In a standard Dungeons and Dragons world, society is stratified by class that is largely determined by blood. In medieval Europe, the nobility was a very tiny portion of the population, and they generally owned the lands that were worked by the peasant class. Sometimes they even owned the peasants.
You get to do some fun world-building with this background, creating a Noble lineage to descend from and the social codes of conduct that regulate the nobility. For each background, sketch out what the kingdom’s nobility generally looks like. How much power does the king have? What are the responsibilities of the noble class? What tensions are there between the peasants and the nobles?
A barbarian kingdom very likely has nobility, but they may not have a feudal system. Consider instead a prestige-based nobility where the noble class is made up of descendants of a great hero in the past, or perhaps you can earn a noble-equivalent title through a ritual proving.
Who are you within your family? Does your culture pass nobility by blood, or is it only by deed?
If you have siblings, where do you fall in the inheritance? Or what do you have to do to maintain your status? Also, consider if your noble title has any weight in fellow tribes or in civilization. You might be a respected warrior in your tribe, but does the world even care who you are?
Barbarian culture might even have more opportunity for rituals and codes of conduct that you have mastered, and perhaps expect others to follow. How do you dress to distinguish yourself from a common yeoman?
If you choose to go with the Knight variant of the noble background, you might be a kind of spirit-anointed warrior that has taken on a squire, or perhaps you bring your retinue with you to civilization so you can focus on being angry and let them cook dinner.
Here are some personality traits for your barbarian noble:
|1||BOW OR ME SMASH|
|2||I am eloquent and well-read and often incorporate phrases from different languages to demonstrate my knowledge.|
|3||I resent the title that has been forced on me, and I try to act like one of the peasants.|
|4||Glory is the only measure of a warrior and I remind everyone I meet just how much I measure up.|
|5||I disregard the opinions of anyone that I think of as below me.|
|6||I adore being the center of attention.|
A bard can make a natural noble, taking advantage of their natural flair for eloquence and diplomacy to advance in the court. They may have even started life as a commoner and been elevated to peerage because of their skill with music.
With the noble background, consider how you acquired your bard skills. If you are the firstborn child, perhaps it was part of a courtly tutelage? Did you master an instrument to woo a courtly love? Who are your friends in court? Who are your enemies?
If you choose to go with the knight variant, your retinue may include a squire or a bard in training that you are teaching. Make these characters distinct and personalize the relationships with them. Give each of them a specific job so you can be sure to keep track of them. And work with the DM if you have specific directions you want your character to develop.
Here are some personality traits for your bard noble:
|1||I always make sure that I am wearing the latest fashions and I am perfectly groomed.|
|2||I hate roughing it and I refuse to sleep in the wilderness.|
|3||I act like a clown because I am afraid people will not like me if they actually got to know me.|
|4||I hold grudges and I remember everyone who has wronged me.|
|5||I cannot stand to see others suffer.|
|6||Some call me petty – and I am.|
There is a long tradition of second-born children entering the faith. Denied an inheritance, they could find political power and prestige through the church. Your cleric with the noble background might have made the same choice, or perhaps grew up in a theocracy.
Consider the intersection of your noble blood and your faith. How did your family react to your choice to become a cleric? What is your relationship with the wider noble class? Who are your friends? Who are your enemies?
If you choose to go with the knight background, you might decide to go with a semi-paladin kind of vibe, or perhaps a wandering cleric or crusader who spreads the faith in his wonderings. Your retinue might include some religious functionaries or even a family member you’ve taken under your wing.
|1||I don’t value my title at all. Under the faith, all souls are the same.|
|2||I always dress in the finest clothes to show my station as cleric and noble.|
|3||I love delegating tasks and will always try to take charge.|
|4||I cultivate an image of benevolence and holiness, but it’s just a facade.|
|5||I feel like I need to prove myself, so I accept any dangerous job.|
|6||I hold myself at a very high standard and demand those around me do the same.|
The druid with a noble background is one combo that made me pause for a moment to think about. Then it came to me – Lady Starflower, the elvish druid noble. Druids can be peers, especially in societies where druidic magic is held in high regard. Not just elves, but dwarves and human nobles might consider allowing their children to enter the faith similarly to clerics.
Perhaps having a portion of druidic power is a requirement to be seen as anyone important at court? You could even be a descendent of a fey lord and so claim a noble title from that lineage. Your upbringing as a noble may even urbanize your druidic magic. Less mud-and-moss covered and more elegantly shaped floral displays.
If you choose the knight variant, your retinue might include a young druid in training, or a servant to gather your reagents. Perhaps you have a groom or animal keeper to look after your menagerie of animals.
Think about who your family is and how they feel about your druidic training. Did you abandon court life to study? Were you tutored at home? How comfortable are you with other people? Do you prefer them over being in the wilds? Why did you become a druid?
