Building a Foundation

As mentioned in the start of the building series I wanted to make our 5e game feel more grounded like our Eclipse Phase in the setting by melding the system more closely to the world.

I am looking forward to the opportunity to design for our world.1, and have decided to start with backgrounds as that is in part the literal foundation for a character while letting me try some game design.

Background Basics

Reading through the backgrounds in the Players Handbook you realize that these are a great start though they could be so much more. The concepts are broad and generic, which makes sense given D&D being a general high fantasy game. The Dungeon Masters Guide provides a section on building backgrounds on page 289 for reference and breaks down some basic mechanics behind their creation.

Background Components: Skills

Mechanically, backgrounds provide two skills, languages, or professions while providing personality traits, ideals, flaws and bonds for character development. I will focus on the former as the latter binds the background closer to the game world and since we are building a boutique background we can hyper-localize them without the flaws and bond trappings.

Background Component: Feature

Background skills are perhaps the most commonly used aspect of a background though in my experience the Feature is almost always forgotten. I think this is because the Player’s Handbook backgrounds have fairly banal features that in many ways are too broad. I don’t want to make it a Feat though as I love the Mastering Dungeons take on backgrounds. Therefore, I need to build story-focused prompts that add to the game.

Here is a sample build:

Ginate Harvester

Description: You work on an ocean-bound Ginate platform gathering the leaves and pods from the long-leafy plants to send back to the crafters and merchants on-shore.

Skill Proficiencies: Athletics, Nature

Tool Proficiency: Carving Kit

Equipment: Long knife, rugged worker clothes with thick boots, belt pouch

Features: Aquatic Experience You’re used to doing delicate work as the waves lap beneath the platform so you’re not bothered by swells and could even miss the rocking while on shore. Also, you can swim well enough and are familiar with the sea creatures and habits in the area.

  1. Our group’s shared fantasy world, Feyruin, which we’ve been building together since we started playing in mid-2020 has developed greatly across many different sessions and campaigns.