D&D 5E Interesting Occupations (1st level PC)

rgoodbb

Adventurer
Am about to create a 1st level PC and was thinking of some sort of news reporter, travel agent or story writer background within a D&D game.

What interesting backgrounds do you like for a low level PC to start from?
 

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Let's see, thinking about my last handful of characters (I mostly DM now so this is a short list):
  • Literal god reduced to mortal form due to Shenanigans by mortals breaking the world
  • Knight of the realm, formerly trapped in petrified statue form, so the realm is...a lot less existent than he remembers
  • Posh academic in a religious institution getting sent to the stinking jungle due to Family Politics
  • Archaeologist who was chosen to help try to free a trapped agathion
  • Penitent priest-turned-knight
  • Local witch/herbal healer and priest of the nigh-forgotten primordials
  • Engineered soldier-servitor of a now-essentially-dead precursor race, recently freed from suspended animation and trying to discover what the hell happened to his people
  • Silversmith and overall Decent Working Fellow drawn into Issues well outside his usual field
  • War hero...for a nation that normally despises his race, because they were servants of the wicked dragons of old
  • Tech-priest, science officer and second officer of the starship  Inevitable (short for Inevitably Successful In All Circumstances, cheerfully stolen from Star Control II), and keyboardist for the galactically-famous rock band, Apocalypse How.
I think that's all the recent "interesting" professions/backgrounds I've had. Some are obviously more...flamboyant than others.
 

Vaalingrade

Legend
Child hired to be the playmate of a noble child, discarded like garbage and with no prospects when said child suddenly got a leap forward in the line of succession.
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
Some recent characters for me:
  • Wizard gladiator who took too many hits to the dome and now he's an eldritch knight on account of forgetting most of his spells.
  • Famous figure-skater, now a washed up has-been who turned to adventuring to pay for his addictions.
  • A carpenter who lost all his money on a scheme to build ladders and cut them in half to sell them as 10-foot poles.
  • A shepherdess who lost all her sheep and didn't know where to find them.
Truthfully I don't put a lot of thought or stock in backgrounds. I try to keep it to a sentence at most. What matters to me is what the character is doing now and in the future. I can establish additional detail when I'm inspired to do so during play.
 

Celebrim

Legend
So, the first thing to ask is whether the things you are interested in actually exist in the campaign world. The jobs you list are anachronistic to most D&D worlds (except possibly Eberron).

"news reporter": The job you are looking for here is Herald, which is a person paid by a wealthy benefactor to announce to the public things they believe the public needs to know - like how great the person is, what new laws they've passed, how their daughter is getting married soon to the Prince of Overhill, and how the people of Farland are terrible people. It's not a particularly great starting point for an adventurer because you don't have a lot of freedom or past experience that makes you qualified for most things an adventurer typically does. But it's a decent background for a Bard.

"travel agent": Tourism is almost unknown in its current form, although ironically when used properly in historical settings the word "adventurer" translates most closely to "tourist". The closest to this is a professional Guide or professional Host, typically in medieval times escorting Pilgrims (religious tourism if you will) to destinations. That's actually an exceptionally good PC background to start with because it has lots of hooks, lots of chances for you to have met NPCs that the DM can introduce, and lots of meaty background as to why you have your skills and knowledge.

"story writer": So novelists as it were weren't really a job that existed until the 19th century. Typically writing stories when it occurred was sort of like being a Herald in that someone commissioned you to either inform someone else about events or else give you a summary of events. Writing fiction except as like national epics for political purposes was usually confined to the very upper class and meant to entertain themselves and their small audience of peers. The very first true novel, 'The Tale of Genji' is very much this sort of thing. You could be a Scribe. Many people weren't literate and so they'd commision someone in a marketplace to write on their behalf letters, contracts, and so forth, suggesting improvements to their language to make them seem more educated and so forth. Alternately, the job was a record keeper taking dictation or recording events on behalf of some large organization. It's not a great background for an adventurer because it doesn't at all suggest how you acquired skills to face challenges.

Now for my part, the backgrounds that I've always wanted to see players took up in my games are things like:

Rat Catcher: This is actually an exceptionally good background for a low level fighter. It has a lot of flavor and it's pretty obvious how in a D&D world a Rat Catcher gets to be pretty tough, and how one is useful in low level adventures.
Lumberjack: Anyone who goes around in D&D forests is likely pretty tough.
Sailor/Fisherman: Ditto for anyone going around on rivers or oceans.
Undertaker: An immensely cool background in my opinion, which in D&D has obvious tie in to someone who knows about and how to fight undead. There is also great opportunity to be a low level cleric with this job.
City Watchman: Great starting point for a low level fighter or even ranger or rogue.
Night Watchman: Variant of the above but you work for a private individual like a silversmith guarding their property. Lots of reason to own basic adventuring gear, to be tough, but to be looking to improve your station.
Bouncer: Sort of obvious, but great hook for why the game might start in a tavern and you be there.
 

Celebrim

Legend
Child hired to be the playmate of a noble child, discarded like garbage and with no prospects when said child suddenly got a leap forward in the line of succession.

Whipping boy who got too old to have the job anymore (or otherwise made irrelevant) would be a wonderful backstory that would like get automatically approved in my campaign world.

I also have a campaign where the common theme is everyone is a childhood friend or associate of the second oldest prince in the line of succession - where you can start out as anything from a cousin, a university roommate, the chambermaid he lost his virginity to, a drinking buddy, etc. - just make up some reason you are close to a guy of really high station.
 

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