I keep running into an issue as a dungeon master where my players develop their characters a bit too much. By this, I mean that they'll write up things in their backstories or develop NPCs that aren't their own, and decide things that their character does not know.

Specific examples:

Player 1 has a character who was saved from drowning by an unknown sea entity which left him with a cursed sword. Great! But now player 1 will occasionally try to send me ideas of what he thinks may have been the monster-- which is really not up to him.

Player 2 is playing a character that she played in a previous campaign, which I'm allowing because she was more or less expelled from the campaign by the DM refusing to do his job. It's fine, but her character has a developed parent figure that she's written out text RPs with (which I don't allow in my games, but others have.)

We've played 7 sessions. I'm running two groups with the same campaign, but both are at 7 sessions at the moment.

I don't think either of them is doing this maliciously or to try and subvert me as a DM-- they're probably trying to help! I don't want to be too rude to them, but I do need to take the reins back.

How do I discourage this?
How do I take control of unknown backstory entities with players who keep overthinking things that they have no control over?

  • \$\begingroup\$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. \$\endgroup\$
    – mxyzplk
    Commented Nov 2, 2018 at 0:46
  • 14
    \$\begingroup\$ What I can't seem to find anywhere in your question is how these behaviors have negatively affected your campaign. "Player 1 sends you ideas" which you can use or not use at your discretion. "Player 2 has written out text RPs with a parent figure" - again, so what? Why are these actions problematic? \$\endgroup\$ Commented Nov 5, 2018 at 0:15

12 Answers 12


I want to preface my answer by saying that I understand where your impulse is coming from, that I respect it at least in part, and that I share that impulse. But with that preface, I must in good conscience push back against the frame of the question:

Consider Reining In Your Urge To Discourage

I respect and share your impulse, here. I really do.

Every time a player of mine goes off and does something like this, I have a little (or not so little) frisson of fear: What if they're going to break something I had planned? What if they're power gaming for an advantage? What if they touch my GM stuff?!

After a long career in GMing, though, it's rarely been an issue in the way I fear. Are power gamers gonna power game? Yes. But it turns out they're fairly easy to detect and shut down. Will the players occasionally do something that wrecks a plan? I can't actually think of a time that's happened, but I can think of several times that a player was pushing in one genre direction and I was pushing in another... which can be an issue.

But on the other hand, having engaged players who want to contribute to the setting is a blessing in many ways. First, it just means that they are active and are engaged which is a great thing in and of itself. Second, it means that in some sense, they're taking a little of the creativity burden off your shoulders. Third, when players do this in good faith, they are telling you what they are interested in! They're directly telling you something other GMs have to read tea leaves and pull teeth to get from their players. And fourth, sometimes (not infrequently!) a creative and engaged player will come up with something really good that you wouldn't have thought of that you can turn to your advantage.

Still, there are at least potential issues.

Meet Them In The Middle, With Approval

What I do, therefore, is to make clear the following things:

  1. I welcome player input.
  2. But I need to see it and approve of it before it's canon; that's part of my job as GM, enforcing the game canon.
  3. If I veto something, I will whenever possible explain why, but sometimes in order to avoid spoilers, I won't be able to explain.
  4. If this all works the way I expect, then over time you'll have a better feel for what I'll allow, and I'll have a better feel for what interests you, and we'll clash less and less. But while I hope to be more (not less!) easy-going over time, I always retain that canon-veto.

I've found this works pretty well. I'm only GM of my experience who explicitly spells out the fourth point, but that's certainly how it's worked out when I'm a player in a game that encourages player contributions. It definitely works from my side of the table when I am GMing.

Addressing some issues that have come out in comments, which may or may not make it into an edit of the question: I must stress that all of this regards background information, not questions of current NPC ownership or behavior. Different games address this differently, and even within 5e different GMs will have different levels of tolerance. At the very least, influence on current NPC actions strikes me as a qualitatively different question. (And if you think the player is angling to backdoor that sort of thing in through the submitted background, well... that's what veto power is for.)

