For my Dads and Kids D&D campaign that I started last year, I was interested in making sure that all the characters had clear, easy to understand motivations that linked to aspects of the adventure. I would be running the Lost Mine of Phandelver from the new D&D 5th Edition Starter Set, so I identified key aspects of the adventure that I expected the characters to encounter, in hopes of driving the story forward as easily as possible.
For my daughter, the adventure would be her first introduction to an ongoing D&D campaign. I wasn’t sure how easily she would follow the narrative, so I wanted to make her character’s ties to the story somewhat clear and straight forward.
Interesting character backgrounds can provide a dungeon master with plenty of opportunities to introduce “adventure hooks” for the players to follow. Adventure hooks should provide objectives that are meaningful to the players and aid in advancing the plot. Tracking down a missing shopkeeper is far more compelling if the players already have some connection with them.
D&D’s newest edition has introduced some great tools to describe a character and their motivations through the use of backgrounds. Backgrounds help new players with the role-play aspect of the game, encouraging them to think beyond the raw stats, number and mechanics their character possess. A background’s details go a long way towards describing who a character is and what their motivations may be.
For the new campaign, my eldest daughter chose the following for her character:
Caelynn Siannodel, Neutral Good, High Elf Wizard, Noble
- Character Traits: The common folk love me for my kindness and generosity. I take great pains to always look my best and follow the latest fashions
- Ideals:Blood runs thicker than water
- Bonds:Nothing is more important than the other members of my family
- Flaws:By my words and actions I sometimes bring shame to my family
Without spoiling too much of the adventure, the story starts off with the character’s escorting a dwarf’s wagon full of goods to a remote village.
To craft a meaningful background, I needed to consider what would send my daughter’s character off on this adventure. Why would her elf wizard, a relatively well-off noble, be traveling with a dwarf’s delivery run to an out of the way village? Why wouldn’t she just stay home, safe in her family’s estate?
For me, the key aspects of my daughter’s chosen background were the importance of family. Her strong ties should be what drives her character into the dangerous adventuring life.
I decided to leverage a wizard who the characters discover is missing early in the adventure as a nice tie in for my character’s background. I would also yous this background story as a means to introduce some of the history of my home-brew world.
Note that parts of this backstory are outside of the context of the published adventure. They are undefined elements that I may expand upon as the characters explore, presenting opportunities for continuing their story beyond the Lost Mines of Phandelver.
Here’s the resulting backstory I created :
Caelynn Siannodel’s family are the overseers of the village of Glasobel. This small elvish village lies where the Norcelu stream escapes the Dark Forest to flow into marshy Esgarlo Lake. The lands about Glasobel provide plenty of food for the townsfolk as both the forest and the lake offer up their bounty to people that make the small village their home.
Yet for all this bounty, trade with the outside world is limited. Here in the borderlands, a distrust lingers between elves and men. Hate filled wars of centuries past still cast a shadow across both peoples, tainting their relations with distrust, and reducing the number of human traders willing to make the journey to the backwater elven village.
Relations with the larger Elvish nation are not much better. Many important Elvish nobility did not approve when, many years ago, the Prince decreed that Galinndan Siannodel (Caelynn’s grandfather) should be raised up from a lowly wood-worker to be the lord of the village. A number of ancient noble houses resented the idea of a commoner receiving such a lordship and have since failed to view the remove village as a proper Elvish holding.
In recent years, an important Elvish noble house has pushed to rescind the lordship granted to the Siannodel family. They claim that the original decree of lordship was falsified by the Siannodel’s and that the heroic deeds attributed to Galinndan Siannodel were lies fabricated by a desperate commoner. The political pressures have increased so much that the Siannodel family is now forced to justify their noble rights and seek out proof of the deeds done so long ago by Galinndan, or their lands and nobility may be stripped away.
To that end, the Siannodel family had contacted a human wizard named Iarno Albrek, to seek out the grave of the Elvish Prince Gador Silverleaf. It was this prince who Galinndan was said to have saved in battle. It is believed that Galinndan gave the prince a family token, a precious wooden amulet, and that the prince cherished the token so much that he had it taken with him to his grave. If the Prince’s burial site can be found, and Galinndan’s family token found with the buried Prince, then that should be sufficient proof to verify the Galinndan’s tales of bravery and the reason for him being granted the noble title of Lord of Glasobel by the dead prince.
Unfortunately months have passed since Iarno, the human wizard, was paid to seek out these answers, but no word has come. The human wizard was said to have headed towards Phandalin, a small village on the edge of Baljute.
Caelynn’s family has good relations with a Dwarven merchant who makes an occasional visit to their village. This dwarf, Gundren Rockseeker, is heading to Phandalin shortly to pursue his own interests. The family has asked Caelynn to travel to Phandalin with one of Gundren’s supply caravans to track down the human wizard Iarno, in hopes of finding proof her grandfather Galinndan’s heroic deeds so long ago.
CAELYNN’s PERSONAL QUEST: Travel to Phandalin and find the wizard Iarno Albrek. Seek out proof of her grandfather’s heroic deeds by finding the elvish prince Galdor’s Tomb wherein it is also hoped that a token of Galinndan Siannodel can be found.