Tag: Sage

Dungeons and Dragons Character Races – Half Elf

Dungeons and Dragons Character Races – Half Elf

Final character race in the Player Handbook. There are plenty more in other books like Xanathar’s Guide to Everything or Guildmaster’s Guide to Ravnica. I’ll let you explore those as I haven’t explored all of them yet either. Half Elves fall into the category of […]

Dungeons and Dragons Character Races – Elves

Dungeons and Dragons Character Races – Elves

I figured I’d go next for playing Dungeons and Dragons and talk about playing the different races. Previously I’ve done series on classes and backgrounds, but there’s another piece to your character creation, and that is picking your race. For this series, I’m going to […]

D&D Background: Introduction

D&D Background: Introduction

After having people enjoy my class articles and how to play a certain class, I wanted to get back to it and talk about the different backgrounds in Dungeons & Dragons. This first post I want to do as an introduction to backgrounds, and then later I’ll cover a few backgrounds at once in various posts and talk about them in more detail.

Image Source: Wizards

What is a Background?

Seems like a pretty straightforward question and answer. A background is what your character did prior to becoming an adventurer. The less straightforward part is that your character might not have done that thing in a while. For example, if you were an urchin and you’re now 50 years old, you weren’t an urchin that recently. It can also be very recently, though; maybe your adventuring started when you, with the criminal background, were caught by the owner of a mansion and instead of reporting you, they were impressed by your skills, so they hired you to do a job for them and leave them alone, and that’s where the game is starting.

I like it when players use their background to enhance a mystery or something in their backstory that I as the DM can grab onto as a plot hook. It doesn’t have to be a huge plot hook, but if there is something interesting, like an intriguing NPC or place or monster that is in your background, that helps me flesh out the world so that as a player, you feel more connected. Even if you’ve closed your past off — everyone is dead, I now have a traumatic event that happened in my past, etc. — how do you react when something like that happens again?

How Much Should You Use the Book for Backgrounds?

This is a situation where there isn’t really a right answer. As much or as little as you need to. The nice thing about the backgrounds from the player handbook (PHB) is that it helps you figure out things like flaws, personality traits, etc. if you’re having troubles or you only have a loose idea. The downside is that sometimes people feel beholden to use the ones that are in the book. I let my players tweak things as needed, or if they have an idea for a flaw, bond, personality trait, or ideal already, we make it so it works in the game. What you’re trying to avoid is making a character that is Batman and who doesn’t really have a personality, flaw, or bond.

Image Source: D&D Beyond

Wait, What’s All in a Background?

A background is something that you’ve done in your past that was an important part of your life. We kind of covered that in the first part, but this is something that defines you heavily at the start of your game. Things can change as your character develops and as possible flaws are overcome or bonds aren’t bonds anymore. Let’s talk about the different parts of a background, though.

You generally start by picking out a single background — it might be that you were an urchin or criminal as mentioned above, but maybe you spent most of your life studying and were a sage, or you did something amazing and became a folk hero. There are a number of these options in the PHB and more in other books. I don’t have all of the other books yet, but I’ll probably be adding some as time goes on.

In each background, you have a few tables that you can roll on or pick from, and this is what I was talking about in the above section. Each background has a table containing personality traits, and then tables for flaws, bonds, and ideals as well. You can roll on them and get a random one to help you figure out your characters backstory, or you can pick, choose, and alter them so that they fit the backstory you already had planned for your character.

The reason that they do this is to give you a spot to start roleplaying from. It helps you fish around less to start a game to find your character if you have a baseline. It also gives you some things, like different proficiency depending on the background you took. Maybe as a Sage you are now proficient in investigation and knowledge about the arcane, but for a criminal background, it might be that you are proficient at sleight of hand and deception. Along with that, it gives you some ability or trait that you can use. For example, if you are a soldier, even retired, other soldiers still recognize your rank. Or if you’re a Guild Artisan, you can also go to the guild of your craft, but those seem to come up less. It also gives you some gear, if you’re getting gear that way, and possibly some more languages.

What If I Have Multiple Backgrounds?

Image Source: D&D Beyond

Now that you’ve heard more about different backgrounds, you might be thinking that you fall into multiple categories. That’s certainly possible, so I’m going to go into story mode with you and talk about two different characters, Silver and Syldi.