  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ I'm going to give this a bit more time, because I like seeing people's input, but I'm tempted to give this one my stamp of approval, because I appreciate that you are speaking from experience, which is comforting to me as a newer DM. \$\endgroup\$
    – Cooper
    Commented Nov 1, 2018 at 19:54
  • 7
    \$\begingroup\$ I encourage players to bring elements to include in the game, but I convey that I have to approve before it goes into play. This has led to some amazing things that I would never have come up with. For example, an Elf Ranger's backstory had her parents scandalized by her 'unfeminine' choice of class and wanted her to take a more 'traditional' role. Suddenly, my Wood Elves had a society where women were kept to specific roles, and her fight against that led to a very deep plotline for her. My advice is always 'Yes And' or 'No, But' and to riff on it rather than deny it outright. \$\endgroup\$
    – user47897
    Commented Nov 1, 2018 at 20:28
  • 6
    \$\begingroup\$ Our most recent campaign's session zero included each of us coming up with NPCs from our backgrounds specifically with the intention of offering hooks to the GM... they can use or ignore any of them in order to drive their story, but the benefit for them is essentially what you said: "here is a carrot I will take if you dangle it". I'm also a fan of how we did it: each NPC had an associated mysterious hook: one had unexplored family vaults, another was trading in unknown, illicit goods on the black market: we've used about half of them so far and they definitely drive engagement. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Nov 1, 2018 at 23:04
  • 5
    \$\begingroup\$ I love when players make up something interesting, even if it's outside their character's direct knowledge or control. They're doing my job for me? Bonus, I don't have to work so hard. It's my job to facilitate the game, not to be the sole maker-up-of-things (provided I have the veto). In fact, I encourage that at my table. Look at a player and say, "Okay, tell me about this town you just entered." \$\endgroup\$ Commented Nov 2, 2018 at 2:12
  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ From experience as a DM, this is the type of answer I'd go for. While it's always good to first check their backgrounds for obvious nonsense so they don't suddenly claim mid-campaign that they have a dragon at their beck and call, players who come up with background stories and ties to NPCs are amazing to get your players invested in the story. It's the difference between "these nameless NPCs you don't care about are at risk" and "that childhood love you never quite got over is in lethal danger". \$\endgroup\$
    – Theik
    Commented Nov 2, 2018 at 11:57

It really sounds to me like your players are developing their backstories quite appropriately, at least per the recommendations in the 5e Player’s Handbook. Chapter 4: Personality and Background refers to players detailing much about their character’s relationships with other (non-player) characters:

Bonds represent a character’s connection to people [...] in the world. [...]

Bonds might answer any of these questions: Whom do you care most about? To what place do you feel a special connection? [...]

Your bonds might be tied to [...] or some other aspect of your character’s history

None of this says “have your DM make up characters for you to have a bond with.” D&D 5e explicitly suggests that players take over small, local aspects of the world for the sake of tying their characters to it.

In short, this is not back-seat DMing. Yes, you should reserve the right to veto anything problematic in there. And any NPCs introduced in a player’s backstory are NPCs and you control them as appropriate during the game.

But the fact that they were introduced by a player and not you is not a problem: it is a good thing. It ties the PCs to the world in a way they might otherwise not be, it’s rife with plot-hooks, and it helps you out. To produce the same effect without each player doing some of the work relevant to their own character would mean a ton of back-and-forth with each player, and a lot more work for you.

Some of this may be somewhat new to you if you come from other editions, which were much less explicit about this kind of thing. Nonetheless, this was still heartily recommended behavior in those editions.

So I strongly recommend that you reserve your objections for things that are actually objectionable (for example), but otherwise just roll with it. These sound like great players, and it really does not sound as though they are being pushy about anything.

