D&D 5E Pointcrawl Backgrounds

BookTenTiger

He / Him
I was really inspired by one of the links in the 100 Cool D&D Links thread by @M.T. Black called Pointcrawling Character Creation

It's worth a read!

The short version of it is that you can replace character creation with a short pointcrawl. The players decide where they traveled on the campaign map, and each location gives them a bonus or an item. For example, starting in Baranar Kalan (the deepest delving of the dwarves) gives you +2 to Attacks since there's so much fighting against the trollspawn. Then, if you travel to Corsair's Cove, you get an enchanted wallet. By the time everyone reaches Aben Garan (the starting location for the campaign), they have five different bonuses, abilities, or items.

I was inspired by that, and started coming up with an idea of how to do this in 5e (or 5.5) D&D. One idea I had was that you could do a Pointcrawl to replace Backgrounds. Here's how I've worked it out:

The Pointcrawl Adventure

As part of Session 0 or Session 1, the players would go through five seasons of travel before ending up in the starting location. Each "season" could represent a few months, a few years, or a few decades for long-lived folks. The campaign map is populated by a number of locations, such as Havens, Wonders, and Threats. Each location has a number of skill proficiencies and tool or language proficiencies, along with boons (representing the Features of backgrounds).

The players all choose a starting location, and choose one benefit (skill proficiency, tool or language proficiency, or boon) from that location. Then, they take turns traveling around the map, gaining benefits and telling little stories of each location. If they choose to stay in a location for more than one season, they gain a second benefit from that location.

By the time the four seasons are over, each character can gain:
2 skill proficiencies
2 tool, language, musical instrument, or gaming set proficiencies
1 boon

Example: Iron Tom

As an example, let's say I have a halfling fighter named Iron Tom.

Starting Location: I start in Castle Oldrock, a fortified castle town. I gain a Tool proficiency, and choose Cook's Utensils.
Season 1: I travel to the Wolfriders, and face off against a clan of bandits who hunt on wolf-back. I gain proficiency in Animal Handling.
Season 2: I travel to the Marsh of Titans, a broad swamp stalked by greedy giants. I gain the boon Sojourner (a feature that allows me to remember where I've traveled without maps, and provide food for myself and companions while journeying).
Season 3: I travel to the Citadel of Green, the seat of the Spring and Summer Throne for the forest elves. I gain proficiency in the Elven Language.
Season 4: I stay in the Citadel of Green, and gain proficiency in the History skill, learning from the elven scholars gathered beneath the boughs of the living temples.
Season 5: I finish my journey to Crow River, the frontier town where the first adventure will take place.

By the time the first adventure begins, Iron Tom has a background that includes the following:
Proficiency in Animal Handling and History
Proficiency in Cook's Utensils and the Elven Language
The Sojourner feature

I decide to call Iron Tom's background Wanderlust Warrior, with the idea that he starts to get itchy feet and a thirst for violence when he has been settled too long in one location.

Locations

In the Custom Background Rules, you can choose two skills, two tool proficiencies (or languages), and a feature. In the Pointcrawl Background, each location would have two skills, a tool or language proficiency, and a feature associated with it. These proficiencies and features would focus on the experiences characters had in each location. One location might look like this:

Castle Oldrock
A fortified city surrounding a huge, ancient castle. Castle Oldrock is home to many orders of knights, as well as the largest prison of the realm, the Oldrock Depths. Choose one of the following benefits:
Skills:
You gain proficiency in Athletics if you served with an order of Oldrock Knights.
You gain proficiency in Deception if you spent time in the Oldrock Depths.
Proficiency:
You gain proficiency in a set of Tools if you learned a trade serving the knights or criminals.
Boon:
You gain the feature Recruit if you joined one of the Oldrock Knights, or a criminal gang in the Oldrock Depths.
You gain the feature Companion if you earned the trust of a squire or a young pickpocket.

Another location might look like this:

Barons of the Rotwood
A vampire council rules over a smattering of poor farming villages, where the superstitious folk are treated like livestock.
Choose one of the following benefits:
Skills:
You gain proficiency in Intimidation if you fought back against the corrupt governor of a Rotwood village.
You gain proficiency in Religion if you joined the efforts of the ailing churches to protect the townsfolk.
Proficiency:
You gain proficiency in an Instrument or Gaming Set if you helped lift the spirits of the poor peasants through music or games.
Boon:
You gain the Title feature if you discovered a family heirloom linking you to the ruling class of the Rotwood.
You gain the Reputation feature if you helped protect villagers against the hunger of the vampire council.

Background Features Translated to Boons

I want players to be able to choose features of different backgrounds, so I combined different background features into a few boons:

Recruit: You belong to an order, and gain safe passage, shelter, or benefits. For example, you might be a guild merchant, a knight, or a cultist.
Reputation: You have a reputation for heroics, violence, or cunning that precedes you. Folks know who you are, and will give you aide or assistance. This reputation may also be for a false identity.
Reliable Work: You have a trade that you practice, and can find paying work in almost any inhabited location. This could be a legitimate business, such as smithing, a criminal enterprise, or something in-between, such as gladiatorial combat.
Uncovered Secret: You discovered an earth-shaking secret about an important NPC, influential family, or the world itself. This may include a treasure map, an ancient document, or even a restless spirit.
Title: Through nobility, a great deed, or wealth, you have been granted a title. You are treated with honors as according to the title, and may have further connections or obligations due to it.

