Does Backstory Matter -

“Keys to Unlocking Your Motivation."

Does backstory matter – in the game and in real life? Today I look at the keys to unlocking and understanding your motivation, both in the game and in life.

The debate rages on! Does backstory matter? Or should players focus on their character’s personality, needs, and wants? As always, the answer is ‘it depends’, and ‘yes’ to both questions. ‘It depends’ is not a scapegoat answer. ‘It depends’ means it truly does depend on the game (i.e., dungeon) master and the players. If the game master creates the fantasy world based on all the characters’ backstories, then backstories do matter and must be carefully crafted to create a believable, event-driven game.

Character's Motivation

“…each character in the game is a creation of the player…”

On the other hand, a character’s motivation to act may be more immediate. The character’s family member might have been murdered and the character’s response is to avenge this person’s death! Or a person in the town has been kidnapped. One or more of the characters respond to a “call to action” by the town’s high-ranking official to save the individual that has been taken. What is the motivation for this action? Heroism? Money? Adventure? The choice is yours.

Still, each character in the game is a creation of the player (with some assistance from the game master). Maybe – just maybe – the player wants to transfer some of his or her own personality, needs, or wants onto their character. In a small way, this is permissible. The player gets to live vicariously through the adventures of the character. All good – if the player understands the clear (albeit, imaginary) line that separates reality from fantasy!

Image by pendleburyannette from Pixabay
Image by Mystic Art Design from Pixabay


“If I had a mentor, guidance counselor, or someone who could point the way…”

I was a smart kid in high school. I was not top of my class, but I had a good thing going. Unfortunately, I did not know how to direct that energy the right way. To my chagrin, my parents were not helpful in providing the guidance I needed to get me into college, or to direct a clear path for a successful future – whatever that may bring. I have heard that everything happens for a reason. Maybe the reason that my parents were not good at guiding me was to bring me to this point in my life. Maybe the reason is that I am here – now – writing this article. I am not sure if that makes sense to anyone. Maybe it does; maybe it does not. Simply, in life, one thing happens, then another thing happens. Without guidance and mentorship, an individual will make choices that seem ‘right’ at the time, but do not have good long-term outcomes. That is not to say I become involved with the ‘wrong’ crowd, or anything like that. In fact, maybe the opposite was true. I joined the United States Marine Corps. A good thing at the time. Maybe not the best thing over the course of my life. The debate rages on!

In my younger days, I was a nerd. Yes, I admit it. I was not part of the ‘in’ crowd. I was shy, hesitant, and awkward. Maybe you can relate; maybe you cannot. I spent much of my time reading, studying, and of course, building various creations with Lego bricks. Eventually, I moved beyond the bricks to cardboard boxes and wood creations. Nonetheless, I liked to build and create. I have always said that I wish I had the opportunity to attend MIT when I was younger. Alas, that did not happen. As I said, I joined the Corps. Life moved on.

If I had a mentor, guidance counselor, or someone who could point the way, would I have made different decisions along the way? Maybe you can relate; maybe you cannot.

All things happen for a reason.

Role Models

“We each need to feel that we belong to a community.”

As part of the maturation process, young people identify with role models they see in the movies, YouTube, or on social media. We did it when we were younger. We need to identify with something. We each need to feel that we belong to a community. We want to engage with people who are of like mind and behavior. The fantasy role-playing community is part of that self-expression. The good thing is that you can identify as a nerd without feeling awkward.

Check out the following link. Find out which celebrity is playing your favorite role-playing game: This list includes . . . wait for it . . . Steven Spielberg and Elon Musk. Who is your hero now?

Image by kalhh from Pixabay

In a previous article, I explained that I chose the Marine Corps because my fantasy alter-ego was John Rambo. Of course, in the late 1980s (my teen years), this was more fantasy than reality. Nonetheless, it was an identity that I wanted to be a part of – I wanted it to be real. I had no other personalities that inspired me to action. I took the opportunity to become something great! In a similar way, we create role-playing characters based on various reasons. Maybe, you are looking for a way to express your inner hero. As we know, heroes come in various shapes and sizes. One of those is the Ranger. In Dungeons and Dragons, the Ranger class is a multi-talented fighter, with some supernatural powers related to nature (they spend a lot of time in the woods).

If we consider pop-culture fiction, then we can identify some of the characters in books and movies that we can relate to. Examples include:

  1. Robin Hood – the classic hero (albeit a hero that steals from the rich and gives to the poor).
  2. Jack the Giant Killer – in the time of King Author, this young farm boy is both brave and strong.
  3. Huntresses of Diana – goddess of the wilderness and of the hunt.
  4. Legolas – the elf hero from the Lord of the Rings.
  5. Strider – who is the guardian over the Shire (The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings).
  6. Hawkeye – more for his proficiency with the bow and arrow than for being a woodsman.

And the list continues. These are some incredible archetypes that young people can aspire to be. They give us meaning and purpose, and motivation for a “call to action.” They can inspire us to do great things and become something wonderful in this world of ours!


Image by sara felde from Pixabay


“…students need to have the opportunity to practice skills as if they were involved in a real scenario.”

Teachers are looking for new and impactful methods to revive the classroom learning experience. To use tabletop role-playing games successfully as a learning methodology, these games need to meet four criteria.

Games must teach and reinforce curriculum content. There is strong evidence for the successful use of tabletop role-playing games for use in history, math, and English classes. Evidence also suggests that TTRPGs have a positive impact on the social and emotional growth of its players.

Games must provide the opportunity to practice skills. The standard is to give students tests and quizzes. The paradigm is: the fewer the mistakes on a test, the more the student retained via study and practice. How often is the classroom environment focused on just the test? That was a hypothetical question. Nonetheless, students need to have the opportunity to practice skills as if they were involved in a real scenario. Thus, the role-playing game.

Games should reinforce each student’s ability to create mental constructs or models of the material learned. That is, the learner should be able to develop a personalized understanding – a framework – that allows them to build upon previous knowledge, then continue to add to this knowledge. Thus, the TTRPG player character sheet and journal.

Finally, games should link knowledge to performance. For example, knowing that two plus two is equal to four is a good thing. But let us transfer this knowledge to the real world. If you are given two $1.00 bills, a $5.00 bill, and a $10.00 bill, you now have four dollars. Yes or no? If you answered yes, then what was the total amount of money given to you? Lesson learned.

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