A character's backstory and origins, represented by their background in 5th edition Dungeons & Dragons, often gets overlooked after initial character creation. 

While backgrounds define a PC's identity, roleplaying hooks, and skill proficiencies, they rarely see meaningful incorporation once dice rolling begins. However, with a little effort, Dungeon Masters can feature player backgrounds to drive intrigue, personal stakes, and unique story opportunities throughout a campaign.

Are you a DM in need of some background inspiration? Let’s look at some prompts and guidelines for DMs highlighting player backgrounds beyond session one. From rumors and side quests tied to a PC's past to organizations and family members coming back into their lives, you'll learn how to make backgrounds impactful and integrate player ideas into a living world. Give your party renewed motivation by bringing their Origins and Bonds into focus!

Creating A Folk Hero - What's a Character's Background in the Character Creation Process?

Let's quickly review what backgrounds represent in 5th edition Dungeons & Dragons for any new players (or the rusty dungeon master).

Backgrounds are a part of your character's origins that help define who you were before embarking on the adventuring life. Rather than just being "a fighter" or "a wizard," backgrounds allow a degree of customized personality and history in your character proficiency. They go beyond the spell slots and bring real role play elements into any situation the party faces.

Backgrounds consist of a background name like Soldier, Folk Hero, Sage, or Hermit. This archetype shapes your skill proficiencies and special feature.

They also involve defining personality traits, ideals, bonds, and flaws that connect your character to certain people, places, or causes. These roleplaying hooks should inspire goals tied to your background.

For example, an Acolyte might seek divine guidance from their temple, while a Noble presses advantages carrying their family name. An Outlander will feel inclined to protect natural spaces, drawing comfort from animal handling and maybe a night under the stars with a musical instrument.

When making player characters backgrounds matter, focus on origins, beliefs, allies, and goals shaped by the background itself. Tie in these elements to reveal more about each PC through play – and to push characters toward meaningful decisions. Perhaps the Acolyte is torn between following the strict teachings of their deity and acting on their own moral compass.

Examples of Character Background Building In-Game

Let’s look at how some of these tips and tricks can be applied in-game - especially in non combat situations such as gathering information or engaging with common people throughout the adventure.

Spotlight on the Urban Bounty Hunter Background

An urban bounty hunter may still have contacts in the local criminal underworld from their past exploits. These snitches can feed rumors about high-value fugitives recently sighted in town. Give the bounty hunter first crack at apprehending these lucrative targets. Tavern keeps may also praise tales they've heard of the PC's quick reflexes and daring captures.

Or if they formerly tracked marks for seedy clientele, have a particularly unscrupulous broker they worked with once press the PC to take on morally questionable bounties for old time's sake. This can create great roleplaying tension. Urban camouflage and mastery of ambush tactics also lend uniqueness during city encounters.

Harnessing the Haunted One Background

The defining feature of a haunted one is a sinister influence from their past that still presses upon their present. Manifest this in supernatural rather than abstract ways. Have a malignant entity masquerading as the PC's old friend pursues them and interacts with disturbing familiarity and silver tongue.

Or populate key locations tied to their dark past with descriptive echoes of vile rituals performed or victims slain there by their former occult associates. If they gained Resilient during their tribulations, remind them of crucibles endured anytime concentration checks prove difficult. But take care not to invalidate player agency over their redemption.

Alighting the Seeker Adept Background

As a seeker on an endless mission to record marvelous legends, reward them for consulting sages and chroniclers in cities. Have these learned residents shared scintillating rumors of lost ruins, ancient magic, or unique bestiaries and cosmologies tied to far-flung planes? Alongside dungeon loot, sprinkle their rewards with long-forgotten tomes and eldritch mysteries their character is uniquely driven to unveil by their background! You never know what a heirloom musical instrument can bring to your character's background - even at a young age.

Bring Your Character's Past into the Spotlight

Whether through side treks, surprise visits from faces of the past, or personalized description and dialogue, there are plenty of techniques to keep your adventuring party character development integral to ongoing narrative. Simple hooks and echoes rooted in their origins can provide motivation, breathing more life into PCs than mere stats on a digital sheet.

And if you're seeking to incorporate backgrounds and unlock deeper storytelling potential for your D&D campaign, look no further than Roll20's comprehensive virtual tabletop suite. With detailed digital character sheets reflecting custom traits, art assets to represent allies or rivals from your PC's history emerging, journals to track evolving narratives, and media tools like sound and lighting to set a mood that captures the promise and peril of all who cross your party's path - emboldened by the challenges they've overcome before play even began.

So gather 'round and explore the tapestry of potential waiting within your characters' pasts. Only on Roll20 can these vibrant threads intertwine with your grand adventures still ahead!


How can backgrounds tie into combat and adventures?

While backgrounds may seem most relevant to social roleplaying situations, they can additionally factor into quests and combat through subclasses like the Haunted One bestowing abilities to sense the presence of undead. Or a Gladiator gaining combat increases to intimidate foes with flourishes of performance drawing from their backstory battling in arenas—wizard and cleric Abilities like magic weapon to boost damage are equally available to support a gritty, dungeon-delving play style.

How do backgrounds impact a characters’ perception and insight?

Through skill increases, backgrounds like the Inquisitive directly improve perception for noticing hidden details and seeing through deception. The Haunted One’s mystical insight renders them additionally keen to see beyond disguises during an investigation. Navigating political intrigues requires both sharp senses to profile a target’s intentions and thoroughly read a situation. Therefore, your background represents a lens potentially altering your perspective.

What additional survival, social and exploration utility can backgrounds provide?

While features like the Outlander’s ability to always determine cardinal directions and find food/water sources enhance wilderness survival and campaigns venturing into the frozen north, backgrounds like the Spy grant proficiencies to create convincing aliases and forge documents critical to moving through civilized areas undetected while pursuing quests. Ultimately, backgrounds offer both active features and interesting skill combinations to make nearly any D&D game situation more exciting by tapping into their specialized history.

What tools and abilities can player characters learn from backgrounds representing early training?

Many backgrounds in Dungeons & Dragons signify proficiency with tools reflecting what your character learned during their origins and formative experiences prior to adventuring. For example, criminal backgrounds like Charlatan or Spy grant thieves tools proficiency for lockpicking and trap disarming. Entertainer gives access to disguise kits to assume identities.

Meanwhile hermits, sages and cloistered acolytes may begin to play with fluency in ancient languages or unique rituals passed on. When you envision early life events that led each player character down their current path, consider how special tools or rest-renewable abilities learned then through skill and long practice can uniquely outfit them for challenges ahead!