Ever wondered how to write a fantastic backstory for your Dungeons and Dragons character? I’ve been playing D&D for years, so I wanted to share the best tips I’ve learned.
Here’s how to write a D&D backstory:
You create a D&D backstory by developing a character concept, writing 2-3 representative personality traits, highlighting 3-5 pivotal life events, and defining their fears, obsessions, secrets, motivations, family, and appearance. You can also use a template and automatic background generator.
In this article, I’m going to share my top 10 tips for writing D&D backstories.
You’ll also get examples of backstories, a free D&D backstory template, and where to find automatic D&D background generators.
What Is a D&D Backstory? (Simple & Quick Explanation)
A backstory is a brief summary of the highlights of a character’s entire history. It’s everything that takes place before the current adventure.
You create backstories to prepare for playing a Dungeons and Dragons one-shot or a full D&D campaign.
Backstories are important because they can influences a character’s actions in the plot of any adventure.
How To Write a D&D Backstory (10 Best Tips)
Here is a list of 10 things you should do to make your Dungeons & Dragon backstories complete, interesting, and fun.
1) Interview Your Character
Make your Dungeons & Dragons backstory unique and original by interviewing your character.
The better the questions, the better your backstory (check out the 20 questions I’ve listed later in this article). By asking questions, you can quickly uncover information that will make your character the most memorable of the adventure.
Ask questions like these:
- Why did your character start adventuring?
- What are the 3-5 most important people or things to your character?
- What are your character’s biggest strengths?
- What are your character’s biggest weaknesses/flaws?
Note: You do not need to (and probably shouldn’t) include ALL of the information from your interview.
Character interviews will provide you with excess information that you can then wean into something more streamlined and unforgettable.
2) Keep It Short
The best backstories are the ones that have depth but aren’t too complicated or long-winded.
They should also be entertaining while still being believable enough to fit into the world of your D&D campaign.
How long should your backstory be?
Aim to keep your backstory between 300-500 words. If you want to go the extra mile, add a shorter summary of under 300 characters so that you can quickly explain your character in a few sentences.
Think of this as your elevator pitch for your character.
You don’t need an entire novel written out before playing your first game. Just follow these simple steps, take D&D notes, and get started with your campaign.
3) Identify Your Character’s Desires and Goals
Backstory goals are great material for your game or dungeon master, so be sure to mention them.
Every backstory should include a purpose and developmental objectives. Your character’s mission in life that drives him or her.
The character’s aim serves as the character’s primary driving force, and everything your character says and does should revolve around this ultimate objective.
Also, consider how far your character is prepared to go in order for them to obtain what they desire.
An example is if your character lost their family in a tragic event, and they now want to seek revenge on those responsible.
The desire for revenge compels them into adventures. Perhaps they are willing to do anything for revenge—even sacrifice themselves or their friends.
4) Create a Solid Timeline for Your Character
Plotting out the key events in your character’s past can help you better understand your character’s personality and point of view.
The best way to do this is by thinking about the big pivotal moments in their life.
What 3-5 events shaped them the most? Perhaps a marauding army wiped out their family (or village). Perhaps they lost a finger battling a troll. Their fear of dark spaces might be rooted in getting lost in the woods as a child.
This exercise will not only allow your character to feel more alive, but it will also enable you to demonstrate character development throughout your character’s lifetime.
5) Add a Good Amount of Conflict
A good backstory is not complete without conflict. Conflict is either external or internal—or both.
It’s important to not be too over the top with the conflict though. Too much of it can cause the character to come off as cliche and not feel genuine.
When you’re developing a compelling conflict for your character, consider these questions:
- Who or what is keeping your character from achieving their objective?
- How can they overcome it?
- How does your character self-sabotage?
Remember to pick a conflict that is enjoyable and entertaining for you to execute. If it’s not intriguing for you, then it likely won’t be for the other players either.
6) Create a Name for The Hometown or Village
Next, come up with the name of your character’s hometown (or how they will refer to it throughout their D&D adventures).
When creating a name for the hometown or village for your character, try to keep it simple but creative.
Use elements of your character’s backstory to tie in with the possible name for their hometown.
A great illustration of this is if your character is from a place where caves are common, then their hometown could be called Dragon Cave or City of Caves.
Here are some other examples:
- Arnak – Capital city of the Empire of Arnakkann, ruled by King Valkar Legionheart
- Ironwatch – City of Dwarves, ruled by King Ironbeard
- Magmatooth – Once a massive and well-known sea-port, now destroyed and lost forever.
- Murdhaven – Situated on the Western borderline of Stonehold, rumored to host a deadly clan of barbarians.
Play around with different prefixes and suffixes until you manage to combine some that resonate with your character and their backstory.
7) Explain How Your Character Started Adventuring
One of the first major events you want to cover in your backstory is how and why your character started adventuring.
Figuring this out will guide you into a deeper understanding of your character and their motives.
