It is a commonly accepted truism that D&D players generally care about the backstory in your game slightly less than they care whether Mr. Rogers kept D. Scholl’s or Odoreaters in his sneakers on the set. But I’m here to tell you that this is not true… and furthermore, if you’re spending all you time making up that backstory. you’re working too hard.

Why? Well while it is true that most players don’t give a fig about the backstory you created, they do care about the story they create for themselves. For less imaginative players, that story may be, “My character shows up every week, sword in hand.” but for others, their stories can take on the dimensions of little campaigns in and of themselves.

For instance, I have a wonderful player in my group, we’ll call her… Moxanne. We’ve been gaming together for years and she pretty much always plays the same way. She ignores events that aren’t centered on her, never reads the handouts I so dutifully write up for everyone, rarely has much if any idea what capabilities any of the characters at the table have, including her own, and when she chats at the table it’s much more likely to be about some celebrity who died or something she saw online than anything about the game. (Moxy is the source of the occasional ipod-at-the-table joke you see in HOLE.) For all that, I would never dream of starting a game without her. Why? She makes my job easy.

When Moxanne makes up a character, she begins filling in that character’s life with enormous detail and humor, which while they probably don’t have anything to do with anything in your campaign world, are all pieces you can pick up to build your adventures around. Now I’m not talking about a formally written character background, Moxy would never do anything like that, but the constant stream of likes, dislikes, mannerisms, and characteristics that flow like water as soon as she becomes the spotlight can effortless make a game. What’s that you say? You hate lizards and you think that wine drinkers are more refined than ale drinkers? Viola! The lizardmen are attacking. They’re here for your cabernet.

It’s always good to have an overarching theme in mind for your game. It doesn’t have to be set in stone, but it helps to serve as backbone for your campaign. However, paying close attention to your players and staying flexible with your stories will serve you better than you think. When a player makes up some silly detail about where the whalebone that her childhood dolly’s eyes were made of Β came from, only to see that tiny bit of information expand into an adventure for the whole group, the buy-in will be huge, and your fun will go up accordingly.

BTW Moxanne, in case you’re reading this, (which she never does) this is totally about someone else. You’re perfect.

11 Responses to 420

  1. Lena, I guess you know who that is referring to?

    I would also like the ability to make adjustments to the plot or story based on a character back story. However, I am the only player that I have ever had who has created a back story beyond, ‘dis guy REALLY doesn’t like mages’. I look in wonderment at the variety of players and think “Why can’t I join a group like one of those?”

    Most of the players that I come across are meta-gamers, playing the rules rather than the game, however, I never meta-gamer I didn’t like (hehehe), after all, medium/ok gaming is better than no gaming.

    Re the comic: When playing Shadowrun, it was a common thing for my character to leave a message on a computer with an upload to a news broadcaster with all the details of the run I was on, which was set to send if I wasn’t back a few days after I should have been. This was occasionally useful as a bargaining chip, kind of like the comic for someone who doesn’t have a huge organisation at their command.


  2. Learning that the players are never going to be as interested in the campaign backstory (or sometimes even the backstories of their own characters) as I am was a lesson it took a long time for me to learn. And apparently, I’m still learning, because I have begun making detailed notes on converting my old D&D setting to 4e, even though I know nobody in my group will ever read any of it. The difference is that this time I’m doing all of this work for my own benefit, rather than theirs.

  3. You hit my point exactly there Ron. It is really nice when players do show an interest, and it becomes something special when that happens, but as soon as you start doing it because it makes YOU happy, then you will never be disappointed again. That said, there are usually one or three players in a group who will sink their teeth into your campaign, and as a consequence get a lot more out of it. Even the players who don’t pay any attention to the backstory would miss it if it were gone. They do want to know that SOMETHING is going on back there, even if it’s only because it makes them feel powerful to be able to ignore it.

    As an experiment you should give them a bar, and let it be a place for exposition for something not really very important. Try to create a situation where they will want to yammer and not listen. Then, in a clear and loud voice, say something like, “Frustrated, the noble snatches the glowing golden sword back off of the table in front of you, and stalks out the door.” This could happen anywhere, really…

    “The children squeal with glee as they grab the bagful of coins you walked past in the middle of the street, hurriedly running off into the alleyways.”

    “Tired of waiting for an answer to his riddle, the dragon bites off the druid’s head.”

    Just wait until you’re sure no one’s listening to you, so they can’t say for sure that you never mentioned the bag of coins earlier! πŸ˜€

  4. Hi, my name is Euph, and I care about backstory.

    So much so, that every dead character in Ron’s games has at least three pages of history.

    Even when I know they’re going to die in one session.

    And I still try not to read any Mystara spoilers, just in case.

    But I’m a freak.

  5. @Byron. I had to go look up the origin. I’m less than enlightened… well I was. I know everything about everything now.

    If only Kevin had realized the number. He could have had a theme strip.

  6. I have to say I followed a link to this comic and was really interested in it till I tried to read it from the beginning. You really need to fix how this site navigates. The only way to go to the first page of the comic is to go to the blog. I didn’t mind this so much because the blog is interesting and funny but it also skips most of the pages with comics on them which was the original reason I came to the site.

  7. @Tyson We are working on the navigation. If you go to the “Archives” link at the top, you can see all the strips. Or if you click the “go to first comic” in the upper left corner of this page, you will get the first comic with previous/next buttons.

    We used to have the blog and the comic in two separate places. We are closing down the blog side (holecomic.com/blog) and incorporating it into the single site (holecomic.com). So, the blogs are over here now, but need to be incorporated better. The plan is to have this done within a week.

  8. @Tyson: Dude, you are SO right! We are totally working on this as it has been a continuous problem since the redesign. I will be integrating the blogs and the comics myself this Saturday, so that there will be NO pages without comics. We WILL be fixing this, and soon.

    Thank you very, very much for commenting on it! That’s how we know what needs fixing!