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hermit background

With some irony as we all become hermits of a sort, we will be looking at the hermit background this week. Hermits offer an opportunity to craft a very compelling personal quest – something that is so important to your character to accomplish that they had to leave their self-imposed isolation and become an adventurer to achieve it.

The discovery offered by the hermit background can be just the plot hook your DM needs to draw the party into the campaign. Work with your DM to determine just how much you know about this discovery and its exact nature. Let some things be mysteries that you can discover later! 

Check out past background articles here: Acolyte, Charlatan, Criminal, Entertainer, Folk Hero, Guild Artisan.

Barbarian Hermit 

Barbarians have a natural tendency toward isolation, living in the wilds and far from civilization. They may have chosen to walk a vision quest to commune with their ancestors or with nature. They could have even been rejected from their tribe because of their uncontrollable rage or raised in the wilds, far apart from civilization.

Whatever reason you choose for your barbarian’s isolation, find a way to link it to the discovery your character has made. Perhaps they learned a secret while spelunking deep under the earth, or were granted a vision of the return of some ancient evil, or the birth of some new hope for the world. Find a reason to return to civilization, and make it one that excites you.

Here are some personality traits for your barbarian hermit:

d6Personality Trait
1I never learned social queues, so I often blunder my way through a conversation.
2I often find it easier to talk to objects than people. They are so much less complicated.
3My discovery haunts me, like a scream echoing in my ears, I cannot shake it.
4The civilized world has so many wonders – like forks!! What are they!?!
5I dislike bathing and refuse to submerge myself in water. Unhygienic!
6I have trouble being in crowds. The noise, smells, sounds – it’s all so overwhelming.

Bard Hermit

A bard with the hermit background strikes me as odd – they are naturally gregarious entertainers so why would one isolate themselves? They could be exiled, either a self-imposed one or one mandated by the nobility. They may have even chosen the life of a hermit in order to find something that was thought lost by others.

Your discovery could be both the reason for leaving civilization and for returning. Perhaps you had heard rumors of a secret that was so tantalizing that you abandoned your life as a traveling minstrel and struck out on your own. Now that you’ve found it – what are you going to do with it?

How does life alone affect how you treat others? How do you react when they don’t understand the magnitude of your discovery? What do you need to accomplish now that you are back among people?

Here are some personality traits for your bard hermit:

 

d6Personality Trait
1I often forget that I am always humming or singing a tune, much to other people’s apparent annoyance.
2I love riddles and will share the one I am working on often before saying hello.
3I don’t like talking much, I prefer to let my music speak for me.
4The discovery thumps in my mind like a beating drum – I must tell everyone I meet about it!
5I quickly grow angry when people don’t catch on to what I am saying – even if I haven’t said much at all.
6I am so lost in thought, often forget other people are there.

Cleric Hermit

A cleric could make a wonderful hermit – there are examples all over the world in every religion of monks and nuns retreating from the world in order to gain deeper spiritual knowledge. Your cleric may have done the same – or could have been forced to a hermitage because of heretical beliefs. 

You made a key choice in returning to the civilized world and you should consider the cost of giving up your life as a hermit. Were you set on enlightenment and have you lost that chance now that you abandoned your hermitage? Did the secret you uncover reveal the need to break your silence, despite the very real possibility of being put to death for your beliefs?

Every cleric should consider their relationship with their god and with their faith. How organized is it? What role do you play in it? Why did you choose to follow that faith? What fuels your faith?

Here are some personality traits for your hermit background cleric:

d6Personality Trait
1I make it a point to maintain the routine of my hermitage, with scheduled prayers, rituals, and reflections.
2I share my discovery with anyone who asks, the gods damn the consequences.
3My faith has been deeply shaken by my discovery. I fear that I will be found out as a fake.
4My discovery has convinced me that my god is the one true god, hardening my faith.
5I am appalled by how faithless society has become during my time away.
6I help anyone in need, no matter the cost to myself.

Druid Hermit

A druid also makes a natural pairing with the hermit background. Someone who hears the subtle song of nature and heeds its song may willingly give up their life in civilization. Perhaps the circle of druids you joined requires that you live in isolation for a time as you develop your connection with nature. 

Think about who you are before you became a druid. What made you decide to become one? Or where you born to a circle of druids and tasked with carrying on their vigil of protecting a sacred grove? 

Druids are innately connected to the natural world, so consider that connection when you develop what the discovery is. Your connection will shape your perception of the secret, perhaps you will think first of the secrets ramifications for the natural world over the consequences for civilization. And in entering civilization again, think about how your character would react to the strange sounds, sights, and smells that come with civilization.

Here are some personality traits for your druid:

d6Personality Trait
1I speak my thoughts out loud and say the first thing that comes to mind.
2I love adapting to the new environment I have found myself, gleefully taking on each culture’s norms, to varying degrees of success.
3The secret I discovered has terrible ramifications for the natural world, but I fear that I am unable to save it.
4I am fastidious about my appearance. I require a healthy level of dirt at all times.
5I left behind civilization for a reason, and I resent having to return to it.
6I regret the crime that exiled me and I fear that my past will be uncovered.

