How I Learned the Importance of Backstory in Role Playing

This is the story of I learned how a character's backstory ultimately makes role playing all the more fun in DnD


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I had only played a few one shots by my sophmore year of college, so I didn't have much experience in even playing the game, let alone role-playing. That said, I had wanted to get more into for a while at that point, so when a friend of mine invited me to join a campaign he was running with our other friends, I jumped on it. As I said, I hadn't played a lot of long term role playing games before, so I didn't know what it would be like, but I was confident in my abilityto do it in game. A little over confident in fact. 

Again, not having much role-playing practice, I built what I had felt was a good character. A half-elf coastal druid named Nayah, who had been grown up in the wood-elf kingdom before being taken to sea by her father after her mother's death. I thought this was a great backstory, but I soon realized that wasn't the case. As I tried to role-play her, I found a hard time figuring out what her motivation was for adventuring, where she stood on certain moral struggles, and ultimately, what she had learned and gained from the life she led so far. Looking back on it now, I see ways I got have revamped her backstory to give her some development, but by the time I realized the problem, I, as my druid, had made so many decisions that had contradicted basic things like her alignment and why she fought, that I found it almost impossible to write a concievable story that could explain everything up to that point. 

Thankfully, either the DM or the dice gods decided to cut me a break, and my druid was killed by some powerful monster that I honestly don't remember the name of. I got to make a new character. I decided to learn from my mistakes. I knew my character needed a motivation, a backstory that brought her to the very point where she meets the party.

 I ultimately decided on a drow warlock named Namira, who had grown up in the Underdark to an upperclass family, and had been in line to become a preistess of Lolth. Despite her status though, she was rather spoiled, and often relied heavily on the powers Lolth blessed her with to get what she wanted. This may have been alright in the Underdark, except that Namira wasn't very strong beyond those powers, and wasn't as interested in carrying out Lolth's will as simply doing whatever she wanted. So when the day came for Namira to take her place as a new preistess, Lolth rejected her, and told her that she wasn't worthy or strong enough to serve her. The drow's younger Nadia was given the honor instead, and the minute she took the throne, ordered the guards to sieze Namira. In her run to escape, she hid in their manor's study and searched for anything that could help her fight back, but all she found was a a gate scroll. Hearing the driders and her sister searching for her, she decided to use and escape to the material plane, planning to get train until she was finally strong enough to come back to the Underdark, and obliterate her sister Nadia as she had planned to that night, on what should've been the best night of her life. 

This ended up being how Namira met the rest of the party. Her gate scroll ended up bringing her to a dungeon they were in. This was where I got to see if I had truly made full-fledged character, and if I had any skill at all in role-playing. The party hid upon Namira entering, believing she was a monster. Our monk decided to try and attack her from behind, but missed miserably. Namira took that blunder, and the fact that she now knew where they were hiding as a chance to attack. After all, they attacked first, and she wasn't going let a bunch of surface dwellers take her down. Not after all she's been through. She cast thunderstep, knocking back everyone who was close by, including the monk that attacked her, and teleported right behind a weaker looking NPC, holding a dagger to his throat, read to slice. "That wasn't very smart," she remarked. The other party members were taken back, not sure what to do both in and out of game. They had had evil characters in their party before, but none so blatantly willing to kill them all if they didn't do what she wanted. This was also the first time I had ever done something so drastic simply because I felt my character would do it. I was loving every minute of it.

Namira had every intent on killing the party at that point for attacking her, but upon realizing their size and strength, though she certainly wasn'y going to admit it, she knew she couldn't beat them (all of this unbeknownst to the party of course). So when our other druid, and the group's defacto leader Finn tried to talk her down, I let him,  and released the NPC I was holding hostage. Namira stuck with the party after that, first out of reluctance simply trying to find her way out of the dungeon, but then, albeit begrudginly, out of necessity, as she slowly realized the Lolth was right. She wasn't strong enough on her own to be the powerful leader she wanted to be, escpecially in the material plane, with so much she didn't know. 

A lot has happened in the campaign since then. I've done my best to make decisions I felt would fit with her backstory and thought process, even as new things in the campaign add on to her experiences. I've gotten better at role-playing, and I've never forgetten how important it is that a character's backstory does what it's supposed to: give your characters the motivations, desires, and needs, that fuel their actions that they go one their adventures. Namira wanted power, but she needed experience, and her motivation was fueled by being stripped of everything she depended on and the ultimate betrayal of her sister. These details to her personality made Namira all the more fun to play, and an overall better experience in the campaign, that I'm still with to this day.


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