Having trouble coming up with a character backstory? Grab yourself a d20 and give it a roll. Now you have something to go off of.
Some of these are a little particular to my own campaign world, The Isles of Samsarras, the setting for the podcast Crumbling Keep Presents: The Isles of Samsarras. Feel free to change a few names and make it your own.
- You are the seventh daughter of a prominent family. Every seventh child inherits the sorcerous magic in their blood, the result of a pact with the demon Yarrloth many generations ago. You would be the first to use these powers for good. Now you just have to convince the hunters who vowed to end your bloodline.
- Your great grandmother was killed by the Vergin family. So was your father and aunt. Demon blood runs in their veins and, like your ancestors before you, you have vowed to put an end to it. You’ve heard tell that one of their progeny has been sighted in a near by town, supposedly helping the villagers. Seems its time to use your training.
- Sure, you used to dream of being an adventurer. Those were the dreams of a younger man, however. The farm doesn’t take care of itself and its almost harvesting time. It’ll be all you can do to get everything off the plants before it begins to rot. Then you have to put it all up for winter or risk starvation. Sure, its stressful, but you wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world. You still bring your longsword out to practice from time to time. Your thrust is still pretty good.
It’d be a shame if something happened to the farm…
- Your family has been favored by the Jarl since before you were born. Your mother and Grandmother have proven themselves on the battlefield time and time again. Every raid they embark on is successful, bringing back silver and weapons for the clan.
You’ve finally come of age. It’s your time to take axe and shield to your foes. Unfortunately, no one expected your long boat to sink. You made it alive to an unknown shore, but the rest of your clan is nowhere to be found.
- When you were younger, you had intense anxiety and depression. Your parents were affluent, thankfully. When nothing worked, however, they left you in the care of a monastery.
The master of the monastery taught you to name your inner demons. He taught you when to feed them and when to fight them. Knowing their names made it easier to deal with them. They have never gone away and every day you still struggle against them. The fight has served to make your fists hard and your wits keen.
It has become time to leave the monastery, now. Your master says this is where your training truly begins. Are you ready for that fight?
- You were born out of the union between dragon and man. In your culture, that makes you a saint of sorts. The dragon blood in your veins is viewed as godly, and perhaps there is truth to that: your paladin powers do things most worshipers could never dream of.
Here’s the thing, though: you don’t feel godly. You feel undeniably human, full of uncertainty, doubt, and regrets. Unable to bear what seemed like a false burden, you left your homeland and your saintly identity behind for adventure far from home.
- Your tribe worships death. She was the creator of all life, was she not? Dying for your people is as natural as birth. They do no strive for it, but they do not reject it. All things return to dust.
You wish to deliver tribute to your demon goddess. You flock to adventures and wars. Each is an opportunity to offer up sacrifice. Your blade is your implement and the battlefield is the alter.
- You have lived many centuries and the world has changed much. The peaceful years are over for the sylvan empire. You enjoyed them for most of your life. Evil gathers outside the walls now, and it is time to pay your dues. Like every elf, you owe your life to the Sylvan empire and to your fellow elves. You’ll guard this boarder outpost until the day you die and if it falls, you will spend the rest of your life seeking vengeance.
- Your parents were nobles in Varrek, but that was not the life for you. You’d sneak away at every opportunity to hear tales from caravan drivers about their journeys and far away places. Your favorites were the sailors. You’d spend hours daydreaming about the high seas in the middle of the desert.
When you were old enough, you gathered up some supplies and stole off in the middle of the night, leaving no note. From there, you found work with some merchants headed toward Elwin’s Cove. The journey was hot and long, but you had enough for a few mugs of ale at the end of it. You spent them getting a ship captain drunk enough to agree to take you on as crew. Now you sail all over the world, always seeking new adventure.
- Your job in your tribe was simple: master of hounds. You raised and trained all the dogs. Beastmaster ranger, anyone?
- The lost shrine of Tundar Ankin was a legend in your temple. It was where the dragon god first made contact with the world and bestowed his knowledge of metal work and ship building. Most of the acolytes believed it to be a myth. If it was real, someone would have found it by now. More than likely, it was just another story to instill morals in children.
Not for you, however. You would reread that tale night after night and dream of standing in its glory. One day, you found a scroll hidden deep in your order’s library. It seemed to be a map to the shrine! Now if only you could find someone who could make sense of it…
- Like many thieves, you learned to steal from necessity. Just a stereotypical orphan stealing stereotypical loaves of bread. That is all you would have been if it hadn’t been for that one night…
It was the priests fault for leaving the door unlocked, of course. You weren’t sure what that idol was on the alter, but you were sure it must be worth money. It was humanoid and deformed, but there were precious stones in the eyes. It was almost too easy.
You hadn’t been able to sell it, however. Come to think of it, you don’t want to get rid of it anyway. It should be with you always. The voices at night agree…
- You grew up just like any other gnome: with a very regimented life and slight disdain for most other races. You showed aptitude toward tinkering, so it took little urging to push you down that path. It wasn’t long before you we’re making all sorts of useful inventions in Gnomehome.
You were always bothered by the tales of the rebellion. Once a slave race to the Drow, part of Gnomish upbringing was a constant reminder of their struggle. What of the gnomes that stayed behind, however? They were rarely spoke of. Were they still down there as slaves? It’s time you packed up your tools and found out.
- The smell of burning wood. The screams of your neighbors. The savage voices of the invading Orcs. You can’t ever forget those sounds.
Nor can you forget how you hid under the floorboards, powerless to stop them. You live every day to make amends, though you fear you never will.
- You were part of the rebellion in Eastern Sunisia. You set out with a small group of soldiers and tried to secure your boards in an attempt to declare independence from the empire and it’s religious tyranny. The rebellion failed, however, and your squadron was scattered.
Now you adventure for coin, unsure of what else to do with your life. Still, you are hopeful that one day, the call to arms may again come.
- You remember nothing of your early years. Life before ten is a black abyss that you can not penetrate no matter how hard you try. Life after that is all to easy to remember as it was frequently pain.
You were groomed for the fighting pits of Zan Zan Turina from an early age. There was not kindness nor compassion in your life. There was only work and punishment. When you came of age, you were a beast. You mercilessly tore through your opponents, shedding their blood without regrets.
One day, however, opportunity presented itself. Your master was taking you to a new master for sale. Sure of your obedience, he was accompanied by only two guard. You killed them both in the street before doling out the same fate to your owner. You’ve been on the run ever since.
- You loved a commoner. That was your greatest sin. Unfortunately, your union was discovered. They were imprisoned and you were exiled. You still act like a noble as it is the only way you know how to act. Your circumstances certainly dictate otherwise, however.
- Your mother was a captain in the Sunisian navy. Those times when she was in port you’d spend pouring over maps with her and listening to her tales. You always knew that you would be just like her.
While not yet a captain, you now serve aboard a Sunisian ship. You sweep the coast line for pirates and raiders. Perhaps your ship will get captured or shipwrecked. Perhaps it will get called away on a greater adventure.
- You were paired with the giant eagle at birth. You were both raised as siblings and played in the same nest. The bond became very strong indeed. Now you are one of the elite of your tribe, riding the eagle over the wood elf lands. What great threat will you have to defend it from?
- Being a shoemaker isn’t the best, but it certainly isn’t the worst. People will always need shoes, the silver is steady, and you have enough to visit the inn most nights. A few of the local adventurers there have taught you a bit about sword work. You’re not great, but you’re far from terrible. Seems you’ll just keep frequenting that inn til something happens…