We give our top tips to discussing backstory and lore in your world to make your tabletop game the best it can be!
Official guidebooks for tabletop games present a plethora of information regarding cultures and history but knowing how or when to introduce players to certain information can be difficult. We break down the best ways players and dungeon masters can present backstory to be more inclusive and have a fun game!
Bring it up in Conversations
One of the best and easiest ways to drop tidbits of lore and information about a quest, region, monster, person, or anything is to have it come from an NPC. They’re everywhere and if your players are lost or confused they can point them in the right direction or talk about a relevant piece of information the characters need.
Think of it as a video game where NPCs are coded to say specific dialogue but for the game they can say whatever they please. They aren’t limited to knowing what they’re told. Bravely Default 2 does this rather well with the game’s main characters. There will often be conversations where characters will talk to one another about their past. It’s a great way to get players to roleplay and talk about their character’s backstory. Which is lore all their own.
Here are a few ways to naturally bring it up in conversation:
- Ask a character where they are from
- Ask a character what food they enjoyed growing up
- Just get players talking about their home or life
- An NPC may be talking too loudly at a tavern or street corner
- Find a way to connect lore to the players
- Tell players different rumors about locations or monsters and have them all discuss what they have heard
Other games that do this quite well are the Dragon Age series and Pillars of Eternity II.
Make it Cinematic
A more unique way to talk about lore is to just show it. Take a step back from the players for a moment and tell them what they would know about an area. Then like a large sweeping shot from a movie or game trailer cinematically describe how it looks, feels, and sounds. It doesn’t have to be in great detail but highlighting some larger landmarks, monsters, or people in the area will help set the scene.
This also works great for a beginning and end of a campaign. Let the players add in their information about their backstory or let them discuss some lore with you as well.
It can even be a collaborative process between the players and the DM. The dungeon master can have players create portions of their own hometown or an upcoming location. Working together is part of what makes tabletop games so great and helps ensure everyone has a fun game.
- Ask the players what they believe would be in a specific area. (If it isn’t there already, add it in and surprise them)
- Have players describe locations they may be familiar with
Notes and Journals
Documents are a simple way to introduce information. We’ve discussed how to use them in the past to drive plot and they are incredibly useful for storytelling in general. They can be anywhere and say anything. You don’t even have to write them beforehand. Just saying “your character sees a crumpled note on the table” the DM has already pushed them to investigate. Then the game master can just tell the players what it says. Or it can be written ahead of time for a more immersive game.
Skyrim and Morrowind both do an excellent job at laying out notes to players.
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