The sage is the scholar of the D&D backgrounds. While you might not be studying now, you have studied a lot in the past, even to the point where you might now be teaching or have taught in the past. This background is what a lot of people would use if they were going to play a Wizard. A Wizard has learned magic and has likely studied somewhere for it.
There are plenty of other classes though that could use the background, they give you a number of areas that you could have studied, but being a Dwarven metal work professor would be out of the ordinary and go against the normal teaching options that they give, or area of study options. It’s also a background that people will use to play a smarty pants character who is condescending or thinks they know more than everyone else, because they might actually know more than most people. I’d say if you are going to go that route, be aware of two things, make sure that if you are going to be condescending in the game, have it be clearly between characters so it doesn’t seem like it might be above the table and directed at a player. Secondly, consider it being a character arc, maybe this is your characters first adventure and they think they know everything and don’t really need others to make decisions but then as the game progresses, they can come to the realization that they need others, and that book smarts are not the same as street smarts.
Beyond that, I do think that there are two main reasons that people go with this background. It gets two nice features in the Researcher, which means if you don’t know the answer, you know where to find it. Very powerful in a game, especially a city game where you can always go and research. That means that you are going to probably be able to find that information pretty quickly and without much travel. The other being that you get two languages. Might not seem like that big of a deal, but if you are in a port or if you are going to travel a lot in the game, you are going to run into races and places where they might not speak common, or at least will drop out of common when they are going to talk about you.
Now for some story ideas using the sage background:
You grew up on the rough side of the city and it was your goal to get away from that. When you were a teen, you ran away from home and found yourself on the doorstep of a temple in the nicer neighborhoods. Pretending that you weren’t from around the city and that you had been mugged wasn’t that difficult when you had nothing your whole life. The temple believed me, or if not took pity on me and took me in. They started training me, and gave me shelter and food. As part of our agreement, I was going to work for them and pay back, in work, what I had been given. I got a job in the city library as a librarian, turns out it was run by the temple. After I paid off my debt, I continued to work there and get more training through the temple, then one day, some people who I had known as kids came in before hours and killed a guest from out of town who had gotten special permissions to come in early. They were caught, but they implicated you in the crime, that you had let them in. You were kicked out of your job, but the head of the temple believed you. Now you have to track down who actually called in this hit and clear your name.
Alignment: Chaotic Good
Your time in the university was fascinating and you got a great love for people, races, and creatures out of it. In fact, you got so much love for them that you decided to leave any chance at a easy job or well paying job at the university to go out and research some of them. Finding a tribe to follow around and study wasn’t too difficult, but getting close to them and really learning about them was very difficult. The tribe of orcs didn’t let you in easily, but once they were used to you, they opened up. After spending years with them, you were starting to truly understand them like no one had before and they were teaching you their ways. Then a plague hit their village, but it didn’t affect you. You watched as those you had known died around you and you felt powerless to stop it. When the chief became ill, he asked you to help save what was left of his village, because they couldn’t seem to get away from the plague. You took off with a handful of hunters and those who had dealt with society before. Then you met a strange woman in the woods and she offered to help. You needed to save them, so you agreed to go with her, but when you saw her place, you quickly realized she was likely the cause of the plague. Calling her on that, she fled, and while a small bit of the tribe was saved because she left, you want to hunt her down and keep her from experimenting on others.
Alignment: Lawful Neutral
Notes: This one I like because you are playing the dummies of the D&D world with a barbarian, but it’s something that you learned after you were a sage, so it makes a very uniquely flavored character.
Your family was poor and life was hard for you and your six siblings. Your parents had trouble keeping food on the table. When you were a young teen you told your parents that you’d drop out of school to go out and work at a farm to help make ends meet and to keep everyone fed, but they told you they wouldn’t let you throw away your chance at a better life. That night, you made up your mind, you didn’t want to work on a farm, but you didn’t want to be a burden to your parents and not help. Packing the little that you had, you snuck out of the house and made your way down the road for a week where you knew a wizard lived in a tower. You’d heard stories about them and how they sometimes used an apprentice. You knocked on the door and introduced yourself. It took some begging and testing to get the position. It didn’t make you much money, but you sent, anonymously, the little that you made home to your parents. It wasn’t until you had studied more under the wizard that you realized they were not a good person. They started to do experiments on you and run you through the ringer. One night a voice came to you offering to help and get you away, you took the chance and escaped. You went into hiding for almost a decade before the voice came back to you and told you that your parents had sold your youngest sibling to the wizard and that it was time for you to act.
Alignment: Chaotic Neutral/Chaotic Good
Less backstories than normal, but some longer ones than normal. I hope that you’ve enjoyed them. There are three more backgrounds left to do after this.
Have you played someone with a sage background? Why did you choose that background and what was your backstory?
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