  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ I'm fine with normal development for backstories. What I take issue with is things like saying "This NPC behaves exactly like this at all time and speaks in this precise manner", rather than "My PC has had these interactions with this NPC/this is how my PC perceives things", if that makes sense? One doesn't leave space for doing anything with the NPC; the other acknowledges that the PC has limited knowledge. So maybe it's just me being pedantic? (This is actually super useful to me. I figure things out by being challenged on them, so thank you for this!) \$\endgroup\$
    – Cooper
    Commented Nov 1, 2018 at 19:52
  • 5
    \$\begingroup\$ @L.S.Cooper I don’t see “these are some dialogs I wrote up between my character and this NPC” as “This NPC behaves exactly like this at all times and speaks in this precise manner.” The former indicates how the NPC has acted in the past in interactions that the PC has actually had. Past performance does not guarantee future results and all that: you are still the one in control of the NPC for the future (see the example link). If there is something specific you object to in the interaction, that’d be one thing, but objecting to the write-up altogether is, I think, a mistake. \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Commented Nov 1, 2018 at 19:56
  • \$\begingroup\$ The writeup wasn't just the player writing some dialogue, though. It was a text roleplay where they were playing the parent, and another person (who isn't playing in this campaign) played someone speaking to the parent. \$\endgroup\$
    – Cooper
    Commented Nov 1, 2018 at 19:58
  • 6
    \$\begingroup\$ @L.S.Cooper So? If there is a specific objection to the character presented, again, that’s one thing. The idea in general that the NPC has a history before the game, though, isn’t, nor is the fact that the history was generated by a player rather than you. It’s a problem if there is a problem, but not otherwise. \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Commented Nov 1, 2018 at 20:00
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ @L.S.Cooper this (maintaining control over NPC actions) strikes me as somewhere between "a concern you might edit into this question," or even "a separate but related question." \$\endgroup\$
    – Novak
    Commented Nov 1, 2018 at 20:10

You and your players have a conflict of expectations.

Depending on who you ask, D&D means different things to different people. For some, D&D is a combat-heavy game where the DM says what monsters appear, and the players roll dice until the monsters are dead. For some, D&D is game where the DM writes and advances the story, and the player characters come and go without consequence. For others, D&D is a RP-heavy game where the DM serves as referee, while the players shape the plot via their characters and choices.

All of these approaches are valid. So what's the problem?

You need to account for the various preconceptions that your players bring to the table. Player 1 thinks putting effort into their backstory will have payoff. Player 2 thinks they should have narrative control over a minor NPC that they created. You (the DM) think that the players shouldn't influence how you write NPCs or plotlines. The players are not wrong, but their expectations are not compatible with your own.

Communicate. Discuss your expectations with your players. Then play.

You need to establish the expectations for your D&D game. Communicate to your players about the separation between player input and DM input. Or, perhaps you could present this as an open discussion, and possibly adjust the DM role if the players want more narrative control.

Often it's practical for the DM to delegate a portion of the world-building work to the players. But it's your campaign and ultimately you decide the DM's authority over the game world. Either way, you and your players need to get on the same page.

Many groups organize a Session Zero to discuss their expectations for what they want (and do not want) in the campaign. Typically the Session Zero should occur before the campaign begins, but it is entirely possible to have this discussion during the campaign.

  • \$\begingroup\$ "you and your players need to get on the same page." Was that intended as a reference to the Same Page Tool (bankuei.wordpress.com/2010/03/27/the-same-page-tool)? It addresses the specific style differences mentioned in this answer, among others. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Nov 4, 2018 at 11:14
  • \$\begingroup\$ @DaveSherohman "On the same page" is an English idiom. I had not seen that article before. It's useful and I've added it to my answer. \$\endgroup\$
    – MikeQ
    Commented Nov 4, 2018 at 14:00

Have a Session 0, or at least a real conversation about your expectations

This comes down to your social contract in the game and to expectations. The bottom line solution is to explain how the game works at your table and what kinds of input you would find helpful and what kinds you find to be unhelpful.

You don't need to take the reins back...

Personally, as long as the players understood that they were making suggestions that I could accept or reject, I would welcome this kind of participation at my table. I go out of my way to work the character's backstory into the game and I encourage them to make it easy for me. So long as its clear that their suggestions are only suggestions, I personally do encourage this type of behavior.

