Ways you can incorporate character stories into your D&D campaign

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A good Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) campaign brings together many aspects of the game. There’s exploration, combat, and of course, story. If you focus too much on one of these things, the others can get away from you.



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Of course, players almost inevitably favor one aspect over the others, making it a tricky balancing act for the Dungeon Master (DM). A great way to keep players engaged with the story is to incorporate their characters’ stories. In this article, we provide a ton of suggestions on exactly how to achieve this, because it’s no small task.

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seven Involve someone they know in the story

It’s the one we all think of first, isn’t it? Pull a “Luke, I’m your father” moment and make their spouse, mother or brother the big bad (BBG) of the campaign. It’s certainly a familiar trope, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be done well.

If you want to make their loved one your BBG, we won’t stop you. There are, however, other ways to achieve a similar effect. A good way to start is that, rather than making the player character important to the story, make a character from their backstory important to the story. As if, instead of Vader telling Luke he was his father, Vader turned and told Luke’s childhood friend Biggs.

Here issome others Suggestions to help you start brainstorming:

  • An important historical figure was friends with their ancient ancestor, giving them access to critical new information.

  • The BBG is close friends with the character’s mother, and the mother must decide who to believe.

  • Their brother was actually the one who dropped little inconveniences on the way to the party this whole time, not the BBG, because they hoped the character would give up and come home to safety.

  • The BBG begins to impersonate the character around those close to them.

  • The character was raised to believe he was the hero of a prophecy, only to find it was actually his dead twin brother he never knew.

  • The nerdy kid the player character used to bully is now an expert in the research field the group is investigating.

  • An old friend is actually one of the BBG informants (or another major figure, like the king or the local spymaster).

  • The character’s mother adopted them years ago (unknowingly) from the BBG or the BBG’s relative/friend.


6 Challenge their preconceptions and internal biases

This is good life advice for everyone, but in D&D we specifically mean that you have to invent situations that challenge something fundamental about the character. Perhaps a religious person sees proof that the God they worshiped is not as benevolent as they thought. Maybe someone who grew up playing by the river learns that they were watched by the local fairy or a wizard.

Whatever you choose to do should hit home and lead the character to reflect on himself. These preconceptions are based on something – prick until the source is revealed! Who did they fight with when they were kids? Who taught them the world? Where did they grow up?

It’s all in the execution. It may seem tempting to prepare for a big reveal; maybe they spend the whole session fighting until the end of a dungeon, only to find that the mastermind is of a race they didn’t expect, like a goblin. While this no doubt works in some cases, there’s also something to be said for more mundane achievements that go deeper and give the player time to react. Maybe an elf who grew up with this elf-dwarf rivalry spends time talking to a dwarven princess, learning about dwarven culture.

In both cases, the real goal is to open the door to more story-related RPGs go forward.


5 Give an NPC a crush on them

Lots of DMs did it without a second thought. Something romantic between a character and an NPC can be anything you could dream of – a one-sided crush, a secret affair, true love, and so much more – and it provides great drama for the story.

However, have you considered using it to peel the walls around a character’s backstory? Romance, as many of us know, can bring up past feelings and emotions in the blink of an eye.

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For starters, different people have different feelings about the whole thing, from how formal courtship should be, how long people should wait before getting married, to how intimate partners should be before and after the wedding, dozens of other details. Where did the players character get their opinions? How will they affect this new relationship?

If the character has a childhood crush or a dead or similar lover, even better. Will they allow this new relationship to be influenced by the past? Does he still have hope? Did they swear never to love again?

Once you hook the player to something, feel free to add a curveball and dig deeper into their story. Maybe their old lover is coming back. Maybe their new lover dies. Perhaps their mother decides to intervene on the subject. Up to you.

4 Fill in the blanks with secrets

When creating characters, many players write disturbing or mysterious stories. We’re all somewhat guilty of that – after all, it’s the sort of thing that happens all the time in fantasy fiction! Percy Jackson doesn’t know who his father is – until he turns out to be a literal God.

If your player has given their character a mysterious backstory like this, we encourage you to pick up a pen and start inventing it. Of course, you should check with the player first to make sure they don’t have an answer in mind that their character simply doesn’t know. Even if they do, there will likely still be cracks to fill.

This strategy is especially effective if you can make connections to your campaign. Is their absent mother in fact the BBG of the story? Did their grandfather have a letter in his library that gave them a missing piece of the puzzle? Was their family profiting from the BBG plot?


3 Include a visit to their hometown

The home visit is a naturally charged and emotional experience, whether positive or negative. Of course, for this to work, your player character must have a place to call home. at.

Consider things like…

  • How long has this character been missing?

  • Is it the same or different from what they remember?

  • Is their family still there? Have they moved, died, aged, etc.?

  • Where would this character hang out in his hometown? To which places would they have strong memories attached?

  • What happened to their friends and people they knew passing through, such as a neighbor or a local trader?

  • Did they have a pet growing up?

  • How has the region changed? Is he richer or poorer? Has a small village become a bustling city? Was it conquered by a neighboring king?

  • Is it a multicultural region? If so, is it multicultural within one race, or are there multiple races living here? Has that changed since the last time the character came here?

If their hometown happens to be where the campaign began, that can also make for a great ending for the story.

2 Write a character that reminds them of a loved one

Like the tip for giving an NPC a crush on the character, this one doesn’t directly involve the character’s backstory but rather helps create natural opportunities for the character to talk about it with NPCs and party members.

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You’ll get the most out of it if the person is the character recalled is someone with whom they had a complicated relationship. An ex-lover? A former comrade who left them for dead? A mentor who trained them? A neighbor they’ve always been jealous of?

Also like the previous tip, you can involve the backstory even more once you’ve hooked the player. Maybe the person they were reminded of suddenly reenters their lives. Or die. Maybe the character is a little too mean to the NPC who reminds him of his father, and the NPC is fed up.

1 General tips

Most of this article has shared examples of specific ways to incorporate player stories into a D&D story. To conclude, we would like to share some tips that you should keep in mind when using one of these ideas or creating your own.

  • At the start of the campaign,
    you should have a zero session where, among other things, you discover all the stories of your players.
    If you want to incorporate them into the game, you may need to improvise information that the player has not decided on. It can be as simple as their mother’s hair color, or something as extreme as the makeup of one of their childhood friends. In a zero session you need to confirm that your players are comfortable with it and ask if there is anything they would prefer you not improvise.

  • Ask your players to let you know if they make any changes or expand their backstory.
    It would suck for you to improvise or include something that goes against what they decided, just because you didn’t know.

  • To tell a compelling story as a DM, you have to pay attention to detail.
    Observe the behavior of the character
    so it can inform how you bring up their backstory. They can give you the perfect opportunity without even realizing it.

  • Make sure other players don’t feel important,
    underestimated or ignored by focusing too much on a character’s backstory or giving them a much bigger role to play. This can also be solved by incorporating all characters’ stories in different ways throughout the campaign.

  • If it’s not fun, don’t do it.
    This simple rule can lead to many positive changes in your campaign. Long fight sessions not fun? Shorten fights. Talking to researchers isn’t fun? Get out there and find out for yourself. Dry politics isn’t fun? Find a more violent solution. Your campaign and players are unique, and the game is made to accommodate that, so don’t fall into the trap of pushing too hard on something (a plot point, character, setting, etc.) that no one is enjoying.

Good adventure !

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