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5e Backgrounds DnD

5e Backgrounds DnD

Every story has a Beginning. Your character’s Background reveals where you came from, how you became an adventurer, and your place in the world. Your Fighter might have been a courageous knight or a grizzled soldier. Your Wizard could have been a sage or an Artisan. Your rogue might have gotten by as a guild thief or commanded audiences as a jester.

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? Where did you get the money to purchase your starting gear? If you come from a wealthy background, why don’t you have more money? How did you learn the skills of your class? What sets you apart from Ordinary people who share your background?

The epic ballad sang across the moonlit night. Throughout the land, the party was known as protectors of the realm, but it wasn’t always so. 

Before the fighter was nicknamed the Spear of Righteousness, he picked up a pitchfork to fling hay. 

The dreaded assassin that struck fear into her enemies was actually the late king’s niece. She abandoned her noble roots and turned to revenge when her uncle banished her family.

The warlock sat in a corner whispering to the possessed sword he had dredged up from the depths while working as a fisherman.

The bard, filled with magics ancient and beyond his own understanding, sang into the night as he reminisced how they all met years ago by chance in a nameless tavern so many years ago.

What are 5e Backgrounds?

Who were the adventurers before they were adventurers? 

5e backgrounds are part of character creation that attempts to answer this question. What did your character do before they became an adventurer? There are 13 official DnD backgrounds in the Player’s Handbook, and numerous other official backgrounds have been added in various supplemental rulebooks. 

In essence, backgrounds are simply a tool to help players build more interesting characters. 

What does my background do?

Backgrounds aren’t just for roleplay or headcanon. They also add some specialized skills and items. These could be skill proficiencies, languages, or special abilities related to their background. 

A player that was a criminal before becoming a Rogue would have better skills with sneaking and stealth. A sailor would have some familiarity with seacraft and swimming. Each background offers its own advantages tailored to its previous profession. 

In addition, Backgrounds sometimes also add an extra language proficiency and some starting items. A former criminal may have thieves’ tools left over before becoming an adventurer. A noble may still retain some influence in court and is going to have more funds starting out than a street urchin. 

Of course, you customize your background or make up your own with the help of your DM, but it’s a great jumping-off point to help bring your character to life.

5e Backgrounds: Proficiencies

Each 5e Background gives a character Proficiency in two Skills. Read more about Ability Scores.

In addition, most Backgrounds give a character Proficiency with one or more tools.

If a character would gain the same Proficiency from two different sources, he or she can choose a different Proficiency of the same kind (skill or tool) instead.

5e Backgrounds: Languages

Some Backgrounds also allow Characters to learn additional Languages beyond those given by race.

5e Backgrounds: Equipment

Each Background provides a package of starting Equipment. If you use the optional rule to spend coin on gear, you do not receive the starting Equipment from your Background.

Suggested Characteristics

A Background contains suggested personal Characteristics based on your Background. You can pick Characteristics, roll dice to determine them randomly or use the suggestions as Inspiration for Characteristics of your own creation.

Background Options

There were once only 13 backgrounds available to players, but that number has since grown with the various supplemental books. First, we’re going to look at the standard options that can all be found in the Player’s Handbook starting on page 125. 

Player’s Handbook

AcolyteShelter of the FaithfulInsight, Religion
CharlatanFalse IdentityDeception, Sleight of Hand
CriminalCriminal ContactDeception, Stealth
EntertainerBy Popular DemandAcrobatics, Performance
Folk HeroRustic HospitalityAnimal Handling, Survival
Guild ArtisanGuild MembershipInsight, Persuasion
HermitDiscoveryMedicine, Religion
NoblePosition of PrivilegeHistory, Persuasion
OutlanderWandererAthletics, Survival
SageResearcherChoose 2 from: Arcana, History, Nature, Religion
SailorShip’s PassageAthletics, Perception
SoldierMilitary RankAthletics, Intimidation
UrchinCity SecretsSleight of Hand, Stealth
D&D Player’s Handbook
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Skill Proficiencies: Insight, Religion

Languages: Any two of your choice

Equipment: A holy symbol (a gift to you when you entered the priesthood), a prayer book or prayer wheel, 5 sticks of incense, vestments, common clothes, and a belt pouch containing 15 gp

Feature: Shelter of the Faithful

Acolytes are priests, priestesses, or followers of a particular church, order, or religion. These characters start as members of a church before the call to adventure sends them out into the world. 

