Party Backgrounds

One of the things that has me most excited about Dungeons and Dragons Next is the concept of rule modules, which lay on top of the basic game to add something to it based on the tastes of a particular group. Because of my love of creating new material for role playing games, you could say that I have an interest in seeing this in action.

Not being a patient person by any means, I’ve decided to try my hand at a sort of “rules module” that could be utilized in the Next beta and hopefully in the released version of the game. I also believe these could easily be used in other editions of DnD very easily.

This rules module is based on taking the Backgrounds a bit further. During character creation, this module allows the players to choose a background for their party as a whole. This has the benefit of creating a narrative right at the beginning of the game, giving the group a sort of cohesion and motivation to work together without too much DM pushing, and gives the players some neat things to play around with. Because of their nature, the backgrounds here don’t need to be balanced very hard against one another as the one background will affect all players equally.

Anyway, here’s the module. Enjoy!


Party Backgrounds

During character creation, around the time the party chooses backgrounds for themselves, have them also pick out a group background from this list (or create your own!). In general all characters would gain the benefits and traits listed, though in some cases traits are given to different characters based on the background. Each of these will give a significant context for the characters, so as the DM be prepared for their choice. You may wish to ban some of these based on the campaign you are developing, for a good number of them will shape the way the characters act from the onset.

If the Party Background and character backgrounds together give redundant proficiencies then consider giving the affected characters a +1 or more bonus to the redundant skill.

Airship Crew

The party are the bridge crew for an airship: a vehicle that soars the skies. They could be traders, mercenaries, or part of a kingdom’s air force.

When chosen, have each player choose a position, which will give them traits:

  • Captain: The Captain is the commanding officer, and makes all final decisions. Note that this only makes him the commander while on the airship unless the characters are part of a naval force. The character gains proficiency in Persuasion or Sense Motive.
  • Executive Officer/First Mate: The Executive Officer is one step down from the Captain. He takes over if the captain is incapacitated, but more often makes sure that the ship and crew are doing well and ensures that the captains orders are being carried out. The character gains proficiency in either Intimidation or Persuasion.
  • Navigator/Pilot: The navigator steers the ship and is trained in map reading and measurements. He gains proficiency in Navigation Tools or Perception.
  • Weapons Officer: The weapons officer commands the ships batteries, the weapons it uses against other ships or threats. On smaller ships this would mean he fires them, but on larger ships he commands the battery crews. He gains a +1 circumstantial Attack Bonus when using airship battery weapons, and gains advantage on attack rolls with airship battery weapons when the target is surprised.
  • Engineer: The engineer is the person that keeps the ship running. This includes all of the mechanisms within the ship as well as whatever source of power it uses to stay in the air. If this source is magical, the engineer might be a magic-user. This character gains proficiency in Repair Tools.
  • Healer: Many ships have on hand someone who is trained in healing, whether magical or not. This person is very important on military vessels. This characters gains proficiency in Medicine and receives a case containing four potions of light healing.
  • Quartermaster: This person is in charge of supplies, storage, and oftentimes cooking and overall non-ship related maintenance. It’s a dirty job sometimes, but an important one. This character gains proficiency in Persuasion or Search.

The characters also receive an Airship Vehicle. Work with the DM to choose the vehicle. (Look for my next post, which will be about adding Airships to your game! This background is meant to work with that.) Decide before the game how they received it, and whether or not they work for a military or are independent sky travelers.

Criminal Organization

The characters are the founding members of a new criminal underground organization ready to get it’s feet wet. They could be operating in a large city, or have a large spread of influence over a more rural area more hidden away from the law. Either way, they’re ready to find their shadowy place in the world.

All characters gain proficiency in Deception. They also gain access to a small base of operations that is clandestine and out of sight from the law. While in the base, any NPC that isn’t aware of the location of the base gets disadvantage when trying to locate the PCs.

The players should also elect a leader and choose an overarching goal for their organization. This goal could be political skulduggery, amassing wealth, assassination, illegal marketing, etc.

Freed Slaves

The characters are a group of slaves that have somehow gained their freedom. They’ve either won their freedom for themselves, been freed by a third party, or have been released by their previous owners. Because of the trauma of slavery and having to reintroduce themselves to the free world they’ve stuck together for the comfort and safety of companionship.

