There are many traits players can bring to the table that are less than desirable. From the edgelord who always starts in the corner not talking to anyone, to the non-adventurer playing an adventure-focused game. These traits can be tiresome. I put forth that in your D&D games, the trait that deflates a session, and maybe even a character as a whole, the fastest is the Background Uploader. In this article, we’ll explore what makes a Background Uploader, diagnose maybe why it is they do what they do so well and then, to end on a positive note, we’ll talk about ways to avoid it to include a cool background idea.
Hold on to character story
We’ve all been there. Fifteen minutes into the first session, you’re sitting at the bar getting a drink when you just happen to catch sight of an interesting individual at a nearby table. You pick up your pint and sidle on over our of curiosity to learn a little bit about them, just to be rewarded with a ten minute monologue like its straight out of a JRPG codex entry. An interesting concept dashed on the rocks of a massive information dump. If you’ve learned anything from talking with me, gaming with me or reading my articles, it’s that I tend to ask why for just about everything, so I must ask; “Why do Background Uploaders do this?”
Prepare your dongle for this background upload
Let’s jump deep into the common reason why players do this: excitement. I really do think it’s as simple as that 90 percent of the time. They’ve made this character they think is really interesting and a lot of fun, so let’s just show everyone else at the table how cool they are. To give credit, an interesting character concept and being a Background Uploader are not mutually exclusive. I will say that being a Background Uploader can often undermine all that well thought out writing, however. Imagine how weird it would be, or often is if you meet the right people, when someone tells you something very personal or intimate in your first moments meeting them. It feels uncomfortable. At the table, couple that with a general boredom that comes from a long-winded info dump and you have the seeds of disinterest and annoyance being planted in the minds of your fellow players a Game Master.
The major issue that comes from this act is the potentially squandered story arc and tension. Revealing the background of an interesting character should be a slow drip and properly foreshadowed. It’s especially potent when the GM is aware of your background and can weave it into the narrative, allowing it to reach a climax and reveal at a natural point of the story. There is the necessity for your fellow players to not dig too deeply early on. The GM can help with this by controlling pacing, like interrupting a conversation with a bit of action. I like battle banter for this, like in many fantasy films with characters fighting back to back, throwing quips back and forth. What if one character catches a glimpse of a tattoo or amulet that has deep ties to the world? They can’t have a true discussion about it at the time, but it’s something that can begin building tension from withheld information.
Let’s make a character
What can we do to remedy the situation? First, let’s get an example to work with, to more easily frame the method. Why don’t we use a halfling druid that comes from a circle that trains owls. However, this seemingly normal halfling is secretly a ghostwise halfling. Her training owls and having been trained to use great owls as mounts gave her a sharp, martial mind as well as having respect for animals.
In different scenes, this would be expressed not as her just giving five minutes of exposition about her past, but instead when encountering animals, describing the dismay at having to put down a brutal beast. Her mind as a warrior and knowledge of the natural world has given her the understanding and respect for animals, but not to a degree she would risk herself or her allies. She would often attempt to avoid harming animals and even sometimes soothing them, but would not be afraid to fight a threatening, inconsolable creature.
In the campaign, the ghostwise were a hidden, unknown people. She kept this hidden from her allies but in times of stress or dire circumstances would send a telepathic message to an ally to keep them safe. After a few instances of hearing a sudden warning in their minds, the other characters are becoming suspicious. Instead of creating an inquisition, the players understand the joy of slowly parsing out information over multiple sessions.
Another major benefit of having players who are willing to hold portions of their character in reserve is that as a GM, you are given the ability to write directly for the characters. While it’s still possible to do if they dump the information first session, it makes it a lot more exciting as you build tension through an entire story arc exploring a character’s goals and quandaries. As a GM, sometimes it’s difficult to find inspiration, especially if the players seem like they’re becoming disinterested. Looking into character backgrounds can be a really good wellspring of creative concepts if the player hasn’t already given out every bit of information.
Conclusion of this story
Always remember there is no wrong way to play. If the style at your table is contrary to the points I’m laying down here and you’re all having a good time, then by all means keep pressing. However, if you’re feeling frustration with flat, uninteresting characters or scenes, maybe take these ideas to heart and try to implement them at least in a small degree. Its all about having a good time and improving your capability as a storyteller can greatly improve play at the table for all people involved. Let me know what you think down below, whether you think having an interesting background is even important and your method of opening it up to your table.
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Child of the Midwest, spending his adolescence dreaming of creating joy for gaming between sessions of cattle tending. He holds a fondness for the macabre, humorous and even a dash of grim dark. Aspiring designer spending most of his time writing and speculating on this beautiful hobby when he isn’t separating planes.