What Are Backgrounds in DnD 5e, Photo Sketch of a Knight Riding a Horse

What Are Backgrounds in DnD 5e?

While backgrounds have only a minor effect on the mechanics of Dungeons & Dragons. But, they’re important in aiding you playing them nonetheless.

If you’re new to D&D 5e you might be a bit confused by what backgrounds are. So, in order to alleviate some confusion, I’m going to breakdown how backgrounds work in D&D 5e.

  1. What Are Backgrounds?
  2. How Do Backgrounds Work?
  3. Do Backgrounds Affect Stats?
  4. Can You Make Custom Backgrounds?
  5. 5e Backgrounds FAQs

Let’s get to it with figuring out what backgrounds in D&D 5e are first.

What Are DnD 5e Backgrounds?

Photo Sketch of a Blacksmith Holding a Ring in Tongs
Your 5e background can include your character’s past profession

Backgrounds in DnD 5e are a role-playing element you choose during character creation. They give you and your fellow players an idea of where your character came from and their past experiences.

Page 125 of the Player’s Handbook or the Personality and Backgrounds section on DnD Beyond explains 5e’s backgrounds as:

"Every story has a beginning. Your character’s background reveals where you came from, how you became an adventurer, and your place in the world. Your fighter might have been a courageous knight or a grizzled soldier. Your wizard could have been a sage or an artisan. Your rogue might have gotten by as a guild thief or commanded audiences as a jester.
Choosing a background provides you with important story cues about your character’s identity. The most important question to ask about your background is what changed? Why did you stop doing whatever your background describes and start adventuring? Where did you get the money to purchase your starting gear, or, if you come from a wealthy background, why don’t you have more money? How did you learn the skills of your class? What sets you apart from ordinary people who share your background?"

Basically, your character’s background defines their experience prior to them becoming an adventurer. And, it helps you role play as your character during the game.

To simplify things, let’s go through how backgrounds in 5e work.

How Do 5e Backgrounds Work?

Photo Sketch of a Sailor Wearing a Knitted Hat
Your background doesn’t affect your Ability Scores, but they give you proficiencies in skill, tools, and/or languages

Basically, your character’s background kicks in from character creation. It’s a part of your character’s history. Encompassing their personalities and behaviors.

Your background is a part of your character from the start.

You do get the background feature that…kind of activates in special circumstances? But, even then, it’s more of a passive ability.

There’s not much to how backgrounds in 5e work. They just…do.

You get your skill proficiencies. You get your language(s) and/or tool proficiences. You get your equipment.

It all just works.

Now, because of this, there’s no real mechanical ruleset to worry about.

Your personality traits, ideals, bonds, and flaws are all role-playing aids to help make your character "real." But, some Dungeon Masters reward players with advantage for having their characters act according to their traits.

So, just remember your proficiencies, where your feature works, and your traits and behaviors and you’re good to go.

How Do Backgrounds Affect Stats in 5e?

5e’s background options do not affect your Ability Scores. So, they don’t really affect your stats in the strictest sense.

Backgrounds give you skill proficiencies, tool proficiencies, and/or languages. So, they kind of affect your stats in that you can add your Proficiency bonus to those skills or tools. But, there’s no increase or decrease to your actual Ability Scores.

The biggest role Backgrounds play in DnD 5e is as an aid for fleshing out your character. Not to pad your stats.

DnD 5e Backgrounds FAQs

Photo Sketch of a Shepherd with a Flock of Sheep in a Field

Can You Make Custom Backgrounds in DnD?

Yes, you can make your own homebrew backgrounds.

But, there’s a whole ruleset for that. Luckily, I already covered how to make your own custom backgrounds for DnD 5e here. So, give that a read if you’re curious about it.

What Backgrounds Give Stat Bonuses in 5e?

There are no backgrounds that give your character stat bonuses in 5e.

5e’s backgrounds aren’t meant to pad out your stats. They give you a role playing feature and proficiencies in a couple skills and maybe a few other things. But, they don’t improve your Ability Scores directly.

What Backgrounds Are AL Legal for DnD 5e?

Every background is Adventurer’s League legal.

Since the PHB explicitly allows you to customize your backgrounds, there are no restrictions for official league play.

That’s about it for how D&D 5e’s backgrounds work.

They give you some proficiencies and a role playing feature. But, they don’t improve your Ability Scores in anyway.

What are you favorite 5e backgrounds? Do you have any other questions on them? Leave a comment and we can talk about it.

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