The Charlatan background offers a ton of fun roleplaying hooks for that roleplayer that likes wearing a new mask every game… or every five minutes for that matter. It’s a fun way to punch up character classes that so rarely get to play the “face” of the party.
With a skill proficiency in Deception and Slight of Hand and proficiencies with the disguise and forgery kit, you can help round out a more combat-focused character or add a more rogueish dimension to an otherwise straight-laced character.
Check out past background articles here: Acolyte
This combo is one of the more intriguing ones, especially because you get a set of fine clothes. A dapper barbarian posing as the Duke of Grondlebrompton sounds like a ton of fun. Eloquent, stylish, suave.
At least until his low charisma fails him. Still, what makes social encounters fun is that you have the most powerful weapon of them all at your disposal: your words! Fumble a deception check? You can always try to talk your way out of it or prepare ahead of time and have the right documents forged.
The false identity that you forge should be rooted in your backstory. Perhaps it is a long-running con that you started when you first left your tribe — or even a small lie that has spiraled out of control. Perhaps you found that it was far easier to trick people out of their money instead of having to work for it.
|1||The whole “tribal” thing is a ruse. I was born in Waterdeep.|
|2||People love the whole rugged barbarian look and I love playing into it.|
|3||I will compete with anyone for anything, but I always make sure I win (even if I lose)|
|4||My mouth has gotten me into trouble more times than I can count.|
|5||There’s nothing better than flying into a rage to spook a couple of peasants out of their cash,|
|6||I’m about as subtle as a rock.|
The bard is the obvious choice for the charlatan, as there is a lot of overlap. Choose this background if you are really looking to lean into the performance and deception-based aspects of the Bard, or if you wanted to save valuable skill choices for something else.
You have perhaps more leeway than other classes to choose your favorite scheme. Whatever you do choose, you’ll be able to pull it off with an uncommon panache. Personally, I would choose a few schemes to run, based on whether or not we stopped in a village, hamlet, or city.
|1||I have a lover in every town and keep their names (mostly) straight.|
|2||Truly, music is the universal language, and my tuba only tells lies.|
|3||I tell the truth. Most of the time. Well, only when it doesn’t matter.|
|4||There’s no con I don’t know, I have one for every occasion.|
|5||I prefer to keep people at arm’s length. I don’t have friends I have associates.|
|6||I never tell lies to my closest friends.|
A cleric charlatan is interesting because you’re not just a phony holy man, you’re a phony holy man with magic to back that up. Perhaps your faith is as thin as the lastest forgery. Perhaps you wear a holy symbol of each and every god, just in case one happens to be listening.
A cleric charlatan can benefit from more versatility in their character options. Their persona could be something like a wealthy merchant, a high priest, or even an important paladin. Your faith (or lack thereof) could be a major inner struggle for your character. Why do the gods still grant you powers despite your disbelief or blasphemy? A potential character arch could be similar to an anti-hero’s journey, from immorality to morality. But you’d never lose your touch for deception,
|1||I hide my magic and delight in revealing the god’s power to rubes.|
|2||So what if I overcharge for healing? What’s a limb worth to you?|
|3||I have a long-running scheme skimming off of the tithes to the church.|
|4||I never learned any prayers or chants, but nobody’s noticed… so far.|
|5||I have been known to heal plagues! (I may have started them also.)|
|6||Oh? My god? I’m sure you’ve never heard of it, they’ve only released one holy book.|
A druid with the charlatan background could be one that discovered their connection to nature at an early age but quickly found that they were better suited to fleecing people than tending to flower beds. Alternatively, they could have developed the second identity as an extension of their natural shapeshifting abilities. They may see it as a way to blend into the human world like how they can become a bear to join the animal world.