Silver had a rough life and saw many horrible things. He didn’t know all of what was going on, but has been haunted by some of it. He also didn’t grow up well and was on the street and poor as an urchin. Those two things shaped him into the god-fearing man he is today. So, when Silver was looking at different backgrounds, the player didn’t feel like a single one quite fit. So instead of just picking one, he combined two. He took the skill proficiency, and gear from just one, but when building out his bonds, personality traits, flaws, and ideals, he worked from both lists. That’s one way you can get a couple of backgrounds into the same character.

Syldi, on the other hand, grew up on the street, barely making it. She had to steal from street vendors and eventually caught the eye of the local thieves’ guild. She started working with them until she was able to land on her feet and become a bartender (at least part-time) at the Queen’s Retreat. Syldi would make sense to have a combination of criminal and urchin background. However, Syldi was a thief because of necessity, not because it’s something that she really wanted to do. Her being a criminal wasn’t a defining feature of her as compared to being an urchin, and while she has thief skills (and is actually a Rogue with the archetype of thief), those are because she was an urchin, not because she was a criminal. So, that’s one kind of thing you can lean into; maybe there is one that is more important so that is the one you really get your skills from.

But What if None of Them Are Right?

With Dungeons & Dragons, playing the game and creating characters is more of an art than a science, I’d say. If you can’t find something that works as well as you’d hoped, work with your DM. Maybe the Sage options don’t quite match what you are looking for, because you want to be a student still, and a sage seems like they’d know too much. Work with your DM on it — maybe there are parts you can use from the sage, but then tweak the other parts or come up with your own. There’s nothing that says that you can’t come up with your own background, and if you have a great idea for one, run it by your Dungeon Master.

However, if your background idea gives you four new skills, a bank full of platinum pieces, and the ability to mind control any person within twenty miles of you into giving you their home as your own so you always have a spot to stay, that might be a bit overboard, and as a DM, I’m going to nix that. Certainly, though, come up with your own ideas and skills within reason. Even if you only get a couple of skills like most classes do, don’t give yourself the option of the two best ones for yourself; look at how other backgrounds do it and balance that out on your own. Your student might have skills that look more like a sage, but maybe you’re a student of martial arts; if so, don’t give yourself investigation and stealth because those seem the handiest. You’re probably not getting much investigating done if you’re practicing your sweet kung fu moves.

The same goes with your background traits such as personality, bond, flaws, and ideals. You probably don’t have a personality trait that everyone always likes you. If you suggested that as a personality trait in a game that I’m running, I’d either tell you just get the Charm Person spell or that maybe it’s your flaw — you think everyone likes you. Or, if you decide that your bond is to the empire because you’re the sister of the emperor, that can work, but don’t expect that to get you what you want. You’re going to have to defend the empire against the common folk who think the emperor sucks, and oh, by the way, while it opens a lot of noble doors for you, the emperor is pretty sure you’re trying to steal his throne, but thanks for the plot hook.

Basically, just be reasonable about it. I’ll nix anything as a DM if it is too strong. However, if your DM isn’t going to do that, don’t take advantage of it. The game is meant to be fun for everyone, so come up with your really fun background that the DM is going to enjoy and that you’re going to enjoy; just don’t take away from the fun of the other players.

Image Source: D&D Beyond

Finally, What’s the Difference between a Background and Backstory?

This is a question that is pretty simple. Your background is basically your skills that you gained through your backstory. The backstory you choose is going to be what really shapes who you are as a character, and you can slot your background into it. That means, if you’ve spent your whole life apprenticing to be an armorer in the mines of Moria, you don’t have the criminal background. You can work at it from either direction; you can use your background to create your backstory and use those traits, bonds, flaws, and ideals to flesh out what happened to you. Or you can work it from the other direction, where you have a story and pick the background that works for you in that backstory.

Now that you have an idea of how backgrounds work, we’re going to delve more into some of them, and I’ll be giving examples like I did with the classes as to how you can use backgrounds and potentially turn them into something different than what your typical sage or urchin or criminal is like.


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D&D Classing It Up: Wizard

D&D Classing It Up: Wizard

We’re getting to the end of the classes with only Wizard and Warlock left. So, how do you play a classy Wizard? The Wizard is one of the classiest classes already without doing much to class it up (well, kind of…mainly I just want to […]

D&D Classing it Up: Sorcerer

D&D Classing it Up: Sorcerer

We’re getting down to it — three more classes to play in a classy way. The first is that of a Sorcerer, and the other two are magical as well. Sorcerer is one of my favorite classes, though I’ve never played one. What I like […]

D&D Classing It Up: Rogue

D&D Classing It Up: Rogue

Back to the drawing board with Rogues — today we’re talking about how to play a rogue and be a classy one in Dungeons & Dragons. Most of the time, people play one of two types of Rogues — first is the assassin rogue. You’re super sneaky; you can hide, jump out, and deal a ton of damage and go back into hiding if somehow your one hit didn’t kill the NPC you were trying to kill. The other is the thief. You enjoy stealing stuff, even from your own party, and you are really greedy.

