It’s no secret that I’m big into tabletop roleplaying games. TTRPGs are the source of half the characters I’ve put into my comics. My entire career in comics is thanks to making a Diviner Wizard in Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Second Edition in the very early 90s and recreating him for a Third Edition game about a decade later.
I still play TTRPGs to this day. In fact, several times a week I play remotely with some of my closest and dearest friends. Over the years I’ve settled into a type of character I like to play, and I hope by example I inspire others to do the same.
My favorite characters to play are ones with no remarkable backstory to speak of.
Creating a character with a rich and complicated background is a fun exercise to be sure, but I’ve come to feel like that’s more effective for writing a character in a novel or a comic than one that’s meant to be played with others. Creating a character who’s yet to have any grand adventures or life-changing experiences sets the stage for your character to live those moments, alongside the other players, in truly collaborative storytelling.
It also makes sense if you’re starting from Level 1, or whatever equates to that in whichever system you’re playing. A beginning character is truly setting out on their adventure for the first time, with all the strengths and flaws to their character yet to be developed. The stats for Level 1 aren’t meant for seasoned veterans or characters who have experienced a lifetime’s worth of joy or sorrow. They’re meant to be the stepping stone for those moments to come, to shape this new person into the seasoned veteran they’ll hopefully become.
And, speaking very personally, lengthy character backstories bore the hell out of me. Maybe I’ve been playing TTRPGs too long. Maybe I’ve been stuck behind one too many convention tables and forced to listen to someone’s character idea they’ve begun spouting at me unsolicited. Maybe I’ve just heard it all at this point. If you’re playing a TTRPG with me, I want to build character experiences alongside you, not be the audience to your story. There are other people at your table. Play with them. Don’t make them watch you play.
In our most recent game, I began playing a Level 1 Wizard who was an eager student. He hadn’t had any remarkable experiences yet. His parents are alive. His magic was gained the traditional way, by learning it. He was a truly clean slate and I couldn’t wait to see what happened to him. We’re only at Level 2 and there are so many new things about him I never would have come up with alone. Because I left his story wide open and built upon the experiences I had with my friends at the table, his story is truly collaborative and it’s been thrilling to watch him develop.
No word yet as to whether or not he’ll eventually make an appearance here. But don’t bet against it.