This week on the Campaign Trail I thought I’d look at variant backgrounds and share a couple of homebrew variant backgrounds I created back in 2014 (for my Vodari campaign) that I didn’t include in Pirate Adventurers. The Castaway background was used by one of my players who found himself stranded on an island of giants. The Explorer can provide an interesting option for a player who has a history of sailing across unknown seas and trekking through jungle filled islands.
Creating a variant background or tweaking existing backgrounds can save you the time you would need to create an entire new background. Most of the new backgrounds found in the Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide save design time (and page count) by borrowing Traits, Ideals, Bonds and Flaws from the original backgrounds in the PHB. For example, the City Watch background refers to the Soldier background for suggested characteristics.
To create a background you only need the following:
- Description – basic paragraph introducing the background
- Skill Proficiencies, Tool Proficiencies and Equipment (and sometimes Language)
- Feature – generally a non-combat benefit only available to this background
- Suggested Characteristics – generally an outline of characteristics of people with this background and lists of Traits, Ideals, Bonds and Flaws or a reference to borrow them from another background
- Optional – some kind or origin table such as the Charlatan’s Favorite Schemes Scam (d6) table.
To create a variant background you only need a description of the variant and what makes it different from the original background.
Homebrew Variant Background Examples
The sailor background found in the PHB already has a variant, the Pirate with its variant feature Bad Reputation. The homebrew Castaway and Explorer below provide two more options for players who would like to take the Sailor background.
These example variant backgrounds provide more content with Skill Proficiencies, Tool Proficiencies and Equipment, which doesn’t match up with the simpler official WotC way of doing things, which is to just providei a description and text about what makes it different from the original.
Variant Sailor: Castaway
You were shipwrecked alone or as part of a group. Daily survival was your way of life over the many years as a castaway. You learned to hunt, fish and build shelter before your eventual rescue. Your life of seclusion has made your strong, but you often feel like an outsider while among civilized folk.
If you decide your sailing career took a major detour as a castaway, you can replace the Sailor proficiencies and equipment with the variant proficiencies and equipment below.
Skill Proficiencies: Athletics, Survival
Tool Proficiencies: Herbalism kit, vehicles (water)
Equipment: a hunting trap, a small knife, a set of common clothes, and a pouch containing 10 gp
What was your reason for being shipwrecked? How old were you when you were shipwrecked. How long were you away from civilization?
|1||My ship sank after being attacked by pirates|
|2||My ship was lost during a fierce storm|
|3||I was abandoned by my crew|
|4||I escaped from slavery or captivity aboard a ship|
|5||I chose to exile myself|
|6||I woke up with no memories of how I arrived|
Castaways are deeply shaped by the experience of living away from civilization. If you decide your sailing career took a major detour as a castaway, you can choose the Survival feature instead of the Ship’s Passage feature.
You can conserve rations and water and can easily survive on half the normal rations and water. If you are in the wilderness you do not empty your waterskin and you create two rations per day unless traveling beyond a Forced March. While traveling along a shore with sea life, you can create two rations during your long rest.
Variant Sailor: Explorer
Explorers grow dreaming of sailing the seas to the far edges of civilization and beyond. You are skilled at making maps and your knowledge of cartography and sense of direction make you a valuable addition to the crew of any ship, especially those undertaking expeditions into uncharted waters.
If you decide your sailing career involved lots of exploring, you can replace the Sailor proficiencies and equipment with the variant proficiencies and equipment below.
Skill Proficiencies: Nature, Perception
Tool Proficiencies: Cartographer’s tools, vehicles (water)
Equipment: A set of traveler’s clothes, cartographer’s tools, and an unfinished map
If you decide your sailing career involved lots of exploring, you can choose the Secret Discovery feature instead of the Ship’s Passage feature.
FEATURE: SECRET DISCOVERY
You explore for the love of discovery or to find a lost treasure. Your journey brought you to some secret, mythical, far off, or otherwise inaccessible place and returned. You know about that place, its inhabitants, culture, dangers, magic, etc. You might have returned with some mementos of your journey, as well.
We’ll that’s it from the Campaign Trail this week. Share your thoughts and favorite homebrew backgrounds and variant backgrounds in the comments below.
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