Monday, October 30, 2017

Build Your PC Backstory Using "Knife Theory"

We all know how to make a PC backstory. You make your family (if you have one), you explain how you learned your skills, where your powers come from (if you know, of course), and then you top it off with motivations and goals. It's a pretty simple formula, and there's a world of possible variety in it. If you're wondering whether your backstory has enough stuff in it for the DM, though, you might want to check out the idea of Knife Theory, as proposed by user jimbaby on the DND subreddit.

This one represents my character's pathological hatred of slavery.
To paraphrase how it works, every time you put something in your backstory a DM could use to affect your character, or to draw them into the plot line, that item is a knife. Mysterious powers you don't understand? That's a knife. Missing mother or father, and you want to know where they are? That's a knife. Passel of brothers and sisters you care about very much? That's a big knife. Close friend or mentor? Survived a harrowing incident? Committed a crime for which you're still wanted? Knife, knife, and knife.

You get the idea.

Now, to make use of this theory you should use it as a shorthand between DMs and players. For example, a DM might have a minimum of five knives for players at creation in order to give them enough material to work with. Alternatively, a DM might say no more than ten knives at creation. This is particularly true for players who take their inspiration from the grimmer, and darker, corners of fiction.

While this method might not work for everyone, it is an interesting strategy that groups might get some use out of. Also, while it should go without saying, you should have a variety of knives in your backstory. Because seven knives that are all horrible crimes you committed, or all harrowing things you experienced, can feel sort of samey. Mix it up, and you'll get far better results.

That's all for this installment of Moon Pope Monday. Hopefully this idea takes root with some players out there, and makes backstory building a little easier. If you're looking for more of my content, check out my Gamers archive for articles, or head over to Dungeon Keeper Radio's YouTube page to take a listen to some podcast episodes I had a hand in making. If you want to keep up-to-date on all my latest content, then follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. Lastly, if you'd like to help support Improved Initiative then head over to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to become a patron. All it takes is $1 a month to make a difference, and I'll send you some sweet gaming swag as a thank you.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting way to look at this! I think reddit user jimbaby's post helped flesh out where the terminology comes from. "They're called "knives" because the players lovingly forge them and present them to the DM so that the DM can use them to stab the player over and over again."