FIVEY: Character Backgrounds

I have been writing quite a few character origins, to the detriment of leaving backgrounds untouched. For some context, origins are analogous to races or ancestries whereas backgrounds are basically synonymous with backgrounds in other games. However, in FIVEY, origins and backgrounds are functionally the same except for their underlying fiction. Here's some context from the big document:

Origins and backgrounds are ‘packages’ of traits that characters can only start with and not attain later in the game. They encompass things such as a character’s ancestry, culture, and profession prior to being called to adventure. Each origin or background provides: 1 title, 1 feat, 1 skill, +1 to a stat, and 2 potential starting items. See Character Packages to learn more and to select one of each (or two backgrounds, if you prefer) for your character.

FIVEY, Character Creation, Origins & Backgrounds

Origins represent a character’s ancestry or upbringing, whereas backgrounds represent their life story just prior to their entrance in the campaign. Since origins tend to be more otherworldly than mundane, a player who chooses to play a human character may opt for an additional background instead of an origin. Doing so does not make a character less powerful, although it may make them feel more grounded.

FIVEY, Character Packages

This means that backgrounds are important not only for characters in general, but also for human ones in particular since they don't have weird stories or cool items to the same extent that non-humans do.

The backgrounds I've been working on initially are derived from the D&D Fifth Edition backgrounds, which are by themselves kind of uninspiring and unhelpful. They tend to just provide knowledge skills, and their powers are most often that they can rely on their background (as a title or as a social status) to interact with non-player-characters. To avoid this homogeneous and, honestly, boring case, I've generalized titles to grant that same functionality, so that background powers can be more interesting; you might also see some influence from Whitehack's group attributes:

Titles represent a character’s social circles, factional memberships, or claims to fame—identities which situate the character in the fantasy world. Those who share a common identity with the character will be more likely to assist them, whereas those prejudiced or who oppose a character’s faction will react more negatively.

Titles also operate on an institutional level, allowing a character to call upon the aid of an organization rather than just that of an individual. For example, an acolyte may receive free care from temples belonging to their sect, or a veteran might still garner the respect of past or present soldiers and borrow equipment from them.

Finally, titles can help a player better understand the depths of their character’s knowledge. An elf sage has different experiences than a human thief, and each one brings those different experiences to the table. Characters with a certain title are therefore considered skillful experts in that title’s domain with regards to history, culture, or craft.

FIVEY, Basic Rules, Titles & Knowledge

You'll also find that in absence of character classes, I've written the background feats to provide abilities or items that would otherwise only be accessible via class. This means that acolytes, criminals, sages, and veterans correspond roughly with first-level clerics, thieves, mages, and fighters in other games. In fact, "acolyte" and "veteran" are the titles of first-level clerics and fighters respectively in classic D&D. I still feel like there are certain gaps present, and that a more arcane background with a feat for magic might be nice to have alongside the smarty-pants sage.

So, without further ado, some backgrounds!

Background: Acolyte

A belief is not natural, but it takes effort on a community’s part to maintain it and on an individual’s part to sustain it. An acolyte is one who lives out a belief in order to ensure its survival. They practice rituals learned from their elders who had learned it from their own elders. Through these rituals, they interface between their community now and their community past. Certainly the acolyte speaks with spirits, but are they the spirits of divinities on a plane beyond, or the very reflections of those who believe in them? Some acolytes therefore do not place their faith in belief per se, but in the ritual itself.

Acolytes have the Religion skill, and they start with either a prayer book (tier 1 spell) or a holy symbol which, when held in one hand, allows the wielder to convert their weapon’s physical damage into holy damage (using CHA instead of STR or DEX to attack and determine damage).

Acolytes also have the Blessing feat, which allows them to spend 1 rest action in order to cure an ally of an ailment, restore some of their hit points equal to 1d6 + CHA, or make them resistant against a certain type of damage for the next day. If the historical first act of society was tending to the wounded, then the acolyte is the inheritor of this original tradition.

Background: Criminal

Criminals care not for the law’s impositions upon free-thinkers like themselves. They see through the matrix of legal fiction for what it is: a bunch of rules invented by idiots with power so they do not have to share it, enforced by lackeys with threats of imprisonment or death. Yet upon acting upon this realization, they are thrown out from the social cage of which they thought they had broken free. Criminals only have other criminals, and left to their own devices they reinvent the wheel of power in the form of mafias and thieves’ guilds to keep others from taking what they think is theirs.

Criminals have the Banditry skill, and they start either with a single-use skeleton key which can bypass any lock, or a set of loaded dice which allows the player to gain advantage at playing dice games (if the criminal gets away with using them).

Criminals also have the Belly of the Beast feat, which allows them to spend 1 rest action at night to detect and investigate a settlement’s criminal scene. By walking down shady streets and stalking clubs, an experienced criminal can effortlessly clock gang activity and figure out who’s calling the shots or who’s feuding with whom.

Background: Sage

Occasionally, the black cauldron of history boils over and spills out tribulations unreckoned by its victims. It is during times like these that sages rise to the challenge, dedicating their lives to uncover secrets unimaginable by those overwrought with everyday troubles. Some are driven by passion, others by awe, and others by fear. The works of most sages are accepted by society with open arms. However, the greatest mysteries are those upon which the world sits. When such a mystery is found out, the powers that be may become suspicious—or even hostile.

Sages have an Education skill representing their particular field of expertise, and they start with either a manuscript of a theoretical dissertation (tier 1 spell) or a peculiar artifact yet to be understood by that sage or by anyone else (tier 1 spell). One item is the product of a sage’s knowledge, and the other its object.

Sages also have the Alumni Association feat, whereby the sage—if they do not know the answer to a particular question of historical, cultural, or theoretical significance—knows where to look or whom to ask in order to find out. The wisest sage knows that they know nothing at all, and that one must rely upon the wisdom of others where their own falters.

Background: Veteran

Veterans are survivors of war who have been discharged, honorably or otherwise, from service. Most don’t enter a war excited to spill blood, but no one leaves wanting to spill any more. For whatever reason a soldier takes up arms, as proud as many were to fight on behalf of their town or country, just as many are satisfied or desperate to put them back down. Likewise, those who survive often cannot shake the feeling that a part of them had died anyway. Without purpose and without any channels of support, it is not uncommon for a veteran to once more take up arms, this time against their better judgement.

Veterans have the Athletics skill, and they start with a military-grade longsword (1d8 slashing damage while single-handed, or 1d10 slashing damage while two-handed) or crossbow (1d8 piercing damage, includes 1 unit of ammo). That’s about all that they took back with them.

Veterans also have the Battle-Hardened feat, which allows them to start with a base of 8 hit points and to increase this quantity by 1d8 points each level instead of by 1d6 points. They also have a base healing rate of 1d8 instead of 1d6.


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