Writer: James D’Amato
For those familiar with table top role-playing games, you know that character creation can be the best and worst part of the game. For new comers, it can be an intimating task. If you’ve been for years, you may feel trapped or that you simply are recycling ideas. Or maybe you just haven’t thought of including that time a love god who seduces and discards lovers with thoughtless grace and a god who is a force of order who expects all things to move with precision over as house guests in your characters backstory. No matter what level of player you are, having a little assistance in developing your character’s backstory is useful and keeps the game going when the party isn’t at the table. In The Ultimate RPG Character Backstory Guide, you can follow prompts and activities to flesh our your character’s backstory; providing a more robust role-playing experience.
The book is broken into three main parts: Humble Beginnings, Veteran Heroes, and Myths and Legends. Each section is filled with prompts and activities designed for characters in specific level ranges; 1-7 for Humble Beginnings, 8-14 for Veteran Heroes, and 15-20 for Myths and Legends. The author, James D’Amato, even includes a further breakdown of what you can expect to accomplish in a typical session based on your level. From surviving an unlucky day for low-level characters to settling a cosmic dispute or defying a god for higher level characters. While experienced players may know their limits, the gaming community is growing at an exceptional rate (thanks to designers getting their games out through crowd sourcing and to creators, like D’Amato, who publish game session as podcasts—called actual play) and novice players may rush into a situation they simply aren’t ready for.
The bulk of this book (271 pages and 100 exercises) focuses on playing out scenarios to help flesh out your character. Part of the fun playing role-playing games is the role playing—which is also the most intimating part of it. Knowing more about your character is a tremendous help—isn’t it easy to be you? You have a WHOLE backstory you’ve known your entire life! Often, as role players, we grow attached to our characters—a rich backstory can make it an emotional attachment. The first chapter, Humble Beginnings, holds 34 activities to help figure out some basic details about your character—from understanding your alignment and fears to creating a rival or mentor (or both!).
One of my favorite exercises from this first chapter was creating a holiday. Not only is this a great way to flesh out your character, but also help build the world—unless you’re playing in a game that is set on Earth, likely your game world won’t share many holidays with our world. In my exercise, I ended up creating a holiday that celebrates the poor with a contest! BUT—it requires a mating ritual and if you don’t celebrate, you will be cursed with bad luck! There are additional options that allow you to get your party involved in the silliness and is a great activity to either work on alone, with your GM, or even with your table if you want to get real silly.
There is an argument that could be made that anyone could come up with their own backstory, but as someone who often runs into creative ruts, The Ultimate RPG Character Backstory Guide is a fantastic tool. While the obvious use is for your character in a role-playing game, I see tons of great potential for both character backstory and world building in games, writing, and general storytelling. While I was using a digital copy (which is ideal for printing and writing on!) to review, I’m awaiting my pre-order of the physical book to be delivered today. I can tell you that it will be something that I carry with me on a regular basis. You can order your copy of The Ultimate RPG Character Backstory Guide on Amazon now.
James D’Amato has previously been a guest on Everything is Awesome, you can listen here.