives or make friends because they are afraid the DM is just going to kill them off.
Honestly, it's better to introduce an NPC, have the player(s) grow attached to them over a long time, and then try the hostage thing. Then they actually have a reason to give a shit other than obligation
I'm >>45372201 and >>45372348, so I managed to make it through without losing anyone. I don't really hold the attempt against my GM either. Family members were a thing important to my character and the GM tapped into that to make the story tense and dramatic. I was 100% OK with it, and I would have been OK with it even if said family members ended up dying. Furthermore, my character actually had a sister at the magic academy, so it wasn't a case of "I'm gonna go halfway around the world to wipe out this completely arbitrary character you care about!" Honestly, I didn;t see much difference in my character's sister being in danger than if Ron or Hermione were in danger in a Harry Potter story.
That being said, I see the whole "kill the family" thing abused far too often by GMs (and players) who use it as an excuse for cheap angst before any emotional investment even takes place. For it to matter, you have to interact with the character and they have to be a part of the story beyond just being a background character who exists.
Im aware, Im just saying that how the reasoning goes. Im guilty of doing it a few times in the past, but my players talked to me and told me they were upset and why. So now im much less likely to do it, and I go out of my way to include living relatives into my characters when Im a player so that I can teach other DMs what I learned when they kill my relatives off.
>tfw wandering merchant NPC was kidnapped by tribal orc band and was going to be sacrificed
Yeah we slaughtered an entire orc tribe that day. That fucking weird beetle-man was the biggest fucking bro.
Worse is how few players understand it.
>You arrive in a new town, what do you do?
>I start asking around for information on my missing brother
This never ends fun for anyone, it just makes the GM have to flip a coin and rush something. If he wants to drop a hint, he'll do it.
>You see your brother's lifeless corpse handing from impromptu gallows in the town square, the sign "FAGGOT" on his chest. Such a strange word, it must be elvish, for none of you know the tongue.
Flipped a coin.
People with major life events are actually more likely to go off and do something crazy. Nowadays we call it our midlife crisis.
But I've always been fond of young adventurers, trying to make the world their oyster, and being naive about damn near everything, leading them to make mistakes, learn, and grow.
Or just make a Neutral evil bastard in it for the money, but have him be lovable, with no moral compass.
"Hey, you gonna search the body, or SEARCH the body?"
"Look, silver tooth; gimme your prybar."
>He's still alive.
"Gimme your prybar, and then you might wanna look away."
Elf Paladin. Grew up with a childhood friend playing Knight and Princess, only she disagreed as to who the Knight should be. He saw Paladins as the epitome of righteousness and goodness.
Grows up. Becomes Paladin. Vegan, Pacifist, Viceless. Naive, too. He genuinely wants the best for everyone, and his sweetness actually won a female Death Knight Dragon over to turn against the BBEG.
Eh, there's no harm in asking. If the GM doesn't wana give information, they're just not going to give information. In fact, the GM can even hint that asking so much causes news to get to the BBEG and keeps him a step ahead of the players.
What's worse is the players who want to brutally torture every bad guy the party comes across, even if said bad guy is just some random bandit captain who would have no reason know anything about it. I swear some players do the torture thing just because they have a fetish for it or something.
But four in five players will start getting frustrated because they're constantly fishing for a quest that isn't ready yet. So you have to either force them to fulfill their one goal right off the bat, or listen to them moan
>and decided to play as a dwarf who was a shopkeeper and accidentally fell into a hole, aaaand that's it.
You realize that this makes you the most interesting character of the group, right? Go full into this concept. Be a shopkeeper who happens to be an adventurer too. Endlessly comment on the ridiculousness of the situations you find yourself in.
>"I'm not even supposed to BE here today!"
>"Those kids are running around my store making a mess right now, I just know it."
>"200 gp? For a camel?! And a USED one at that?! I know a man who'd sell them for 50!"
>"Are you gonna buy anything, or...?"
Hey, OP again. I'm gonna be heading off to bed now. Thank you so much for the tips. Goodnight fellow fa/tg/uys.
Just use the brother as a false lead to go do the quest you were going to have them do anyway. Hell NPCs can straight up lie to to players.
>"Have you seen my missing brother?"
>"Oh he has been missing for a long time and Im am desperate to find him"
>"Actually..... Uh there is a bandit lord who I think, uh, may have taken him. You should go look into that."
No they players run off to do the thing you had planned anyway. The NPC takes advantage of some wandering adventures to not pay them like he was planning on doing in the first place.
It means things that most people will think you should try to uphold as good cornerstones for a character, but actually lead down flawed paths.
Stuff like likeable and relatable may sound good, but that's all personal preference, and trying to force it on other characters or the world could turn a character into a mary sue. Being dimensional or believable may mean they aren't entirely relatable, but it helps the character stand on their own.
> Be GMing for a small campaign
> That Guy makes one of the most typical back stories ever
> Be from some super duper noble family
> Twin elvish sister kidnapped when they were kids
> Spent entire campaign looking for her while trying to put some wincest spin on it
> Finally finds her
> She's married to a human cobbler out in the woods
> Super pissed that he played to level 15 only to get cucked by his own sister.
Sounds like he got what he deserved. The real question though it did he kill the cobbler, rape and murder his sister, cut off her head, and carry it around in his bag and talk to it all the time?
Glorious, 10/10 would inflict on faggots in my own games.
As a GM, I don't get this. I consider family characters mentioned to be off-fucking-hands and responsible solely for the player to forge their own story- the only family I have business controlling unless given explicit consent to do so is the family of my own GMPC.
Hell the only time a GM has any right to kill a character period is when it serves the plot well or the player seriously, completely, UTTERLY fucked up their rolls and every second chance given to them.
I recently had an idea for a human after reading the 5e Folk Hero background.
He met a famous Paladin when he was young and had one of those typical "I'll grow up to be just like you!" moments. So he did, he joined the military and swiftly became a model student, and his early career was so succesful he soon was given command over a small batallion, with all the usual benefits. So the guy pretty much has all he could want for... Except the Gods simply overlooked him during the blessing round and he's therefore just a Fighter, which does bother him much more than it should.
I get what he's saying though. Players built their backstory and have an idea of what they want their character to be, sometimes even how they want the character to evolve in a personal manner. Then then GM strolls past, glances at the backstory and announces half the characters mentioned therein to be horrifically slaughtered while he looks expectantly at the player.
On one hand, reacting to things happening in a game world is what's suppose to happen to create narrative. On the other hand, the ideas you had working up your character are either put upside down or destroyed completely and you have to start again trying to make sense of a personality you are creating.
Because sandboxes are fucking boring and can lead to party splits? The purpose of a roleplay is to tell a collaborative story with one guy at lest trying to herd the cats in a general direction similar to his original concept. Being a dick and fucking over a character's background without even consulting with the character's player is dickery of the highest order.
>GMing oWoD game for 4 people
>they write their backstories individualy, without contacting each other
>every character is an orphan who lost his parents for some tragic reason
why do players love to start without any family? Family is a great device, it can flesh out the character without boggling player with a backstory that doesen't allow for any character development.
I agree that GMs should not just trounce around declaring this and that and fucking with the PC, but, I disagree entirely with the notion that " the only time a GM has any right to kill a character period is when it serves the plot well or the player seriously, completely, UTTERLY fucked up their rolls." I disagree with that entirely.
In the sense that it technically is a story no matter how many people are proclaimed dead in an uncreative way and that the GM narrative isn't based on what he is and isn't allowed to do? Yeah, I agree with that one. Sounds more like a whinging "players aren't allowed to die unless they are completely okay with it happening", I guess.
But still, the GM brings his world, the players bring their characters, then they move forward. If the GM dips his hand into the jar of pure character backstory with no care or gentleness whatsoever it messes up the balance, you know? The character the player brought is suddenly not something HE brought to the table, but something the GM is forcing him to change and react, rather than using his withstanding character ideals/morals/concept to react to the world the GM presents.
I hope that all made sense.
Yeah, this. Everybody has their own narrative plan within the greater narrative of the story I help direct, as roleplaying is really just an improv play with dice thrown in to add tension by games of chance. Unless that player is going down a really, really stupid path that threatens to derail anything, I'm not going to step over and squash his or her plans out of such a petty power rush. The proper route is to talk to the player in private, and discuss what they feel is the most moving course of action for the greater narrative, and what adds tension. Just randomly walking into that mother you mentioned in passing within the bio and axing her is just a waste of potential. My purpose as the GM is to bring people together within a chosen setting and weave an engaging, fun story that everybody enjoys. Being unnecessarily cruel simply poisons the well. Being a dick can ruin the whole game.
There's also better options too. It's one thing for a player to wander into the woods and find their sister getting shanked by goblins. It's another thing if, after consulting with the player about the course about to be taken (surprises from my experience are fucking awful), the party gets a message from a runner, and say, returns to the fighter's home town so he can spend the last week of his mother's life preparing her for the end as she lies on her deathbed from an infection.
Care ought to be taken, definitely. It shouldn't be done on a lark. But it CAN be done, and SHOULD be an option on the table for the GM to push the story appropriately. Player choice should not be taken away. So long as player choice is not arbitrarily removed they can react to what the GM does any way they choose, the ideals they set down for their character must be tested. That is what the story is. At least that is my opinion.
>The character the player brought is suddenly not something HE brought to the table, but something the GM is forcing him to change and react
I feel like the reverse is also kind of true though - a player should bring a character to the table, but not hold the original character concept up as something that is pure and cannot be touched. Expect character beliefs to be challenged. Accept that your character might change during the course of the game. Accept that the person who started the adventure/campaign/whatever may come out at the end of it a changed person.
In much the same way the world that the GM brings to the game is changed by the actions of the players, there's give and take there. If you expect a game world to react to what your player characters do, perhaps you could also accept that perhaps your player characters might develop as characters over the course of a game?
You guys are free to tell your stories however you like. There's definitely no one size fits all way tell cooperative stories. I don't mean to sound like I'm saying that I'm right and everyone else is wrong. In my experience, the most compelling narratives are ones where characters are stretched to their limits, and a big part of that is that they are individuals who have no more control over the actions of their friends and families than we do in real life. What good is a hero's triumph if you hand it to him on a silver platter. My group is comfortable and trusts me to fuck with their heads a bit, but not go too far and ruin their characters on a lark. It works for me and my people, but its not right for everybody. Its a balancing act for sure. No one wants to play with the GM going on a power trip. That is for sure. A satisfying story and a happy table is what we all strive for.
This is what I mean precisely. When I talk about reactivity versus changing characters. Ideals, preconceptions, morals, and beliefs can (and should?) be challenged in the game world, but reaching into someone's backstory to mess with the character concept itself doesn't give way to good narrative. Think another anon summed it up pretty good as taking away player agency in his own design.
Dangerous to mess with what players have already decided they want their characters to be. Maybe they want to make their father proud as a worthwhile fighter with an excellent reputation for strength and sportsmanship, that's their character premise and a lot of things can grow naturally out of that. If the GM in turn decides to hang the father in full view of the player, I simply cannot think of a way the character(player) can react without changing the core basis of what the character is. Obviously this fighter can no longer make his father proud since his father is now a corpse. So, either he flips table and walks away or changes up why the fighter does anything, including taking that story cue in stride and forging something new.
Not saying it can't be an interesting or fun way of progressing narrative, but damn if shit like that kept happening to my characters in a game (thank god they don't), I totally understand the decision to refer to my entire lineage and family as dead and forgotten in my future backstories when coming into a new game.
So to sum it up, there's flexible and reactive narrative, and then there's fucking with a characters premise.