Image Source: Wizards

I’m here to tell you that those are two awesome tropes (though don’t steal from your party), but there are a lot of other options for the rogue. The rogue is a skill monkey — you have more skills to start out with than other classes, and you get more expertise, which means you are really, really good at some things. So, while you can make it so you are really, really good at being a thief, you can also be a rogue who is better at many things. Leaning into a background, you can use your skills to be the face of the party, or to be a con man. You could be one of the smartest rogues out there who is sneaking into places to acquire more knowledge.

Mechanically, you’re going to end up being sneaky and focused on dexterity. This is because you have your sneak attack, which you get when you have advantage on your attacks or are attacking someone who is engaged in combat already. This allows you to dish out a lot of damage once per turn, even more so if you are an assassin-type rogue. Other than that, you really are the skill monkey who can become an expert at something. A word of caution with being a skill monkey — try to pick something that the rest of the party doesn’t have. Being good at stealth is great and probably can overlap with others’ skills, but if you have a monk in the party who is really good at sneaking as well or is good at deception, don’t step on their toes. Since you can pick most any skill, it’s better to just pick a different one. Rogue is generally the class that people go with when they want to be Batman, because you can kind of be Batman if you want to.

So what are some backstories you can go with?


Growing up on the street was tough; you had to lie and steal for a living. One day, you stole from someone and suddenly found yourself under the eyes of the local thieves’ guild. This was actually pretty great, because soon you were working with a crew, and you knew more people. Things were going well until something seemed to take over the leader of the thieves’ guild. They changed, and you don’t know how or why. Your missions started to become weird, and you stopped making money like you had been before. More and more members of the thieves’ guild changed as well. You need to find help outside the guild to figure out what is going on and save your city before the guild destroys it.

Background: Urchin (or Guild Artisan)
Class Archetype: Thief


You grew up in a small shipping town. It was a nice little town and grew larger as the town became a bigger shipping port. That attracted some unsavory sorts, including pirates. One day, the town were raided — most people hid, but you were working at the warehouse and weren’t able to get away. The pirates shanghaied you. The first few years on the ship were horrible — you got all the jobs no one wanted. But as time when on and pirates left or were killed, you got more and more responsibility. After five years, you were one of the top pirates on the ship. The captain got sick one day and passed away shortly thereafter. There was infighting among the pirates about who was going to take over, but you didn’t take part, because you knew where the captain’s secret stash was. Now you need help getting to it, but if you can, you’ll be rich, and you’ll be able to get your own ship and crew.

Class Archetype: Swashbuckler
Background: Folk Hero(?)

Image Source: D&D Beyond

Your family was always a family of thieves. You’d travel from town to town, scamming people out of their hard-earned money. You didn’t do it to people who didn’t have much money to start out with — only to the rich. That gave you enough to live on. One night, a scam went wrong, and you got separated from your family. You were caught by the noble lady you and your family were trying to scam. You were still young, so she took pity on you. Instead of throwing you in jail or having you killed for trying to scam her, she offered you a position. Instead of being a thief, you were going to help protect her against any other thieves and con artists that might show up. It was a great job, and you left your life of crime behind, until someone stole the lady’s jewels and left two pieces among your belongings. Now you’re on the run, and you need to find out who framed you, which is probably something you can’t do on your own.

Background: Criminal
Class Archetype: Inquisitive


The noble of your town was not a good person, and they have a personal vendetta against your family. You were part of the highest-born family other than theirs, and they were constantly paranoid about your father stealing their title. Your father was never interested in that, but when you left to go to university, you got news that your parents had been killed in a “hunting accident.” You knew that wasn’t the case, and you spent some time in college studying so that you’d be able to take over your town and get revenge. While studying, you spent plenty of time also learning how to use weapons and to be able to kill without being seen. When you become a noble, you can hire someone to kill for you, but until then, and with the noble of your town, you want the revenge yourself. But to get in and kill them, you’re going to need help.

Background: Sage
Class Archetype: Assassin


When playing a rogue, have you stolen from your party? What have been some of your favorite rogue moments?


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