On 5e Backgrounds: Bravo

So a number of people have pointed out that Wizards of the Coast Recommends that you do not include mechanical advantages in backgrounds.

Those people are assholes*.

What do I care what someone at some company recommends for the backgrounds in my game? Moreover, what do you care? Do they have some power over you? Are they going to take your books away? I didn't make the statement above lightly. What is the impulse that drives you to point that out? Are you here to hang out and have fun or to try to tell people what they should do and how they should do it?

An even better question is what do you even care what I put in my free backgrounds? What mystical force is preventing you from changing or replacing it? Why do you need permission to create and use content? Let me explain, wait, no, there is too much. Let me sum up.

". . . But my character will have advantage when an undead creature tries to make him afraid!!! Even though this is an ability not a single monster released for the game even has yet, the game is now broken and my character is terribly overpowered in spite of the thematic relevance of not being afraid of dead things!!!"

Are we done now? On to Bravo, a background for hired muscle, The first of five more backgrounds this week.

Everyone needs a little help now and then. Sometimes this could be a glare. Sometimes it means just standing around nearby as a show of strength.

Sometimes it means you got to break someones kneecaps. Never can tell.

Skill Proficiency: Strength (Athletics), Charisma (Intimidation)
Proficiency: Gain proficiency with any blunt weapon.
Languages: Pick one.
Equipment: Blunt weapon you have Proficiency in. Chain (10 feet), Common Clothes, Crowbar. Sledge Hammer, Holy Symbol, Potion of Healing. Stylish or Dapper Hat (Wedge shaped, Tri-cornered, or Pointed front/back, pick one). Pet rat or snake.

Specialty: There are many different reasons you might have been an enforcer. Select or roll from the list below. Grant an appropriate contact and ally from the following list.

  1. Devout. You discouraged the practice of heathen religions and cults for a religious organization.
  2. Enforcer. You enforced order for a legal entity like a government.
  3. Connected. You made sure nothing bad happened to such a nice place.
  4. Internal Investigator. You provided enforcement for oversight of a particular organization, rooting out corruption and subversive influence.
  5. Teamster. You enforced the rights of the lower class against exploitative employers. 
  6. Mercenary. You acted as a private police force for commercial interests. 
  7. Brigand. You were an entrepreneur for an independent organization with room for growth.
  8. Free-agent. It's nice to hurt people.

In addition to the contact and ally listed above, you have a mentor who is a specialist in some skill, either physical or mental, who has a positive and reciprocal relationship with you. This could be an old apothecarist or alchemist that heals your wounds (and gave you the healing potion you carry), a blacksmith who provided you with food or shelter, or even an old witch in the wood who turned out not to dislike orphans or runaways.

Suggested Characteristics

Most people don't need to be hurt. But there are a certain class of people to you, heathens, degenerate drug addicts or gamblers, deviants, corrupt exploiters, what have you, that just won't listen to reason. That's why you don't use reason. You're not mean. You're not evil. Those are just the facts. If it weren't for you, little girls and innocent people would suffer. You're setting things right.

d8 Personality

  1. I get visions. Sometimes I see things that aren't there. I'm always cautious about what I say or do because of that. 
  2. I am secretly inside just like the people I hurt. That's why I hate them so much.
  3. I know other people aren't real. I don't worry about the ones I don't like.
  4. I like physical confrontation! It's not stressful, it's exciting and I feel so alive. Also, I'm usually much better prepared than those I face. I don't like all the talking and waiting beforehand, it stresses me out.
  5. I SMASH!
  6. Some things aren't right, and it makes me soo ANGRY! (Note: You need 3-5x the physical space to feel comfortable and often internalize things people say as personal attacks)
  7. People don't have to agree with me. I'm pretty laid back. Unless of course, you're in my way.
  8. I try to be the best person I can. I'm known as a good guy. I'm nice to old ladies and super polite and helpful to everyone I meet.

d6 Ideal

  1. Purity: Some things are wrong and they must be dealt with (Lawful)
  2. Sadist: *shrug*, I likes to hurt people. (Evil)
  3. Masochist: *lip quiver* I hate hurting people, but it is my terrible burden to do so. (also, evil)
  4. Moral: I make the world a better place (Good)
  5. Conflict Drive: I love to fight! (Chaotic)
  6. Competent: I like to be prepared (Unaligned)
d6 Bond
  1. You've named your weapon. It doesn't talk to you exactly, but you know what it wants.
  2. You often feel like you are a (type of animal) trapped in the body of a human. This is your deepest secret.
  3. You travel with your lover. They are not a socially-appropriate lover. Sometimes people comment on this. Once.
  4. You keep the teeth. Not all of them, just one. Subtly. It's not like you're wearing them around your neck.
  5. You are good friends with a man that is hunting you.
  6. That's my hat!
d6 Flaw
  1. I am sexually excited by violence.
  2. I don't have the capacity to feel emotion, my loyalties shift like the wind. 
  3. I'm smart enough to see the flaws in what my superiors are saying and this always brings me into conflict with them.
  4. I don't like myself and I always end up lashing out at the people who care for me to drive them away.
  5. I bully people because I don't understand that they are suffering when I harass them. That's how I let them know I like them.
  6. Cancer.
OSR Package
Running a B/X game? Give these advantages instead of proficiencies. You can also give these bonuses if running a 5e game using 3d6 for character generation.
  • +2 to either Strength or Con, +1 to the other one. 

Like these backgrounds I wrote? I collected them in a Pay What You Want .pdf, and affordable hard copy!

Hack & Slash Compendium I at RPGnow for 3.99!
Hack & Slash Compendium I at Lulu in affordable print! (7.99$)

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* I do not usually use vulgarities on the blog. The word means precisely what I want to say. I.e. Asshole (Noun): 1. A stupid, mean, or contemptible person. 2. The worst part of a place or thing. Either the person doesn't know they can change their game to what they want it to be (stupid), or they do and just enjoy telling other people that they are wrong (mean). Both are contemptible and the worst part of a thing, i.e. the D&D fandom. At least, in a philosophical sense.

I'm not being mean, I'm being literal and I hope it gives someone, somewhere, insight.


  1. As someone who has remarked that I'll be changing mechanical bonuses, I'm guessing I'm one of the "assholes". Do you really need to go to that level of hostility? Is any constructive criticism or observation unwelcome?

    1. I am most certainly 100% not talking about you.

      Other people, who are not you, have told me that I need to change it because the backgrounds are wrong. Other people who are not you have said to me that WotC said I wasn't allowed to do that.

      You did exactly nothing wrong and said, "This is awesome, I'm going to change this stuff."

    2. Example:


      "Although the ideas are interesting and useful as a starting point, the designers of the game have repeatedly said that the feature should NEVER give mechanical advantages, but only allow you to have a bond with the game world or grant social connections.

      Instead the author of these backgrounds continues to create features that condone mechanical advantages. Ignore this defect which requires you to review all the features of the game."

  2. Well that's a relief. I guess I also don't get why people wouldn't just change things to suit their own needs or style. Perhaps it's a generational thing? I love me some house ruling sprinkled in here and there.

    1. Sorry to jack up your morning.

      I would gladly discuss the balance of any feature, or hear about changes anyone makes. That's a totally different thing then telling me I'm wrong and feeling entitled to tell me how I should create content.

  3. Or you can be Ron the Brawler


  4. I think the admonition from WotC was a vision statement and maybe some direction for splat book writers rather than a dictat to the plebs. Whatever. They can say what they want and I'll keep playin the way I want to. Eff em if they can't take a joke.

  5. These "assholes" do seem to have rolled low for Charisma, but the point they raise is a valid one. WOTC are experts at D&D5; the guidelines they set should not be dismissed lightly.

    1. "Experts" at elf games? Or perhaps what me and my friends have fun doing?

      There is no monolith WotC. Perhaps some ideas are bad, others will be good. I'll use my own judgement for me and mine and keep to my statement that those who feel entitled for me to do things a certain way or demand I conform to a "suggestion" as being either stupid or malicious.

      As to the specifics of my implementation , that I would be willing to discuss at length. Vague assertions that "I should listen to my betters."?

      Not so much.

    2. My point is not that WOTC is /better/ than you -- only that they are /good/, presumably, at their jobs. They probably have documented somewhere why they feel that mechanical advantages do not belong as part of backgrounds.

      I think discussing your choice to include mechanical advantages in your backgrounds (including a consideration of their arguments) would be a great solution.

    3. "only that they are /good/, presumably, at their jobs."

      This is probably our point of disagreement. I would say in general, that this is not/has not been true. I don't presume that.

      Also, I had that discussion, I thought, several times. The background features are thematic. No one has made the argument that they are overpowered or broken. Some people said it wasn't for them. Everyone who has made any argument said "WotC said you shouldn't do that!" or some variant on that.

      And we are full circle.

    4. I would suspect that their reason for suggesting that mechanical advantage be left out of backgrounds is so that none of the players feel like they necessarily have to pick a specific one to compliment their build. This would both reduce power gaming that was a bit of an issue in 3.X, as well as prevent complaints from players once they realize that they could have survived something they didn't with a more advantageous background.

