One of the better aspects of the new edition of Dungeons & Dragons is how it handles backgrounds. Very similar to the kits of AD&D 2E, backgrounds manage to avoid a lot of the mechanical flaws of the original approach while providing a lot of good role-playing material.
What Came Before, from Lupus Rex Games, provides 25 new backgrounds for use with the game. There is a wide variety of backgrounds offered, and although there are a couple that are quite close to existing backgrounds or each other (Guard & Watchman, and Mercenary is a variant of the existing Soldier background), the different traits, features and bonds offer quite a bit of variation.
The full list of backgrounds is as follows:
- Bounty Hunter
- Clan Member
- Failed Adventurer
- Traveling Merchant
They are, for the most part, very well done. Although backgrounds are light on mechanics, the idea of the Amnesiac choosing his background’s skills and languages during play as he “remembers” them very much appeals to me. Some of the other mechanics rather fall flat – a travelling merchant beginning with a Comfortable Lifestyle paid for the next month? That’s quite underwhelming. Most fall into the realm of being appropriate without being particularly memorable.
More memorable are the many personality traits, bonds, flaws and ideals presented here. Again, not all work, but there are certainly enough that are inspirational and well throught-out. I really like the idea of the Squire who hates the Knight he once served because the knight was “too perfect!” The slave who was separated from their lover is a time-old tragedy, and the scout who won’t be parted from their rope (the one piece of equipment they can’t go without) brings back happy memories of Sam Gamgee.
There are a few editing errors and some of the traits are presented clumsily, but they are minor hiccups on what is an excellent product. The one thing that gives me pause is the price, but considering this is a 56-page pdf of high utility, you may find it well worth it.
Overall, I’m really impressed by What Came Before. It’s a very attractively-presented product, and fills presents several backgrounds that considering it now, I’m surprised weren’t originally included in the main rules. This is one of the more useful products I’ve seen.