Some RPGs encourage this type of thing by their very rules, especially those that use or are inspired by the FATE system. D&D does not encourage this quite so much by its rules (though it does to a small degree), but it accepts it reasonably well and it is a valid play style.

...but you might want to take the reins back, and the players should respect that.

However, I am well aware that not all DMs encourage that for a wide variety of reasons including wanting to develop the world themselves, wanting to move forward with tightly scripted plots, or simply wanting to focus on the combat. That is a valid play style too. Most players, at least those I have dealt with, will be fine limiting their input on the world outside their characters, but it may need to be explicit. This is especially true when the players have a background at tables that encouraged that sort of input.

In short, taking the reins back is probably as simple as telling your players that you want to. As long as you phrase it as identifying your style, rather than something like telling them their input was inherently bad, they will most likely not find it rude and will likely respect your position.


D&D is bad at explaining DMing

As other answer have put, this relationship is something you ought to have a session or at least a discussion about how you want it to be.

D&D implicitly sets the DM as a rules-arbiter, know-it-all and controller-of-all.

This is the root cause of issues like this, because this is rarely the case.

In times like this it's important to remember what the purpose of the game is, and what roles each player has (the DM is a player too, even if they do different things).

You're here to have an adventure together, the DM is there to create challenges and adversity, the players are there to strive to overcome them.

You are all here to have an adventure

Whether it's your idea or theirs it doesn't matter, so long as it's cool and fits the feel and theme of the game well.

Sure, it might feel like it's your baby and they're messing with it, and you will have to rein them in once in a while, but player investment in the world can be hard to accomplish.

Your players seem like they're eager to have and tell stories of their own in your world.

Try to give them in-game outlets; titles, memorable and reoccurring characters etc.

Welcome the supplements they give you, and if you can, work them in, if not let them know what the problem is; whether you want to keep an attacker a secret, or whether you just don't have time to read through their overly extensive backstory.

Some of the best encounters and games come from ideas that players give you, welcome them, allow them to be right, but also wrong. They make the best of foundations to build on to make something great.


Player 1

This sounds like this player is just sending you ideas; I don't see any problem here unless you don't like reading them. Unless the player is in-character trying to make those ideas true, then I would just use the ideas as fodder for your own reality you are creating. You are not obligated to use any of their ideas if you don't want to.

Player 2

For this player, you just need to have some communication. It sounds you weren't expecting them to create characters, so tell them that you two will need to work together on this. That way you are involved in this process and you can have the final say in whether or not the character gets into the game.

The main thing is that there needs to be an agreement between you two. No agreement, no character. If the player continues to try to pretend like their made-up parent exists, then you will need to have a separate conversation about the game and how you want to run it. Running a 5e game where the DM creates everything is just as valid as a game where the DM asks players for ideas constantly to create the world as they play.


If you really don't want ideas from your players, then you should just say that up front and make it clear. Personally I wouldn't go this route as getting extra ideas from your players is part of what makes it fun for me, but having the DM make everything up and the players just explore is perfectly fine. Just make sure everyone understands and agrees on this, the agreement is paramount. Something like the Same Page Tool is very helpful for this.

If you have concerns about players metagaming with this information, I suggest you give them the benefit of the doubt. Being able to trust your players is important!


The other answers are great, but I want to share some recent experiences I had in joining our local Adventurer's League, as I think they are both relevant and a useful perspective to keep in mind.

I have spent a lot of time as DM, so I am always very careful when developing my characters as a player to avoid over-writing my backstory. My instinct is to leave the setting and other characters to the DM, both to avoid any perception of power-gaming, and to avoid putting the DM into a position where my backstory conflicts with their plans.

My first session in AL involved an introductory adventure set in Waterdeep. The main villain of the adventure was, as far as I can tell, specifically intended to be an NPC taken from a player's backstory. At the beginning of the session, we were asked to introduce ourselves, then questioned by the DM to determine if any of us had notable figures from our backstory. 2 different characters had backstories that mentioned NPCs in vague terms (leaving home because of a fight with one player's father; another player was a sailor who served under a pirate captain).

