Road Stories: Sharing the Chex Mix with new friends

March 23, 2010

I’m all about player creativity in Dungeons and Dragons.

To me, the game is a shared creative work.  This hasn’t always been my opinion however.  Back in earlier editions of the game, specifically Advanced Dungeons and Dragons, I felt that it was the DM’s World, and that we as players were there to enjoy it, sometimes rebel against it, and generally try to shape it with our actions.  But there was no give and take, no shared world building. The end. Amen.

I’m not certain if this was just the longtime DM’s influence, the way we learned the game, or if it was built in to the game subtlety or not so subtlety.  Its been some time since I had the opportunity to sit down with those books and get a feel for it again.  We won’t be blaming my younger brother for selling all of my RPG horde while I was away at school in this post.  I’m sure that that will fuel one of its own.

Whichever influence shaped this mindset, 4th edition has really changed that for me in a lot of ways.  Backstory now includes events that happened along the way, that have details not provided by the DM in advance.  My Avenger, Zire, for example, had to travel with his mentor from his monastery south to the Lowlands, through the Dwarven Nations, through a shallow piece of the Underdark, and finally through the lowland plains alongside a pilgrim’s convoy to get to the parties starting spot.  Fairly basic stuff, unless you consider that most of that didn’t exist in the world before a player wrote it into being.  From the mentor, to the monastery, to the dwarves we met, to the fight against the fire elementals while underground, and the pilgrim’s passage, all of it came from a player’s imagination.  And of course from a great DMs understanding and care.

All of this is a long expository just to insert and celebrate the idea of shared world-building.  And along those lines, my suggestions for Road Stories.

Road Stories are something that I have introduced to my fellow players in our Ishtal campaign recently.  In those times that you have some uneventful days of travel, across boundless tracks of wilderness, or roads trafficked with nothing but benign wildlife, rather than just says days past, you as players can use this time to bring to the table 2 -3 things that you would have as characters shared with friends along the way around the campfire.

Always have a short list of events from the past years of your PC’s life that you can use to shape the world around you.   This is your stage to dazzle but keep it within your character’s capabilities or you risk breaking the shared sense of disbelief.  Very few new adventurers have bested a Balor in single combat, but you sure could have fought alongside a Dwarven scouting party to hold back some minor fire elementals, while trying to hold back your fear.

Thought of a bandit encampment that you passed along the way?  Tell us about it.  Some strange and unexplained magical phenomenon you saw while sailing across the sea?  Details, please!  The best Dungeon Masters will grab at the chance to revisit this later on in your travels.  Some appreciate the plot hooks you’re raining down on them.

Again, depending on the overall feel of your campaign, don’t blow your wad with airship battles and planar invasions.  The smallest details can still bring about fun and creative event with a clever DM in place.

Worldbuild, help shape your surroundings, then have fun dealing with whatever comes back for you in the night!  Its all about shared experiences, and growing your characters in the end.

I really hope that was a pilgrim’s caravan after all…


Questions? Comments? Bananas?  Feel free to use your creativity and leave a sign that you were here!



  1. Great advice!

    What got me interested in D&D was the story development and telling. My first PC had 4 typed pages of biography & narrative that tied into the DM’s world, which itself was full of racism and slavery making for an interesting game while it lasted. It helped me learn, understand and get involved in the game SO much more than just filling out a character sheet would. But I found many players don’t do this, maybe because they’re complacent, or maybe because they’re cynical (after losing a beloved PC maybe?). The result is the game suffers.

    So I hope your readers take this advice to heart, and realize that a critical part of the game is the story telling, from both the DM and the players. The effort pays off in the end in terms of enjoyment and memories! In fact, to reinforce this maybe even consider Greg Bilsland’s (of Wizards of the Coast) tip about “Fun Points”: http://gregbilsland.wordpress.com/house-rules/

    BTW, I really like “Road Stories” as opposed to back story or background. It’s so much more intuitive!

    /Did the pilgrim’s caravan have bananas?? LoL

  2. Rick, I love gaming with you, and I’m really excited to learn more about Zire. What I like best is knowing that there *is* more to learn – I know that if I were to start asking questions, there would be answers, and they would lead to relevant details that make up who Zire is and why he does what he does. You wouldn’t just be making up “flavor text.”

    Being new at this, I made up a background for Nydia that contains a fair amount of “secrets” – stuff that I gave to Hillari for possible use in future plot twists. I will need to go back in build in some more neutral background info so that Nydia could potential tell some road stories that don’t give away anything that our DM might have liked and ended up using!

  3. I’m just glad we were able to put together a group that is totally into the roleplaying aspect of the story. None of this would have worked with my old Saturday group, that’s for sure. I really do feed off my players, and I feel like it makes things more enjoyable for everyone. Every character gets a little bit of spotlight because the things they do and say and the places they come from matter.

    I hope everyone has a road story or two ready this weekend, because I’m excited to hear them!!!

  4. I do believe we were discussing this while watching the Thursday Knights play last night. Excellent post that should give good ideas to anyone considering their backstory.

  5. This is the first week we are to try and implement this during play. I’m excited!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: