Friday, January 27, 2017

Bring Your Backstory To The Table


I figured I'd wrap the week up by finishing talking about backstories and your game. On Wednesday I talked about how the GM shouldn't use the PCs backstory, or elements from it, for cheap tension and drama. Today I want to talk to the players about why you want to make sure you bring your backstory up over the course of the game, if only to share it.

For The People Who Write Novels
I want to be clear, that this advice is mostly for the people who write novels for their backstory. You know who you are. The idea of condensing your backstory to a page or two is actually painful (maybe I kid?) and if you had to do it, you'd probably provide a bulleted list. You know the character's full story, and it's an origin worthy of the greatest comic book hero, villain, or protagonist role in your genre of choice.

Other people - myself included - often like to keep things simpler. Two to three paragraphs is all I think I've ever really needed to tell a character's story to the beginning of the game. I've done more because I wanted to, but in general I like to keep it simple. It leaves me room to define later in game as need be. It gives room for the character to grow without breaking history.

But I digress, back to the longer backstories. There is nothing wrong with these. If you like them, by all means keep at them. However, a story that no one but you and your GM get to know is pretty much a waste.

Rich Internal Landscapes
John Wick calls these long backstories "Rich Internal Landscapes." I could talk about it, but let's let Mr. Wick say it himself. I can't get the video to start at the time, so the part I am referencing begins at 8:14 into the video.

The idea also goes deeper than just helping get the most out of the story for yourself. It also helps with the tension and drama. People at the table should be along for the ride with you on the adventure. If they know you have a nemesis from your dark and mysterious past, they can wonder and thrill alongside you when the GM brings it up. They can help you bring it out. They can push you and your character to make it the most. Even better, they can give advice out of character on ways it could go and things that could happen that maybe you didn't think of but are super cool.

It's All About Trust
In the end, it's all about trust. You either trust the players around your table with your character and that character's story and you don't. I'm not going to judge, but I can't think of a reason I'd bring a character into a game I couldn't trust with that group. That doesn't mean I don't climb out on a ledge as far with some groups as I do others. I'm a lot more likely with my Friday group to put myself in a potentially compromising position because I trust that group to support me and not let me down. So Friday gets some of the more avant garde pieces, while Sunday D&D gets a murder hobo with a rapier and a lute. Both work, and both work for the game.

Do the same with your game. Because if you can't trust the group with the backstory, you probably don't want to be playing that character there anyhow. Too much chance for pain, and too much chance for all that effort to be wasted!

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