      That said, isn't overbalancing what made 4e kinda suck? I don't know about you, but when I eventually run a 5e game, I'll let my players pick whatever background they think suits their character. I don't care if there's a slight advantage or not. My games are not the business of WotC or anybody else. My friends and I will play what we find fun, regardless of what the writers intended, even if it means going off-book.

  6. Personally, I'm loving these backgrounds, and have added them to my rule set - as is. Maybe it's the grognard part of me, but I always thought the rules were just guidelines, to ignore or add to as needed.

  7. This comment has been removed by the author.

  8. Thank you very much for all of these awesome backgrounds. I'm certainly going to be us some, if not all, in a Vornheim campaign I plan on running some day.

  9. First, totally. There has always been (too many) people fixated on rules as written or what is "correct".

    That's weird / shocking that WoTC says that. I only glanced at (WotC) backgrounds before deciding I would not use them precisely because they have mechanical benefits and push game towards 3.x "building your character" vs 0-2 "playing your character". They all provide proficiencies and how does this not count as mechanical advantage? (from Basic Rules)

    Feature: Criminal Contact
    You have a reliable and trustworthy contact who acts as your liaison to a network of other criminals. You know how to get messages to and from your contact, even over great distances; specifically, you know the local messengers, corrupt caravan masters, and seedy sailors who can deliver messages for you."

    1. Mearls has said the background feature should give a roleplaying / world exploratory benefit rather than a bonus in fights and similar.

      Here is a written version of the recommendation but he’s mentioned it in podcasts as well.
      The quote is:
      “Background features should avoid strict mechanical benefits, such as a bonus to a check or to attacks. Instead, the best features are ones that open up new options for roleplaying, exploring, and otherwise interacting with the world.”

      Above the feature, backgrounds also give you two skill proficiencies, and two total among languages and/or tool (non-weapon) proficiencies. That’s obviously a mechanical advantage. But he was talking about the just feature, since that’s more freeform.

      Now I’m not saying that people have to follow WotC’s recommendation here (which is why I took such offense to the “asshole” appellation in my (since deleted) comment). I’m just saying what that recommendation has been.
      Follow it or don’t.
      Doubt Mearls would care. I sure don’t.

    2. Thank you for coming back to comment.

    3. Why make the point, "this is what the author recommends," if you're going to immediately back down with, "but you can do what you want?" This is another rhetorical technique that people use so they can make assertions without accepting responsibility for their words. The general consensus here (from what little I've read so far) is that WotC can get stuffed. So if you're going to cite the Ivory Tower, please have the fortitude to stand by them.

  10. Keep up the great backgrounds! I plan to print them all and include them as options when my campaign starts in a few weeks. Maybe you can sneak a Pirate in there :)

  11. See, here's the thing. C creates content that is supposed to be FUN and people are worried that others might be "having fun wrong". The only question that should be asked at the end of a game session is: "Did everybody have fun?" That's it. That's the game. Oh, that reminds me, IT'S A GAME. If you want to force others to live by "the rules" then go be a lawyer or a cop. Stop pooping in other peoples' corn flakes. I come to Hack & Slash for PRECISELY this sort of content, and I want it to continue. Solidarity, bro. Solidarity.

    1. "It's a game" is the rallying cry of infantile minds. It's a phrase best left on the elementary playground. By the time we're in high school, we should have moved on to an adult approach to discussing our hobby.

      That's not to say I support one side or the other in this specific argument. I'm only against the rhetoric of "It's a game" because it inherently devalues the opposition. It shuts down didcussion and makes the one arguing "It's a game" out to be a child.

    2. I disagree. Because it IS a game. We're not talking about something that is going to affect anyone in any significant way ever. It is a thing that was meant to allow people to have a good time and relax. I appreciate the insult to my intelligence, though. Real classy.

  12. Concerning backgrounds in general: why do we want mechanical benefits? What's more interesting for a player: what their character did before the game started, or what the player does after the game started?

  13. It depends a lot on the type of campaign the table enjoys. Just as stories begin ab ovo and en media res, so campaigns can be tied heavily to the political, social and economical bones of the world or completely free range. As C has pointed out well, no one is forcing there use, but if you are running campaign type a this is a quick way to build a backstory for your PC or as a DM to say these are backgrounds that would make sense in the campaign I plan to run. As always everything is a negotiation...

  14. I like this but what if i wanted my weapon to unarmed or am taking a monk. Ive been looking for a good background for a monk thats sololy a martial artist


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