When playing D&D, I find the most important and hardest step is character creation. You’re given a slew of options and need to build a narrative, a personality, quirks, and a functioning stat line. Most importantly, your decisions are permanent. If you’re preparing for a campaign, you might be locked into the same class and backstory for months or years. If you’re a worry wort like me, you might fear you will have to play a character you don’t like for hundreds of hours of game time. It’s stressful.
In order to help others assuage their fears and worries about character creation, I wanted to detail the moments in character creations that have led to my having the most fun. In this first piece, I wanted to discuss shared backstories.
When we first started playing D&D, our first encounter would always include our characters meeting each other. Our DM would savor the moments describing us, reading from our scribbled descriptions of ourselves and highlighting the look, feel, and mood of our characters. Once we were done being introduced, the characters would begin to talk. After saying our names, someone would begin to squabble with someone else. The rogue would steal a bottle of vodka from the bartender, and the paladin would turn him into the police. The two players in real life would begin to argue. The “fun” continued the whole night.
The dolts we were, we would often play several sessions with a diametrically opposed party. While the DM tried to shepherd us from one encounter to the next, we would constantly pursue our own agendas. These campaigns never lasted long and, to be frank, they weren’t very entertaining.
This all changed the day that our DM sat us down before our newest campaign. “Okay,” he said, taking out the character sheets he was always kind enough to print out for us, “today, I’m not starting the encounter until everyone in this party has a reason why they know each other.”
The mood of character creation changed immediately. Instead of us sitting in quiet consternation and leafing through the player’s handbook, we were cracking jokes and coming up with stories. We built our characters with the other players in mind, choosing our quirks and interests so they complimented each other. We had a ton of fun collectively story-telling, and that fun continued in the actual adventure. Suddenly, our characters worked together. We usually stayed on track, and, more importantly, when we strayed from the plot, we strayed as a team. Our characters cracked inside jokes. We loved and despised NPCs together. It benefited our play immensely.
Over the years, I can attribute shared backstories to some of my favorite campaigns. In one campaign, a friend of mine and I played as two brothers, one an assassin and the other paladin. While they disagreed with each other’s ways, the familial bond made their relationship one of respectful disagreement. Additionally, these shared backstories strengthen your character’s development by encouraging them to push each other in dialogue and action.
Not everybody wants to work on shared back stories, and not everyone can (it doesn’t always make sense in a one-off environment). However, if you’re interested in building more parties based on shared backstory, I wanted to share some tips for creating your party I’ve learned over time.
- You like and respect each other
Parties that get along can often collaborate to get up to amazing antics or accomplish phenomenal deeds. I’d recommend that every party starts party creation with the assumption that every player character likes each other. This doesn’t actually limit the party at all. As mentioned in the paladin and assassin example, two seemingly opposite characters can respect each other and become fun narrative foils.
- Always ask the other player what they would like
In one rough character creation session, a rather new player was working with a more seasoned veteran. The new player wanted to be a character with a noble background. When the veteran asked him how the character would fit into the party, the new player said, “Well, I’ll be your former lord.” The veteran looked at him confused and replied, “No, I don’t think that’s going to happen.” The table sat quiet for a second. The DM jumped in to explain to the new player how he couldn’t dictate others’ backstories.
If you’re building backstories with others, lead with questions. Ask them what they would want. Don’t accept anything until you land on a shared story that both of you are happy with. If it’s not a “hell yes!” from both of you, it’s a “no.”
- Ideally, you all know each other
I’ve found that there is a positive correlation between the number of characters that have a shared background and the amount of fun the party has. Characters can know each other from different moments in their life. Three characters can all be childhood friends; two could have fought in a war together; two more worked together on a heist. The more connections the party has going into it, the better the party will be. This gives each player more to draw from for storytelling, and it gives the DM more to use.
If you’ve ever played a long campaign, you can likely remember the fun of having a shared history and chatting amongst your characters now that they’re old friends. Why not start there?
Hopefully, you can these rules to build a better party and have more fun. As always, these are just suggestions. However, I hope you try them out!
Do you have any of your own rules for crafting parties? Comment them below!