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Witty Wordsmith: 5 Questions for Better Backstories

StarBase 118 Staff

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You’ve done it!  You have just graduated from the academy with a shiny new ensign!  Or maybe you just put yourself forward to play a pivotal new mission NPC.  Now you’re sitting with a blank wiki page and wondering how to flesh out a good character backstory that will make you and your fellow players want to read about and care about this character for months if not years to come.

1: Where does your character come from?

This is such an important question in defining a character’s backstory that frequently gets overlooked.  Say you want to play a human, but you want to make your human officer unique from other human officers on the ship.  Think of how different your character would be if they were born and grew up on a harsh colony world instead of Earth.  Or if they are a proud Lunar citizen and have a bunch of quirks that mark them as one.  Or maybe they grew up on a starship.  All of these locations turn a simple concept in a complex and interesting character.

Also consider – did your character grow up with lots of other species, or was everyone of the same species?  Or were you one of the only humans (or Vulcans or…) living in a very different culture.  Pick a location and build your character’s outlook, culture and quirks from that foundation.

2: Who is your character’s family?

This question asks you to think about not only who your biological family is, but who your character was raised with.  Were you raised by your parents or by adoptive family or by a large multi-generational family?  Does your character have siblings?  In this step you can start creating unique ideas.  Perhaps the race you are playing has grandparents and great-grandparents raise children while the parents are off exploring space or fighting wars.  Perhaps your character left with a favored aunt and uncle when they were a teenager so they could break away from stifling parents and see the galaxy.

Resist the urge to write off your character’s family as being dead.  You don’t need to have the character’s family be NPCs in the game in order for them to be a vibrant influence on the character.  And you can really play with how their background and upbringing was shaped by considering how they were raised and by who.

3: What did you do before joining Starfleet?

Whether your character joined the academy as a fresh faced 18 year old or waited and joined when they were an adult with decades of experience under their belt, you have a story to tell on what they did before the academy.  Consider our proud Lunar Human, who broke off to travel on his or her Aunt’s and Uncle’s ship to see the galaxy.  What did they do before then?  Was their family stuffy academics that expected the character to go into the family business of making educational holoprograms?  Or were they busy farmers who just never considered that anyone would want to leave the important job of moon-farming?  Did the Aunt and Uncle fly a straight-laced Federation freighter delivering to Starfleet starbases or a rough and tumble merchant ship trading in exotic goods with strange races?  What you did before Starfleet can really shape and color the character.

4. Why did you join Starfleet?

This can be a great defining moment for your character, and it will really shape how your character interacts with your fellow officers and command staff.  Was Starfleet something the character always wanted (or expected) to join?  Was it a good option that got them out of a bad situation or a wonderful opportunity?

Back to our Lunar officer, maybe they picked up engineering skills from a life of fixing farm equipment and were able to apply them on their Aunt and Uncle’s Federation freighter.  Maybe they caught the eye of a Starfleet engineer who became a mentor and sponsored their entry into the academy.  This gives you an extra hook – maybe one day they need to rescue that mentor, or they will have a disagreement or the mentor will become a guiding voice of wisdom for them as they rise in ranks.  Thinking of the reasons that made them take the entrance exam and sign the PADD to start their Starfleet career can define a pivotal moment in the character’s life and give you ideas for scenes that you are excited to write about in the future.

5. What did you leave behind when you joined Starfleet?

This is such an important idea that a lot of players miss out or skip over when they create a character.  Embarking on this new adventure as a Starfleet officer is grand and exciting, but it also means you almost certainly left something behind.  Does your character miss their family, or perhaps an alien character misses elements of their culture?  Did you leave anything unresolved when you left for the academy?  Do you have friends, mentors or rivals that are out there in the galaxy?

Our Lunar engineer might regret leaving his or her family.  Maybe the family is proud of the engineer but they never had a chance to express that, or maybe the family is upset and won’t talk to the character.  Either way, the more details you can add into what your character left behind gives you automatic ideas of things you can write about during shore leaves and down times and gives your character room to grow and expand.

Remember, a great backstory isn’t written to impress others, but to give your character hooks that you can grab onto and write about.  This will keep you interested in writing about the character for many missions to come and give you a great framework to develop and grow the character as the adventure progresses!

The post Witty Wordsmith: 5 Questions for Better Backstories appeared first on UFOP: StarBase 118 Star Trek RPG.

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Great tips! I'd love to see some of this implemented to the cadet bio template we currently send in the third tutorial at the Academy to encourage stronger characters right out of the gate.

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