They could be representatives of their religious organizations, tasked as holy messengers to spread their influence, or they could be runaways from their religious order. Whatever backstory you decide to choose, Acolytes are well-trained and familiar with the teachings and rituals of their chosen order. 

The Acolyte’s Shelter of the Faithful ability is a useful background ability that lets the character gain access to their religious order’s supply network. This could be in the form of healing at shrines, or havens where they can rest. It only extends towards the acolyte and not the rest of the party, so it’s best used as a last-minute offer of sanctuary. 


Skill Proficiencies: Deception, Sleight of Hand

Tool Proficiencies: Disguise kit, Forgery kit

Equipment: A set of fine clothes, a disguise kit, tools of the con of your choice (ten stoppered bottles filled with colored liquid, a set of weighted dice, a deck of marked cards, or a signet ring of an imaginary duke), and a belt pouch containing 15 GP.

Feature: False Identity

The Charlatans are con artists and tricksters who are adept at deceiving others for personal gain. They are skilled in Deception and Sleight of Hand and proficient in disguise and forgery tools. They come equipped with tools of the con of their choice, such as marked cards or stoppered bottles filled with colored liquid. It’s not an honest living, but their trickery keeps them fed… most of the time. 

Their False Identity feature lets the Charlatan create a persona they can use to hide in plain sight. This includes forged documents that, for all intents and purposes, turn them into an entirely other person. Only those who are familiar with forgeries or their real persona will be able to identify the Charalatan.


Skill Proficiencies: Deception, Stealth

Tool Proficiencies: One type of gaming set, Thieves’ Tools

Equipment: A crowbar, a set of dark common clothes including a hood, and a belt pouch containing 15 gp

Feature: Criminal Contact

Crime doesn’t pay. That’s probably why your character switched over to adventuring. 

The Criminal background represents someone who has lived outside the law and has a knack for nefarious activities. Many criminals find themselves going into adventuring work but for various reasons. 

They could be looking for a quick payday. 
Maybe they’re trying to escape a life of crime and go legitimate.
They could get wrapped up in events by fate during a heist.

However they find themselves in an adventuring party, criminals are adept at deception and stealth. In addition, their life of crime has given them criminal contacts that they can seek out to gather information and possibly utilize illegal services. This background is a good choice for characters who want to add a bit of an edge to their backstory, who want a more morally ambiguous view of the world or who are looking for a redemption story. 


Skill Proficiencies: Acrobatics, Performance

Tools: Disguise kit, one type of musical instrument

Equipment: A musical instrument (one of your choice), the favor of an admirer (love letter, lock of hair, or trinket), costume clothes, and a belt pouch containing 15 gp.

Feature: Entertainer’s Routine

As an entertainer, you are well-known for your performances and can easily attract an audience. You can always find a place to perform, usually in a tavern, inn, or other public venue, and you can earn enough money to support a modest lifestyle in the town where you perform. Additionally, your performance might earn you free food, drink, or lodging.

The obvious choice for the Entertainer background is to create a Bard character. They work well together thematically, but it can feel a little redundant. It’s like saying, “My character is a musician that used to be a musician.”

For some more creative inspiration, here are a few ideas on character creation. You don’t always have to be a Bard to choose the Entertainer Background. 

A singer at an inn witnessed an invasion and picked up a sword in defense. After juggling in the crowd on a suspension wire, they were approached by recruiting Rogues

While hired as the entertainment for a caravan, the Entertainer was captured by Barbarians and eventually learned their ways and admiration for their captors. 