Both of those NPCs were introduced as key figures within the adventure. As a player, I thought that that was really engaging, and I was disappointed that I hadn't included anyone in my backstory that could be part of the adventure.

For another adventure, I had brought a new character. This character had the criminal background, which I had used to write a relatively simple backstory. One of the features of that background is that I had a criminal contact. I was afraid to define that, since I feared to have too much detail that would have to be approved by multiple DMs through multiple AL sessions.

However, very early in the session, our DM prompted me to not only name the contact, but to improvise some back story for him. My contact wound up playing a direct role in our adventure, based largely on the identity I had created for him.

I bring this up because, as a player, these experiences added a lot to my enjoyment of the sessions. Much more than I had expected, really. It turns out that it is pretty satisfying to not only have your player's actions influence the game, but also who they are, which is largely defined by their backstory.

I would encourage you to allow players as much creative control as possible for determining where they came from, and who they knew, so long as it doesn't create problems for the story.

If player 1 wants to decide that it was an ancient dragon turtle that saved him, there's no real harm in it. If he wants that ancient dragon turtle to be the very same one that the party has been tasked to find, so that they can retrieve a valuable object from its lair, then that should be fine, too.

But if the player argues that whatever reason the dragon turtle saved him from drowning is also a reason that the dragon turtle would just freely give the party the valuable object, thereby circumventing a major challenge from the adventure, then you should feel free to veto this and tell the player that they are over-reaching what a backstory can contain.


Principle #1: DnD is a game of collaborative story telling

As Matthew Mercer wrote in attempting to describe a DM's job in one sentence said, "“A DM creates and directs a story for your friends ... and working with their ideas, collaborates with them in real time to write the next chapter together.”

One way of collaborating is by leveraging the desires of the audience - or players.

William Goldman, author of the Princess Bride, wrote, "The key to a great ending is giving the audience exactly what they want but not in the way they expect." Joss Whedon revised this to, "give the audience exactly what they need."

By removing your player's ability to contribute to the story, you might consider whether you might be losing an incredible amount of additional creativity that could be added to your game.

Some of the best DMs today have learned to harness the creativity of their players to elevate the game for everyone.

Principle #2: The DM is just one player in the game

As WebDM has put it, the DM, though important, is just one person at the table. There has been a traditional, historic tendency for the DM to be considered responsible for everything in the game. As the game has evolved, an increasing number of DMs like Mercer and WebDM have increased the amount of autonomy for players in directing the story.

As DM, you don't have to do everything. Consider off-loading as much of the story to your players as you can - and suddenly you can multiply the creativity in your game.

Principle #3: The aim of the experience is fun and personal growth.

You might reconsider whether ignoring your player's suggestions for monsters is making the game more fun for him - or how much suppressing characters' backstories is making the game fun for them.

In sum, Consider Goodman’s or Whedon’s advice, give the "players" exactly what they want or, better yet, need, but not in the way they expect.

  • \$\begingroup\$ This is actually what I'm trying to do. But the issue is that as the players develop more and more expectations, I feel like I don't have the option to give them what they need for a good narrative. I see a lot of my role as a DM as being the person to keep things from being just constant wish fulfillment fantasy; sometimes things have to go wrong for a story to be good. This is good advice, but it's actually what I was trying to do already. \$\endgroup\$
    – Cooper
    Commented Nov 8, 2018 at 20:07
  • \$\begingroup\$ To speak to the references to Mercer-- the entire Briarwood arc in the first campaign would not have worked if Taliesin had come up with all that stuff on his own as part of his backstory. He created what Percy knew, and it turned out that Percy was incorrect about some things! I'm running in the Tal'dorei setting, and believe me, I'm aware of Mercer's example. \$\endgroup\$
    – Cooper
    Commented Nov 8, 2018 at 20:09
  • \$\begingroup\$ @L.S.Cooper It is praiseworthy that you have eye on the narrative and what the players need. It is the biggest first step. Obviously this is art more than a science. Sometimes you will be integrating their backstory, sometimes you will be ignoring it. As far as tools to guide player behavior, reinforcement studies show that positive feedback and ignoring undesired behavior is more effective in training than giving it negative attention. See this unusual story from NYT for techniques: nytimes.com/2006/06/25/fashion/… \$\endgroup\$
    – Praxiteles
    Commented Nov 8, 2018 at 22:02

