If you’re new to Dungeons & Dragons 5e you might be curious about making your own custom background.
While I’d recommend you stick with the pre-made backgrounds in 5e for your first game. If you can’t find one that you like, you might want to create a custom one.
In this post, I’ll clear up some of the rules about custom backgrounds, guide you on how to make your own, and answer some common questions about them.
Let’s get into it starting with the rule for 5e custom backgrounds.
Rules for Custom Backgrounds in 5e
It may come as a surprise but custom backgrounds are a part of the core rules of D&D 5e.
So many other elements of the game feel solid. You get what you get and that’s it.
Class and subclass features, feats, and even your race (at least until Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything came out) had little customization options.
But, the Player’s Handbook explicitly states you can customize or create your own backgrounds to fit your character.
Page 125 of the PHB reads:
What does this mean?
It means, rules as written, you can customize your background in 5e. You don’t need to use any of the listed choices verbatim.
Now, you do still have a few rules you need to follow.
- You can replace a feature or make a new one by working with your Dungeon Master
- You can choose up to two skill proficiencies
- You can choose up to two tool proficienies or languages
- You can either replace your background’s equipment package with another or choose to use the starting wealth optional rule for your class
- You can choose your personality traits, ideals, bonds, and flaws from any list or come up with your own
These are the five parts to creating your own or customizing your background in 5e.
So, how do you do that, exactly?
Customizing Backgrounds for 5e
So, to get started, let’s look back at the rest of the rules from the PHB.
"To customize a background, you can replace one feature with any other one, choose any two skills, and choose a total of two tool proficiencies or languages from the sample backgrounds. You can either use the equipment package from your background or spend coin on gear as described in the Equipment section. (If you spend coin, you can’t also take the equipment package suggested for your class.) Finally, choose two personality traits, one ideal, one bond, and one flaw. If you can’t find a feature that matches your desired background, work with your DM to create one."
Let’s break this down.
Replace a Feature
This lets you take one background option and replace its corresponding feature with another. And honestly, this is one of the stickier parts of customizing a background in 5e (second only to the equipment). Especially if none of the features strike your fancy.
Just be sure to check and work with your DM before making any changes.
Choose Any Two Skills
You get to choose any two skills to become proficient in with this background. I use this one a lot when making characters. Sometimes you choose a race and class combination that gives you skills your desired background has. So, it’s an easy change to ensure your character covers as many skills as possible.
Choose a Total of Two Tool Proficiencies or Languages
Again, a pretty easy customization.
Look at the tools and languages available to you (because your DM might not allow certain languages) and pick two total.
Again, this helps flesh out your character. Say you want to play an Acolyte but you don’t really want or need two more languages. You want your character to have a history of craftsmanship or working in a shop. So, you can easily take the woodworking or smithing tool proficieny in place of one of the languages.
It’s that easy.
Changing Background Equipment
This is the weirdest part of customizing your background.
So, the easy version is you switch out your chosen background’s equipment with another one. No muss, no fuss. Just choose a background’s equipment package you like and use that instead.
The second option is…buying all of it.
But, the trick is you don’t use your background’s money. No no no. You use your class’ starting wealth.
But then, that means you can’t choose any of your class’ starting equipment options. And, you then need to figure out what you’re buying as your starting gear for both your class and background.
See what I mean by this being the stickiest part of customizing your background?
Each class has a different starting wealth as an optional rule. So, you’ll roll for that and then figure out what you’re buying.
It’s kind of nice because you get more control over what your starting equipment is. But, the trade-off is you might end up with less gold than the total worth of the base packages (especially between your class and background). So, you get less gear than you would if you just went with the listed options.
Personally, I’d recommend picking an equipment package that’s at least sort of close to what you want rather than build your own gear set. Since you tend to get the most value that way.
Just keep that in mind if you want to go this route.
Choose Your Personality Traits
Along with switching out skill proficiencies, this is my most used customization option.
The last part of customizing your own D&D 5e background is choosing two personality traits, one ideal, one bond, and one flaw. These can be from any existing background or your own ideas.
I’d also like to say the numbers for each are a suggestion. Choose as many as you’d like for each to fit your character.
This comes about as easy as it gets.
Just go through the various traits from each of the backgrounds and pick the ones you like. Don’t feel like you’re restricted to one.
These traits are purely for helping you think like your character and make decisions based on their personality. So, there’s little to no mechanical benefit to the ones you choose.
…Well, unless you’re playing a game with hard rules on alignment. But, that’s a different can of worms altogether.
When it comes to customizing your background, just choose the personality traits, ideals, bonds, and flaws that best fit your character concept.
Custom Backgrounds FAQs
If you still have some confusion about custom backgrounds in 5e, let’s see if any of the frequently asked questions help.
How Much Money Do You Get for Custom Backgrounds in 5e?
How much money you get for a custom background in 5e depends on whether you’re simply switching out your equipment pacakage with another background or using the starting wealth for your class.
Remember; if you choose to use the starting wealth rule, you’re giving up both your class’ AND background’s starting equipment. You’ll then roll for your gold according to your class and buy your gear with that.
Are Custom Backgrounds Allowed in Adventurer’s League?
Yes, custom backgrounds are allowed in Adventurer’s League.
Since the PHB explicitly states you can customize backgrounds, you can create your own for your AL game.
And, that’s about it for D&D 5e custom backgrounds.
- You can customize backgrounds to better fit your character idea
- There’s an pretty easy method to customizing your background
But remember, you can always make a custom background for 5e from scratch if you want.
Just work with your DM and use the steps outlined above as a rough guide to making your own background. It’ll make things way easier.
Did you make your own background for your 5e character? Do you allow them at your table? Leave a comment and we can compare notes.