Some players love creating backstories. Others - not so much. Some have some implausible justification for their nth “lone wolf” character that involves being raised by strangers/animals/monsters.

Here I am proposing a simple structure that not only makes back-story creation easy, but it also give you and the DM great hooks for later development, connections to the campaign world, NPCs for connections, and even relationships with the other player characters.

Every journalist 101 class has the questions Who, What, Where, When and Why. Let’s put some contxt on these.

Who are you - in D&D terms, that is your background. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (in D&D that would be Guild artisan, Soldier or Spy). This represents your prior experience, and will shape you are and how you act.

What? This question is what happened after that begining, to bridge between that and your first level adventuring class. Involved in this will be a where and when.

So for example: Snorri was a Dwarf with a background of Pirate. (I was actually envisaging viking - but pirate fits). I asked the question why would usually water fearing dwarves would be pirates: perhaps their coastal mountain range has been overrun by monsters, and they have been forced into raiding other lands for subsistence? I was going to play a Paladin. So how does Snorri go from bad guy pirate to Paladin? Well - perhaps the captain does something that pushes Snorri too far? In this case, they take a woman and child prisoner, hoping to ransom them. It turns out they aren’t worth anything, so the decision is made to toss them overboard.

Snorri isn’t good with that. In a flash of inspiration he remembers the odd monastery on an island that somehow his people never raid - some bad past memory of it being well defended - or too poor to be worthwhile. Anyhow, Snorri suggests that maybe those crazy monks on the island would give them something for these two. With nothing to lose, they drop off Snorri and the two prisoners to see what they can get. Snorri persuades the monks to take in the pair. They ask him if he would like to stay too. Snorri agrees - but he has to take something back to his captain. The monks agree to give healing and provisions to that clan anytime they stop by. The deal is struck. Snorri stays, and learns the tenets of his new faith.

So what do we have here: we have a backstory that connects a seemingly implausibe race/background/class combo. It provides the DM with a possible patron organisation that the character feels connected to and invested in. It also give a pair of other NPCs or even a player character (female) and NPC that can be used later as connections or hooks.

Then to kick off the adventure, the DM asked me “why I would be travelling to a city that was the home of one of the only people in the realm able to cast raise dead?” I answered: “The monastic order had been tasked with returning to life an important figure to their order, and I weasd travelling with the body in question as bodyguard to request that service.”

There you have it. Useful hooks for the DM. A reason for me being at ground zero for the session start. A possible connection to another player character. An organisation that I have an emotional connection to that can ask favours of me, and an NPC that can reappear later (the child I rescued). And finally, a clan that left me at the monastery. Perhaps they will make demands, or feel let down by my choices. I don’t need to fill that in. The DM can do what he wishes with it.

See for an example of this kind of thinking.