After talking about what the backgrounds do in Dungeons & Dragons and why people might use them, it’s time to talk about the different backgrounds. I’m going to try to stick with my alphabetical ordering, but that might not happen, as there are backgrounds scattered through a number of books, two of which I have. The Player’s Handbook is where you’re going to find most of them, but I plan on writing about the Haunted background from Curse of Strahd as well.
The first one alphabetically is the acolyte. You’ve spent time in service to your deity. For example, maybe you started as someone who assisted the priestess as a child and then rose all the way up in the ranks to become the high priestess yourself. As I mentioned, there could be a large gap of time since the period when you were in service to your deity, but even though it could be something you did a long time before you started adventuring, it can still be a part of who you are as an adventurer. It is just a piece that has helped define who you are as a person.
There are a number of obvious classes that make the “most” sense to go with if you are an acolyte, the first being cleric. If you’re a cleric, that’s exactly what your job was in the temple that you served in, and it makes perfect sense. Next, there is paladin. This also makes a ton of sense; you are a knight in service of a deity. And then there is the monk — while the monk in Dungeons & Dragons is as much a ninja as a monk, they can make sense as an acolyte, as they trained in a monastery and have devoted their body and actions to their deity. I’m probably not going to write out much of a background for any of those classes, but I’m going to give you some weirder options or show you how you can play against type. Let’s see what some of those look like now:
I spent so many years in service of Tymora, the goddess of good fortune, and I had worked my way up into the temple. I loved the life as I spent time drinking and eating with the rich and famous of my home city. Life was great, and I was close to becoming the high priestess in my town, until my rival, Gerhim Methezar, lied to the leaders of the religion and told them I’d been preaching lies and accepting bribes. I was branded a heretic and cast out penniless onto the streets. I hate it out here, and I hate Gerhim for what he did to me. In my weakness, a voice came to me and offered me hope, offered me power, and offered me a way to get revenge. I will prove Gerhim for the liar that he is, and regain my spot in the temple of Tymora — until then, I’m going to be a thorn in his side.
Alignment: Lawful Neutral
For this one, I really leaned into the idea of being kicked out and wanting revenge as the bond and then loving rubbing elbows with the elite as a personality trait. The ideal that I used was around wanting power in the faith, and the flaw is picking a goal and becoming obsessed with it. I’m not going to break down all of them like this, but I wanted an example of how I wrote a backstory with using specific aspects from the handbook, even though I didn’t pick them out ahead of time.
I’m also going to be adding in alignments. I doubt you’ll ever see any acolyte character be actually evil, but in this case, the character might border on lawful evil at times, especially when it comes to undermining Gerhim and gaining back their old position, because of their obsession with getting their power back.
The gods speak to me and through me. That’s how the temple of Mystra found me. They seek knowledge, and I had a knowledge that they didn’t have access to. I was raised in their temple as an oracle of the gods and never knew what real life was like. Things were great until one of my visions was wrong. I don’t know what happened — maybe we interpreted it wrong, but people lost their lives, and I do not consider that acceptable. I ran away that day, but the visions didn’t stop coming. Now I’ve had another vision, about a lost relic of Mystra. I can prove to myself that I am worthy of returning to the temple if I can find this relic and bring back a piece of lost knowledge.
Class: Wizard – Divination
Alignment: Lawful Good
Life was hard for me growing up; I was living on the streets and having to steal. I made the mistake of breaking into a temple of Bhaal. They had some very nice things in there, but they caught me. According to their beliefs, that would be enough to have me put to death, but instead, they had some pity on me — I guess it was pity, anyway — and they put me to work. Apparently, no one else had ever gotten as far into the temple as I had. I didn’t love the work they made me do; it was messy work, and as my skills were honed, the work became so violent that after one mission I didn’t feel like I could return. So I didn’t. I ran away, and now agents of Bhaal are trying to track me down. But they trained me well, and with a lot of skill and a bit of luck, I’m sure I can stay ahead of them. Time to find a crowd to blend into and pretend like I’ve had a normal life.
Class: Rogue – Assassin
Alignment: Chaotic Neutral
This is definitely one that you could go evil with — just swap it around so that the temple of Bhaal has burned your character because of some mistake done on an assassination, and now you have a character who is still on the run from them but who enjoys the killing and being a rogue if you’re playing an evil campaign.
I loved living in the church, I spent my youth at the foot of the eldest priest listening to the stories he told. I memorized every single one of them, as I asked him to tell them over and over again. When he passed away, the temple in my little town didn’t get another priest, and I wasn’t sure what to do. I took up traveling. It felt like the right thing to do — seeking out those who are part of my faith so that I can listen to their stories and add them to my knowledge, so I can spread the word to the masses who might not have heard the stories before. There’s a proverb for everything, and I know them all. Unfortunately, life on the road is a bit tougher than life in the temple, but I will not give up my mission to bring these teachings to the masses. However, after a run-in with some people who claimed to be following my deity who then robbed me, I probably should figure out a better way to travel — I’m sure there is someone out there who would let me travel with them and whom I can share my message with.
Class: Bard – Lore
How have you played an acolyte before? Is your character a strict follower of some deity, or a former disgraced member who has been kicked out?
Share questions, ideas for articles, or comments with us!