D&D 5E Do you use/allow custom backgrounds?

redrick

First Post
Background features provide narrative power for a PC so they can accomplish tasks, and often have certain limitations present to prevent them from abusing it. But make no mistake, a Feature is there for the Player, not the DM. That's the entire point of features. Even the book defines them as a "concrete benefit."

For the Folk Hero, it allows the player to gain shelter for their party, so long as they're not threatening the commoners or otherwise being a danger to them. That's a player's power. Without such a feature, a player may need to make a check to see if it happens, or have to go through some roleplay, but the feature just allows it to happen. No checks needed. No permission needed. Even if the other party members are being active dicks to the commoners, that PC could still gain shelter. That is what narrative power is.

100%.

The Criminal Contact feature doesn't exist so that the DM can say, "Oh, Steve, by the way, your criminal contact called." It exists so that Steve can say, "I'm a Criminal, so I have some sort of Criminal Contact in every city. Can I reach out to them and see if I can get some information?" At which point it is on the DM to say, "Of course you do." And then figure something out.
 

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I am utterly flabbergasted that anyone would draw such a conclusion.

Background features provide narrative power for a PC so they can accomplish tasks, and often have certain limitations present to prevent them from abusing it. But make no mistake, a Feature is there for the Player, not the DM. That's the entire point of features. Even the book defines them as a "concrete benefit."
That can't possibly be the case. It violates every tenet about what it means to be a player, and what it means to be the DM. It violates the basic process of play. Players can't just make NPCs do things for them, any more than the DM can decide that a PC jumps off a cliff.
 

redrick

First Post
That can't possibly be the case. It violates every tenet about what it means to be a player, and what it means to be the DM. It violates the basic process of play. Players can't just make NPCs do things for them, any more than the DM can decide that a PC jumps off a cliff.

There are all sorts of rules that allow players to make NPCs do things. When you cast Suggestion on an NPC, aren't you making that NPC do something?
 

There are all sorts of rules that allow players to make NPCs do things. When you cast Suggestion on an NPC, aren't you making that NPC do something?
No, you are casting a spell. Likewise, when you use the Persuasion skill, you are just talking to someone. The DM is the one who adjudicates what happens in either case, based on all relevant factors, only some of which are known to the players.

Players control their characters. DMs control everyone else and everything in the world. Narrative control is not a thing in D&D.
 

Arilyn

Hero
No, you are casting a spell. Likewise, when you use the Persuasion skill, you are just talking to someone. The DM is the one who adjudicates what happens in either case, based on all relevant factors, only some of which are known to the players.

Players control their characters. DMs control everyone else and everything in the world. Narrative control is not a thing in D&D.

It is becoming a thing in 5e, though. GMs award inspiration, but the players choose when they will use their points, which is a meta gaming construct. Most GMs are going to allow player control over contacts, free shelter etc. from their backgrounds. Ideas from other games, which give players some narrative control, are creeping into the game. The idea of "montaging", from 13th Age, where players take turns narrating through the less critical parts of the adventure, is an example that can and is being mined for more traditional F20 games.

It's fine if you don't do things like this in your games, but it's not true anymore that DnD is a game that does not have player narrative control, cause sometimes it does.
 

No, because there's more to a background than just the name. There's also the whole in-game reality which is associated with that name, and which is described in a few paragraphs for each one. If you're basically just a sailor, and that's the whole backstory for the character, then it follows logically that you would also have the Feature associated with the sailor Background; especially since Features don't actually do anything, aside from advising the DM on how people in the world are likely to react to the fact that the character has this particular type of backstory.

By saying that you can take any backstory, and gain any other Feature from it, it destroys the link between who the character is and how they are treated in the world.

Okay, I see what you're saying. I wouldn't let players make nonsense characters. It's the same rule I use with race/class combos. If someone wants to be a wood elf monk, I'm just going to say no and tell them why*, unless they are one of my established good players. Then I'll tell them I need a really good backstory to make it up.

Do you feel there is some sort of mechanical imbalance involved in cherry picking features, or is it's primarily the absurdity of the in-game backstory (which I agree with) that is your issue? My contention is just that there isn't any in-game mechanical issue that can be abused, any more than there would be with the balance of a wood elf monk.


*Because in my world elves have nothing to do with the Asian-inspired cultures that the "monk" class come from, and such a combination would only exists if there were some serious travel and highly unusual upbringing. Basically, you'd probably be an elf only by biology, and have been raised as some sort of Spirit Folk amongst people who don't know anything about elves. And if someone says, "I want to be a wood elf monk" and is okay with that sort of backstory that I'd require, they don't really want to play a wood elf--they want to play a +2 Dex, +1 Wis, +5' move, in which case they aren't of a compatible playstyle with my group.
 

Do you feel there is some sort of mechanical imbalance involved in cherry picking features, or is it's primarily the absurdity of the in-game backstory (which I agree with) that is your issue? My contention is just that there isn't any in-game mechanical issue that can be abused, any more than there would be with the balance of a wood elf monk.
There's no mechanical imbalance with cherry picking features, because the Feature part of the background doesn't give any mechanical power - it's just an RP guideline. There might be some mechanical imbalance with cherry picking proficiencies, because Perception and Athletics both have codified during life-or-death combat situations and every group needs someone who can disable traps, but that's just a balance issue between proficiencies on their own rather than a problem with the way that backgrounds package them.
 

mgshamster

First Post
I'm curious what these tenets are that are so sacred as to deny players abilities granted by the book.

I've been playing and running D&D games for nearly 30 years, and I've never heard of such tenets. Can anyone site a source for where they come from?
 

Greg K

Legend
At which point it is on the DM to say, "Of course you do." And then figure something out.

It is not on me to say any such thing. If I say, it is inappropriate for the character to have contacts in some new region of the world that the characters are entering, the player is out of luck.
 

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