Backstory and Hooks

Tips for highlighting significant elements of a character backstory that can have an impact on the narrative during game play.

A character backstory details a character's life before the point where a new adventure begins. It includes information about a character's past experiences, upbringing, family, education, significant life events, and more. A good backstory helps a player create a strong and cohesive identity.

Hooks highlight significant backstory elements. Hooks can represent important relationships, values or beliefs, secrets, personal goals, and other things the director can use to help personalize the story and make it more relevant for each character. The important quality for a good hook is its potential to contribute a memorable plot point within the narrative - a key moment that can change a story’s progression and impact a character’s goals.

Types of Hooks

The following list provides some potential backstory elements and tips on using them as good hooks:

  • Relationships/Affiliations: Important people in the character's life, such as family members, friends, mentors, or rivals, and affiliations with factions, groups or organizations. It is important when using a relationship or affiliation for a hook that it identifies why it is significant, and that it remains relevant within the current timeline within the game world and story.

  • Values or Beliefs: Unwavering principles or beliefs, a rigid moral compass, or an uncompromising code of conduct. To be a good hook, a character value or belief should be expected to elicit a strong reaction from a character under certain circumstances or in specific situations.

  • Distinctive Traits: Distinctive traits can be remarkable physical traits or notable behaviors that make a character stand out. Distinctive traits can also be derived from strong ethnic or cultural heritage elements that are associated with a stereotype or reputation within the game world. For a distinctive trait to be a good hook, it should be both easily identifiable and difficult to disguise or hide.

  • Mental and Emotional Traumas: A past experience that has left a severe mental or emotional trauma on the character. Similar to values and beliefs, for a mental or emotional trauma to be a good hook, it should be expected to drive a strong response from a character in specific situations.

  • Secrets: Hidden information, knowledge, or actions that the character wants to keep concealed. Secrets can make excellent hooks, but there needs to be clearly defined potential consequences to the narrative when and if the secret is revealed.

  • Personal Drives: Individual goals, ambitions, passion projects, or a personal agenda that may strongly influence a character’s choices in certain situations or introduce new plot lines within the story. Personal drives make good hooks when they complement a group’s goals and activities within a story rather than competing with them. This helps make integrating a character’s drives into the story something that everyone in a group can enjoy.

  • Debts and Obligations: Debts and obligations can take the form of loans, favors, blood oaths, contracts and other kinds of promises made by (or to) a character that needs to be paid back, or an obligation that must be fulfilled. To be a good hook, a debt or obligation should highlight potential consequences associated with any failure to satisfy the terms.

  • Reputation: A positive or negative reputation within the game world. To be a good hook, a character’s reputation should be well defined with regard to who it may influence, and why.

Party Sabotage

It is both natural and expected that some character hooks may introduce some level of personal conflict between party character’s during game play. Players should be advised by the director to recognize that conflicts between characters are not conflicts between players. Character conflicts should be viewed as role-play opportunities that can help make the story more fun, interesting and unpredictable.

However, if a character hook is intended by design to create a situation where a character intends to sabotage or undermine a party’s goals, it can have a significant and negative effect on some campaigns, and within some groups of players. Any hook that fits this definition should be approached with caution and discussed with the director.

Creating Hooks

Hooks should be written to maximize readability and easy comprehension. Each hook should be defined with a name and a short description that clearly identifies its relevance to the story.

Abandoned Daughter (Violet) Mother (“Savannah”) murdered by the Jade Queen’s assassins. Left at the St. Mary’s orphanage in Chicago (Age 5) to protect her.

Ultimately, what really defines a good hook is that it is clearly understood by both the player and the director. Review and revise as necessary!


Hooks can be used to reward players who contribute to making the story more interesting and engaging for the entire group. Whenever a player identifies a meaningful way to leverage their character’s backstory to make the current scene or situation more interesting, the director can award a grit point.

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