Some Dungeons & Dragons players love writing elaborate backstories filled with hanging hooks for the DM to use (against them). Others would rather focus on the numbers game by whipping up a cool multiclass build. That’s what makes TTRPGs so fun; everyone’s style is valid as long as all at the table are having fun!
Today we wanted to give a little something to those who don’t consider themselves writers. We did it once before, now here it is again with a focus on our most studios spellcasters. These 15 backstories will give your wizard style, substance, or just a little spice.
A LOT Of Mouths To Feed
For once, the problem isn’t that your character has dead parents. It’s that your character has two parents and eight siblings. Your parents get by as laborers or merchants, but paying the bills is growing increasingly difficult. Then, the incident happens. Perhaps your shady landlord raises the rent, or a parent loses their job. With your gifts for magic, you could do something. Famous wizards are all over lore and legend. But how do you make a fortune? Where do you find all the lost tombs and deadly bounties? Time to join an adventuring party and find out.
Going through all the D&D backgrounds is a great way to get inspiration. We tend to associate certain backgrounds with certain classes, like how a wizard is often seen as a sage. But what about a soldier wizard? Perhaps you served in a mage squadron during a recent war. After being injured or discharged, you retired to the countryside to leave it all behind. Your peace is interrupted, however, when an old squad mate knocks on your door. Turns out a mission was left unfinished and the kingdom is conscripting you once again. What is the mission? Could a fellow party member be a part of your former squad? All great questions for Session Zero!
I'll Show Em
You manifested magical ability at a young age and took to learning spells easily. As a teenager, you quickly learned that people paid to see magic performed with pizzazz. And you’ve got style to spare. You’ve made a good living traveling to villages and blowing people away with your arcane talents. This story goes great with a charlatan background, or the Cartomancer feat from the Book of Many Things. One day, you were upstaged by an upstart rival. Their spells were literally on a higher level, and your cantrips paled in comparison. You vowed to learn bigger, better magic and put your rival in their place.
Your parents didn’t know what to do when you first started manifesting magic. Your small village doesn’t have much history with the magical arts, so you were seen as an oddity. Thankfully, your uncle happens to be an experienced spellcaster who lives in a big city. One letter later, and a visit was planned. However, it didn’t come quickly enough. Someone in town ended up seriously injured without explanation. Since the circumstances were unusual and you were already looked on with suspicion, people were quick to pin the crime on you. You had no choice but to leave with your uncle. One day, after enough training, you might be able to clear your name.
I Saw The Light
While service to a deity is often seen as a cleric thing, Gale from Baldur’s Gate 3 proves that wizards can catch the eye of the gods. In this backstory, your wizard never thought too much about their place in the grand design. Then, while attending a service at a temple, they witnessed a sermon that struck their very core. After an intense philosophical discussion with the temple’s priest/shaman/guide, your wizard was given an open invitation to return. After several more visits and long chats, this person became a sort of mentor to your character. Now you venture out in service of the temple, hoping to do something meaningful with your magic.
From your first cantrip, you knew you wanted to go to wizarding school. Years later, you emerge with a book full of spells and no idea what to do next. You could strive to become a wizard of great renown like your favorite professor. Or you could be working for the school to pay off your student debt. Whatever the case, this simple background opens up a lot of room for connections to NPCs or even other PCs. The warlock might have been your roommate in the dorms. The wizard in the rival mercenary guild might be that jerk from potions class. This one is good for campaigns that start at a higher level or one-shots since it can fit into multiple settings.
As a resident of a big city, you have the luxury of a big bookstore down the street. You were always a voracious reader who loved pouring over texts on history and the arcane. One day, the bookseller recommended a mysterious tome that just came into the shop. The cover was too worn to make out the title, but the contents seemed like the immaculately-written thoughts of a great wizard. You bought it and raced home to give it a read. When you did crack it open in private, the text glowed and seemed to be speaking directly to you. Spurred on by the guidance of your new spellbook, you begin your journey as a wizard.