Session Zero

Before backstories are written, before dice are rolled, talk to your players. Make sure that you explain your DM style, the theme of the campaign (I mean: "this is basically a dungeon crawller, murder hobos welcome", "this is horror campaign, you should expect vivd descriptions of violence, gore and torture", "this campaingin is heavy RP, we fight stuff, but the main point is creating dramatic epic story for your heroes", "this campaign is a mystery camapaign, if you don't like riddles and political intrege maybe you should sit this one out."). In that layout your character expectations and backstory expectations.

Maybe you're fine with War and Peace, maybe you are fine no backstories, maybe you're giving them backstories, maybe the backstories are all lost as the players start without memories. The point is, let them know what to expect and what you expect up front. Misaligned expectations cause issues like this, and the more your on the same page, the more you're going to have an easy time finding buy in.

Backstories in General (my Take)

Let's talk about backstory as a general concept. Backstory is the story BEFORE the story. I believe the backstory is completely theirs to decide -- as long as it fits into the world. If my world has no magic and they were raised by wizards, then I'll ask them to change some things. If their backstory includes a kingdom I don't have on my map, I'll add it. I may start the players far away from it, so I have to time to create a town that fits their backstory if there are some interesting things I'm not ready to deal with yet. I let a player write almost anything for a backstory to explain why they are what the character sheet says they are. They can invent people. The back stories should be written by the second session (or so) and shouldn't be amendable without talking to me. Because I will use the backstory if I get any.

I always say that it has to be from the character's perspective, and can't contain information the character wouldn't know. So, if they say in the backstory they give me "I was saved by a sea monster of some kind," I make clear to them that they have just given me the opportunity to pick the monster. If they say "I was saved by a leviathan," okay, they were saved by a leviathan, but I get to decide the WHY.

The only issue I've had is when a character the player wrote in their backstory shows up in the campaign and I have them betray the character -- which is fun, but the player can sometimes feel you've betrayed them. "Your governess who has always treated you kindly pops up from behind the obelisk, crossbow trained on you. They explain the reason they treated you kindly was because she's been biding their time..." etc.

Player 1

Player 1 has a character who was saved from drowning by an unknown sea entity which left him with a cursed sword. Great! But now player 1 will occasionally try to send me ideas of what he thinks may have been the monster-- which is really not up to him.

Great. He THINKS it was X. Maybe he goes to look for an X, that it was a friend and may help him in the future. "The X snarls at him, laughing "I would never have done that. Apparently, you were mistaken about who or what saved you. But now tasty meat comes to me for a watery death, and my tasty snack."

If/when he objects, "You've made a lot of assumptions. Your backstory says 'sea monster', your character was sea tossed, you have no idea what it was that saved you."

Look at Critical Role, the way the Matt Mercer is using the same basic premise (bet it is where your player got it, and that might be influenced why the player is pushing in a particular direction) originally presented to him by Travis' backstory. When Travis said his patron was a sea monster with a "big yellow eye", Matt ran with it in ways Travis wasn't expecting.

Player 2

Player 2 is playing a character that she played in a previous campaign, which I'm allowing because she was more or less expelled from the campaign by the DM refusing to do his job. It's fine, but her character has a developed parent figure that she's written out text RPs with (which I don't allow in my games, but others have.)

I don't get why this is a problem. Now the story has started, her mother is one of your NPCs. You can write her into or out of the story as much as you want.

Same Campaign Doesn't Mean Same Path

I'm running two groups with the same campaign, but both are at 7 sessions at the moment.

I hope you don't intend the two campaigns to run the same way. A printed campaign, for example, gives the players a world to play in. An overarching theme or goal, and people and places to interact with. It doesn't force the players through all the same hoops. It isn't a video game. Sure, the world is same, and players who have been through the same module might be able to share stories about how they handled the giant boss monster, but how they got there and how they handle it can be wildly different.