Perhaps they are a druid who has spent extensive time in civilization, an urban druid who found their place in running street cons or posing as some important elven diplomat. Druids don’t have the same implicit morals that come with the other divine caster classes, and they could even have developed the alternate persona as a way to punish civilization for its abuses of nature.
|1||I despite civilization in all its form, its only natural that I contribute to its rot.|
|2||I am willing to help farmers when their crops fail… it’s too bad they fail whenever I come to town.|
|3||My favorite con is the one where people think a bear ate me|
|4||I have no remorse for those who might suffer from my schemes. It’s a warg-eat-warg world after all.|
|5||I prefer to hide my connection to nature until needed. You never know when you suddenly need a bear.|
|6||People turn to me for my sage advice. I just make it up and hope for the best.|
Like the barbarian, the charlatan helps round out a mostly combat-based character and gives them an edge on more face-y interactions. You could be a fighter who grew up as a peasant posing as a member of the nobility, wooing lovers and fighting duels.
You could even go the scarlet pimpernel way and downplay your martial prowess and pose as a fop by day and a fearsome fighter by night. Whatever false identity you choose, you will benefit from being able to contribute to the party outside of combat. Perhaps you are able to con a ferryman to give the party a free crossing, or you just so happen to know the right wizard through your contact network.
You may hide behind the false identity and never really break it, perhaps because you fled a battle and would be killed for cowardice should your true identity become known.
Here are some personality traits to train for:
|1||I am a coward at heart, but I am an excellent liar.|
|2||I use my strength to trick people out of money.|
|3||I may have done a bit of banditry in the past, but nobody knows… ‘cause they’re dead…|
|4||I can kill with my words as easily as with my sword.|
|5||I have only failed once in a con, and that mistake haunts me still.|
|6||I love fame and will do anything to get it.|
A monk with the charlatan background could be one who did not learn their fighting style from a monastery like traditional monks, but self-trained from street brawls or even as a carnie in a circus. You could pose as an exotic lord, or as a wise man dispensing wisdom across the land (for a fee, of course). There is no end to examples from our own history of con men who fleeced people posing as gurus or messiahs.
If that con does not appeal, you can perhaps run one where you have people participate in a rigged game of strength, where you always prove the stronger. Monks have just enough supernatural abilities that they can do the extraordinary while still seeming somewhat normal. Exploit that!
Here are some personality traits to ponder:
|1||I am always careful to maintain my routine lest someone suspect I have no idea what I am doing.|
|2||My favorite pleasures in life is drink, fighting, and sleep, in that order.|
|3||A wise man once said: a good life is one in which you do as little as possible.|
|4||I often speak in wise phrases and I always have an allegorical tale to tell… even if it’s not relevant.|
|5||I love being the center of attention and will do anything to secure it.|
|6||I may be quiet, but I am always listening for an opening to strike.|
The paladin with a charlatan background takes great advantage of their naturally high charisma. This is where you can really shine with a fake holy-man concept, but you can also incorporate a hidden identity to do a superhero-type thing where by day you pose as a merchant or useless noble playboy, and by night you’re a holy avenger. You can even play a more Robin Hood character who uses their ability to deceive and dissemble to rob from the rich and give to the poor.
Paladins can play into their identity as bringers of justice, and offer their services to clear out cults and evildoers (that they may have forced there) to various towns and villages. Why not get the whole group in on the ruse? The half-orc warlock can play the role of villain, you play the hero and bam! Titles, gold, land grants — the works!
|1||I am pompous and will only answer to my full name.|
|2||I genuinely care about helping people… but I also genuinely care about gold.|
|3||I often am worried that what I am doing is wrong, but I can’t stop lying.|
|4||I serve an alternate form of justice, one where I just get what I want.|
|5||I fear children and despise when mothers make me kiss their babies.|
|6||The best way to serve the gods is to enforce their will by any means necessary.|
A ranger with the charlatan background can be another good match if you’re wanting to add some more social skills to a mostly combat and exploration character. You can be a ranger charlatan who is a bounty hunter who uses their persona to gather intel about their mark or one who uses their beast companion as a part of their con. While they distract with talk of exotic techniques to grow back hair, their eagle swoops down and snatched their coin purses.
As with all backgrounds, it is important to root your background in your backstory. Combine the circumstance that made you turn to con games with your training that gave you the combat and survival skills your class gives.
|1||I run cons mostly for the rush|
|2||I keep a running tally of all my successes and failure of cons|
|3||I am unable to pass a town guard or authority figure without trying a con|
|4||I delight in pulling one over on people|
|5||I constantly invent stories about my past. I’ve told so many that I’ve forgotten which is true.|
|6||I create a new persona for each town I come to, eager to leave my past behind.|
Here is a perfect combination. However, like the bard, a rogue already can access many of the skills that the charlatan offers, but the False Identity feature can be worth choosing this background.
