Some Dungeons and Dragons characters bore me. That’s a hard conversation to have, and (considering the collaborative nature of role playing games) is a difficult hurdle to vault during play. The reddest of flags that I’m about to play with a boring character is a detailed backstory, because it comes along with the most boring thing a character can bring: Answers. If we already know everything that your character holds dear, if we can already say how you’re going to respond to every question, then why are we playing? The most interesting moments with the most interesting characters in Western Fiction is when we see them challenged, and learn something new. If that learning is happening in your character’s backstory why aren’t we playing that instead?
It’s not the change that makes these characters interesting, it’s the challenge. We should place continuing to believe the same things as an option, rather than the answer. One of my favourite moments in any arc belongs to Aang, the Last Airbender (and spoilers through this paragraph). His pacifism is a core value. He’s vegetarian, and refuses to kill anyone. When he’s faced with Fire Lord Ozai the choice is clear: Kill Ozai, or Ozai will kill others. Aang’s values are challenged, he must consider what his pacifism really means, and as part of that challenge he makes the decision to (last chance on spoilers) continue being a pacifist and let Ozai live. The character’s values are maintained, but he is surely changed, and our story is richer for it.
Characters who undergo trials come out with a better understanding of themselves. This should be our end-result of play, rather than our start. Your seven-pages-single-spaced manifesto doesn’t make you a good roleplayer, it is your biggest barrier to interesting stories. Instead of writing a backstory for your next character, type out the following sentence three times “I wonder what it would take to make my character…” and finish each with something distasteful, or at least against their values. Add no detail outside these three sentences. This is your backstory, share it with the table.
“I wonder what it would take to make my Nature Cleric disavow the Church of Pan?”
“I wonder what it would take to make my Sailor put down his shipmate’s sword?”
“I wonder what it would take to make my Wizard cast the frost spell with which he killed his sister?”
“I wonder what it would take to make my Paladin choose a loved one over his mission?”
“I wonder what it would take to make my honourable Dwarf kill a surrendered enemy?”
You might never find the thing it takes to push your character over the edge, but if you’re asking it right, you’ll learn something new about your character every time you answer “Not yet.”
If you want to generate fun, interesting, dynamic stories involving your character, one of the best tools you can bring to the table is a single sentence: “I dunno, let’s find out.”