Backstories

There’s a prevalent attitude that backstories exist just to let the DM screw with you.

Do you have a family? Expect them to die. A hometown? Dragon food. Do you have a favorite food? Expect a shortage.

While its easy, extremely easy, to use a backstory to try and motivate a player to actually care about the events unfolding in the world, constantly destroying their entire past is counterproductive.

One, it reinforces the attitude that backstories are a liability. That discouraged player creativity and discourages them from crating characters that are truly part of the world, instead of just passing through.

Two, it encourages the terrible stereotype of the lone lonely loner that has no past and no ties to anything, because no ties means no weaknesses. At the most extreme, it breeds edgelord nonsense, where all the characters are downright antisocial, and can’t even work well in a typical adventuring party because they are so disconnected from everything around them.

Three, it gives the impression, true or false, of the power mad DM. How dare the players create something?! Characters? A family? A hometown?! Bah! Such feeble attempts at world building are garbage compared to the might of my creations! Watch as I easily brush aside and destroy all you have created! I am the god DM, fear me!

Of course that is rubbish. It’s not just rubbish, it’s confrontational and dangerous to the game, and damaging to the most important part, having fun.

So what’s the solution? How do you regain the trust of the playership and undo possibly decades of bad training? I have two rules that I impose on myself when running a game.

One, the players can have nice things. If they want to build something, let them. Does it really hurt the game? If they really want a powerful magic something, let them earn it. There’s no such thing as “too powerful a PC”. After all, there are always bigger monsters. There is nothing that says the DM cannot create something big enough to challenge the PCs, regardless of how “powerful” they think they are. Let them have their victories. Let them have their fun.

Secondly, threaten, do not destroy. A village can be burned once. A princess can be murdered once. But an invading army can *threaten* a village many times. A princess can be put in danger countless way. Remember revenge is a powerful motivator, but the chance to save something, to rescue someone, is what heroes do! You want your players to be heroes, not vengeful ghosts. Threaten, do not destroy!

Heroism created the main timeline Superman. Revenge created the Injustice Superman.

Keeping these things in mind will make for a happier game with more of the most important part.

Remember, the First Rule of DMing if “Have Fun!”

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