One of the 5E features that I'm liberally swiping is the idea of backgrounds as an important part of your character. Rather than having these come with a specific suite of skills and a lockstep approach (which I find pretty constraining as presented), I'm thinking a more free-form approach... here's my first draft of this. Some of the descriptions are incomplete, and I think the core rules should have about 20 to choose from (there are 14 here, and it's pretty thorough - although not much for a magic user)...
Backgrounds represent a variety of training, experiences and jobs that
your character participated in before becoming an adventurer – and which your
character might continue with while not busy slaying goblins and looting tombs!
Your background gives you a +2 modifier to any
non-combat check where that background may apply. For example, your background
as a woodsman gives you +2 to sense
checks while in the woods, +2 to sneak rolls while in a natural setting, +2
to INT checks to identify an unknown plant, and +2 to WIS checks to calm a wild
animal. You will never apply this in a combat situation; you cannot take a +2
bonus to your attack roll or saving throw because you are fighting a natural
Rather than listing every possible application of the
background, a general description is provided. Be aware that backgrounds often
overlap, and the skills layered within the background are not mutually
exclusive: a farmer and a woodsman have many common skills, but each also has some
You are also free to generate your own backgrounds. The
GM is encouraged to be as flexible as possible in considering the scope of the
background; as a farmer, you would have experience with not only planting and
the soil, but with weather, the behaviors of common pests like mice, spiders
and ants (and their monstrous varieties), with haggling in the marketplace, and
with maintaining tools and equipment. Whenever one of these situations arises
(identifying the type of bite from a monstrous insect, distinguishing a quality
item from an inferior one, guessing how the weather is going to be tomorrow morning),
your background as a farmer should grant you a situational bonus.
You are allowed to take two backgrounds for your
character. You can either select these or roll for them. As a human, you can
select any two backgrounds you desire. As a demi-human (dwarf, elf, stoutling),
one of your two backgrounds is pre-set.
Instead of taking two backgrounds, you may elect to
double up on the same background; instead of +2, you take +4 in this
Acolyte. You have experience
in religious practices, history, rituals and rites.
Aristocrat. You have
experience in the upper echelons of society, gathering deep knowledge of proper
decorum and etiquette, heraldry, history, family lineages, important items. You
can distinguish items of true value from imitations, and can parlay with those of high status.
Farmer. You have worked the
land and know how to maximize its yield. You have knowledge of the weather,
pests, tools and equipment, bartering and trade. You can appraise animals and
recognize signs of sickness or disease before most others.
Host. You have experience
with hospitality, including the vagaries of dining and parties. You know how to
set a table, how to engage in conversation with a wide range of peoples, how to
pick the right wine, how to prepare a meal for any occasion, and how to politely
navigate through all manner of uncomfortable topics with aplomb.
Hunter. You have highly
specialized knowledge of one creature type. You have studied the habits,
tendencies, life cycles, diets and weakness of this creature type so as to find
and destroy it. Examples include dragons, lycanthropes, or undead.
Knight. You have experience
with the rigors of knighthood. This will include expectations of social
behavior, decorum, the chivalric code, heraldry and etiquette as well as
horsemanship, armor and weapons, and fundamentals of warfare.
Merchant. You know how to appraise
anything, and you have a knack for salesmanship, including getting others to do
what you want them to do. You know where to go to get what you need, and how to
quickly plug into the existing marketplace anywhere you go.
Miner. You have spent your
life underground, and can distinguish the sights, sounds and smells of the deep
better than most. You can appraise gemstones and jewels easily, can intuit
direction underground readily, and can find your way up, down or out with
Performer. You have
experience on stage entertaining audiences with music, acting or other
Scholar. You have studied
history, science, geography and mathematics. You have a wide range of book
knowledge on a great many subjects.
Soldier. You have experience
in warfare, tactics and strategy.
Storyteller. You are adept
at weaving stories, able to entertain, enlighten and inform through your tales.
You have a wealth of knowledge both factual and fantastic that you have picked
up in your travels. You can write well, and manipulate words with ease.
Street Rat. You know the
workings of the urban jungle, able to fence goods, avoid authority, find a free
meal, appraise valuables, plug into the black market, and navigate the sewers.
Woodsman. You have
experience in the wilderness, able to hunt, forage, track, identify plants and
animals and intuit direction. You can predict the weather, distinguish
footprints of various creatures, and move quietly in the wild.