You should mold your false identity to the campaign — if it is a political intrigue campaign, then a persona as somebody with access to high levels of information or political power could prove useful. Alternatively, posing as a scullery maid has its advantages too.
Rogues who want to be even more rogue can play into the charlatan background as an explanation for their skills and combat abilities. You can even use it as a way to justify some of your more nefarious abilities. Perhaps you are a trained assassin and use the charlatan identity as a cover?
|1||I love inventing new and devious schemes as often as possible|
|2||I keep a close eye on my coin, you never know when you become the mark.|
|3||I enjoy seeing who can see through my lies. Those who do earn my respect.|
|4||I keep a lover in every town so that I never have to sleep in the gutter again.|
|5||What started as a white lie has escalated… people think I am an archmage!|
|6||I have small stashes of coin and tools hidden throughout the city|
Sorcerers are also able to take advantage of the naturally high charisma that you have as a sorcerer. A sorcerer who started life as a charlatan would likely use their spellcasting to further their cons. Naturally flashy and charismatic, Sorcerers make natural charlatans.
They could even use their false identity to hide their innate powers as perhaps a way to escape the notice of witch hunters or use that false identity to try to live a normal life. Sorcerers can use the skill bonuses to help play a face character, or even to heighten their ability to control others.
A sorcerer could pose as a powerful wizard in order to gain admittance into a prestigious mage college in order to get a powerful artifact. With larger than life false identity, a sorcerer could use their natural charisma and force of personality to create a following and perhaps even make a power play to take control of the local kingdom.
|1||I love to show off and I will do so at any opportunity|
|2||I may not know what I am doing, but I will absolutely and pedantically explain it to you in great detail|
|3||I fear my own magic and have concocted an elaborate cover identity to try to hide it|
|4||I will do anything to get ahead in the world.|
|5||I am a simple man with simple demands: Give me your gold or die.|
|6||Sometimes I like to see how far I can push people without using magic.|
Of all classes, the charlatan background offers warlocks another way to be devious and to pursue their patron’s agenda. Perhaps the pact came as a result of the life of cons that left you in a tight spot rotting in a prison waiting for execution. As a warlock charlatan, you are provided with a fertile start for an interesting background.
Additionally, you can use your false identity to create a respectable persona to live your daily life while pursuing your patron’s agenda in secret. This can be a perfect combination for an infernal pact warlock who poses as a priest or even one who is posing as a cult leader in order to destabilize a patron’s rival.
|1||My patron may think they have one up on me, but they are just part of a long con.|
|2||I have lied so often and so long I forget what is real and what is not.|
|3||I always tell the truth, it’s not my fault if people prefer the lies|
|4||No matter what I will do whatever I can to secure my power|
|5||People are so pliable, I mold them like clay.|
|6||I always live by one solid truth: I deserve more.|
Wizards are not naturally charismatic and may not often have the charisma or skills to pass social checks, but the charlatan background can help expand the wizard beyond the stereotypical bookworm.
I immediately get an image of snake oil salesmen, with a top hat, colorful jacket, peddling potions and hair tonics to witless peasants. A wizard combines a fearsome intellect and a powerful skill at lying to create a powerful combination.
Lie your way into libraries to copy down a powerful spell, swindle alchemists out of scrolls, and make gold in an easier way than selling your services as a wizard. Why do that when you can easily turn a quick 100 gold pieces by selling genuine Troll Regeneration Tonic.
|1||I never pass up an opportunity to spread my brand|
|2||I genuinely believe that my work is helping people. Miracles don’t come cheap!|
|3||Sometimes the pursuit of knowledge requires bending the truth|
|4||I do whatever I can to obtain the power that I deserve, consequences damned|
|5||I am on the run from those who claim my tonics are poison! The nerve!|
|6||I know there is a way to unlock the secrets of the universe. It’s too bad these rubes refuse to see my wisdom.|
Next week we will take a look at the Criminal and its variant, the Spy!
Check out past background articles here: Acolyte
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