One of the best additions to 5th Edition D&D is the concept of Backgrounds. Designed to aid you in the creation of your characters’ personalities, the original Player’s Handbook presents a number of iconic backgrounds. Most people would agree that they’re not enough, as they by no means cover all of the potential concepts.
James Introcaso, best known by me for his hosting of The Tome Show‘s Round Table podcasts, has created fifteen new backgrounds for the D&D 5E game and released them as a Pay-What-You-Want product on the DMs Guild. Let’s have a look at them!
As you might expect, the majority of the product describes fifteen new backgrounds, as follows:
- Demolitions Expert
- Legendary Lineage
- Raised by Animals
- Retired Adventurer
The product also features a selection of Group Backgrounds that can replace your main background’s starting feature with a feature shared with other members of your adventuring group. The groups presented are:
- Military Unit
- Religious Order
- Secret Society
Finally, James introduces a few new artisan tools (cooking and bomb-making tools) as well as a few new alchemical items. I mean bombs. The bombs are expensive, but amusing.
So, what are the new backgrounds like? The quick version: Fantastic!
James Introcaso does an excellent job of describing the backgrounds and suggesting new background traits. Each of the backgrounds is brimming with good ideas. Yes, they’re unlikely to all appeal to you, but that’s the point: a product like this needs a wide range of options, and it certainly delivers. I was concerned by the possible similarity of “Cursed”, “Dead”, “Lycanthrope”, “Possessed” and “Polymorphed”, all of which describe something terrible in your past which has now ended, but James manages to make each quite distinct from the others, with different personality traits and mechanical features.
Several of the backgrounds offer a choice between different background features, the one aspect of Backgrounds that intrudes into the mechanics of the game. A couple of these variants are problematic and I would be very careful of using them unaltered in my games, although the concepts behind them are good. For instance, being able to pass on (once) the curse that afflicted you (because it’s dormant, not removed) is an excellent idea, despite all my knowledge of game balance telling me it might cause problems. There are times when telling a really good story is more important than little things like “game balance”!
The writing and editing in the product is mostly good. There are a few awkward phrasings from time to time, and one or two grammatical errors – you have a “cooking job” or a “job as a cook”, not a “cook job” – but these are minor issues. The product includes a number of pieces of public domain art that complement the text well.
As a stylistic matter, I’m not actually that fond of using modern-day vernacular when describing features of a fantasy (D&D) world. Would an inhabitant of the fantasy realm refer to losing his “mojo”? This is something that breaks my immersion when reading a fantasy RPG product; it may not matter to you.
The Group Backgrounds are not as successfully implemented as the individual backgrounds; they have much less detail and the features vary widely in usefulness; I’m really not fond of the Family trait at all. (People outside your family can repay their debts to any member of your family regardless of whom they incurred it from, meaning you occasionally get free stuff… it’s a bit vague and potentially broken).
However, all of my niggles with this product are just minor issues. Overall, it’s a great selection of new backgrounds. They fulfil their role as inspiration for new characters admirably, and they provide a really good selection of new personality traits, flaws, bonds and ideals: exactly what you want from this supplement.