Whaddya mean: a backstory? Every roleplay group leader gets asked this question when they request a character bio or backstory from a new member.
Your backstory is about who you are and why. Many roleplaying groups insist you come in with a fully developed backstory that gives your entire history from childhood on. Some will accept a brief synopsis that is more about how you got there. Both lay the foundation for who your character is in their world and how you came to be that way. The idea of creating a whole life history can be very intimidating for a novice roleplayer; take this into consideration when you choose a group to join. If you lay your whole life out on paper, you can easily limit your character growth as you move forward and learn.
While it may be attractive to be the daughter of a deposed monarch who seeks to avenge her parent’s death and has come to this realm seeking alliances to do that, it severely limits your interaction possibilities. The more you say up front; the more you have to live up to and support with your roleplay going forward. If you really must be royalty, think about being royalty in disguise and do not define your goal. You will open a much wider field of possibilities. In general, produce the minimum backstory the group will allow. Some roleplayers write pages and pages of history or use up every tab in the Picks defining their story. If you have the creativity to do this, by all means go ahead but try not to back yourself into corners from which you cannot escape.
The most flexible backstories are those that say the least. It can be as simple as my original The River Lands backstory: “Fitheach is a high elf, long separated from her family, who has been wandering for many years and has now found her way to the River Lands. She may have secrets to hide.” This leaves you wide open to change almost anything except your race and you should not change your race in the same character; that is against most group’s rules. This backstory has not defined any rank, nor told why she has been wandering or why she came to the River Lands. It implies there is more to be discovered.
With a backstory this simple, you can embellish your history as you go along; adding details that you like when the conversation allows. It allows you to grow your character’s history as you grow in your roleplay (rp) abilities. In my case, since I chose to be a druid healer in RL and studied to pass each level of that guild, it gave me time to consider why I became one. And that led me to reveal that I had run away from a family of elf mages who forced me to study magery when I had no gift for it. It still allows me to drop small details of my wandering as time goes on. It is the details that develop your character over time and dictate how you act and react in a group roleplay.
Here are a couple of web links that give additional help in backstory creation:
Now it’s time to make it happen! You’ve done all the groundwork to establish your character, chosen a race, determined your alignment, written a back story. This is when you pull together everything you have built and create the character you intend to be. Remember your alignment and how it will drive your behavior. Your race will also affect how you act, an elf will be more reserved, a dwarf grumpy, a fae will be hard put to take anything seriously. Your back story plays into any personal information you might share and also may affect how you react to situations.
Maintaining your character’s personality is most important in these early days. This is the time you establish yourself in your roleplay group and consistency is key. If you scoff at authority in one rp and then kowtow immediately to them in the next you will establish yourself as nothing more than inconsistent. You can be subtle; let people see over time how you react to authority. Or be obvious and push back at them as soon you encounter any structure but be consistent. Freeform roleplay is like street theater and maintaining your persona through all the interactions that occur can be extremely difficult. Concentrate on a few key behaviors and let them establish who you are to your chosen group.
If the roleplay is scripted, you will have more time to develop your style. The plot will be laid out in advance and you will have a set part to play, just make sure that part reflects who you intend to be. In real life theater, actors are trained to use repeated actions and mannerisms called business to help establish their character. If you trip over every doorsill, you will soon be known as clumsy. If you stand aloof and look down at everyone, you will be seen as haughty. It is that easy. Are you a rogue? Stay in the shadows; look furtively about when you do move. A pirate may swagger about boldly and speak loudly. Just describing your actions will help establish your character.
Choose your clothes to reflect your character as well. If you want to be a down home sort of person do not deck yourself out in velvet. Go for the linen and denim or homespun depending on the style. Elves and fae generally need clothes that are more fantastic; rangers need leather and perhaps armor. Vampires need black and red Victorianesque or modern clothes. Shop or create with your character in mind, your wardrobe is as much a part of your character as your alignment and frequently more visible. A signature piece of attire can help build a character as well as a repetitive piece of business. That sword handed down through your family, a distinctive hat, always going barefoot. Sometimes what you do not wear is as noticeable as what you do.
You’ve done your homework researching and testing to define who and what your character is; now it’s time to make it real. Jump in and start to build a portrait of exactly where you fit into the roleplay. By your actions and appearance establish a personality and a place for yourself and have fun!
Next issue will feature Roleplay Combat.