Player agency, player choices, player backstory might take two parties in the same world with the same goals down very different paths. When I'm writing a town, I write a lot of plot hooks for things the player MIGHT do. If they do, great, if they don't they are still there when they get back, only maybe the problem got bigger, or solved by someone else while the players were away. My favorite is when they party says "We'll come back and help the town later, we have this other thing we're doing." and when they return, the small problem has sprialled out of control and now a side quest that would have taken a few minutes of role play to solve is teetering on becoming a major story arch.

  • \$\begingroup\$ They're definitely going in different directions! I've done my best to create a sandboxy world, but I also want to make sure that unresolved stuff in backstories gets a chance to be dealt with. Humorously, this is actually set in the Tal'dorei setting, but started before anything was revealed about Fjord (which frustrated me greatly), and Player 1 doesn't even watch it. \$\endgroup\$
    – Cooper
    Commented Nov 2, 2018 at 21:02

As long as your main concern is that the players are trying to gain some advantage, like having NPCs who help them, you just need to tell them. What worked for a DM in a previous game might very well not work for you.

I had players who reacted by swearing that this was not the case. Let's remove the temptation, I said. Then I proceeded to explain the division of power between players and DM in D&D and how their control over NPCs could clash with the truths of the setting. This usually worked quite well.

Of course it would have been optimal to do that before the first session. Next time, maybe.

  • 5
    \$\begingroup\$ Next time I run a campaign, I'm definitely doing character creation and discussion of same-page stuff in a session zero. I'm kicking myself for not doing so with this campaign, but, hey, we live and we learn. \$\endgroup\$
    – Cooper
    Commented Nov 1, 2018 at 19:56
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ @L.S.Cooper that's the spirit! \$\endgroup\$
    – Zachiel
    Commented Nov 1, 2018 at 20:33
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ @L.S.Cooper: You can always have a "session 0" after the start of the campaign if you find that there's a mismatch of expectations. \$\endgroup\$
    – V2Blast
    Commented Nov 1, 2018 at 21:54

Recently a player sent me a diary entry he'd written. In it, his character researches the history of the campaign world (Curse of Strahd, so Barovia) and concludes that he should seek it out.

The entry is two pages long and includes a lot of details about things his character found in old manuscripts. Without reposting the entire entry, this was my response:

The manuscript is more like 500 years old.

Also, Me'eza's work translates as "Wisdom and power in equal measure, trapped like a delicate butterfly in the amber. I must return there. I am certain that there is more to be learned from this place." This is the last entry, and though it is written in the same hand as the rest of the work, it is signed not "Me'eza", but "Khazan".

This last is scrawled several times across the page, as of a child newly learned to sign its name.

I corrected the in the background work that conflicted with my story, and renamed a character to introduce a plot hook. But one priority for me is to make my players tell the story as much as possible. Sometimes this is through back story works like this, although more commonly it's a result of side adventures I run by text message when players miss a session. Overall it makes the world feel much richer and more dynamic because I'm not the only one who knows details about it.

So what you're experiencing is your players playing D&D right, and the fact that they're this invested in their characters is a vote of confidence in your storytelling.


As a player, when I've written back stories I designed them to provide a set of plot hooks that the DM could use if he wanted to. To that extent, I put on a DM-ing hat and thought about how they might be used in an adventure - things that might cause trouble, sources of quests or rumours as well as things that the character might have as resources. The DM is free to use them or not, as makes sense to them.

I got the idea from games like FATE (where you can have trouble aspects and the phase trio in character generation), Cyberpunk (where you generate a life path that can include various NPCs) and various other sources. Some games go out of their way to supply such plot hooks as a part of character generation.

In most cases the DM has picked up on one or more of these and incorporated them into the campaign successfully. The ideas have also been appreciated on plenty of occasions.

I would suggest that you talk to your players and state the terms of reference for doing this. Encourage them to do it, but your decision is final. You also have the option of using or not using different parts of the back story as plot hooks.


You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .