Have you ever played D&D? Or have you looked at D&D sheets? Have you ever wondered if it was worth investing your time in D&D just to create a backstory?
I want to share a story with you all, a story on how we made a fully fleshed out character using D&D sheets and rules in the space of a couple of hours. It doesn’t answer all the questions that you would have when creating a character but it almost writes a book. Let me show you what I mean.
Quick note: You must forgive the names of the characters below. My human likes to use popular names to make his D&D crew giggle at the references.
How It Started
My human plays D&D on a Sunday with a group of friends spread across the globe. Recently they finished a 6 month campaign. They had new players and a D&D who wanted to try a more in depth campaign. He instructed everyone to create a basic character of a few lines and he would build the world around what everyone made.
My human came up with the following.
Human male, bounty hunter. Ma was half elf, da was human.
Dad worked as a city guard ma was a hunter. Dad was killed when working for city guard. Betrayed.
I became a bounty hunter to hunt down my dads killers. I duel wield cross bows. I fear the dead walking. I put a crossbow bolt in those I’ve killed just to make sure they are definitely dead and won’t come after me when i have my back turned.
This is the absolute bare basics. He then had to take this data, transfer it to a basic D&D sheet with description of look and dice rolled points, plus all the other little campaign details that come with that character.
Where The Story Comes In
Last night the D&D master got back to his crew individually. No one knows who is playing what unless he tells them. This is what he had to say to my human:
Is your ma still alive? How did you become a bounty hunter? What event triggered the fear? Why a crossbow? Tell me some people you met along your life journey? Give me history on your parents?
You are meeting Budg in a bar, when the campaign starts you will have done 2 jobs together, he is a mercenary/bounty hunter too. Discuss details with him. You are also meeting a bard in the bar who is going to listen to your exploits and start following you around.(another player?)
My humans natural response.
Yes, O my Dungeon Master. Your will shall be done, I shall spare no effort…..
Kelly! I need help!
And That’s How We Came To Write The Following
Step 1 Flesh Out The Parents
The parents have a massive influence on the life of your main OC. It is important to take into account how your OC was brought up. Always make some note on what the parents (or parental figures) were like when your OC was growing.
Mam. Half elf, scout / hunter.
City Watch, human. Betrayed and killed by a politician. A powerful noble who works well within the city, he is loved and trusted by all except those who really know him. One day Dad was working an evening shift (not his normal shift, he is covering for a friend whose wife has just had their first newborn), the politician had been through, really nice as usual on the outside, telling them all to take it easy, the city is safe they are doing a good job. Dad still does his rounds and finds smugglers on the docks working with the politician. Upon failing to buy him off the politician has him killed.
Mam is a good scout, a good hunter. Upon hearing about her humans’ death by scavenging thief she suspects foul play. She hunts for an answer but can never prove it. She shares what she believes actually happened with her son. The Smugglers that are rumoured to be active and working with someone in the city. Someone high up. To get to this person high up you have to find the smugglers, you have to find out who they are working with/for.
Step 2 How Did Parents Meet?
You never know when you might need this information when writing your story. You don’t want your flow to be halted by a sudden realisation of “wait…how did they meet?”
Dad used to work as a guard for travelling caravan, it is in this way he met the half-elf mother. She was an outcast from her own clan due to her lineage but surviving very well as a hunter. The caravan is attacked by a fearsome beast. Mam charged in because the beats that attacked the caravan is the self-same beast she was hunting down. Working side by side with dad in a fearsome battle, the battle was won. The meat from the beast was used to feed the caravan as it continued their journey and she was invited to stay with them as an extra guard. She agreed to this with a little persuasion from dad.
When the caravan reached the city mam and dad settled there. Dad taking up a post as a guard and mam working as a local hunter. They lived inside the city gates, though mam had a hunting lodge a few miles from the city which she sometimes spent days at as she skinned and prepared her hunting for sale.
Mam and dad together were instrumental in protecting the city from a band of raiders who tried an attack in the night. Mam had been coming back from the hunting lodge late that evening and realised something was wrong.
She was able to rouse the guard and her husband and launch a counter-attack before the battle had really begun. It was a long and confusing night for both sides but when the sun rose it was clear the city had won as not even single raider had been able to set foot inside.
Step 3 Main OC Childhood
Early years can have a massive impact on how your OC will carry themselves in later years.
Childhood Growing up he was taught by his father n the use of the crossbow. This was dads favourite weapon. You still have his favourite hand crossbow which he gave to you when you finally proved you could hit a target without causing injury to those nearby.
You kept sneaking out of the city gates to play with the crossbow on the nearby barrows (gravesites) with your bestie (human, female, Yennifer). Mam kept trying to scare you with how the undead will not appreciate your actions. Dad tried to warn you. And then one clear night as your crossbow bolt glanced off one of the larger headstones the mist rolled in. All those stories your parents had told you flooded your mind.
Creatures started to move in the mist that had arisen so thick you could no longer see much around you but you could hear the muffled terrified cry of your friend. You called her name as you fired wildly at the sights that would haunt your dreams forever. You could see a creature almost Cleary now, standing above you, tall in the mist, its scabbed skeletal hand pulling the crossbow bolt out of where its heart should have been. You flee in terror. You got lucky that night. Your bestie didn’t.
Step 4 Main OC Teenage To Young Adult Years
Whether you include this kind of history will depend on how old your OC is. Remember to include people they meet, while insignificant now you may find them walk back into your story years later.
You always wanted to work towards joining the city guard, like your father. This changed when your dad turned up dead. Of course, your first thoughts were of vengeance, dad would never stand and watch if a member of his family had been hurt, but there was no one to take vengeance on.
Then weeks after you buried him, when the dust had settled and a politician had approached you to offer you assistance in reaching your goal as a city guard in your fathers’ place, mam sat you down and told you of her fears, of fearing a politician working with smugglers was behind it, of not knowing which politician and not wanting you to get involved with any of them.
Not only did you take her words to heart but with this new information, your life took a different course. You knew you had the opportunity to give your dad vengeance, you needed to find these smuggles, you needed to start at the docks.
This of course leads to a dead-end, it had been too long since the incident, you had only the little scattered pieces of information your mam had found. But the exploration of the docks was not completely useless as you saw someone running full pelt towards you, bloodied blade in hand, and a wounded but determined dwarf charging after him with an axe. You cannot help but get involved and you tackle this obvious criminal to the ground.
Start of Bounty Hunting Career
The dwarf introduces himself as Gimli son of Gloin he is claiming the bounty on this here scum and wants to thank you for your help asking you to meet him at a tavern later in the day. When you next see him his arm now bandaged and his axe now slung across his back he is beard deep in ale. You join him, he buys you a drink and some good food. He tells you some stories of his bounty hunting adventures. You become firm friends over a long and very drunken night and leave with him days later with your mum’s blessing to become a bounty hunter.
You stay with the dwarf for a year, then he goes on a long bounty hunting mission near his homelands and you decide to stay behind. With your new skills finding information on the smugglers who were responsible for your dad’s death should be much easier, or so you hope.
Step 5 Recent History
What was your character doing just before the story started?
Took a bounty hunting job, The job was for a snobbish noble who did not trust anyone. He wanted his daughter found and brought back as she had run off with yet another frivolous young boy. You took the job because what the hell, good coin easy job. While the job you find yourself battling to do the job with another mercenary/bounty hunter who also had taken the job, easy job good coin. That backstabbing no good noble had hired multiple people to find his daughter and not told each one about the others.
After much deliberation between your crossbow and the other bounty hunters (insert weapon), a deal was struck the coin would be split and you would share a drink or two.
While at the bar celebrating an easy win and laughing off the black eye one of you had gotten from the feisty young lass you dragged home you overhear that another job is on the table with the barkeep himself. His delivery has gone awry on the road should have been here days ago, the stock is running low, needs someone to fetch his booze. You have both had a few drinks and are in good spirits agree to immediately.
The bandit fight that followed was pretty intense, but there was booze lying around to drown some of your sorrows, most of it made to the barkeep, you blamed the missing bottles on the bandits.
While discussing your latest adventure and laughing over the bandit’s reaction to being overwhelmed by two semi sober bounty hunters someone else comes to join you at your table. He looks sort of familiar and you take another draught as you try to place the face you have seen before, wondering if its another one of your mams messengers. Introduce the bard.
What Is My Point?
This only took 2 hours. If I was to take this D&D approach with all my story characters it would make things so much simpler, easier, and logical. In helping my human to create this character I have realised how efficient D&D character modelling is.
Using this method to create a backstory for my OCs will stop me from having to stop writing to think about the details as a lot of important questions will already be answered.
What do you think? A good plan? Will you try this? Can you see how this would work? Let me know what you think of this rough and ready approach in the comments below.
Find more help on creating your OC here.