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Backgrounds: Use 'Em or Lose 'Em?

How often do you (or your players) use Background elements?

  • Every decision hinges on a background element.

    Votes: 1 1.1%
  • Most PC role-playing involves the background.

    Votes: 33 35.5%
  • Not sure.

    Votes: 1 1.1%
  • It comes up. Sometimes.

    Votes: 53 57.0%
  • What's a background?

    Votes: 5 5.4%

  • Total voters
    93

DMMike

Game Masticator
How are D&D's expanded role-playing features coming along? Backgrounds, with their suggested Traits, Bonds, Ideals, and Flaws, give a PC more tools beyond Alignment to get into a character's head. But does anyone use them? Does anyone not use them? Will they make their way into 6E? Sound off!
 
For me, the backgrounds are an essential part of a character, but the traits, bonds, ideals, flaws are about as important in game-play as the alignment: it's a suggestion for how you can play, but you can ignore it if you like. The proficiencies and other tricks of the backgrounds are however quite useful and fun.
 

5ekyu

Explorer
The backgrounds play key character defining roles in my games snd with my PCs so... yeah good to go.
 

Retreater

Explorer
For us, absolutely pointless. Just give us two extra trained skills of our choice at character creation and be done with this step.
 

iserith

Explorer
In addition to making heavy use of Inspiration from which the personality traits, ideals, bonds, and flaws are drawn (see The Case for Inspiration), I sometimes include challenges where specific backgrounds would provide an advantage. A sage in the University District of Sharn (Eberron), for example, can use Intelligence instead of Charisma on ability checks the DM calls for to influence someone's attitude. Or an urchin gains advantage on ability checks to "Scour the Cage" in my Planescape game, which allows him or her to travel further and find more useful locations in Sigil than someone with a different background.
 
I should have added to the previous post that personally, I write my own customized traits, bonds, ideals and flaws. It's really useful to write down while I'm getting to know my new character. But I only use the options in the PHB if I have zero inspiration.

As a joke, I once actually rolled the dice on the traits, bonds, ideals and flaws. The character that appeared was complete garbage, but it did give me inspiration for the character that I built in the next 30 minutes after those rolls.
 

Arilyn

Explorer
I like the idea of backgrounds, but they could be more interesting. I encourage my players to create their own if nothing jumps out at them from the phb. I don't like the traits, bonds, etc. being placed on tables, as it encourages players to pick off the list or roll. Examples are great, but don't need them on tables. It's probably a pain for designers when new features are added that require tables of traits. I really encourage players to create their own traits and write them using their character's voice. It's fine to pick a few from book if stuck, or see one that's perfect. In my game, it's also okay to leave traits blank for few sessions, until the character gels. I'm also thinking very seriously about having 3 or 4 traits, plus a flaw, rather than the split into ideals and bonds. They overlap anyway, and it seems a little artificial that all characters have one bond, and one ideal plus 2 traits.
 

Satyrn

Villager
As a joke, I once actually rolled the dice on the traits, bonds, ideals and flaws. The character that appeared was complete garbage, but it did give me inspiration for the character that I built in the next 30 minutes after those rolls.
That's my go-to method for selecting traits, etc. That's how I pick the background itself too, and my race. And class.The results really can be garbage, although I like to call it a "challenge."

Especially when the randomly placed ability scores don't line up at all well with the randomly selected class. :uhoh:

(I will tweak the results slightly when I do this, though, if the results are indisputably garbage instead of a challenge).
 

Shiroiken

Explorer
I think it really depends on how people view the game. In the game I play in, everyone's background is an essential part of who we are, because we enjoy RP and character development. Our forge cleric is a blacksmith, who wants to take the armor and weapons of enemies we fight, because he fixes them and sells them. I'm a mercenary war mage, and everyone knows that with few exceptions, I'm not doing anything unless I think I can benefit from it. Our warlock sage delves deep into every mystery, because he is driven to gather knowledge for his guild (and himself). You get the idea; our RP choices are molded partially by our background and the bonds, ideals, and flaws we take from them.

The issue I have with the backgrounds is mechanical. IMO, your character build should be: race, background, then class, and you can only switch out a skill/tool proficiency if you have no other options to choose from. This makes the background skills & proficiencies more relevant, rather than just an add on. The way it is now, certain skills/tools are seldom taken, while others are in constant demand.
 

Azzy

Explorer
How are D&D's expanded role-playing features coming along? Backgrounds, with their suggested Traits, Bonds, Ideals, and Flaws, give a PC more tools beyond Alignment to get into a character's head. But does anyone use them? Does anyone not use them? Will they make their way into 6E? Sound off!
I treat the Traits, bonds, etc. in the books mosy as examples, but yes, my group does use them as a guide to roleplaying characters.
 
I can't really answer the question because I don't see the Ideals, Flaws and Personality traits as part of your Background. That's not how I understand the text. While Backgrounds have some suggestions for appropriate options, that is no more a part of the Background than the quick build suggestions for Classes.

How often the story elements of Backgrounds come up depends on the character and context. The Entertainer one comes up frequently for the Bard. The other ones (Sailor, Inheritor, Faction Agent, and custom*), come up when relevant. In other words, the players all know their backgrounds and Backgrounds and it is a part of their character concept.

