Whether you were conscripted into the army at young age or are a grizzled veteran of many wars who hasn’t known anything but the army, there are a lot of different ways to play someone with a soldier background. You can play anywhere from a rough and tumble infantry who was born for the brawl or the cook keeping busy trying to feed a thousand troops, you can have a lot of different options when looking at someone involved in the military. In D&D Fifth Edition, that is more of what the background looks like, from the lowliest stable hand to the highest ranking general, all of those can be the soldier background. That diversity definitely makes the background more interesting to play. Without it, you could have plenty of other unique character traits, but the background would be pretty vanilla.
Skill wise, it is what you could expect. You have better abilities with athletics and with intimidation. Both of those are good skills to have, so for that reason, the soldier background is one of the stronger ones to have. It is interesting though, because intimidation is based off of charisma, and charisma is often a dump stat for someone who is playing a fighter character, it can make the proficiency a whole lot less useful. You also get a rank which people recognize as part of your background. Even if you were just a cook, they recognize that you were in the military, but if you were a general, the common folk still might defer to you.
So, what about some backgrounds?
I was taken away from my family when I turned fourteen. The hundred years war was going full swing and they needed more bodies. I was small for my age, though, so instead of sticking me on the front lines, they had me run water, help with the cooking, and wash clothes. It wasn’t a glamorous job, but it kept me away from the fighting, for the most part. I was running water out to a band of troops when a sneak attack was sprung on them and I was caught in the midst of it. Most of the troop was routed, and I froze not knowing what to do when the retreat was sounded. I was staring at a horse and rider that were prepared to skewer me when I finally was able to move. I grabbed a sword from the ground, ducked under their swing and cut their saddle from the horse tumbling them to the ground. I killed that man, and that was the first person that I killed, ever. Turns out that he was a leading commander on the other side. And while it didn’t change the outcome of the war, it turned the tide of that battle and I became a hero. I was offered my own division, but I declined. I knew that it had been pure luck and I would have been dead. Now I travel around and I’ve found a group where I can help around the camp and cook. Lately though, I feel like enemies from the war are trying to hunt me down and I’m not sure I will be able to stay safe.
Alignment: Lawful Neutral
No one appreciates my true genius. I know so many ways to make people burn that it isn’t even fair. And at this point in time I’ve gotten it pretty much under control. Even my breath and make someone burn. That’s why the army loves me to so much and why I love them so much. I can be a siege weapon by myself. It was such a wonderful life in the army, I got to lead a division of troops who all we did was burn things, it was my dream. Now that was an issue that they had with me, I started burning things that weren’t meant to be burned, but I was effective, and that is what matters. When they complained that I had burned down a whole village when it really wasn’t needed, just their opinion mind you, I was understandably annoyed. Now, I’m not saying that I started my superiors tent on fire, and I think it was unfair that they blamed me, because no one saw me do it. Dishonorable discharge wasn’t too bad, but what is someone like me supposed to do in the outside world? I have a fire inside me and all I want to do is burn.
Alignment: Chaotic Evil/Neutral
Comments: I’d try and play this chaotic neutral. Play off the idea that it is an internal struggle inside the character that it’s almost a voice telling them to burn things. A Warlock would work well for this. A Wild Magic sorcerer is also interesting for the idea of being out of control.
There is nothing better than a bit of order in your life. According to my mother, the last time I saw her, I was always someone who loved order and who wanted things to be in a specific order. I’d cry as a small child if something wasn’t where I expected it to be. It made perfect sense for me to join the military for that reason. It gave me order. I was disappointed when I joined, the drills had solid order, but many of the other soldiers weren’t nearly disciplined enough. I quickly rose to the top of my class because I was disciplined and then worked my way up through the ranks until I was commanding large numbers of troops. I drilled those troops until they met the order that I demanded of them, and we were a force to be reckoned with on the battlefield. When i was getting older, I saw that the new troops coming in were lacking order, and I couldn’t get them to respond like I used to. So I decided it was time to take my leave of the army. I founded an adventuring guild where I can take a team with me and we can become well known that way. It helps with the itch that I have to still be in that disciplined environment.
Class: Battle Master Fighter
Alignment: Lawful Good/Lawful Neutral
Comments: This might seem like a dull character, but it would actually give a lot of role playing chances, because the other characters won’t be as disciplined, so how does the character deal with things that aren’t going as planned or characters who don’t act like they expect?
I never thought that I would fight, and for the most part I tried avoid fighting when I did join the army. I was an ideal scout for them and a spy. It kept me out of the fighting at most times, but I did have to fight once in a while. It was not something that I relished. I wouldn’t have even joined the army if I wasn’t trying to keep my lands protected. Once the war was over I wanted to leave, but I was too good, and they refused to let me go. So I ran away. Now I’m a deserter and they have an eye out for me to bring me back in if I were to resurface. I’m looking for a team that I can help guide somewhere so I can make enough money to leave these lands.
Alignment: Neutral Good
Comments: I like this as a wild shape druid who changes into an animal to spy/scout. Ranger and Rogue work as well, but the druid seem much more like the reluctant member of the military.
Have you played a character with the solider background before? Were they a willing member of the military or someone conscripted into it?
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