D&D 5E House Rule Idea: Characters Gain New Backgrounds at Levels 5, 11, and 17


He / Him
Here's an idea. I love the idea of character development in D&D, but in my experience, characters often grow more powerful, but don't see much change of personality or characteristics.

The DMG breaks play into four tiers:
Tier 1: Local Heroes (Levels 1 - 4)
Tier 2: Heroes of the Realm (Levels 5 - 10)
Tier 3: Masters of the Realm (Levels 11 - 16)
Tier 4: Masters of the World (Levels 17 - 20)

What if a character chose a new background each time they entered a new tier? In this way, a player could show how their character has been changing over the course of the campaign.

Here's how it might work.

Character Pathways
At levels 5, 11, and 17, choose a new background for your character. This background, called a pathway, does not replace your old background. Instead, it shows how your character has developed since their humble origins. When you choose a new background, you gain the background feature. You may also choose one new skill, tool, or language proficiency provided by the new background. Furthermore, you might want to replace a characteristic, ideal, bond, or flaw with one from the new background, or one of your own creation.

That would be the entire rule!

Here's an example:

Tier 1: Local Heroes
My character is a Dragonborn named Morovahn. He is a paladin who was raised in a temple to Bahamut. He has the Acolyte background. He chooses proficiencies and character traits based on the Acolyte Background. He gains the Shelter of the Faithful feature, which allows him and his group to receive free services and rest at temples of Bahamut.

Personality Trait: I idolize a particular hero of my faith, and constantly refer to that person's deeds and example.
Ideal: Faith. I trust that my deity will guide my actions. I have faith that if I work hard, things will go well.
Bond: I will do anything to protect the temple where I was served.
Flaw: I put too much trust in those who wield power within my temple's hierarchy.

Tier 2: Heroes of the Realm
By 5th Level, Morovahn has become a well-known storyteller in the towns the characters visit. Because of this, he chooses the Entertainer pathway for Tier 2. He chooses a proficiency in Performance and gains the Back By Popular Demand feature, allowing him to always find a place to perform, and a likeable reputation in town. Now Morovahn has a pathway of Acolyte to Entertainer.

He replaces his Ideal with:

Ideal: People. I like seeing the smiles on people's faces when I perform. That's all that matters.

Tier 3: Masters of the Realm
By 11th Level, Morovahn has had a big character change! He has found out that his ancestry is not to Gold Dragons, but Red Dragons! Because of this, he has been cast out of the Temple of Bahamut (by the corrupt hierarchy of priests, of course) and has lost his title and mantle. He chooses the Urchin pathway for Tier 3. Morovahn chooses proficiency in Thieves' Tools and gains the City Secrets feature, allowing him to find pathways through busy city streets. Morovahn now has the pathway of Acolyte to Entertainer to Urchin.

He replaces his bond with:

Bond: No one else should have to endure the hardships I've been through.

Tier 4: Masters of the World
By 17th Level, Morovahn has reclaimed his place in the Temple of Bahamut, defeating and exiling the corrupt leaders. With all that he has learned on his journey about the gods, he chooses the Sage pathway for Tier 4. He chooses proficiency in the Celestial language and gains the Researcher feature, allowing him to always know where he can find sources of knowledge. Morovahn now has the pathway of Acolyte to Entertainer to Urchin to Sage.

He replaces his Flaw with:

Flaw: I speak without really thinking through my words, invariably insulting others.

log in or register to remove this ad


So if they gain proficiency in a skill when a Background switch happens, does the prior skills get overwritten or they are just adding to their list of skills they are proficient in?


I can see where it can work and be a good story element. I like the idea that background takes a long time to acquire since it is what you did when you grew up. In games with a long time between adventures, it may work better. I find a lot of the games takes the PCs from level 1 to 5 in only a few weeks of game time.


He / Him
I can see where it can work and be a good story element. I like the idea that background takes a long time to acquire since it is what you did when you grew up. In games with a long time between adventures, it may work better. I find a lot of the games takes the PCs from level 1 to 5 in only a few weeks of game time.
Yeah, I think this would work best in a campaign with significant downtime between the Tiers of Play.


Mind Mage
Yeah, I think this would work best in a campaign with significant downtime between the Tiers of Play.
I feel the extra background upgrades and expansions work best at level 8 (or 9 to 12) and level 16 (or 17 to 20).

