In depth character backgrounds

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have you ever made up a long background for your character and then never gotten to use it?
like big significant events that were in your history never coming in to play or family secrets that dont get used.

i want to make big backgrounds and i like doing it. but it feels like a wast of effort and time when none of it comes into play.
it might just be the campaigns that i get put in. they are short and often full of powergamers that just want to do the most damage and only use one character (for the most part) so the background is always the same.

what do you think about this? and how long are your character backgrounds? how in-depth do you go?
have you ever made up a long background for your character and then never gotten to use it?
like big significant events that were in your history never coming in to play or family secrets that dont get used.

I think that's happened to most experienced gamers.

i want to make big backgrounds and i like doing it. but it feels like a wast of effort and time when none of it comes into play.
it might just be the campaigns that i get put in. they are short and often full of powergamers that just want to do the most damage and only use one character (for the most part) so the background is always the same.

what do you think about this? and how long are your character backgrounds? how in-depth do you go?

There's definitely middle ground between basic stats with a few descriptive sentences and a background that's 10 pages long.

You could focus on fleshing out maybe two to three paragraphs of substantial background. Add a few good hooks in that the DM could potentially use. Then, enjoy playing the character--the character will develop as you play the game, and there's more to them than their background.

That's just my suggestion though, your mileage may vary.;)
The coolest backgrounds I have had for my characters have emerged in play through a team effort between the players and the GM. I don't know if this is universally true or not, but when it happens it makes the characters feel all the more real when their backgrounds come to affect the current gaming experience. Given, this tends to take time. This method will not work for 1-shots or even short-term campaigns. Basically, you have to be fairly confident that your game will last before you can hope to have a background related story like this that does not make other players feel like the DM is playing favorites with your character.

This is my experience anyway, take it as you will.
if thats what you want out of your game, talk to your DM about it. the DM cant change the way he runs if you dont tell him what more you want out of the game.

and if the DM says "lulz no we ganna keep runnin for dem munchkinz" then, well... it might be time to find a new game.
Just thought you should know. the countdown continues...
I use the Quest Card concept that has been previewed only in reverse.

I set out blank index cards on the game table and whenever someone wants to pursue something in game, they fill out a quest card and hand it in. Helps so much as a DM and lets me take the story where the players want it to go. I'm no constrained to give them exactly what they want all the time and I retain veto power ... but it does make fore more engaged story driven players.
Talk to your DM is the best option.

When I DM I like to know what my players want the goals etc and knowing the background gives plothooks but sometimes backgrounds are long and well I have other stuff to do other backgrounds, college and my own plothooks.

But if my player works and ivest time in a character I like to reward him/her/hir

Buena suerte y digo adios en español n_n
ElectricBee ftw.
I do the same thing, let's the other players know that something somewhere will possibly change the course of the game...and they know who to blame too!
(Dude? Why are we chasing this hideous thing across a danger infested moor? ...Uhm, my fault?.... >.> o.O <.< -.-;))
cool thanks everyone. big help
One of my friends said he was going to try his hand at DMing and i wrote a 5 page background with much room for expansion before my character was the age he'd be in the game... well the game never happened and i ended up writing 30 pages more just out of boredom and introducing other characters and it was a decent start to a book... Unfortunatly i always seem to start writing epic tales get to 30-50 pages and move on to the next idea.
Can't finish anything LOL
Jah, I've come up with long detailed background that never get touched, as well as jumping head first into a game with a character that didn't have any background.

Both ways work, but one requires more improv then the other.

But yeah, if you want your character's backstory to be relevant and be a hook for the DM to use, you need to talk to them about it.

For example, right now I have a neat character concept, but I refuse to try and play it in a game that *isn't* character driven.

So it's one part suiting a character to the campaign, and one part suiting the campaign to the character.
Resident Over-Educated Ivory-Tower Elitist [You don't have the Need-to-Know for that, citizen]
have you ever made up a long background for your character and then never gotten to use it?
like big significant events that were in your history never coming in to play or family secrets that dont get used.

i want to make big backgrounds and i like doing it. but it feels like a wast of effort and time when none of it comes into play.
it might just be the campaigns that i get put in. they are short and often full of powergamers that just want to do the most damage and only use one character (for the most part) so the background is always the same.

what do you think about this? and how long are your character backgrounds? how in-depth do you go?

Yes, which is why I often dont go into huge detail when making characters. Often a brief history, motivation, and personality are all I need before I gear up and start crawling. If you like big backgrounds, I recommend writing them and either archiving them for later use, or posting them for other people to see and perhaps use themselves.
Something to keep in mind is that not all adventures are long-term. Some are short, one-shots, or die off for various reasons. It is because of this that I prefer to ask the DM ahead of time just how much detail is needed. If the game is driven by outside events as opposed to our characters' own histories, then I tend to not go into initial detail. If the DM wants a lot of ideas to built the campaign around us, then I'll go into more.

In general, I build my characters like I build my campaigns: I create whats needed and add more as the need arises. It keeps things manageable and flexible, plus I dont feel like I'm getting shorted if the DM doesnt use my extensive character history. You can always expand and further develop the character later.
have you ever made up a long background for your character and then never gotten to use it?
like big significant events that were in your history never coming in to play or family secrets that dont get used.

i want to make big backgrounds and i like doing it. but it feels like a wast of effort and time when none of it comes into play.
it might just be the campaigns that i get put in. they are short and often full of powergamers that just want to do the most damage and only use one character (for the most part) so the background is always the same.

what do you think about this? and how long are your character backgrounds? how in-depth do you go?

Well I would recommend either not writing as big of backgrounds, or finding a more role playing oriented DM/Group... Sometimes play styles aren't compatible..

--Trevorfrost
So it's one part suiting a character to the campaign, and one part suiting the campaign to the character.

Great point.
I don't understand the use of long and detailed character backgrounds at all in roleplaying. It sounds like a sure way of never actually getting to do the cool stuff while playing and just sitting at home imagining about it.

If you got cool ideas about cool stuff. Play it instead, and if new stuff that you are interested in and resonates with you character comes up in play, use your now functional and non detailed background as an excuse to get your hands dirty.

'Ahh, you mean 'the red mage', he was responsible for the death of my brother in the battle of ...yada yada'
There's nothing like the look on a dm's face when you jump up in the middle of their introduction of some pivotal npc and yell 'there's the bastard that killed my parents'. Try it sometime. ;)

I have never done big backgrounds in D&D (though I have in some point-buy systems (fantasy hero, for example)), because I enjoy improvisation on the fly and generally don't play the type of characters that have epic destinies. I would imagine the main thing to do to solve your problem would be to set down with the dm and set up your characters background with them. As long as both of you are willing to be somewhat flexible and work together there's no reason that your character's background couldn't become a fun part of the campaign.
As long as both of you are willing to be somewhat flexible and work together there's no reason that your character's background couldn't become a fun part of the campaign.

WHAT IS THIS?! Blasphemy! Are you saying that the people who are playing together should work as a team to create fun? This concept is totally alien to me. ;)
I not only love it when I get a good background from a player, I actively reward it. I never give a length requirement, but at least a couple of paragraphs is all but required for my games. At the very least, I want "Where are you from, where did you learn what you've got now, and what are you doing here" from my players. As a GM, I love having hooks to play with. There's nothing like the big reveal with the NPC who's been working behind the scenes and causing the party all sorts of havoc is shown to be the guy who taught one of the PCs everything he knew. :evillaugh
Try this: if you want to write a backstory that a DM can use, write it in an outline format like this: The Ten Minute Background.

This will give the DM enough information about your character to work with without inundating him with walls of text, and will allow him to pick over and easily use those elements he wants, as well as telling him what you would like from the game for your character.

When the Cat's a Stray, the Mice will Pray 

I think the minimum amount of background required for a well-role-played character is just enough of their history to explain...