You are pretty much just strawman-ing me. If your hypothetically player wrote his father that he wants to make proud as say as a pillar of the community, then yes, it would be stupid to just randomly hang the father. But if the player had wrote something about the father having enemies, or having a criminal past or something to justify a lynching, then its not stupid in that case. Besides, I wouldn't just hang the father in front of the player. I would make the player choose to either save the father from the gallows or choose something else dependent upon the characters other goals. Like say, whats more important saving your dad, or saving the kingdom he loves? in that case, the player may choose to save the kingdom to make the father proud, or save the father only to have the father point out that they let something more valuable than his life slip. You are just throwing out a purely context-less story at me and saying, you are wrong, you can't hang this guy's dad. I'm maintaining that I can.
No, no, anon. I'm sorry If I came off that way but I wasn't trying to dismiss what you said at all. I just wanted a give an example to help better understand my point. I'm not saying you shouldn't involve the characters backstory no exception and that it's wrong. I'm just saying it's dangerous when a player has to change up his concept especially if what they're ultimately having fun with is *THIS* particular character in a reactive world. I'd totally be down for having my father crop in the story somewhere and doing stuff based on that. And as the father is now in the current flow of story, and any player and NPC is fair game for what may or may not happen in combat or what-have-you, they can die, and it can be fulfilling, or interesting, or make for good narrative.
(Though to be fair, having a "save your dad or save the kingdom" choice out of nowhere seems like a dick move to me)
It wouldn't be out of nowhere. that'd be like end-game stuff. I agree that just springing shit out of nowhere is dickish and doesn't help make good stories. I think we're actually a lot closer in opinion than either of us thought at the beginning of the discussion.
I guess so, but those kinds of decisions to me seem like the GM wants you to have something dead or fucked up for you in the story, and there's nothing you can do to stop it, but he'll give you the illusion of choice a little so you don't feel *completely cheated*.
Building up to a "you have to lose one, get on with it /wink". =(
Let's say that the hypothetical Fighter in your example has made friends with a local fight club run by NPCs. He might be able to use them to break his dad out, or delay the kingdom ending thing. I don't run the game like a binary choice mass effect game. I let PCs be clever with the resources they have acquired to mitigate the bad, if they are cunning or lucky (or both). that's the best part of tabletop, after all. We are not constrained to hard-drive limitations. I feel like its 5 am where I'm at, and I'm too tired to really articulate myself the way I should be able to. I feel like I'm just not doing a good job of explaining my position.
>I don't run the game like a binary choice mass effect game.
This is a problem I keep running into when discussing gaming with people; players seem to have a tendency to latch on to two responses, pick one and then go "well, I only had two choices!". It can be difficult, as a GM, to present information to the players well enough that they'll consider more than these two options - you don't want to always flat out lay down every option you can think of, because you want the players to have bit of autonomy and come up with things that surprise you. But then you don't want to have to sit there waiting for players to come up with something, nor do you want to hear after the game that players felt frustrated because they could only see two ways to solve a problem, both of which had a considerable cost attached.
As with everything, there's a balance to be had. I'd say it's the sign of a shit GM indeed to go with "you've got to kill your dad or save the kingdom" but, honestly, there are usually other options that players haven't considered. It'd be an even shittier GM to shut down other options ("No, you can't use your ill-gotten gains to hire mercenaries to cover for you on the castle walls while you bust your father out of the dungeon.."). But, yeah, there's a balance to be found, and part of the problem is also that if a game is working for the people playing it, then it's working. You've always got to judge how well your game is going by how the people around the table are enjoying it, so what stands for one group - "challenge my character's background all the time, please" - might not stand for another. It's hard to come up with an absolute line about what is acceptable there and what isn't.
A character doesn't need to be tragic, but a character does need to have motivations. Tragic motivations are just fairly common.
>a dwarf who was a shopkeeper and accidentally fell into a hole
Doesn't have any motivations. He'll try to get out of Hole, won't have any purpose to do anything else, and once out of Hole will just leave and go home. That's not a PC, that's an NPC.
If your character has motivations beyond that - "well, he's going to discover a lust for adventure and friendship and decide to go on a journey!" - then by not including those things in your backstory you're just making it harder on your DM.
That besides, even a level one PC is special compared to an average commoner NPC. What class is your Dwarf? Because you don't become a level one fighter by being a shopkeeper who fell in a hole.