It was the best of backstories, it was the mediocre of backstories…
I had requested that my players come up with some background for their characters. Although I don’t generally require a detailed backstory when I GM, this was a unique situation.
This group of players had been trying to startup an Adventures in Middle Earth campaign for several months. They (which included me at the time) had gone through several GMs. For various reasons these GMs had to step down and another would take their place. I stepped up and have been running the campaign for a couple years now.
The players had shared backstory information with previous GMs, and there was an assumption that I had received that information as well. I had bits and pieces, but not all of it. Therefore, I asked everyone to provide a brief synopsis.
Game night came, the backstories piled up, and then I realized I had made a mistake. I hadn’t set parameter for the back stories. I had assumed the players understood how Middle Earth worked in the 3rd era. This lead to an issue with one backstory, and I will fully admit that I was at fault.
In fantasy media, Elves are normally portrayed as too good to be true. They excel at everything, they are handsome/beautiful, and many times immortal. One player wanted to play a character disenchanted with elf perfection. They spun a tale of deception, intrigue,and murder, with the blame placed fully on the shoulders of elf kind.
Now to be fair, they didn’t place the blame fully on all elves, but they had elves doing things that Middle Earth elves would not be doing in the setting we are playing.
“Thus entered panic into my brain, and fear into my soul.”
Okay, maybe a slight exaggeration, however my immediate reaction was to dismiss the backstory completely. This was not okay and after chatting with my fellow blogger Frerin, I have a possible solution for the type of situation.
- Apologize for not setting better guidelines, and for immediately dismissing the backstory. In short: Own up to my mistake in the situation.
- Offer to modify the story to fit, if the player would like to keep the basics of the story. There is plenty of room for prejudice and distrust in the setting. Much of Tolkien’s writings contain people overcoming racism and hatred.
- Provide clearer guidelines and the chance to rewrite for anyone who would like to make their story fit better into the setting.
No matter how long you GM, you will make mistakes. I have been blessed to play with a patient, understanding, and forgiving group. I wouldn’t trade them for the world. (I might TPK them for a pizza though.)