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5E What's Your Story: A Custom Background Guide


First Post
What's Your Story: A Custom Background Guide​

In this guide I will be using the standard CharOp colour scheme:
Gold is the best, you take this or you're hurting yourself.
Sky Blue is great, this is one of the best options available.
Blue is good, not as good as Sky Blue, but good.
Black is average. It'll do the job, but it's not great.
Purple is for niche cases. Outside of these cases, it's bad.
Red is a trap, something for you to avoid.

Green is too situational for me to rate.

Player's Handbook
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

Outside of the DM just saying "No." background customisation is not an optional thing. That is to say, if you're playing with backgrounds, you can assume that you can customise your background.

A custom background is made up of several parts that we'll be covering:

  • A Background Feature- Asides from the option to make one up with your DM, that's what I'll be going over in the first section.
  • Any two skills- That's right, any two skills. You don't have to jump the hoops of having class and background proficiencies match in order to take a skill outside both, simply customize your background.
  • A total of two languages or tools- There is a restriction here: The language or tool must be available through one of the existing backgrounds. Other than that, go mad.
  • The equipment package (or dice roll starting gold) from a pre-existing background.
  • Two Personality Traits, one ideal, one bond and one flaw- Note, these don't have to be from existing backgrounds, you can make them up to fit your character concept.

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First Post
[h=5]Background Features:[/h]Your background's feature can either be made up with your DM or one of the already existing one. Due to a lack of divination talents, I won't be rating the ones you make up.

Shelter of the Faithful:
Shelter of the Faithful is decent enough:

  • Those who share your faith respect you, and you can preform the ceremonies of your diety. So... maybe some situational benefits to checks against those of the same faith?
  • "Free" healing and care at established presences of your faith. "Free" as in "you have to pay for any material components needed." Handy, but world dependent.
  • Those who share your religion will support you at a modest lifestyle. Well not having to pay for living expenses is nice.
  • Non-hazardous assistance at your temple of residence, provided you're still in good standing. It's a roleplay tool, and as varied and un-rateable as you'd expect.
​As such, it recieves a rating of Black. The free rent and board is nice, but everything else is situational at the least.

False Identity:
Did I mention I LOVE the potential for mayhem this has?

  • We start of with the sweet ability to be two people. Sure if you look the same you might not pass any deception checks against anyone after you, but you can always bluff them into thinking it's a case of mistaken identity.
  • Then we move onto the real fun. THE ABILITY TO FORGE OFFICAL DOCUMENTS AND PERSONAL NOTES. Do I need to explain how amazing that is? Sure there are some restrictions: You need to have seen the type of documentation, or the handwriting you're trying to copy, but those can be overcome with stealth or scrying or a variety of other means. And once you've met those conditions? Well imagine if you combine the two: Official documentation signed personally by the ruler of the land. Cue mayhem. Yes, I do think I'm in love with this feature.
Sky Blue. Just, Sky Blue. Unless your not into general mayhem. Then I guess it might drop to Blue.

Criminal Contact:
I'm going to be honest, I can't rate this one. It's too dependent on cooperation with your DM. Can you use your contact to hire assassins? Get goods off the black-market? It's only limited by your imagination and your DM. Thus it could range from red to gold.

By Popular Demand:
Free Food and Board. Well, almost free, you have to perform each night to get it, but you get a higher standard of living for it. Also it makes people like you. Could be helpful when you're trying to extract info from people.

Rustic Hospitality:
Good news, as long as you don't show yourself to be dangerous, the common masses will help hide you, shield you, rest AND recuperate. As long as you don't mind staying among commoners. Although it's pretty situational that you'll need it.

Guild Membership:
Political power at your back (hopefully) and people who are willing to pay for food, lodgings and funeral costs if neccisary. Shame about the 5GP per month cost.

There's green, and then there's super green. I mean, this isn't even defined beyond "you found something".

Position of Privilege:
Want a high social standing? To be popular with the upper class and respected by the lower? 'Cause that's all this does.

You get three non-combat NPCs that effectively act as your servents. Better if you can get them to craft stuff or otherwise be productive.

Oh hey look, free food (for six no less)! Well, scenery willing. Depends on how much your DM tracks things like that. Blue if food and water is a tracked resource in your game.

Yet another DM dependent feature. Whoo.

Ship's Passage:
Does your DM run a campaign where there's ship travel? Does your DM expect you to pay for said travel? If so, this is probably... Black. And that's if you need to travel semi-regularly.

Bad Reputation:
Arr, now ye be talkin'. Free pass on minor crimes, and the wenches!

Military Rank:
Obviously this is red if your DM doesn't work it into the campaign, but that shouldn't be hard to do so I'm going to go ahead and not give it a green rating.

City Secrets:
I don't want to rate this one red because in time-dependent scenarioes, it could be extremely helpful, but outside those situations it really is kinda worthless.


First Post
[h=5]Skills, Tools and Languages:[/h]

[h=5]Skills:[/h]Since so much about what skills will be useful depends on your stats, I'll be rating them as if they are based upon your main/secondary stat.

Athletics: Athletics is unlikely to be a check your DM asks you to make often, used mainly for trying to push, pull or break something, including yourself. So why've I rated it blue? Grapplers need this. Both Shoving a Creature and Grab require that you make an opposed Athletics check. Needless to say, proficiency really helps.

Acrobatics: Acrobatics is a useful skill. Anything from escaping a grab to trying to stay on a narrow, slippery bridge, in high winds, can be an Acrobatics check.
Sleight of Hand: I'll admit it now, I'm more of a "shoot them" guy than a framer/thief. But if you're going to plant something on, or lift something off of, someone, you'll want Sleight of Hand. Outside of those situations, not worth taking.
Stealth: Stealth is important. No seriously, even if you personally don't plan on being all sneaky, you do anyone in your party who does a huge favour. Party cooperation aside, Stealth helps you go undetected, which can result in surprised opponents and/or advantage on attack rolls. Remember: Being Hiden means you can't being targetted, and the higher your Stealth, the better chance of becoming Hiden.

Arcana: Knowledge checks, so hard to rate. For example: Does your DM make knowlege checks, or just convey information to you? If (s)he does, then this becomes Black. If you know this specific sort of knowledge check will come up, Blue.
History: See Arcana
Investigation: Oh Investigation, how scattered are thee. I've seen it used in a variety of ways, from a perception alternative, to the same except only if there's time with no passive version, to completely ignored[/color=red]. It's just not different enough from Perception really. Especially now you can have Intelligence (Perception) Checks now. But I digress.
Nature: See Arcana
Religion: See Arcana

Animal Handling: If you have a mount, then this is potentially worth it, DM dependent. Otherwise this is very campaign dependent.
Insight: Do a lot of talking? Even if you don't personally, being able to tell if someone's lying is a very good skill to have, don't want to accidently be working for the bad guy after all. You get free dental if you intentionally join.
Medicine: Good if Poisons come up, although the stabalizing bit can be made redundant by having a Healer's Kit.
Perception: Just as Stealth is vital to not getting spotted, Perception is vital to spotting things. The subtle groves of an arrow trap? Perception. The slight effects an invisible creature is having on the surrounding area? Perception. That goblin trying to hide from you? Perception. Perception, Perception, Inception. Even if Wisdom's a dump stat, take this if you've left over skills.
Survival: Following tracks, hunting wildlife and guiding people. That is what Survival covers. Situationaly useful. Free living expenses during downtime? Blue. Obviously if you don't have downtime it loses some appeal.

Deception: Bluff Deception is a good skill to have. You can convince the enemies you're one of them, the town guard that "He started it" or just act like you belong and walk right into that bad guy's base. Especially nice when paired with the ability to forge documents and stuff *cough*False Identity*cough*.
Intimidation: It's Persuasion (or Deception, there's a bit of overlap between those two), only with a higher chance of someone calling the town watch on you.
Performance: Not even By Popular Demand requires you to be proficient in Performance, only that you perform. Outside of campaign specific events, it could be used to cause a distraction.
Persuasion: There's some overlap here with Deception: If you're decieving someone with words, is that not also Persuasion? The differences are where they apply. Deception covers written notes, forged documents, maybe even conversations when you're trying to lie/mislead. Persuasion on the other hand can cover any circumstance when you personally want to, well, persuade someone.

[h=5]Tools:[/h]Not a lot here, since you can only pick up tools that were already available.

Artisian's Tool:
Disguise Kit:
Forgery Kit: Working inversely from the background feature you probably can't forge offical documents or personal notes with this (Better if you've said feature), but you can still do a lot with unoffical documents etc.
Gaming Set:Herbalism Kit: Potions of Healing might be magical, and thus normally uncraftable. Good news! Specific vs General, and this specifically calls out that you can make them.Musical Instrument:
Navigator's Tools:

Thieve's Tools:
Vehicles (Land):
Vehicles (Water):

[h=5]Languages:[/h]Just got one thing to say: The Backgrounds with "Any Language" makes this very easy to list:
Any Language