Here are some personality traits for your druid:
|1||I dislike getting dirty, and I always make sure that I am clean and my clothes are pressed.|
|2||Whenever I can, I delegate tasks to my servants.|
|3||I lead by example and I am not afraid of getting my hands dirty.|
|4||I abandoned courtly ways when I became a druid, and I have no patience for them.|
|5||I would rather be skinned alive then be seen transforming.|
|6||I only wildshape into animals worthy of my station, like lions and bears and eagles.|
A fighter with a noble background is a genuinely well-paired combination. The martial skills the fighter brings allows you to play out a knight fantasy without all the fluffy magic and oaths that paladins must make. You could choose to be a skilled swordsman or duelist renowned for their ability with the rapier, or a crack shot who wins glory in tournaments with panache.
You can also be a noble who has trained for war because they served in the army in some conflict, or because they served as a guardsman in the royal house as part of their squirehood. With any class, consider how you acquired your skills and who taught you? Where do you fall in the line of inheritance, and what do you do about the land you own (if you own any)?
Take some time to build out your family and your connections to court so that your DM has plenty of story hooks to use.
Here are some personality traits for your fighter:
|1||I challenge all those who dare question my honor to a duel.|
|2||I love dressing outlandishly and challenging social norms.|
|3||I judge others based on their actions.|
|4||If you break your word, you are as good as dead to me.|
|5||I refuse to interact directly with the lower orders.|
|6||My title is the last shred of dignity that I have and I will hold on to it at any cost.|
A monk with the noble background really begs the question of why did they learn how to master their qi instead of learning another martial skill? Perhaps their society values those who use qi over those who use magic, or your character had a natural skill at harnessing and directing their qi.
If you have an East Asian inspired campaign setting, you could easily set your family up as a noble house of qi users. Or, perhaps your family trains as shadow dancers specifically to get an edge up in courtly life.
Monks have an implied code of conduct or at least a doctrine that they follow or learned while training, so you can create opportunities for conflict between your courtly upbringing and the doctrine that you learned. Perhaps the doctrine says that all beings are worthy of freedom and equality, but court life demands enforcing a rigid class structure – what does your character do when both ideas compete with one another?
If you choose the knight variant, you could flavor it more like a wandering samurai or itinerant monk with a retinue of learners, laypeople, and supplicants. You can even build a larger mission for why you are traveling with this group of people – perhaps to recover an ancient artifact, or go on a pilgrimage.
|1||I am meticulous about my appearance and follow my routine strictly.|
|2||I crush those who oppose me swiftly and without mercy.|
|3||I let go of the trappings of court and dress simply.|
|4||I delight in wordplay and will engage in duels of thought at every chance.|
|5||I prefer to watch and wait then engage with the world.|
|6||Nothing angers me more than a breach in protocol.|
Paladins lend themselves well to the noble background in 5e, having already some of that chivalrous conduct built into the class. You don’t have to choose the knight variant, but paladins are well suited to it. You can have a retinue of a squire, a groom, and perhaps a senechal to look after your things and your money.
Develop the order that your paladin swears an oath to, are you let in because of your bloodline? Do you come from a distinguished family of paladins or are you a black sheep? What did you have to give up to become a paladin? Land? Titles? Who did you upset when you joined the order?
Paladins should also consider how their obligation to their class (which enforces the feudal structure) clashes with their oath to work for the good of all people (if this is part of your oath). This can lead to some interesting character conflicts where serving class interests by enforcing a law that exploits peasants goes against the zeal you have for true justice. These interesting intersections and conflicts in your background that can help give more depth to your character in play.
Here are some personality traits for your paladin:
|1||I dislike inefficiency or incompetence. It stinks of corruption.|
|2||I will do whatever I can to preserve my power.|
|3||I became a paladin for the accolades, and I delegate as often as I can.|
|4||I am kind beyond measure to those who help me, and crueler than a devil to those who stand against me.|
|5||My high birth is proof enough of my glorious destiny.|
|6||I consider myself one of the common folk and eschew fancy titles and dress.|
As a ranger, you purposefully left the trappings of civilization to venture into the wilds. Perhaps this was to get away from the court – or perhaps you were ordered there because of some scandal or political maneuverings. A ranger with the knight variant may have been a scout in the army, or perhaps a kind of long-range reconnaissance expert.
Choosing a noble background connects you to the political engine of the kingdom, so it can provide a very good reason for leaving and returning to civilization. What about your time in the wild changed you? Did you see just how decadent and corrupt the court was, or do you have a new appreciation for things like clean sheets and warm meals?
Who did you meet while adventuring and who did you leave behind? If you were part of a military unit, who were your companions? Did you fight in a war? Who were your enemies and how did that experience shape you?
Here are some personality traits for your ranger:
|1||I may rub elbows with peasants, but I never forget my status as a noble.|
|2||I always keep an eye on those that prove themselves skillful, cultivating their talents.|
|3||I am generous with my money – some might even call me careless.|
|4||I learned just how ruthless the world is in the wilderness. I will not be prey.|
|5||I avoid my responsibilities as a peer at all costs.|
|6||I saw things in the wild that changed me. I see now the corruption of the court.|
Rogues make great nobles – they have all the skills needed for court intrigue: face skills, murder skills, disguise, and picking locks! What more could you want? Rogues are so plastic in how you can play them that you could really have acquired your skills in any way you want.
