To coincide with our recent post on the two primary guidelines for being the player in one-on-one D&D, we thought it would be helpful to go more in-depth on one of those: knowing your character.
Character development and backstory can be easier said than done, especially if you’re new to ttRPGs.
This post lays out 10 questions to help you think about your character’s backstory and discusses how you and your DM might collaborate on creating that backstory.
Before we sat down to talk about these 10 questions, Jonathan already knew some major things about my character, such as both of her parents are living, but they’re separated.
Persephonie’s mom, Esmeralda, lives in Waterdeep, and Persephonie splits her time between there and traveling with her father, Cassian, and the Vistani.
I recognize that not all characters will have two living parents or know who their parents are, but feel free to tweak these questions and work though how much your character knows about a particular circumstance or what they’ve always believed.
- How did your parents meet? or How did your birth come about? What is your relationship like with your parents at the present? What was it like when you were a child?
- Are your grandparents living? What’s your relationship like with them? What do you call them?
- Do you have any siblings? How close are you to them? Do you have any fond memories together?
- What was your life like growing up? Where did you like to go, or what were some of your favorite places to be? What did you enjoy doing as a child, especially in the place where you grew up?
- What are your religious beliefs and practices? (I’d encourage follow-up questions here, but it’s going to vary so widely between characters that I’ll leave that to you.)
- What was your education like? And how has that education affected your life to this point? In what ways has it continued?
- What are some specific, fun memories from your childhood? Things that shaped you in a positive way, that you look back on with happiness?
- What are some specific negative, scary, or traumatizing memories from your childhood?
- What is your daily life like (pre-adventuring)? What do you do for work? Where do you like to travel? Where would someone coming in from the outside see evidence of your character in your home or town? (Have they decorated in a particular way? Are they extremely neat? etc.)
- Who are some of your closest friends? What do you do together? What about your childhood friends?
Questions 7 and 8 were, for me, the hardest to answer, but I also think that they’re two of the most fruitful as those are the types of things that will shape your character moving forward.
See if you can push yourself and make those answers very specific, as detailed as some of your own favorite childhood memories. You may not be able to get there during the character building session/conversation, but you can get started and follow up later.
You can work through these questions on your own, and I encourage you to think about them, but I also think it’s easier, and perhaps more fun, to talk through them with your DM.
Ideally during the character building session/discussion, which I discuss in more detail below, you’ll get to build the world together, which is so crucial for two-person D&D. Don’t be afraid to ask your DM questions about the world, as those answers are key for your character development.
But, also be willing to answer some of those worldbuilding questions! Remember, this is something you’re creating together!
It would be nice to add in questions about how your character’s personal history led them to the particular class they’ll choose while playing. This can add in some really amazing RP opportunities for your character leveling up and growing in their powers and prowess.
Those questions will vary so much depending on their class and subclass that I won’t write them out here, but I’d encourage you and your DM to work though those elements, as it can be really fun and interesting.
Remember they’re part of a world
As much as you can and is appropriate, try to incorporate the character’s class and subclass into a larger community of like-minded individuals. This can really increase the vibrancy and detail of your world and make it feel more real.
However, if your character is unique or alone in this respect, maybe there are other ways to demonstrate a community of other people and how they’ve chosen their own separate path away from that.
or character building session
After our second session of Waterdeep: Dragon Heist, which we’re playing with two of our friends and Jonathan’s DMing, the two of us sat down to better get to know my character and worked through the questions above.
Jonathan took notes and emailed them to me afterwards.
I switched back and forth during our conversation between speaking in the first person as Persephonie and the third talking about Persephonie. This was a really helpful way to go about the character development for me, because it was low-pressure, and it was clear that I was figuring out some things along the way, but that didn’t make those things any less real.
We’ve had a few casual conversations about my character over the past couple months as she’s developed and we prepared to play, but this more official change of pace was really nice and fun!
It was a nice alternative to a session zero, which I don’t think it would preclude. (Session 0 is usually a low-stakes session of play where the DM can get to know the character and the character can get integrated into the world.) He talks about session zeros in more detail here!
I love about one-on-one play that it allows us to spend time together that’s creative and enjoyable. This character building session brought in a lot of those elements, but it didn’t take a lot of prep for either of us, so it was a great weeknight activity.
I’d really encourage you to try it out for your own campaign!
My Experience as a Beginner
For those of you who are new or relatively new to D&D, RPGs, or duet campaigns, I wanted to share some of my experience as a brand new player and what I had a hard time with in terms of character building at the beginning.
When we first started playing, there were plenty of in-game moments when Jonathan would ask me something about my character that I didn’t know. These moments made me nervous and threw me out of the game a bit.
I didn’t want to decide on something in the moment that didn’t actually fit my character, and it was hard to tell how important those details were.
Looking back, most of those moments were very low-stakes. There were a few that were more important, either in that moment or that became more important later, but anything I needed to tweak later about a spur-of-the-moment in-game addition, I could, no problem.
I hope that helps alleviate your concerns, at least a little!
We’d love to know more about your own character building process! How do you set about developing your character? What are your favorite character backstory questions?
Let us know in the comments below!
Image by Stefan Keller from Pixabay
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