For example, if your character is a half-orc who grew up among humans, perhaps they naturally stepped forward to protect their village. Their reputation for strength, honor, and fighting off enemies might attract the attention of powerful figures who recruit them for adventures.
8) Highlight Your Character’s First Big Adventure
When it comes to describing your character’s first big adventure, focus mostly on the main points. Try to keep your writing concise.
What occurred during your character’s initial adventure will become their introduction to everyone in the D&D realm from that point forward. It also serves as an “anchor point” of reference for all future adventures.
After all, in the real world, we often filter our new experiences through the major events of our past.
That is why it is crucial to spend some time on this step.
9) How Does Your Character Interact with Other D&D Races?
D&D is home to some fascinating creatures, each with their own history and culture. This makes them all very exciting to explore.
Whether your character is a friend of Elves or an enemy to Orcs, be sure to showcase how they interact with different races.
Be sure to include a good reason for their views.
Did an Elf help them out of a rough situation before and now your character feels all Elves are trustworthy and kind?
Did a Gnome help destroy your main character’s hometown and now they believe all gnomes are deceitful?
10) Define What is Special and Unique about Your Character
Making your character stand out from all the rest can be a bit of a challenge. Try to zero in and focus on their traits, strengths, weaknesses, vulnerabilities, and secrets.
Building off of those ideas can easily help you develop someone original and special.
Let’s assume, for example, that I want my hero to have some kind of magical power but also believe he’ll need a skill set that includes stealth.
Maybe he could become undetectable or teleport short distances without being seen by others around him.
There are many possible ways that you make your character special.
Here are some examples of different combinations that you can attribute to your character:
- Half-Orc who was raised alongside humans.
- The ability to turn invisible.
- Holding a strong sense of honor.
- Fey ancestry so magic does not put your character to sleep (giving you an advantage).
- Can fight with two axes at the same time, one in each hand, which makes him deadly during combat.
It can be tempting to think interesting backstories must include some great tragedy.
Here’s a video that goes over why you should “ditch the tragic backstory” for something more original:
How To Write a Good D&D Backstory?
What makes a good Dungeons and Dragon backstory is one that is concise, creative, and original. Certain elements should be included to ensure that it is interesting.
A good Dungeons & Dragons backstory needs to be:
- Realistic within the world/setting
- Complete (answers the three main character backstory questions)
For example, if your backstory includes things like murder and robbery, it might be a good idea to explain why your character doesn’t get in trouble for these things.
1) Realistic within the world or setting
The best way to do this is by digging into the details of the world. Figure out which ones are the most fascinating to you and how you can connect them to your character.
If you’ve discovered what you like and admire about the environment, use that information to develop your character’s backstory.
For example, if a certain location in the setting appeals to you, say it is where your character goes to get away from the difficulties of their everyday life (or maybe it is their hometown.
Also, strive to ensure the backstory is consistent with the campaign setting and make sure that it fits within your Dungeons & Dragons world.
If magic is very rare in the world of your campaign, you probably should think carefully about creating a wizard. You can still create one, just keep in mind your character will either be very famous, hunted, or secretive.
2) Use descriptive narrative
Try to use sensory details to create images in the mind of the reader so they can “see” what is happening and where it takes place in your character’s background.
Use words such as “bitterly cold” to describe the weather, or “rough and leathery” to describe your character’s skin.
Make sure that you focus on “showing” instead of “telling” when it comes to describing your character’s backstory.
One way to do this is instead of writing, “it was a dark and stormy night,” try to write something like “Raindrops pelted the window like bullets as I stared out into the blackness of the night. Lightning flashed across the sky, briefly illuminating my face before plunging me back into darkness.”
3) Answers the three main D&D character backstory questions
A good D&D character backstory answers questions about your character’s race, gender, and archetype.
- Race: Your character’s race is often directly tied to your character’s life experiences. For example, the many tribes in D&D are constantly fighting for supremacy, wrestling with holy prophecies that affect their daily lives, and performing all sorts of rituals that impact future generations. Some races even evolved on separate planes of existence (like Tieflings) which would make them very interesting.
- Gender: Gender is a complicated subject. For some, the idea of not choosing a gender may seem strange or even boring. In D&D certain NPC’s might treat you differently based upon your gender role. In fact, there are male-only and female-only guilds in D&D that can affect your character’s storyline.
- Archetype: An archetype is a shorthand way to describe your character. You can also call this a character concept. Think of the “strong, silent type” or “barbarian princess” archetypes. The idea behind the archetype is to give your character an outline for what they should act like. Often just choosing one archetype will help you understand other aspects of your character’s story.
What Is The Best Way To Write a Character Backstory?
If you’re not sure how to write the character’s backstory just yet, remember that it is always best to start with what is most important to them.
Start with extremes, obsessions, and “greatest” traits.
For example, write about their greatest fear, greatest wish, or their greatest flaw.
