Lore as Backstory

By | June 30, 2009

First off, a reminder — there’s just under a week left in the Midsummer Night’s RP Writing Contest.  Get  your entries in!

Bricu talked about a character’s knowledge of  WoW lore and how to fit that knowledge into RP.  I’d like to explore another aspect of that — how to fit lore into a character’s backstory.

Sure, your characters begin their training in one specific area depending on race, but that doesn’t mean they have to hail from the surrounding towns.  All sorts of things might have happened to them before they ended up on the steps of Northshire Abbey, or found their footsteps carrying them to the Valley of Trials.  It’s unlikely that every Forsaken dragging him or herself out of Deathknell’s crypts was from Tirisfal Glades.

The first step is figuring out what things your character might have witnessed.  How old is he or she?  There are a couple of timelines out there that are immensely useful.  The first is on the official WoW site.  It goes from a generic timeline to more specific details of each period.  I’ve also used this one from Blizzplanet, which breaks down more recent events by year.  (It ends with the start of vanilla WoW, so no BC/Wrath info here.)

WoWwiki is a great source for condensed information on Warcraft history.  It compiles lore from the games, the RPG titles, and official books and sites, and helps you add little bits of flavor to someone’s backstory.

Reading up on the significant events in your character’s area of the world while they were growing up helps you find the things that had a significant impact on who they are now.  Maybe the character was plowing his fields when the first boats of refugees arrived from Stormwind, and remembers seeing hundreds of sails appear on the horizon, or was only a few years old when Thrall broke her family free of the refugee camps and fled to Kalimdor.

In working out the places Threnn had been and things she’d seen (and yes, because I’m a huge nerd), I threw together a spreadsheet that listed significant events in WoW history and filled in what age Threnn was when they occurred, plus another column for things that were milestones in her own life.  I refer back to it now and then, especially when the conversation turns to events that happened long ago — it wouldn’t do for her to start spouting memories about the sacking of Stormwind, since she wasn’t born until the following spring.

Being aware of canon events and minor characters also helps add little bits of flavor as you go along.  One of my characters was recently asked about her feelings on the undead.  She mentioned Meryl Winterstorm, an undead mage who isn’t Forsaken, as someone she respects — didn’t imply that she’d studied under him, or that he’d even know who she was if their paths crossed. It was mostly a way to answer a question she’d been asked by someone else, that hearkened back to a bit of lore.

This certainly doesn’t mean your character needs to be a witness to Azerothian history to fill in backstory — as Bricu also suggested, making up your own lore (that, of course, fits within the established canon) is just as rewarding.  Did a stint on a ship out of Ratchet keep her away from word of Arthas’ attacks on Orgrimmar last year?  Has playing politics in Stormwind kept him from paying attention to (or caring about) the fall of Gnomeregan?

What canon events and NPCs have shaped your characters’ backstories?  Which ones have they remained ignorant of, and why?


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