Each character gains proficiency in Athletics.

The party should discuss a goal for themselves now that they are free to find a place in the world. Should they find work? Should they seek revenge? Should they fight to free other slaves?


The characters are new members of a town or city guard, and have been placed together on a team or shift to work together. They could be nightwatchmen or gate guards. They could also be a town militia.

They should choose among them one superior officer. He gains proficiency in either Persuasion or Intimidate.

All other guards gain proficiency in one of the following: perception, search, sense motive, or survival.

They also gain the use (but not the ownership) of a small barracks room. It could be in a keep or tower in a city, or be a simple hut in a smaller town. Inside are beds, a small kitchen hearth area, as well as access to one of any mundane weapon worth 10 gold or lower in the Equipment list, with whatever exceptions the DM makes.

The characters are beholden to their superiors, be they an organized city guard or a town militia, and will suffer consequences for not showing up to their watches or not following orders. They are, for the most part, left alone on their watches except for the PC superior officer.


The characters form a lance of knight-errants within a knighthood, or are the founding members of a knighthood themselves. They are travelling knights, taking to the road in order to further their chosen cause and to prove themselves in honorable combat.

Every character gains proficiency in Animal Handling, as well as one of the following: History, Persuasion, Religion, or Survival.

They all gain warhorses with light or heavy barding, as well as a lance if they are proficient with it. If not they gain a spear instead.

They should choose a cause among themselves. Once per session, each character may gain advantage on a roll that is directly related to their cause. This cause could be, or include: a lord or lady’s honor, a crusade against an enemy, protection of the innocent, defense of a place, a pilgrimage to a holy site, the seeking of a relic, etc.

If their cause is no longer relevant because of success, failure, or a change of circumstances they should choose a new one.

Note that this background doesn’t preclude any one class. Historically knighthood could be bestowed even on non-martial persons, though it was rare. A wizard or other such magic-user could be considered honorable and useful for a knighthood. Thus this background is separate from any character backgrounds, classes, or subclasses.

Mercenary Squad

The party are a group of hired arms, trained to do battle. They hire themselves out to the highest bidder, probably with little regard to what cause or kingdom they are fighting for. They utilize group battle tactics, gaining an edge in battle because of relying on each other so often.

The characters collectively choose one trait from the following list:

  • Divide and Conquer: During battle, if two or more PCs are adjacent to an enemy who is not within reach of his allies, that enemy gains disadvantage on all of his attack rolls.
  • Group Defense: During battle, when ever at least two of the PCs are considered adjacent (within reach or within 5 feet), they gain a +1 circumstance bonus to AC. This doesn’t stack if more than two PCs are within reach. Also, if two PCs are back-to-back, no attacks toward them can gain advantage on them.
  • Pincer Tactics: During battle, if the PCs successfully flank an opponent (have one PC on either side of the enemy, on exact opposite sides), all attacks against that opponent have advantage.

The characters also have access to a small base of operations, probably a single room in a tavern or a house rented from someone with basic amenities like beds.

Merchant Caravan

The characters have come together to form a merchant caravan, hoping to work together to exploit lucrative opportunities and protect each other in the process. This caravan may travel to exotic locales, and must always be wary of bandits and other criminals seeking to make easy profit from their load of goods.

Have the players designate their characters a role in the caravan:

  • Merchant Dealer: This is the character that will broker deals. This character gains proficiency in Persuasion as well as a fine clothes.
  • Guard Captain: This character is in charge of the security of the caravan. They gain proficiency in Perception and receive one armor item for free, worth 75 gold or less.
  • Guide: This character is in charge of guiding the caravan to their destination. He gains proficiency in Navigation Tools and receives a travelling horse for free.
  • Healer: As with any group, a healer is an important part of the team. They gain proficiency in Medicine and gain a crate with four potions of cure light wounds.
  • Guard: (Multiple characters can choose this one) These are the grunt force responsible for following the orders of the guard captain. They gain one of the following proficiencies: athletics, search, sense motive, or survival. They also receive a free armor item, for 75 gold or less.

The caravan receives one wagon for every three characters, and if no one has chosen the Guard role then they also receive two level 1 Human Guard henchmen.