I then added these three boons:

Magic Item: You gain a unique magic item.
Companion: You gain a faithful companion (humanoid or beast) who stays out of combat, but is skilled in setting up camp, repairing objects, or other tasks.
Property: You gain a home, business, or other property.

Conclusion

In the end, I think this would be a fun way to replace backgrounds in a campaign. As a DM, you could create the locations in order to build in factions, enemies, and lore that's important to your campaign. Or, as part of Session 0, you could have the players brainstorm the kinds of organizations, campaign truths, and baddies they want to encounter. As the campaign progresses, characters would be able to return to places that were important to them, and reunite with NPC's, or face off against monsters they only heard about before. And most importantly, everyone's backgrounds would be deeply tied into the lore and feel of the campaign world.

Anyways, those are just my thoughts. What are yours?
 

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aco175

Legend
In theory I like it. I'm not sure if it will just be a cherry pick of the beast locations to get the best stuff. Although creation is just a pick what you want selection now, so I guess it would be fine. It gives the players some more information on the world and makes them read the setting primer to know some things about the locations.

I would like to have players come up with a NPC, item, or location tied to each location they visit. This way there would be a lot of hints and contacts all over the campaign site. One player knows a contact in the town the group has not visited so now that player gets to shine some. Another knows the location to a magic item in another location, or perhaps an abandoned temple to his god.

Not sure if it is too much work without player buy in. Would be interested to see how it goes.
 

BookTenTiger

He / Him
In theory I like it. I'm not sure if it will just be a cherry pick of the beast locations to get the best stuff. Although creation is just a pick what you want selection now, so I guess it would be fine. It gives the players some more information on the world and makes them read the setting primer to know some things about the locations.

I would like to have players come up with a NPC, item, or location tied to each location they visit. This way there would be a lot of hints and contacts all over the campaign site. One player knows a contact in the town the group has not visited so now that player gets to shine some. Another knows the location to a magic item in another location, or perhaps an abandoned temple to his god.

Not sure if it is too much work without player buy in. Would be interested to see how it goes.
When I was coming up with it, I was at first worried about cherry picking as well. But I realized a few things:

1) The custom background rules already allow you to cherry pick.

2) Cherry picking "good" skills like Perception, Athletics, or Persuasion means the characters will have journeyed to similar places, which is actually great for backstories!
 

BookTenTiger

He / Him
That's a cool concept. What I most like is the the players get to also introduce people and places in the session 0 character creation so as a group you make a map n background between you all, and then you can revisit those places to add more meat to those play areas.
I love player input like this. I think it would be a lot of fun to sit down, flip through the books, and make a map together in preparation for the point crawl backgrounds.

Another benefit is that a new character introduced later in the campaign can go through the same process and immediately have connections to the story.
 

Retros_x

Explorer
I find the concept quite interesting, to make basically character creation more engaging, but I have a question for clarification.

Is it really a pointcrawl, meaning that if you travel to a point, you can only travel to specific adjacent points that are connected? Or is it more in the sense that you can travel from every point to every other point, meaning basically its not a pointcrawl, but just that every proficiency, feat etc. is mapped/keyed to some location or other story relevant thing?

You could also combine this even more with world-building and have the players invent the whole location in a discussion. Like an open question: "ok, you want to get proficiency in persuasion, what is an interesting location you could've learned that?" and so building the world together a bit.
 

BookTenTiger

He / Him
I find the concept quite interesting, to make basically character creation more engaging, but I have a question for clarification.

Is it really a pointcrawl, meaning that if you travel to a point, you can only travel to specific adjacent points that are connected? Or is it more in the sense that you can travel from every point to every other point, meaning basically its not a pointcrawl, but just that every proficiency, feat etc. is mapped/keyed to some location or other story relevant thing?

You could also combine this even more with world-building and have the players invent the whole location in a discussion. Like an open question: "ok, you want to get proficiency in persuasion, what is an interesting location you could've learned that?" and so building the world together a bit.
Great questions and ideas.

I guess you could run it two ways, having to go from point to point, or just being able to free travel. My instinct leans towards the latter, but both would be valid.

I love that idea of world creation through desired skills and features!
 

Tonguez

A suffusion of yellow
So a exploration mediated lifepath system? Sounds like a fun way to build a character, though I‘d maybe be a bit more random on boons (roll d4) and have players create NPC and PC-to-PC interavtions in to it too.
 

Quickleaf

Legend
The idea has tons of merit! I like the flavor of that blog post. It's definitely tricky to do well.

The 4th edition Heroes of the Feywild kind of did this with a build-your-background solo-play choose-your-own-adventure chapter. You'd come to a location in the Feywild, be given a couple choices with different checks, and depending on your choice & roll, you might learn something and off you went to the next location until your story (aka background) was done.
 


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