The Entertainer’s Routine background feature allows the character to learn 3 different entertainment specialties such as tumbling, fire eating, poetry, singing, etc. This can then be used to spruce up their entertainer skills during the game. It doesn’t actually do anything other than add a thematic element, but it’s a cool idea. 

Folk Hero

Skill Proficiencies: Animal Handling, Survival

Languages: Any

Equipment: A set of artisan’s tools (one of your choice), a shovel, an iron pot, common clothes, and a belt pouch containing 10 gold pieces.

Feature: Rustic Hospitality

Folk Hero is an interesting background choice. These are characters that are already well-known by a particular group or in an area. They could be known for their words or actions. Some good examples of folk heroes (both real and fictional) are Wyatt Earp, Ip Man, Robin Hood, and Zorro. 

Before adventuring in your DnD campaign, these characters were… adventuring. Just on a much smaller scale. 

These characters are celebrated in their home village for their heroic deeds, such as saving someone from danger or standing up to an oppressor. As such their special feature, Rustic Hospitality, lets you find refuge among the common folk. 

If you’re hiding from the watch, chances are someone in town knows you and will hide you. Wander up to a farm during a rainstorm and you’ll likely find a warm fire to greet the Folk Hero and their companions. However, if you fail to live up to your reputation, you may find that hospitality dries up quickly. 

Guild Artisan

Skill Proficiencies: Insight, Persuasion

Tool Proficiencies: One type of artisan’s tools

Languages: One of your choice

Equipment: A set of artisan’s tools (one of your choice), a letter of introduction from your guild, a set of traveler’s clothes, and a pouch containing 15 gold pieces.

Feature: Guild Membership

Before setting out for riches and glory, Guild Artisans were craftsmen or traders. They know the ins and outs of their profession, and that can help in dealing with others in your DnD world. 

Guild Artisans aren’t starry-eyed farmboys, they may have traveled a bit, know how the world works, and won’t let someone get the better of them in a negotiation. 

Some possible options for a Guild Artisan background could be a blacksmith that was drafted by a local lord or a trader whose caravan was destroyed. 

The Guild Membership feature grants access to the guild hall of their previous life. Here they can receive free food and lodging, and interact with their guild members for information and possible employment. 


Skill Proficiencies: Medicine, Religion

Languages: One of your choice

Equipment: A scroll case stuffed full of notes from your studies or prayers, a winter blanket, a set of common clothes, an herbalism kit, 5gp

Feature: Discovery 

Hermits have spent a considerable time alone contemplating life’s mysteries. They usually seclude themselves from the world and spend their time in quiet seclusion. Often it’s the discovery or enlightenment that ends their time as a hermit. 

The Discovery feature grants the character some kind of hidden or forgotten knowledge. It could be something profound and world-shattering about the gods, a hidden temple or location, or even a relic. Whatever they find, it’s best to work with your DM so that they can weave it into your campaign. This discovery is usually what leads the Hermit to break their seclusion and become an adventurer. 

Some possible Hermit Background stories are a secluded monk who begins hearing voices revealing the location of a hidden temple, a loner who avoids society and stumbles upon a scroll that is indestructible but illegible, or a hermit that begins receiving visions from a deity


Skill Proficiencies: History, Persuasion

Languages: One language of your choice

Equipment: A set of fine clothes, a signet ring, a scroll of pedigree, and a purse containing 25 gold pieces

Feature: Position of Privilege

Noble’s are in the upper echelon of any DnD world. Because of their station and status, most commoners will think the best of you or will hate you. The Position of Privilege feature makes it so that commoners attempt to appease and do your bidding if they are able. In addition, they can usually be granted audiences with other nobles with relative ease. 

The Noble background represents someone who was born into a wealthy and influential family, with many connections and advantages in society. This background can be used to create characters who are haughty and entitled or those who are humble and use their position to help others. As a Noble, you may have access to resources and people that can aid you in your quests, but you may also be burdened with familial obligations and expectations.