As far as the various elements of personality, we rarely reference those anymore. They were useful at the beginning of the campaign, but now we'd have a hard time remembering them all without looking at the sheets. I switched to a "players award all Inspiration" model (I'm not sure it's exactly the same as DMG off the top of my head; they just each get to award Inspiration once per session.) and they rarely reference the personality elements when handing out Inspiration--usually just going by whether the character role-played well in general according to our understanding of who they are, or just for adding to the session in general.

* I always make sure to clearly emphasize to new players that there is a rule which by default authorizes you to alter Backgrounds or create new ones following the specific rules given. This is a core basic rule, and I don't know why it seems like everyone misses it if I don't spell it out.
 

DM Dave1

Present
* I always make sure to clearly emphasize to new players that there is a rule which by default authorizes you to alter Backgrounds or create new ones following the specific rules given. This is a core basic rule, and I don't know why it seems like everyone misses it if I don't spell it out.
This is a great point. The backgrounds in the PHB are literally called out as samples - something I think many people miss. Don't see something that floats your boat as a player? Work with your DM to come up with something mechanically comparable and cool! There are also many free ones for the taking on DMsGuild.

Backgrounds play an important role at our tables, adding a good amount of flavor and a pinch of mechanics to help develop each character concept.
 

5ekyu

Explorer
The PHB ones are pretty pointless, but the Primeval Thule Heroic Narratives have a lot f impact.
Yeah, i have thought of having each character devise goals from backgrounds.

However i have seen more than a few cases of bsckground beung, well, background, and not the current,pursuits and objectives. So would not want to force background into being the forward-guiding trait. Seems a bit limiting since currently its much wider.
 

cbwjm

Explorer
I pretty much only use them as bonus skills or tool/language proficiencies with a general idea of what my character is like. For instance, I would play a wizard who was a sage very different from a wizard who was a soldier. The ideals, bonds, and flaws I tend not to really use. I normally don't even use the flavour ability of the background.
 

Henry

Autoexreginated
The backgrounds come up quite often at tables i’ve Played or run; however, the bonds, flaws, ideals, etc. don’t come up often. For some reason,people seem quite happy to have artisan, urchin, soldier, etc. influence their character’s thought processes, but seem to chafe at those other components. It’s kind of like inspiration; much as I’d like to remember it, as both GM and Player I forget it 7 times out of 10.
 

ccs

39th lv DM
Backgrounds?
Yes, I use them. As do the players in the game I DM. How often/directly they come into play (beyond the extra proficiencies/tools/etc) just depends upon what's actually going on in the game.

Ideals/Bonds/Flaws?
I don't use them at all. They exist to spark new/less creative players imaginations. I am not a new/less imaginative player.
I don't know if the other players use them. I can tell you about their characters, but I couldn't begin to tell you if they've written anything in those slots. Or, if they have, if they're following what they've written.

Will they make it into 6e? Probably.
 

S'mon

Hero
Yeah, i have thought of having each character devise goals from backgrounds.

However i have seen more than a few cases of bsckground beung, well, background, and not the current,pursuits and objectives. So would not want to force background into being the forward-guiding trait. Seems a bit limiting since currently its much wider.
One thing the Thule ones do is provide a loose narrative for levels 1-10. They are clearly
influenced by the 4e D&D Paragon Paths and Epic Destinies, so they include some 'where you are going' as well as 'where you came from'. This results in them featuring in play in a way the 5e
Backgrounds generally don't. Something like 'Folk Hero' ought to have a good deal of narrative heft, but I practice I played one and found it didn't come up.

Really I feel that if the 5e Backgrounds were meant to encourage roleplaying and drama, they were a design failure.
 

5ekyu

Explorer
One thing the Thule ones do is provide a loose narrative for levels 1-10. They are clearly
influenced by the 4e D&D Paragon Paths and Epic Destinies, so they include some 'where you are going' as well as 'where you came from'. This results in them featuring in play in a way the 5e
Backgrounds generally don't. Something like 'Folk Hero' ought to have a good deal of narrative heft, but I practice I played one and found it didn't come up.

Really I feel that if the 5e Backgrounds were meant to encourage roleplaying and drama, they were a design failure.
To me, and in my experience, the degree to which 5e backgrounds play into the foreground is up to the player and GM - and dependent on them working together - on some page.

Folk hero could be "where you came from", your "glory days" in a small pond that propelled you onto a bigger stage but not in itself be a significant factor on that next stage. Or it could be one character's prologue to the bigger story now unfolding, building on that start - driving them to the intersection with the other PCs.

5e backgrounds allow for both - and of course a lot of other degrees.

But if **all** backgrounds bring with them narrative paths that lock in some narrative milestones between levels 1-10 that brings them all into foreground constructions which seem to be a smaller subset of options.

In my experience, systems work best that serve both foregtounded, backgrounded and in-between - especially at first step day one chargen. More than a few players feel and grow their way into the character as the first few levels of play are done - and chaining that narrative "where am I going" to for 10 levels to the initial background is not gonna serve all of those.

If the narrative path mechanics were say an extension to background concept, picked at say tier-2 5th level that provided a somewhat formalized set of objectives and rewards that extended through tiers 2 (with new choices at tier 3 and 4) it would be more interesting and imo useful to me.

That would turn it into more useful storytelling props more than an anchor picked really before many players and GMs have so solid an idea of what the "game" is.

To me what you describe in your folk hero experience is just a case of GM and player not being on some page - not working together. The same mismatch could occur if the player wanted his folk hero days to be behind him but the GM keeps the plots and stories circling that small town past.
 

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