I think there is common problem among many tabletop RPG fans, both players and GM’s alike. In my experience a lot of players tend to -overthink- their characters rather than the opposite, and I’ve experienced this lately in my DnD game. It becomes very hard as a GM to piece together how or why 4 different PC’s should be adventuring together when they invent their own multi-paragraph backstory. One guy is a Prince of the Elven lands who is on a pilgrimage to prove his nobility. One is a ex-pit fighter out to kill his old master. One is a chaotic stupid Paladin who wants everything done by the book and the last is a thief who confuses his occupation for preoccupation.
None of these things are wrong necessarily to have as part of your characters background, it’s just that none of those things answer the question of why you are together in the now, and why will you be in the near future. Leaving room in your characters backstory for aspects of the setting to tie them to the world, as well as other player characters creates a richer and more cohesive narrative to the game.
This is why I always advocate group character creation with a bonds system similar to how Powered by the Apocalypse games do it. Now this isn’t always possible and some games have their own methods of subverting the “You All Meet in a Tavern” trope. At the very least establishing vague bonds like “Me and Rob’s PC characters served in the same army.” or “This person did me a favor, one I must repay with service.” or my favorite “This person is my brother/sister, I need to adventure with her so he/she doesn’t end up killed.” No need to get specific yet about what the army was, what the favor was, or the quality of the sibling relationship. Adding layers and depth to these bonds will come as the game progresses.
From the GM perspective though, we (and perhaps by “we” I’m referring to “me”.) tend to over-create the world. I’ve posted already how I think pitching a setting to your players should go but here’s some stuff to keep in mind.. Keep it to as few words as possible. Use any and all cultural or fan-touchstones you can to paint a picture of what you are thinking of, avoid conjuring up something that requires tons of exposition. Leave blank spaces, either on the map or in the metaphysical truths of your world for the players to inject some ideas. This is why I particularly loathe certain canned settings, (coughForgottenRealmscough.) because much of the enjoyment of the setting comes from everyone having similar levels of knowledge, which in my experience almost never happens. Someone who knows more about Forgotten Realms can make a more entrenched and “deep” character than those who don’t. Also I just hate Forgotten Realms so maybe I am biased.
Another thing is be willing to kill your ideas that your players don’t like, additionally to kill plot points/NPC’s you cherish. If you aren’t willing to do that then you are treading dangerously down the path of Thomas the Train.
Maybe all of this just sounds like “Just play Fate/Dungeon World.” and that’s fair I guess. But like with a lot of things with the hobby, a lot of games don’t do a good job or even -attempt- to solve the “You all meet in a tavern.” problem with any kind of rigor. But like the theme of this post, I’ll leave some blanks and let you decide the rest.