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5E Customizing Backgrounds Core Rule - Public Service Announcement

If I had my way, this paragraph in the rules would be in glowing text and emit a beckoning melody whenever you turned to Chapter 4. As it is, many players, even including long-time players, seem to have no idea about it's existence.

Customizing a Background
You might want to tweak some of the features of a
background so it better fits your character or the
campaign setting. To customize a background, you
can replace one feature with any other one, choose any
two skills, and choose a total of two tool proficiencies
or languages from the sample backgrounds. You can
either use the equipment package from your background
or spend coin on gear as described in chapter 5. (If
you spend coin, you can’t also take the equipment
package suggested for your class.) Finally, choose two
personality traits, one ideal, one bond, and one flaw.
If you can’t find a feature that matches your desired
background, work with your DM to create one.

Unlike gnomes, half-elfs, feats, and multiclassing, this isn't called out as an optional rule. It's as core as hill dwarves and ability checks. You are in no way bound to the skill, tool, or language choices of a chosen background. This means that every single PC is entitled to 2 skills of their choice from the entire skill list, and a combination of any 2 languages and/or tools.

(As always, make sure you are aware of any house rules when creating a character, and please create characters responsibly ;).)

We don't really have a long list of stickies I could ask to have this added to, but maybe if I remember I'll bump it once a year or something for new players.
 
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dnd4vr

Tactical Studies Rules - The Original Game Wizards
While this is completely accurate of course (not disputing that), I would also caution new players and established veterans alike, that as usual, even doing this is at the discretion of the DM and should be covered during session zero. :)
 

MNblockhead

A Title Much Cooler Than Anything on the Old Site
Agreed. Making your own background in 5e is very simple. But I can understand why most players want to make their selections and just play. In my experience, most players don't hew closely to the mechanical aspects of their backgrounds when coming up with the fluff for their characters' backgrounds. I think most DMs should highlight the fact that the backgrounds in the PHB are just examples and they encourage players select skills, languages, and features that best match their visions of their characters.
 

Prakriti

Hi, I'm a Mindflayer, but don't let that worry you
Yep. If a player chooses their own background skills and tools and comes up with their own name for their custom Background, then they are playing by the default rules. If you, as a DM, disallow this, then you are not playing by the default rules. You are playing by your own house rules.

In other words, if a player invents a background called the Brewer and chooses Nature, Medicine, brewer's tools, and Dwarven as their proficiencies, then they are playing by the default rules. They're allowed to do that, and they don't need a DM's approval.
 

dnd4vr

Tactical Studies Rules - The Original Game Wizards
Yep. If a player chooses their own background skills and tools and comes up with their own name for their custom Background, then they are playing by the default rules. If you, as a DM, disallow this, then you are not playing by the default rules. You are playing by your own house rules.

In other words, if a player invents a background called the Brewer and chooses Nature, Medicine, brewer's tools, and Dwarven as their proficiencies, then they are playing by the default rules. They're allowed to do that, and they don't need a DM's approval.
Again, pretty much everything in the game is at the DM's discretion. While, I can't see most DMs not allowing it, a DM can flatly state "No, I am not allowing custom backgrounds," (for whatever reason), and then you either accept it or find a different DM.
 

Prakriti

Hi, I'm a Mindflayer, but don't let that worry you
Again, pretty much everything in the game is at the DM's discretion. While, I can't see most DMs not allowing it, a DM can flatly state "No, I am not allowing custom backgrounds," (for whatever reason), and then you either accept it or find a different DM.
Of course, but the assumption is that, unless stated otherwise, the default rules are in play. You wouldn't expect a player to come into a game knowing that the DM has banned clerics from learning Cure Wounds, would you? So don't expect players to know that they can't freely customize their backgrounds when the PHB explicitly tells them that they can.
 

dnd4vr

Tactical Studies Rules - The Original Game Wizards
Of course, but the assumption is that, unless stated otherwise, the default rules are in play. You wouldn't expect a player to come into a game knowing that the DM has banned clerics from learning Cure Wounds, would you? So don't expect players to know that they can't freely customize their backgrounds when the PHB explicitly tells them that they can.
Sure, but as I said, it should be asked and covered in session zero when the player goes over their character with the DM, telling the DM they have a custom background. That's all. Not a big deal. :)
 

Saelorn

Hero
In other words, if a player invents a background called the Brewer and chooses Nature, Medicine, brewer's tools, and Dwarven as their proficiencies, then they are playing by the default rules. They're allowed to do that, and they don't need a DM's approval.
By the letter of the rules, a player could show up with a Background called "Brewer" that grants Perception, Stealth, thieves' tools, herbalism kit, and the noble's "position of privilege" feature. And, by the letter of the rules, the DM has no recourse without resorting to house rules.

