Players have a lot of decisions to make when they put together a Dungeons & Dragons character. Spell choices, weapon choices and where to put ability scores influence how a character comes together mechanically. But what about the fictional side of the character? In D&D, the Background choice offers some mechanical support for what a character was like before they became an adventurer, but it doesn’t tell the whole story. A character with a good background can give a Dungeon Master several wonderful ways to hook a character into dashing into danger.
A useful background doesn’t have to be a full-fledged biography about a character’s life before first level. Most serial stories take their time to spool out juicy bits of background info as the story unfolds. Sometimes it makes more sense to leave specific elements open so that what happens in the game can inform details. This series of articles offers five background questions for Dungeons & Dragons classes that a player can answer with a few short sentences whenever they want (yes, we’ll be doing one for each class). Players can answer these questions ahead of the first Dungeons & Dragons session, or DMs can facilitate this character building exercise with a session zero.
Ask these questions build your barbarian’s backstory.
What Is Your Relationship with Civilization?
Barbarians exist on the edge of the civilized world. How do you feel about those who bring law and order to the natural world? Are they the target of your wrath because of how they change things? Do you find something fascinating about their customs or technology?
Whom Did You Honor with Your Name?
Ancestry and familial ties are very important to barbarians. Barbarians choose names deliberately to honor those who came before. Are you named for a mythological figure? Did you receive your name to clear an ancestor? Is the person you are named for still alive?
How Did You First Discover Your Rage?
The barbarian’s rage is what sets them apart from other party members and other members of their own tribe. Did you go through a rite of passage to unlock these abilities? Do you think of the slaughter of your clan to trigger your fury? Were you taught that when you draw your blade it must not rest until it tastes the blood of your enemies?
What Is Your Place within Your Family?
The families and blood ties that barbarians have strengthen their tribes but also offer rich elements of drama. Are you destined to lead someday? Maybe you’re a black sheep adventuring against the wishes of your elders? Are you the last member of your family seeking to join your brothers and sisters in the afterworld?
How Do You Mark Yourself with Distinction?
Barbarians often cover themselves in tattoos and other strange markings to let their friends and enemies recognize them on sight and grow their legends. Do you scar your body for every adversary killed? Or do you dye your hair in honor of the animal totem you follow? Do you add a little bit to a full-body tattoo to chronicle each of your adventures?
Originally published on March 19, 2019.
Rob Wieland is an author, game designer (Star Wars RPG, Firefly RPG, Camelot Trigger) and professional nerd. who occasionally tweets and livestreams RPGs with the Theatre of the Mind Players while his meat body resides in scenic Milwaukee, WI.