1. Where in the campaign world are they from, generally?
2. How/Why did they choose their classes and feats?
3. What's their basic motivation for adventuring?

and maybe

4. Do they have any particular goals in the campaign?

Some of my favorite characters have started out as stat blocks with vague ideas about their personality, and I've worked out who they used to be from who they are at the present time.
My current favorite 3.5 character is a spiked chain-swinging rogue with a couple swashbuckler and fighter levels to represent the fact that he likes to fight a bit more than is probably psychologically healthy.
I can tell you what he'd say and think in any situation, but his backstory is only about two paragraphs long.
I decided I needed to justify his wide range of skills and his use of an odd weapon, so I gave him a backstory of having grown up as the son of a successful caravan guard company owner.
As the prodigiously intelligent child of a neglectful parent, he was mainly raised on the road by tutors and the caravan guards his father employed. He's not from anywhere in particular, and never got attached to people or things.
It explains his CN alignment, his self-sufficiency and his personality quirks, as well as giving him a justification for having learned the use of an exotic weapon from one of the guards who was originally from someplace far away.

Even though I can turn out novels about most of my characters, I really don't think most characters need, or are worth, that level of background detail.
For the most part, unless the character has led some dramatic soap-opera-worthy life prior to taking up adventuring, their life can generally be summed up by a basic highlight reel - not every character is going to be the long-lost third son of the prince of a lost kingdom who was betrayed by his eternal love who also happens to be his sister....:D

Show

I am the Magic Man.

(Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.)

 

I am the Lawnmower Man.

(I AM GOD HERE!)

 

I am the Skull God.

(Koo Koo Ka Choo)

 

There are reasons they call me Mad...

There's nothing like the look on a dm's face when you jump up in the middle of their introduction of some pivotal npc and yell 'there's the bastard that killed my parents'. Try it sometime. ;)

What's even better is when you are doing this in a system that gives points to players for roleplaying their flaws, that lets them implement their background. "That's the bastard that killed my parents" flip a point to the ground "It was right after mercenary training, before he betrayed me" flip a point to the ground "back when I admired the guy, and watched him training the new recruits in combat, where I learned his every move" flip a point to the ground. At which point you proceed to beat the crap out of the guy, since you get the equivalent of combat advantage for the whole fight. Although three points down for a single person hurts.

Whats more fun is something like this, for a sci-fi game, when encountering a military alien docking bay. "Hey I recognize those alien control panels. They actually stole the ones I developed in flight school, that we should be using but aren't due to politics. I can fly these things" two points to the ground.

You could actually add this to D&D if you wanted.
With my group, we all hook up and make characters together (or failing that shoot each other emails) in order to integrate backgrounds well with each other and the setting. They will take me aside and let me know any "secret" elements of their backgrounds and I'll let them know if it works for the setting or not. With them having been exposed to the others backgrounds as well it sparks new ideas and encourages them to occasional have crossovers in the backgrounds to explain some of the PCs connections prior to the game. The other thing that helps me as the DM is it acts as a road map of the players intentions. By seeing their backgrounds and seeing where there are commonalities it helps me figure out how to integrate them into the plot. Obviously that doesn't work for everybody, arranging schedules can be difficult, but at least with everyone emailing etc it helps out a lot. It allows them to make detailed backgrounds but still insure that not only am I aware of what they've got hanging out there but the others do as well and everyone knows that these are things that could be popping up in the course of the game.
I usually try to incorporate at least some of a characters background into the story, or help further define a characters background by coming up with a campaign element and then talking with the player(s) about how such a thing would work for them and ret-con it in.

In the upcoming campaign I'm planning on relying VERY heavily on backgrounds and character goals. To help with this, I'm going to take our first game session and devote it to the players setting up the campaign and their characters. I really don't expect any real role playing in the session at all.

Detailed character backgrounds are a gold mine for GMs!!!
My suggestion is not to go much over a page or so. That way you have a solid base for your character, but still have a lot of room for improvisation. Of course, that's just what works for me.

If you want your DM to incorporate your back story into the game, you really need to give him a copy at least a day in advance. Plopping down a 40 page tome of your character's detailed personal and family history, food preferences, quirks, allergies, and fashion sense five minutes before the game starts is really not the best way to let your DM digest it. He might appreciate your dedication, but won't find any use for it aside from a paperweight.