They also get to choose their beginning trade goods. They receive two units of a trade good, the same or two different ones. The size of the unit is up to the DM’s discretion. This could be something like silk, spices, food, ale, wine, raw ore, ingots of iron or steel, weapons and armor, cut cloth, blank parchment, etc.

Monster Hunters

These characters are trained monster killers, and hire themselves out to places that are in need of their services. They are quite like bounty hunters, but specialize in large solo targets. The places that generally hire these sorts of adventurers are small towns and villages that lay on the edges of the wilderness with little protection from the nameless beasts that might wander by.

The characters gain proficiency in one of the following: Acrobatics, Athletics, Medicine, Nature, Survival, or Trap Making Tools.

If fighting a creature that is 150+% larger than a normal human being, the following comes into play:

  • If fighting a creature below 10 INT, and if at least one of the PCs have hit the creature this turn, then another PC who does not attack can make a stealth check to hide from that creature. This hiding does not extend to other enemies or creatures. This represents one character getting the attention of a large stupid creature.
  • If the creature is fighting solo (no other enemy engaged in the fight), and there are at least three PCs adjacent to it, all attacks against the creature gain advantage.
  • If one of the PCs spends an action to successfully climb onto the creatures back/upper body area/neck with an athletics check, DC equal to 10+the creatures level, the creature gains disadvantage on all attack rolls until the PC gets down or is thrown off (with a successful strength check, DC equal to 10+the characters athletics.) This does not affect creatures that are five or more times the size of the PC.

Musketeers of the Guard

Your characters belong to an elite guard, tasked with protecting a prominent member of a noble house or even royalty itself. You do so with knowledge of arms, dueling, and a sense of style.

This background fits more into a black powder style campaign.

All characters gain basic proficiency in flintlock pistols and muskets, as well as rapiers. They also gain proficiency in one skill on their choosing, or one item/tool.

Optionally (some may find this less than simulationist): Dueling with Style: If fighting an opponent and neither of you are adjacent to anyone but each other, and you are not wearing armor, you may add your CHA bonus to your AC against his attacks.

You are beholden to the noble house that you guard, but they provide you with more than suitable housing and accommodation. You also have access to any mundane item worth 100 gold or less, exempting armor.

Treasure Seekers

Your party are a group of relic hunters and ruin scavengers. They’re devoted wholly to finding the treasures of the ancient, though whether their pursuits are scholarly or for profit is up to you.

All members of the party gain two of the following proficiencies: Arcana, Athletics, History, Perception, Religion, Search, and Survival.

They also gain blank parchment and charcoal, with which to make maps with.

Also, once per day, if seeking a particular treasure, each character can gain advantage on one roll directly related to finding or claiming that treasure. However, they must know what it is they are searching for. Alternatively, if they have gained the treasure and not used their Advantage, they may immediately gain advantage on an Arcana or History check related to the item. This applies to the once per day rule. If they seek a new treasure in the same day the effect does not stack; they can only have on roll related to this trait per day. (This idea is a bit stolen from the 4e character background Treasure Hunter.)

Secret Society

Your characters are the members of, or the founding members of, a secret society that permeates the upper classes of a city or kingdom. Few know of the group beyond vague whispers. It is a highly ritualistic society that uses code names, ritualized initiation, and symbolism to obfuscate their activities from nonmembers. Despite the focus on obfuscation, the purpose of the society to those in it is the revealing of the truth.

The society could be dedicated to truths that are religious, occult, scientific, arcane, or anything. Whatever it may be, they believe the path of illumination lies in an organizational initiation process that could take years or decades to reach the higher echelons of. Does the society actually have a truth behind it, or is it a game for the wealthy? Are they alignment specific? Do they have a name? These are questions the players should think about.

Those in the group can choose to become proficient in either Arcana or History.

Those in the group also gain advantage on any deception roll directly involving the society (unless it is against a member of the society).

They also can utilize contacts within the society to find information dealing with lore, whether it is religious, arcane, forbidden, etc.


As you can see, a lot of these ideas for backgrounds won’t fit into every campaign seamlessly. Also, due to the bonuses and traits, it might force the GM to up the difficulty of some things to balance it out. I think in all, however, the bonuses are light and appropriate to the kind of campaign context these would create. Do you have any ideas for party backgrounds? Do you have feedback on these?

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