Skill Proficiencies: Athletics, Survival

Languages: One of your choice

Equipment: A staff, a hunting trap, a trophy from an animal you killed, a set of traveler’s clothes, and a belt pouch containing 10 gp

Feature: Wanderer

Outlanders live on the fringe of society. These are typically scouts, homesteaders, nomads, bounty hunters, or anyone else that typically lives outside of the cities and villages.

The Wanderer Feature grants them familiarity with maps and topography. In addition, Wanderers are adept at living off the land and can usually forage for food and water if it’s available in the region. 

Some possible Wanderer Background stories include a scout who was hired to escort a group of explorers, a nomadic tribe member, or a homesteader who lived far away from civilization that now wants to see more of the world. The Outlander Background fits extremely well with the Ranger class and can easily be integrated thematically. 


Skill Proficiencies: Arcana, History

Languages: Two of your choice

Equipment: A bottle of black ink, a quill, a small knife, a letter from a dead colleague posing a question you have not yet been able to answer, a set of common clothes, and a pouch containing 10 gp

Feature: Researcher 

Sages typically come from some academic field. They are Wizard apprentices, scholars, librarians, alchemists, mad scientists, or astronomers. They can even be disgraced versions where they are no longer welcome or respected in their chosen field. 

The Researcher Feature lets the character recall a piece of lore or information. If it’s particularly rare they can instead recall where the information is hidden or how to obtain it. This can be used by the DM to set off long and elaborate questlines as well. It doesn’t simply allow them to have knowledge of whatever they want but allows them to know where to find it. 

Some fun Sage Background stories are a Wizard apprentice who finally is granted enough knowledge to go out on their own, a disgraced scholar whose theories have been completely disproven, or a librarian who wants to see the world outside of their books. 


Skill Proficiencies: Athletics, Perception

Languages: One of your choice

Equipment: A belaying pin (club), 50 feet of silk rope, a lucky charm such as a rabbit foot or small stone idol, a set of common clothes, and a belt pouch containing 10 gp.

Feature: Ship’s Passage 

Sailors are world travelers. They’ve spent considerable time out to see before becoming adventurers. The Background feature grants contact in the nautical world. The sailor can easily gain passage at any port by calling in favors or meeting up with old friends. The passage is typically free, but the party is expected to pull their weight while aboard. 

Sailors have many different reasons for leaving the decks of their ships and seeking an adventuring life. Some example back stories are simply leaving for money after their contract is up, searching for rumors of hidden pirate treasure, or they could be just looking for more adventure after having mastered the seas. 


Skill Proficiencies: Athletics, Intimidation

Equipment: A uniform of your unit, a trophy from a fallen enemy (a dagger, broken blade, or piece of a banner), a set of bone dice or deck of cards, a set of common clothes, and a pouch containing 10 gp.

Feature: Military Rank

Before leading a life of an adventurer these characters were part of the military. They could be rank-and-file soldiers, officers, or some other specialty like cavalry, scout, quartermaster, or camp cook.  

The Military Rank feature grants these characters influence and knowledge of the military system in your DnD world. If they were an officer they may find that soldiers encountered may remember them or they could even run into old comrades of arms. This allows them to gather information and maybe requisition small amounts of supplies from their former allies. For militaries outside of their influence, their experience could allow them to bluff their way through with their knowledge of military protocol.

There are a lot of options and ideas for a former soldier character in DnD. They could be a veteran of numerous wars trying to get a fresh start, a deserter who didn’t want to die in the first charge or a veteran who served their time honorably and wanted to see the world. 

A grizzled veteran of many battles, looking to put his past behind him and make a fresh start.
A soldier who lost his faith in the cause he was fighting for and is now seeking a new purpose.
A young recruit who has recently left the military and is looking for a way to make a name for himself in the world.


Skill Proficiencies: Sleight of Hand, Stealth

Tool Proficiencies: Disguise kit, thieves’ tools

Equipment: A small knife, a map of the city you grew up in, a pet mouse, a token to remember your parents by, a set of common clothes, and a pouch containing 10 gp.

