"Character backstory is what happens in levels 1-6".. Maybe I'll fix and attribute the quote when I get to a computer later, but I have some thoughts to share if you've got a moment.
Most osr systems seem to have about three or four character classes, plus races handled in one way or another.
Fighting-man and magic-user are usually offered, and cleric and thief might be there, depending on the mood of whatever writer is copying-and-pasting old saving throw charts while (nod, wink) attributing the material as "derived" from OGL material.
Enough of that. There are two to four character classes, plus races which might be races or might also be character classes.
There is no barbarian, no monk, no initiate of the seventh favored solstice of zartan, the classes are kept minimal and usually picked based on the results of tossing three cubes a total of eighteen times. Characters are written on a single sheet of paper and are not developed before play.
And I think that can be a good thing. To be honest I haven't really played that format yet, only read about it. My feelings on this matter will probably not survive contact with actual gameplay, will be changed in some way that I cannot hope to predict.
Anyways, much of my time in D&D has been spent in 3.x, so I tend to expect flavor expressed in the form of character class. But if I am going to embrace OSR/DIY values, I feel some pressure to abandon the idea. I wonder about a third option, with some capriciousness built in.
I am thinking about "concept cards", and I am sure my idea isn't that original. For one reason or another, a player recieves a card with the description of a variant on his character. The character isn't just a fighting-man, he is now a berserk, or a blue-lotus monk, or a duelist. A wizard might become a geomancer, or demon-touched. These kits would be permanent additions, or might not, perhaps there are rules that have to be followed to keep the path. They would have a specific mechanical effect, and would probably not change the xp cost of leveling. Something to flavor a character which looks in some ways like multi-classing or prestige class, witbout bulking up the rules more than necessary.
These might be made available at a certain level threshold, say level four or five. They might be chosen completely at random, or partially at random with the DM selecting out a group of them based on the character alignment, or the player's style.
I think it should be a moment of revelation.. the player touches a standing stone on a hill and is thunderstruck, or uncovers an ancient tome detailing a special path.
Characters would be limited to one kit only, and they should probably have ability score requirements, although that brushes with the old issue of limiting player options based on factors outside their control, a hallmark of OSR material which always rankled me, like XP bonuses based on high score in prime-requisite.
Just felt like throwing this out, to try to figure out what i think about it, and maybe get another opinion or two.