Fighter Hermit

A fighter with the hermit background might be a solitary master of arms or a ronin or samurai who has retreated from the world in order to perfect their art. The subclass that most comes to mind is the Arcane Warrior. A hermits life is conducive to combining magic and martial prowess.

A fighter might benefit from an exile imposed on them, rather than self-selected. They might even be exiled due to a crime or create some sort of work of art. Deciding why your fighter decided to or was forced to retreat from civilization will form the foundation of your backstory.

The discovery is the second element. A fighter may feel inclined to head out on a life of adventure after discovering that the king is actually a homunculus created by a lich or an ancient dragon who threatens to ascend to godhood and devour the world. They may even find some sort of opportunity in the discovery to reclaim something they lost by going into exile.

Here are some personality traits for your fighter:

d6Personality Trait
1I always defend those in need, no matter the cost.
2I feel deeply for the hurts and pains of others.
3I prefer an orderly life, and I will vocally express my annoyance to deviations to that routine.
4I was exiled by mistake, and I will have my revenge.
5I speak my mind, status be damned.
6I take people at their word, and hold them to promises they make.

Monk Hermit

Well, a monk with the hermit background is like peanut butter and jelly. A natural combo.

A monk may have been raised in a monastery and perhaps was sent into isolation as a kind of culmination of their training. 

Monks have a built-in quest, namely of self-perfection. The discovery you made may be the thing you think will bring you to achieving that goal, or perhaps you see it as a source of resentment, tearing you away from a quiet life of contemplation. 

A monk hermit need not have anything to do with a monastery, you could have instead been the last member of a tribe of goliaths and trained int he mountains honing your skills. Or perhaps a half-orc, whose tribe has a tradition of monks that requires that they retreat to seclusion for a number of years. Whatever you choose, make it something you are excited about and you’ll have much more fun.

Here are some personality traits for your monk:

d6Personality Trait
1I am fastidious with my routine and will always find time to perform it.
2I am gentle with all beings, my enemies included.
3I love embracing the local culture and will do my best to fit in.
4I hold myself to the precepts of my monastery and sometimes I expect others to behave the same way.
5I attempt to find humor in just about any situation.
6I am sometimes overcurious and will investigate anything I come across.

Paladin Hermit

A paladin may retreat to a solitary life as part of their conditioning or as a requirement in joining a sacred order, or they might be an exiled lord whose zeal for justice fuels their divine magic. When developing your background you have two choices to consider:

  • Why did you decide to become a paladin?
  • Why are you living in solitude?

Other reasons could be you were assigned to protect a sacred grove, or you became a paladin after rejoining civilization. Perhaps you were a mountain man-type, content to live your days in the woods until you made a discovery that drove you back to civilization. There you realized that you needed skills as an adventurer and your natural charisma and sense of purpose made it an easy choice to become a paladin.

Here are some personality traits for your paladin:

d6Personality Trait
1I prefer the company of peasants over nobility.
2I step in to stop any act of injustice that I witness.
3I don’t know what to do about my discovery. I am deeply afraid I may make a mistake.
4I talk a lot, often without realizing that I am rambling.
5I have trouble understanding social queues, but I try!
6I dislike being around large crowds of people, I am paranoid something bad will happen.

Ranger Hermit

A ranger can make a natural pairing with the hermit background, they are amenable to a life of isolation, separated from civilization as they explore the wilds and protect the outlying villages. A ranger is more likely to choose the life of a hermit than other classes, but you could just as easily have been forced into ti.

Perhaps you are an advanced reconnaissance scout for the leading edge of a distant army or they might be on a pilgrimage, seeking some ancient mystery or an answer to something in their past. Think about your choice to retreat to the outermost parts of the world. Did you acquire your skills during your time alone? Who did you leave behind?

A ranger hermit may find it more comfortable to be in the company of animals than the sentient races. They may have a harder time reintegrating into regular society, and may even find the whole experience uncomfortable. Or they may see a city as just another kind of environment to explore.

Here are some personality traits for your ranger.

d6Personality Trait
1I find conversation the most thorny environment to navigate.
2I often forget words for things in Common but remember it in another language I speak.
3I get lost in observing the world and often forget to look at what is right in front of me.
4I don’t like to eat with utensils, preferring to eat with my hands.
5People act like I was raised by wolves – well I was!
6I love to share with anyone I can my developing theory about the ultimate reason for being.

Rogue Hermit

A rogue is most likely to have been exiled for a crime or retreated from the world to work on their manifesto than other classes with the hermit background. Your rogue may have found it expedient to get out of town quickly before the fuzz caught them, and perhaps the beginning of the campaign is when they return to rebuild their crime ring.

Consider whether or not you acquired your class abilities and skills before, during or after your exile.  Your discovery may be a bigger factor in your backstory, perhaps leading to a possible opportunity to regain anything that you lost. Or perhaps, it is what made you break from a life of spiritual contemplation and enter civilization. You may have found that you gained a rogue’s skills in order to survive in the city.

Here are some personality traits for your rogue:

d6Personality Trait
1I have spent my time in exile planning my revenge. I repeat the names on my kill list before bed every night.
2I count my wealth meticulously. I never feel safe without a few coins in my pocket. 
3I discuss my discovery with anyone who listens – or who sits next to me.
4I ignore social cues on purpose. Living alone taught me they are useless.
5I dislike talking and prefer to use signed Thieves’ Cant whenever I can.
6I sometimes get lost in my own thoughts and forget to speak aloud my responses.

Sorcerer Hermit

A sorcerer with the hermit background could have become a hermit as a result of their bloodline manifesting or been isolated from birth due to their parentage. Perhaps the discovery you made caused your powers to manifest, further spurring you to look for answers about your ancestors in addition to pursuing your discovery. 

Think about your time in isolation. If you were raised in an enclosed community, did you have a mentor who could guide you? Or, were you on your own? What about the discovery made you decide to leave, or escape your hermitage and rejoin civilization? What was the cost of doing so?

It is important to personalize the discovery, by which I mean make it mean something important to you. Find or create a reason for your character to be invested in this discovery. Finding out the world is going to blow up gives you an obvious stake in it – you live on the world after all, but your discovery need not be an existential threat. You could have found out that the queen is actually a dragon in disguise or that the neighboring kingdom is experimenting on creating ogre supersoldiers. Whatever it is, make sure your character has a personal stake in doing something about it.

Here are some personality traits for your sorcerer:

d6Personality Trait
1My powers prove that I am better than other people, and I let them know.
2I often repeat my discovery to myself in case I forget it.
3I am unsued to conversation, and the aphorisms that I know are out of date.
4I don’t like eating other people’s cooking. A simple diet is best.
5I prefer to communicate through creating elaborate illusory scenes than with words.
6I had plenty of time to read as a hermit, and I like quoting the classics whenever I can.

Warlock Hermit

The hermit background presents the warlock with an opportunity to really focus on their pact. When during their time as a hermit did they make the pact? Was their period of isolation a command from their patron? If so, what does your discovery implicate for your relationship with your patron?

You have a big space here to create more details about your patron and their agenda for you. Perhaps you found out something about your patron that gives you some leverage over them, like a weakness or a fear of theirs. They are powerful, but still not omnipotent.

Warlocks exist in two worlds – communing with distant, dangerous powers and the more mundane world. As a hermit, you might be more comfortable in a fey lords hall or in the Seven Hells but find a tavern unbearable. As with everything in your backstory, make your reasons for doing things exciting and meaningful.

Here are some personality traits for your warlock:

d6Personality Trait
1I speak to my patron aloud, often holding entire conversations with them before noticing that people can hear me talk.
2I am leery of letting anyone too close lest they are hurt by my discovery.
3I will do whatever it takes to spread my discovery, even shouting it in the town square.
4I like to gossip – I never got to before! It’s so fun!
5I prefer the company of my familiar to other people and will speak through it rather than myself.
6I proudly demonstrate my allegiance to my patron, consequences be damned.

Wizard Hermit

A wizard with the hermit background might retreat from the world to study in seclusion, perfecting their art or plumbing ancient secrets that are forbidden by mainstream schools of the arcane. A necromancer makes a perfect candidate for shutting themselves away in a tower trying to pry life from death. Or perhaps a diviner whose discovery comes to them in a vision.

More than the other classes, a wizard might become a hermit with a specific discovery in mind. Perhaps they do discovery that, and maybe a little more. An initial discovery about making arcane missiles more effective might lead to a terrifying discovery on the nature of reality itself.

You could easily play into a mad scientist archetype here and feel such conviction in your mission to discover and then spread that finding that you are fine breaking laws and morals to do so. Whatever you choose, make the choice specific and exciting.

Here are some personality traits for your wizard:

d6Personality Trait
1I have spent my time in exile planning my revenge. I repeat the names on my kill list before bed every night.
2I count my wealth meticulously. I never feel safe without a few coins in my pocket. 
3I discuss my discovery with anyone who listens – or who sits next to me.
4I ignore social cues on purpose. Living alone taught me they are useless..
5I dislike talking and prefer to use signed Thieves’ Cant whenever I can.
6I sometimes get lost in my own thoughts and forget to speak aloud my responses.

Next week we look at the Noble background and its Knight variant.

Check out past background articles here: Acolyte, Charlatan, Criminal, Entertainer, Folk Hero, Guild Artisan.

Comment if you have any characters that used the Hermit background. What were your discoveries? Why did you become a hermit?

Image from The Hermit Saints by Hieronymus Bosch