One of my favorite new elements to Dungeons & Dragons is the inclusion of Backgrounds as a standard component of character creation. I’ve always felt that an interesting background can really help a player feel connected to the campaign and provides interesting hooks and inspiration for the DM to build on. Some of the people I play with love constructing elaborate, detailed backgrounds for their characters while others simply jot down a few notes and let me, as the DM, fill in the details as we go. Everyone at the table however loves it when elements of their character’s background come up in play. For me the only problem with cool character backgrounds is my tendency to forget about them once the campaign is underway and lose out on everything they have to offer.
In 5th edition players select one of thirteen backgrounds for their character (several backgrounds also offer a variant version for eighteen total). Each background gives the character a couple of proficiencies, some equipment, suggested Personality Traits, Ideals, Bonds, and Flaws, and a background feature. In many ways a feature is much like an ability or power but without any specific mechanical effect. Instead it is more a roleplaying element designed to give the character some in-game benefit while also giving the DM interesting opportunities for immediate campaign hooks.
For example, the Noble has the feature Position of Power. This feature affects how commoners and people in power tend to act toward the character while also allowing the character easier access to high society. The character could secure an audience with local nobles or access places that common folk aren’t allowed. This is why I like 5th edition’s approach. By giving each background a specific feature that players are inclined to use, a character’s background gets pulled into the foreground, inspiring players and DM’s alike and becoming relevant to the campaign.
The second thing I love about background is this quote from page 125 of the PHB:
“Choosing a background provides you with important story cues about your character’s identity. The most important question to ask about your background is what changed? Why did you stop doing whatever your background describes and start adventuring?”
That question awesome! Deciding why your character went from being a Noble to becoming a Monk, or from the life of a Criminal to taking the vows of a Paladin, is a fantastic way to build an identity and inform your roleplaying choices. For me this is just one of the many ways in which the new edition of Dungeons & Dragons has rekindled my love of the game!