At level 8, I use the background to inform how the character founds an institution, such as a Fortress, Wizard School, Seminary, or so on.

Levels 9 to 12 can (if the players are into it) focus on running the institution. A Fortress might be for the leader of the local community, and so on. This tier (9 to 12) is when running armies and mass combat starts to work well.

At levels 17 to 20, the institution has global reach and many members, with global or planar fame.

(Epic tier 21 to 24, has multiplanar fame and armies.)


He / Him
Another interesting ideal would be to classify all the current backgrounds as Heroic Backgrounds, and then create new ones for Paragon Pathways and Epic Pathways, borrowing from 4e's tiers.

I like the idea of creating features that allow characters to do things without rolling, especially if they impact their reputation or how NPC's perceive them.

So for a Paragon Pathway you could have something like...

Scarred Veteran
You have survived many battles, which have left a map of scars across your body and soul. When you encounter someone new, they immediately know you as a skilled and experienced warrior. Those just learning to fight may ask you to teach them skills in martial or magic combat. Those who are more learned may give you a wide berth, or even challenge you to test their own skills.

Proficiency: Choose proficiency in Arcana, Athletics, Insight, or Smithy's Tools.

Pathway Feature - Scars that Tell a Story: You command respect, awe, or even fear through your battle scars. When you encounter an NPC who has battled the same types of enemies you have, your shared experiences create an instant bond. As long as you do not act in a hostile matter, these brothers-and-sisters-in-arms will treat you as a trusted ally.

And for Epic Pathway you could have something like...

Legendary Hunter
Stories of your ability to stalk and kill your prey have spread across the realms. Your feats of hunting mythical creatures, fearsome beasts, or even infamous villains are told in many pubs and around fireplaces. You find your own image and accomplishments in art pieces or studied in schools of martial prowess. Nobility or powerful extraplanar figures may come to you requesting your help in dispatching a especially dangerous foe.

Proficiency: Choose proficiency in Perception, Stealth, Survival, or a new Language.

Pathway Feature - Trace of Prey: Your vast experience with hunting allows you to find traces of possible prey no matter where you are. When you enter an inhabited place, you can immediately find evidence of the types of creatures most dangerous to the people who live there.

I don't know, those are just brainstormed off the top of my head, but it could be fun!


I like the idea of changing bonds etc to add some evolving customization in. But I think I would prefer extra feats at those levels that stem from background and race.

Thule has a fairly good system that is a balance between it being just a background and being an overall description. You have your starting background, which grants an additional ability at level 6, and another at level 10. The benefit at level 6 is better than just a background, but no greater than a class feature would be. At level 10 it grants you a significant benefit that epitomizes your feature (Ravager gets a horde that follows them, for example, Prophet gets knowledge of a major campaign event, etc.).

Not sure how you could translate it, but you'd probably have to specify the background into more detail. For example, an Acolyte would be a priest, since you'd be advancing within the church. A Veteran would probably be an active soldier, etc.


He / Him
One interesting direction to take this would be giving characters unique Downtime activities based on their Paragon or Epic pathways.

Like a paragon level soldier would be able to go fight in nearby wars during downtime.

An epic level sage would be able to maintain a pocket dimension.


I like this a lot. In the few 5e games I've DMed to higher levels it takes about six months or more of game time to advance each tier. I've struggled with how to allow characters to grow (mechanically) outside of their class. I will add this to my next campaign, which I hope to start shortly.

I think most, if not all, of my previous players would have found it very easy to pick a new background simply because it would be obvious from play which one was suitable.

I love backgrounds and wish 5e had published a Big Book of Backgrounds. And if this were 2e TSR would undoubtedly have already done so.


Proud Grognard
Is anything removed from PCs before this rule is added? It seems like players get more and more and more and more abilities these days.

Li Shenron

Uhm... interesting idea but I don't think regular backgrounds are good for this, as they represent mundane social roles.

Maybe design some higher-level backgrounds for each tiers, with appropriately stronger features (proficiencies are already good as is), for example:

Tier 2:

Militia Leader
Specialty Trainer

Tier 3:

Overseas Merchant
Army General

Tier 4:

Empire Regent
Scribe of Legends
Holy Prophet
Renaissance Man/Woman

An Advertisement