Another thing to remember is to write your backstory for your character in the first person. You can stay in character easier, which often leads to better roleplay.
If you’re struggling with any of the tips in this article, don’t worry.
I’m about to share some examples of D&D backgrounds, a full D&D background template, and how to use autogeneration to write your backstory in seconds.
D&D Background Examples
One of the best ways to learn how to write a D&D backstory is to study real-life examples.
Example D&D Background #1: Fighter
I have bestowed the title of “Anchor” to my noble family’s legacy after my father passed away. I quickly became very renowned amongst the people who knew me, because it wasn’t just my family’s name that I upheld. I have taken it upon myself to uphold the good name of my family and people among neighboring regions.
My greatest strength would have to be that I am more than willing to help someone in need of aid.
My greatest weakness would have to be arrogance. I am quick to judge those who don’t seem like they can help me or those who may be completely different than what I normally expect. It has gotten me hurt before and it’s a serious problem that I need to fix.
When I was young, my father told me stories about a horde of orcs that were going to attack our village.
However, he instilled in me the bravery and courage to stand up for myself and others. Since then, I have been working my way toward becoming a strong fighter so that others may stand with me when someone or something attempts to harm them.
Example D&D Background #2: Rouge
My parents were famed treasure hunters that died when I was 9 years old.
They left me all of their equipment and information on where some of the greatest treasures in the land are located, along with a half-faded map. I know that taking up this life is dangerous, but it’s the only thing I’ve known so far.
My greatest strength is my ability to sneak around others and steal their belongings without them ever noticing. My greatest weakness would have to be a lack of fighting skills. I know how to protect myself, but it’s not like I can just stand up against an army of orcs by myself!
Example D&D Background #3: Sorceror
I am the son of a great and powerful elf. He has trained me in magic since I was born and now that I come of age, he is sending me out into the world to prove myself as well as warn others about an evil sorcerer who wants nothing more than to take over the realm.
My greatest strength would be my ability to learn powerful spells. My greatest weakness would be my lack of physical strength and toughness. I can hold my own against an opponent, but I rely heavily on magic.
When I was younger, one night while everyone was asleep, a dark cloud appeared out of nowhere and lightning struck at the edge of the village. I ran toward it to see if I could help, and when I reached it, I helped put out the flames.
The next morning everyone commended me for my bravery and courage. At that moment, I knew that someday I’d need to be brave again.
D&D Background Template
I always appreciate a good template, so here is one I created for making D&D character backgrounds.
It’s completely free to save, download and use, so please let all your D&D friends know about it.
The template is pretty self-explanatory, but let me mention a few points for clarity:
- The “type” is where you put “rogue, fighter, mage,” etc.
- You can always replace the image to match a character that resembles your character (You can use free software like Canva).
- In the “personal profile” section, include a very short, snappy description of your character. This will probably be what you read to other characters before your campaign.
D&D Character Background Questions (20 Good Questions)
Here are twenty good questions to ask about your character when creating your backstory:
- What are your character’s biggest ambitions?
- If you could compare your character to someone in real life that would help others understand them, what would it be?
- Why did your character start adventuring?
- What is your character’s most prized possession?
- What are three things that describe how your character dresses?
- If your character could invite any person in the world to a dinner party, living or dead, real or fictional, who would they invite and why?
- What are your character’s biggest strengths/weaknesses?)
- What are your character’s biggest secrets?
- What horoscope best describes your character?
- What do other people notice first about your character?
- What things does your character hate, but will put up with for what he wants/loves most?
- What clothing does your character wear?
- What are your character’s hobbies or interests?
- Is your character a lover or a fighter?
- How does your character conduct themselves in public versus when they’re alone with close friends and family? Why this disparity?
- Is your character spiritual or religious?
- If you could pick one god to be the patron deity of your character, who would it be and why?
- Does your character have a family? (living parents, a spouse, children?)
- What three smells instantly bring memories of your character to mind?
- Is your character a morning person or a night owl?
D&D Background Generators (Automatic D&D Character Background)
There are two automatic tools that I love for generating character backstories.
Here they are:
“Who the F is my D&D Character” is a website that randomly creates a funny but creative (and very short) background for your character. Use it to spark some laughs and reflection about your character.
Each time you go to the URL, you get a new character bio.
Here are a few examples (note that the website does contain profanity):
- Flamboyant halfling rogue from an affulent upbringing who aims to learn every language in the land.
- Plain-speaking half-orc rogue from the shattered mountain range who is afraid of dogs.
- Philosophical half-orc monk from a strict monastery who can’t stand the sight of blood.
Jarvis is an AI writer that continues to astound me with its versatility. I use it to create online content, marketing, video scripts, and even D&D backgrounds and campaigns.
Jarvis created all three of the example character backgrounds shared earlier in this article.
Final Thoughts: How To Write a D&D Backstory
The most rewarding part of writing a character’s backstory is playing it out with other characters during a campaign—no matter what the Dungeon Master throws at you.
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