Best In The Land
There is only one High Mage in the entire land, and it’s a lifetime position. Whenever the current High Mage retires or passes on, a competition is held to pick a new one. You gathered with every other hopeful spellcaster in the land as the king/empress/chieftain proclaimed “Do a deed of incomparable service to the realm, and the title of High Mage is yours!” You raced out into the world to do something worthy of taking the title, starting the first chapter of your legend. Be sure to work with the DM if you go with this backstory, however, as it does introduce a notable event into their world.
You are the child of a pair of storied adventurers. At least that’s what people tell you. Your parents were never around, so you wouldn’t know. Raised by extended family, you grew to love the simple life. You developed a talent for magic and learned a few simple spells to help around the house, but leaving on an adventure is something you never considered. Why go off and leave your family when everything you need is right here? And you would’ve stayed at home were it not for the strange creature that delivered a package to you one dreary afternoon. Inside was a map to a supposed lost treasure and letters your parents had written over the years. Apparently, you are meant to take up their final quest.
The Orphaned Mage
You can barely remember your parents’ faces. You’ve scraped by on the streets just fine without them, anyway, with your quick wits and sticky fingers. Little did you know that your latest mark would change your life. You saw a man in fancy robes with a fancy satchel. It was time for the usual. Yet when you reached inside the satchel you felt a cold nothingness. Bewildered, your mind wandered to what kind of priceless item such a bag could contain. Suddenly, your fingers wrapped around the spine of a book. Later, after escaping with your prize, you found that the book has all kinds of magic words and symbols. Welcome to wizardry.
A Square Trying To Fit In A Circle
If you are playing a nature-friendly origin like elf, centaur, or shifter, you could have grown up in a forest community. This community is run by a circle of druids who guard the land. When you first started to manifest magical ability, you were brought into the circle to learn the ways. But you could never quite hear nature’s voice. You still can’t, even now. You’ve learned a handful of spells by watching the others and recording their movements in a book, but feats like wild shaping elude you. The elder druid figured out what you are and sent you to a city to learn the magic the wizards use. You’ve never been to a city before, but you’re determined to wield magic as one of the circle.
One of your parents is a beloved instructor at the nearby academy or castle. The other is a thief who spent most of your life serving time. You’ve always resented the imprisoned parent, not just for being absent but also for the hold they still seem to have on your other parent. On the day of their release, your thief parent immediately came asking for help. They owe a criminal group a large amount of money and the bill is past due. The urgency is emphasized when a pair of burly bruisers visits your home to collect. One parent might have a good job, but not enough to square away a debt of this size. Time to put your wizard skills to use and find a priceless artifact or something.
Bag Of Holding Victim
You were a normal adventurer once. You met some people in a tavern, formed a party, and took on goblins together. Your days were filled with danger and excitement, and you enjoyed it all. Then the rogue decided to do something chaotic. Perhaps it was the BBEG escaping again, or maybe it was just a shopkeep refusing to haggle. Whoever it was, the rogue needed to get back at them. They took the party’s bag of holding and stuffed it inside the artificer’s extra bag of holding. BOOM! You were sucked into the Astral Plane. Here you’ve floated for what feels like a lifetime, as time doesn’t pass in this void. You’ve achieved enlightenment. Or madness.
Your magic is your art. Have fun flavoring your spells as brush strokes, constructs as your sculptures, or verbal components as excerpts from your steamy novel. Take the hermit background as you went into seclusion to finish your life’s greatest work. You have learned a lot in your time away, but one last thing eludes you. You’re missing the final bit of life experience that will tie it all together. You’re rejoining the world a changed person– much wiser but also much more eccentric. You will find the ending to your novel, the final figure for your painting. Even if you must risk your life in a dungeon to do it.
The Path To Eternal Life
You come from a town ravaged by plague. There were no friendly clerics or paladins to help. You had to stare death in the face daily and it haunts you. You were adopted by a passing noble family who raised you as their own and even paid for your wizard training. But it wasn’t enough. You acquired forbidden tomes of necromancy. But it wasn’t enough. Finally, you learned of liches: beings who could defy death with their mastery of magic. Furthermore, your studies revealed the weaknesses of lichdom. You are smart enough to avoid their fate. You will not become so power hungry that you try to topple kingdoms or challenge gods. You will simply live forever. And that will be enough.