You could be self-taught, or part of a secret cult of assassins, or raised on the streets only to be elevated to peerage recently, or even posing as a noble as part of a long con. The main thing to consider with your rogue noble is what do they want most of all? Being a noble, you have more options open to you. Does the throne seem like a good option, or perhaps being the power behind the throne?
Think about your connections at court, who you trust, who you despise, and who you need to pretend to adore. When out adventuring, keep in mind the situation at court and how your adventures might bring you glory – or perhaps make those more powerful than you see you as a threat. Come up with a plan to achieve your goal and you’ll have a strong motivation to pull you through the campaign.
Here are some personality traits for your rogue:
|1||I size up every person I meet, you never know when a fight might happen.|
|2||I charm everyone that I meet with a smile and jest.|
|3||I keep a list of my friends and enemies.|
|4||I have never really left court, and I find the common people strange and exciting.|
|5||I am desperate to prove myself and will jump at any chance to do so.|
|6||I love cultivating the persona of a man of the people.|
Ah yes, the noble who in addition to their wealth and power can also fling fireballs with a single thought. What could go wrong?
A sorcerer with the noble background may be from a long line of carefully cultivated bloodlines designed to produce powerful spellcasters. After all, purity of blood is a theme often seen with noble characters in fantasy. It makes sense that innate spellcasters would have a distinct advantage over others and perhaps sorcerers are made peers upon discovery.
Think about when your powers manifested if you know what ancestor is responsible for your bloodline, and your family’s reaction to the powers. Were they happy, fearful, neutral? Did having powers exclude you from inheritance or bump you to next in line?
Also, flesh out your character’s major goals in life. What do they want so bad that they left their life as a noble – or were forced to give it up? If you choose the knight variant, think about how being the lowest level of noble might affect somebody born with immense potential power. How does that shape your worldview? Do you have a chip on your shoulder because of that?
Here are some personality traits for your sorcerer:
|1||The power of my bloodline is evidence enough of my superiority and I make sure people know their place.|
|2||I find the ways of the common people quaint and amusing.|
|3||I pretend to be a dandy, but I really am quite cunning.|
|4||I downplay my status as much as I can around commoners.|
|5||I love to punctuate my orations with little magical embellishments.|
|6||I meticulously maintain my estate, down to the very last detail.|
A warlock with the noble background could owe everything to their patron, their title, lands, their prestige – all of it. Perhaps, like Aladdin, their patron made them a Prince from some far off never heard of the country? Or perhaps the pact was made to solidify grasp on power, or to save a loved one?
Your reason for choosing the pact will be the most salient decision of your character and it may tie directly into your reason for adventuring. Think about the implications of the pact and who knows about it. Maybe all of the nobility must make a pact with the Queen of Ice and Starlight before taking a title?
What does your character want and what would they do to get it? This question can form the bedrock of your character and translate into strong motivation through the campaign. If you choose the knight variant, does your retinue know about your powers? Or do they think you’re a sorcerer or wizard, or some kind of more “legitimate” spell caster?
Here are some personality traits for your warlock:
|1||I live in fear that someone will discover that the kingdom I hail from doesn’t exist.|
|2||I keep a close eye on my enemies and an even closer eye on my friends. Trust no one.|
|3||I am very reluctant to get my hands dirty.|
|4||I will do whatever it takes to secure my family’s land and power.|
|5||I am proud to a fault, and I never let an insult go unpunished.|
|6||I resent the fact that I am last in line for succession, and I will do whatever I need to do to change that.|
A wizard with the noble background likely had access to the best teachers, schools, and supplies while learning their craft. Perhaps your studies were equivalent to our higher education and an unstated requirement for statesmanship?
After all, a noble class that can divine peasant uprisings or defends their holdings with spells of misdirection is a powerful thing. You might even consider yourself above other nobles, or trained as a wizard to get a coveted vizier position in court.
Think about how the kingdom you are a peer of considers magic. Is it allowed in court? What kind of spells are favored? What are the social implications of using illusions or enchantment to get what you want? Is it encouraged or outright banned?
If you choose the knight variant, did you learn magic to give yourself an edge? Perhaps you bring along a research assistant or a student, or even someone to catalog the magical artifacts you uncover. You could play a knight wizard as a kind of amateur explorer intent on cataloging the natural world.
Here are some personality traits for your wizard:
|1||I keep a detailed catalog of all the creatures we encounter for my friends back home.|
|2||I have leaned on my natural talent for magic thus far – why should I try harder?|
|3||I prefer encountering the world through theory rather than practice.|
|4||I am generous with my money and will always give to the poor.|
|5||I dislike conflict and will avoid it whenever possible.|
|6||I do not make requests – I make demands.|
Next week we will take a look at the Outlander background!
What noble characters have you played? Comment with them below!
Art is John II Knighting Squires, an illustration from Grandes chroniques de France.