Feature: City Secrets 

Not all Backgrounds are glamorous. Urchins live on the streets. They have nobody to watch their back and trust few people. Few people know of their existence and even less care. These characters have lived hard lives and are often thrown into adventures as a way to improve their situation, through luck, or are simply forced into it from lack of options. 

Cities are sometimes described as living breathing things. The City Secrets Feature allows the Urchin to feel that life. When traveling alone they can move through cities twice as fast as other characters and they can find their way through shortcuts and hidden alleyways with ease. 

Customizing a Background

You might want to tweak some of the features of a 5e Background so it better fits your character or the campaign 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 currency on gear. (If you spend the coin, 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.

Acquisitions Incorporated Backgrounds

Celebrity Adventurer’s ScionName DroppingPerception, Performance
Failed MerchantSupply ChainInvestigation, Persuasion
GamblerNever Tell Me the OddsDeception, Insight
PlaintiffLegaleseMedicine, Persuasion
Rival InternInside InformantHistory, Investigation
Acquisitions Incorporated
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Baldur’s Gate Descent – Descent into Avernus Backgrounds

FacelessFaceless PersonaDeception, Intimidation
Baldur's Gate: Descent Into Avernus
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Curse of Strahd Backgrounds

Haunted OneHarrowing EventChoose two of Arcana, Investigation, Religion, or Survival
Curse of Strahd
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Eberron: Rising from the Last War Backgrounds

Technically, Eberron only adds one Background called House Agent. Each house however has different skills and abilities. So although there’s only one official new Background, actually 14 are added. 

HouseFeatureHouse Tool Proficiencies
CannithHouse ConnectionAlchemist’s supplies and tinker’s tools
DeneithHouse ConnectionOne gaming set and vehicles (land)
GhallandaHouse ConnectionBrewer’s supplies and cook’s utensils
JorascoHouse ConnectionAlchemist’s supplies and herbalism kit
KundarakHouse ConnectionThieves’ tools and tinker’s tools
LyrandarHouse ConnectionNavigator’s tools and vehicles (air and sea)
MedaniHouse ConnectionDisguise kit and thieves’ tools
OrienHouse ConnectionOne gaming set and vehicles (land)
PhiarlanHouse ConnectionDisguise kit and one musical instrument
SivisHouse ConnectionCalligrapher’s tools and forgery kit
TharashkHouse ConnectionOne gaming set and thieves’ tools
ThuranniHouse ConnectionOne musical instrument and poisoner’s kit
VadalisHouse ConnectionHerbalism kit and vehicles (land)
Eberron: Rising from the Last War
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Ghosts of Saltmarsh Backgrounds

FisherHarvest the Water, Fishing TaleHistory, Survival
MarineHardship Endured, SteadyAthletics, Survival
ShipwrightI’ll patch it!, Life at SeaHistory, Perception
SmugglerDown Low, Claim to FameAthletics, Deception
Ghosts of Saltmarsh
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Mythic Odysseys of Theros Backgrounds

BackgroundFeatureSkill Proficiencies
AthleteEchoes of VictoryAcrobatics, Athletics
Mythic Odysseys of Theros
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Guildmasters’ Guide to Ravnica Backgrounds

Azorius FunctionaryLegal AuthorityInsight, Intimidation
Boros LegionnaireLegion StationAthletics, Intimidation
Dimir OperativeFalse IdentityDeception, Stealth
Golgari AgentUndercity PathsNature, Survival
Gruul AnarchRubblebelt RefugeAnimal Handling, Athletics
Izzet EngineerUrban InfrastructureArcana, Investigation
Orzhov RepresentativeLeverageIntimidation, Religion
Rakdos CultistA Flair for the DramaticAcrobatics, Performance
Selesnya InitiateConclave’s ShelterNature, Persuasion
Simic ScientistClades and ProjectsArcana, Medicine
Guildmasters' Guide to Ravnica
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