The only thing this proves is that the rules are not a legal document, and that nobody should put any stock in the letter of anything. In practice, if a player truly feels entitled to exploit this loophole, the reasonable course of action is for the DM to kick them to the curb.
 

In general my group stays close to the backgrounds, but almost everyone changes either a skill or tool/language for customization. Minor modification helps the characters be unique without having to completely make a new background.
 

Azzy

Newtype
By the letter of the rules, a player could show up with a Background called "Brewer" that grants Perception, Stealth, thieves' tools, herbalism kit, and the noble's "position of privilege" feature. And, by the letter of the rules, the DM has no recourse without resorting to house rules.

The only thing this proves is that the rules are not a legal document, and that nobody should put any stock in the letter of anything. In practice, if a player truly feels entitled to exploit this loophole, the reasonable course of action is for the DM to kick them to the curb.
While the custom background in your little scenario is non-thematic, it's a stretch to call it "exploitive"—it's not some unbalanced power boost.
 

Prakriti

Hi, I'm a Mindflayer, but don't let that worry you
By the letter of the rules, a player could show up with a Background called "Brewer" that grants Perception, Stealth, thieves' tools, herbalism kit, and the noble's "position of privilege" feature. And, by the letter of the rules, the DM has no recourse without resorting to house rules.

The only thing this proves is that the rules are not a legal document, and that nobody should put any stock in the letter of anything. In practice, if a player truly feels entitled to exploit this loophole, the reasonable course of action is for the DM to kick them to the curb.
What loophole? What are you talking about? And what's wrong with the proposed background? I sense a lot of anger here, which I frankly don't understand. Are you going to kick a Cleric player "to the curb" for having the audacity to prepare Cure Wounds (is that a "loophole" too)? Just what do you (apparently) find so offensive about all this?
 

Saelorn

Hero
What loophole? What are you talking about? And what's wrong with the proposed background?
In case you failed to notice, none of the mechanical abilities are representative of what the background is actually supposed to be. A brewer should be good at brewing, because that's what those words mean. This "brewer" has, not only a complete inability to brew anything, but influence within high society as a result of their noble birth. (Which they don't actually have, because they weren't actually born noble. But people are still inclined to think well of them, because of their noble birth, as a brewer.)

It's a direct violation of the central premise behind any role-playing system: that the rules of the game reflect the reality of the game world. None of these abilities reflect anything about what it means to be a brewer.
 

Azzy

Newtype
In case you failed to notice, none of the mechanical abilities are representative of what the background is actually supposed to be. A brewer should be good at brewing, because that's what those words mean. This "brewer" has, not only a complete inability to brew anything, but influence within high society as a result of their noble birth. (Which they don't actually have, because they weren't actually born noble. But people are still inclined to think well of them, because of their noble birth, as a brewer.)

It's a direct violation of the central premise behind any role-playing system: that the rules of the game reflect the reality of the game world. None of these abilities reflect anything about what it means to be a brewer.
Still not a loophole nor exploitive. You just created a silly scenario so you could be offended about it.
 

Prakriti

Hi, I'm a Mindflayer, but don't let that worry you
In case you failed to notice, none of the mechanical abilities are representative of what the background is actually supposed to be. A brewer should be good at brewing, because that's what those words mean. This "brewer" has, not only a complete inability to brew anything, but influence within high society as a result of their noble birth. (Which they don't actually have, because they weren't actually born noble. But people are still inclined to think well of them, because of their noble birth, as a brewer.)

It's a direct violation of the central premise behind any role-playing system: that the rules of the game reflect the reality of the game world. None of these abilities reflect anything about what it means to be a brewer.
Then maybe the player has chosen an ill-fitting name for their background or you have failed to read their backstory explaining how they, as a brewer, managed to acquire those profiencies. In any case the name is irrelevant. The PHB doesn't even say you have to choose a name for a custom background.

Also, I think I see the problem now. The hypothetical player in your scenario has chosen the most mechanically-beneficial proficiencies for their background. They're power-gaming, essentially. But then, so is the spellcaster who chooses the most mechanically beneficial spells. So is the player who chooses the "best" race for their class. If you want to ban players like that, then by all means, do it. But don't accuse them of exploiting "loopholes" that don't exist.
 

Fanaelialae

Legend
By the letter of the rules, a player could show up with a Background called "Brewer" that grants Perception, Stealth, thieves' tools, herbalism kit, and the noble's "position of privilege" feature. And, by the letter of the rules, the DM has no recourse without resorting to house rules.

The only thing this proves is that the rules are not a legal document, and that nobody should put any stock in the letter of anything. In practice, if a player truly feels entitled to exploit this loophole, the reasonable course of action is for the DM to kick them to the curb.
The only thing that's remotely an issue in this example is that it is named Brewer. If it were House Assassin (an assassin who is an employed by a noble house) then it all fits.

