D&D Backgrounds

D&D How to Pick Your Character’s Background

We were really surprised how much the D&D How to Pick Your Character’s Background Video from our D&D How to Pick playlist took off. I suppose it could be because D&D backgrounds are a newer part of the game. It’s seems fairly straightforward and one of the least complicated parts of the game. Even so, I feel it adds a lot of depth to character builds.

Your race is very straightforward — it’s just who you are. Your character class could be the result of training, birth, a deal, or being chosen. The background is very similar in that regard. It might be circumstance or choice. It’s mostly helps to define where the character came from and who they are in the world.

D&D How to Pick Your Character’s Background Video

Three points of focus for selecting a D&D backgrounds

  • Theme — Some backgrounds will speak to specific environments. Urchin or criminal really speaks to an urban setting. An outlander is clearly meant to be out in the wilderness. Acolytes, sages, and guild artisans speak to those cloistered away in temples, libraries, and workshops.
  • Mechanics — Every background lends two skills and tool Set and/or language to your character. If you already receive a skill, tool set, or language from your character class or race you can choose a different one to replace it. Races provide set benefits or a limited choice. Classes give another way to choose and receive skills and tool proficiencies. Duplicate background proficiencies are the only time all of the skills and tool proficiencies get opened up as character options.
  • Background Features — Nearly all of the background features offer a small in-game benefit. Nearly all of them require the player to interact with NPCs. These are the best kind of benefits in my opinion. They add more opportunities for adventure and roleplaying.
D&D background
The Haunted One is a fifth edition D&D character background option from the Curse of Strahd character options.

Do you want to double down on your character class and race?

Certain race and character class combinations are iconic. Now you can add D&D backgrounds into the mix. Each race has several possible choices for class and backgrounds that seem to be natural fits. Even building a character within type you’ll have several choices for each race.

Some Iconic D&D combination examples
  • Half-Orc barbarian outlander
  • Dwarf fighter guild artisan
  • Human cleric acolyte
  • Halfling rogue criminal
  • Elf wizard sage

Do you want to play against race and character class type?

You can go the other way. Instead of playing with type you can always play against it. These can make for fun and interesting character builds with interesting backstories.

Playing against D&D type examples
  • Half-Orc paladin acolyte — A warrior helps defeat an orc tribe where all the members are eradicated. She can’t bring herself to leave behind a half-orc infant so she takes it to a local monastery where the monks raise him to be righteous.
  • Dwarf barbarian outlander — Literally raised by wolves. Perhaps a lone survivor or accidentally left behind. She gets discovered by a she wolf that has recently lost her cubs and takes her as its pup. Later, she is rediscovered by her people and brought back into civilization.
  • Elf warlock entertainer — A minstrel who pursues a melody he can’t get out of his head. It leads down a dark road of madness and strange creatures from the realms beyond.

Are your background features going to come up?

It makes little sense to have character features you won’t be able to use. Consulting the Dungeon Master before creating your character or having a session zero before the campaign begins is highly recommended.

  • Outlander — Is the campaign going to be urban-based, or will you venture out into the wilderness?
  • Urchin — Will any time be spent within cities?
  • Sailor — Is it a landlocked campaign?

Don’t have an idea for a your characters personality? Look at the different traits, bonds, and flaws of the backgrounds to get an idea of your characters personality.

Types of D&D backgrounds

Looking for a specific theme for your character? Here are some ideas.

Academic — Acolyte, Anthropologist, Archaeologist, Sage

Shady Past — Criminal, Charlatan, Pirate, Spy

Martial/Military — Soldier, City Watch, Knight

Situational — Noble, Outlander, Urchin, Far Traveler, Uthgardt Tribe Member

Vocational — Guild Artisan, Entertainer, Sailor

Feel free to share some of your favorite race, character class, and background combinations in the comments below.

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My name is Dave Friant I've been gaming off and on for over 27 years. But here is the thing it's always been a part of my life I've kept secret and hidden away. I've always been ashamed of the stigma that gaming and my other nerdy and geeky pursuits summon forth. Recently I decided screw it! This is who I am the world be damned. From now on I'm gonna be a geek, nerd, or however folks want to judge me and just enjoy life. Currently one of my greatest joys is introducing my 13 yr old son to table top RPG's.

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