As Dan Wilson wrote, "Every new beginning is some other begin's end." Before being doused in alpha waves or zeta particles, before waking unexpectedly in the streets of a city halfway around the world, before miraculously gleaning the answers for his Spanish test directly from his teacher's mind and therefore embarking on a life of adventure, your character had a life. Even in the case of a freak or robot who was built-to-suit, there were basic programs or conditioning installed to help him function in the world.

Your character’s backstory explains where you came from, how you received your powers, and why you became a hero, and your background is a part of that tale. Your Action Hero might have been a cop or a soldier. Your Scientist could have been a lab technician or a student. Choosing a background provides you with important clues about your character’s identity and your place in the world.

When selecting a background, think about your character's past. Here are some leading questions to get you started:

  • What was his life like before you started playing him?
  • How did he get his powers?
  • What changed to make him put on a matching set of gloves and boots and take crime by the ears?
  • Why didn't he just keep living his old life and keep his powers to himself?
  • Who were the three most important people in his life?
  • Where did he get the money to purchase his equipment and weapons?
  • How did he learn his skill, tool, and language proficiencies?
  • Where did he pick up his class features?

The backgrounds in this section provide both mechanical benefits (features, proficiencies, and languages) and roleplaying suggestions.


Each background gives a character proficiency in two skills (described in the Ability Scores section). Most backgrounds give a character proficiency with one or more tools (detailed in the Tools section). Some backgrounds also allow characters to learn additional languages beyond those given by race (detailed in the Languages section).

If a character would gain the same proficiency from two different sources (such as Class and Background), he can choose a different proficiency of the same kind (skill, tool, or language) instead.


Each background provides a package of starting equipment. If you use the optional rule from the Equipment section to purchase gear, you do not receive the starting equipment from your background other than attire.

Suggested Characteristics

A background contains suggested personal characteristics based on your life before beginning play. You can pick characteristics, roll dice to determine them randomly, or use the suggestions as inspiration for characteristics of your own creation.

Personality traits are specifics about a character's demeanor. They might describe his beliefs, mannerisms, inclinations, habits, things they value or fear, and accomplishments. It's recommended that you define two traits for your character.

Ideals are the strong beliefs of a character. They drive the character's actions and range from goals and worldviews to moral and ethical codes. They describe what a character desires and why and often go hand-in-hand with a character's alignment. It's recommended that you define one ideal for your character.

A bond explains a character's connection to the world around them, be it through individuals, organizations, places, objects, or ideals. They are meant to give something for a character to care about as you begin play. Bonds can also be associated with other player characters to help create hooks and investments into the people in the team or story. It's recommended that you define one bond for your character.

Flaws are negative personality traits. No one is perfect. Flaws describe fears, addictions, compulsions, or weaknesses. They might cause a character to go against their best interest or their best interest of the team, or that could be exploited by villains. Flaws don't ruin a character, they simply add realistic depth and the possibility for a nuanced story. It's recommended that you define one flaw for your character.

Customizing a Background
You might want to tweak some of the features of a background so that it better fits your character or the setting. To customize a background, you can replace one feature with any other one, choose any two skills, and choose a total of two tool proficiencies or languages from the sample backgrounds. You can either use the equipment package from your background or spend money on gear as described in the equipment section. (If you spend money, you can’t also take the equipment package suggested for your class.) Finally, choose two personality traits, one ideal, one bond, and one flaw. If you can’t find a feature that matches your desired background, work with your GM to create one.


Academic. You're all about learning.
Blue-Blood. You come from a wealthy family but aren't over-burdened with responsibility.
Bohemian. You're creative—an artist or writer—who lives and acts free of regard for conventional rules and practices.
Bounty Hunter. You track down criminals for money.
Country Folk. You listen to country music and talk about trucks.
Crime Fighter. You keep the streets clear of crime.
Crook. You make a living through crime.
Crusader. You fight evil, sometimes a very specific evil such as vampires or the mafia or the vampire mafia.
Desk Jockey. You work in an office, climbing the ladder.
Doctor. You are a medical professional with a doctorate.
Entrepreneur. You have some great ideas about the next big thing.
Faerie Royalty. You are part of a ruling family from the fey realm.
Fantasy Nerd. You're into sci-fi, pop-culture, and things that used to be less popular than they are now.
Fortune-Hunter. You explore ancient ruins and forgotten tombs in search of relics and fame.
Jock. You're an athlete who plays team sports.
Military Combatant. You are a member of the army, coast guard, navy, airforce, or marines.
Musician. You make music, and you do it well.
Ninja. You're a shinobi.
Paranormal Professional. You run a business that deals in fringe science.
Secret Agent. You're a secret agent.
Showman. You are a performer for the love of your art.
Sleuth. You are a trained investigator.
Student. You're a high school student.
Thug. You didn't choose the thug background…
Tycoon. You have a vast fortune and responsibilities to go with it.
Wild Child. You'd much rather be outside in the mud than inside in shoes.
Working Stiff. You spend your days or nights working a tedious job.


What We're Trying to Do
In playtesting, we found that some players prefer to skip over backgrounds and often just take two skills and two languages or tools and move on. And we understand the desire to move quickly through the character creation process.

That said, Backgrounds are a role-playing tool. Like skills, powers, and tools, they tell the GM what the player is interested in exploring and offer story hooks. They also give the player a foundation to build on. Personality traits, ideals, bonds, and flaws are the groundwork of an immersive role-playing experience.

Of course, if you have a clear idea of who your character is, you may not need to select these attributes from a list.

We've tried to include fresh, new backgrounds that fit into a modern setting. But you can easily incorporate Backgrounds from other 5e games.

Feedback is appreciated at moc.liamg|emocmodren#moc.liamg|emocmodren.

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License