I certainly wouldn't kick a player to the curb for that. I'd just work with them to come up with a suitable name/concept.
 

prabe

Aspiring Lurker (He/Him)
Supporter
In case you failed to notice, none of the mechanical abilities are representative of what the background is actually supposed to be. A brewer should be good at brewing, because that's what those words mean. This "brewer" has, not only a complete inability to brew anything, but influence within high society as a result of their noble birth. (Which they don't actually have, because they weren't actually born noble. But people are still inclined to think well of them, because of their noble birth, as a brewer.)

It's a direct violation of the central premise behind any role-playing system: that the rules of the game reflect the reality of the game world. None of these abilities reflect anything about what it means to be a brewer.
There seems to be some bad faith here, on the part of the player, and I'd want to know why if I were the DM. I might not oust a player for the background, after talking to them. But I tend to want to know what players have done for their characters' backgrounds, and I explicitly state that I'm willing to work with them.

I'm not sure how much power-gaming is strictly possible here, but someone might be trying to cover someone else's niche, which I'd at least want to discourage.
 

Saelorn

Hero
Then maybe the player has chosen an ill-fitting name for their background or you have failed to read their backstory explaining how they, as a brewer, managed to acquire those profiencies. In any case the name is irrelevant. The PHB doesn't even say you have to choose a name for a custom background.

Also, I think I see the problem now. The hypothetical player in your scenario has chosen the most mechanically-beneficial proficiencies for their background. They're power-gaming, essentially. But then, so is the spellcaster who chooses the most mechanically beneficial spells. So is the player who chooses the "best" race for their class. If you want to ban players like that, then by all means, do it. But don't accuse them of exploiting "loopholes" that don't exist.
Power-gaming is irrelevant to the complaint. The problem is that the player is trying to force their own backstory, or lack there-of, onto an impotent DM. They think (and RAW backs them up) that their background doesn't have to make any sense, because there's nothing that the DM can do to stop it (without coming off as being unfair).

But in reality, any player who would try to pull RAW in this situation is necessarily being unreasonable. Such is the nature of the rules lawyer. If they were being reasonable, then they would be able to resolve this conflict without needing to invoke RAW. Of course, if a player submits a reasonable proposal and the DM rejects it because it isn't in the book, then the DM would be the unreasonable one in this scenario.

That's not the premise of this thread, though. The premise of this thread is that the player can do anything they want with their backstory, and that any DM who dares question it is in the wrong.
 

That's not the premise of this thread, though. The premise of this thread is that the player can do anything they want with their backstory, and that any DM who dares question it is in the wrong.
I think you've misunderstood my premise.

My intent is for everyone, players and DMs, to realize that this is how the game was designed to work (ie, it is balanced around you being able to pick any 2 skills you want, for example). Most people don't read through the rule book cover to cover twice, and a paragraph that is only relevant during character creation can easily be missed.

My additional intent for players is that they should be aware that they can do one of the following:
  • Pick a background right out of a book as-is if it looks appealing to them
  • Pick a background with the concept that seems closest to what they are aiming for, and then adjust details to fit your concept. (This might mean changing Survival to Nature, or it might mean changing Survival to Arcana, because you see your character as having both Survival and Arcana, but your class list offers Survival as an option but not Arcana.)
  • Custom create a background completely from scratch to express the aspects of your character outside of your class

My additional intent for DMs is that they realize that if they are not running it this way they are making a house rule, and should see it as any other house rule--ie, realize you are doing it differently and have a reason you feel is sufficient (based on whatever criteria you personally use).

The issue I'm addressing is that many DMs and players aren't even aware this option exists, and therefore are unneccessarily binding themselves to it because they intend to play with the rules as written and don't understand what they are in this area.

It's the same to me as not realizing that by the rules as written natural 1s have no significance for ability checks or saving throws, or that you don't have to declare a sneak attack until after you hit. People need to know that, but not everyone does.
 

Arilyn

Hero
I love that players can create their own backgrounds, and constantly remind them of this, because it is often a forgotten option.

Frankly, the default ones, while perfectly fine, can be uninspiring at times. I also encourage players to create their own traits as much as possible, instead of just picking from the lists.
 

Saelorn

Hero
I think you've misunderstood my premise.

My intent is for everyone, players and DMs, to realize that this is how the game was designed to work (ie, it is balanced around you being able to pick any 2 skills you want, for example). Most people don't read through the rule book cover to cover twice, and a paragraph that is only relevant during character creation can easily be missed.
Fair enough, but it doesn't come across that way, when you use the word "entitled".
 

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