The outlander background in 5e fills the role of the person who lived outside of civilization, who have been to the very extremes of the world and seen wonders that no city dweller could dream of. This archetype has room in it for multiple character concepts, from the tribal barbarian to the banished wizard, to a ranger who makes their living trapping and selling furs.
This background is one that is more pliable than others – after all, who’s to say that you didn’t see a Tarrasque out by the distant Eagleclaw mountains? They weren’t there after all! Just you, your trusty ax, and a monster the size of a mountain.
Think about your time in the wild and what drew you there. Just as important, consider what drew you back or to civilization for the first time.
A barbarian with the outlander background is perhaps the most obvious parring. If you want to play a straight-up tribal warrior, you can’t go wrong with picking the outlander background. But where you can really make your character shine is by making the tribal culture you come from as specific as possible.
What does your tribe do in social situations? Do you tell stories at mealtime? Does the strongest eat first? What is considered rude behavior and what is accepted or even lauded?
A barbarian could also be a bandit or marauder who lived off the spoils of raids into the civilized territory. What then made that end for you? Did you choose to give it up or was your band of bandits finally hunted down and dispersed? Did you get arrested and that is how you ended up in a city again?
Work with your DM and your party to flesh out these worldbuilding questions, always focusing on your main motivation (or quest) and your relationships.
Here are some personality traits for your barbarian:
|1||I am fiercely loyal to my friends, like a mother bear defending her cubs.|
|2||I am deeply curious and will poke anything just to see what will happen.|
|3||I feel invincible and I love taking big risks.|
|4||I like to share stories from my time in the wilds – sometimes embellishing them.|
|5||I am repulsed by many of the comforts of civilization – they make one weak.|
|6||I am sensitive to the natural world and its omens.|
A bard might travel into the wilds in search of adventure and material to spin into the next epic song, or they may have grown up in a tribal culture or have been banished for satirizing the king just a little too much. A bard with the outlander background is to be the master of the tall tale.
They can spin a yarn about the time they tricked an orc chieftain out of his favorite shrunken skull, or when they won a drinking contest against a black dragon. You could benefit from creating a few tall tales during character creation to share later at the table, and maybe even spin your adventures into epics at the local tavern.
Bard outlanders benefit from their class’s natural versatility and penchant for sticking their noses where they don’t belong. Why did you go into the wilds? What did you hope to see or discover? What drew you back to civilization? Who did you meet out there? Who did you make friends with and did you make any enemies?
Here are some personality traits for your Bard:
|1||I always seem to have the perfect story from my travels to tell in any situation.|
|2||I dislike crowds and avoid them when I can.|
|3||I ignore social cues and sometimes say yes much too often.|
|4||I was raised by a bear and schooled by a songbird.|
|5||I get nervous about sleeping indoors and prefer to sleep outside.|
|6||The cheers of a crowd after a performance is addicting.|
A cleric with the outlander background might be a wandering friar who dispenses the faith to the most remote villages, or a cleric of the wild gods, or even a pilgrim who has returned from time spent at a distant shrine.
As a cleric, think about how your faith might intersect with your time spent in the wilds. Did you go on a journey to find faith? Did you discover your connection to the divine while out on a hunting trip, or perhaps you were captured by bandits and forced to provide your healing services? You could have even been involved in the nefarious activities of a cult – only to escape when you truly learned of the horrors they were creating.
Think about what happened in the wilds, how did you change? What about the experience either deepened your faith or caused you to question it? What did you learn? Who did you meet? Why did you leave and what do you need to do now that you are in civilization again?
Here are some personality traits for your cleric:
|1||I care deeply for others, and I do an act of kindness each day.|
|2||I only kill if it is absolutely necessary.|
|3||I reject the church’s teachings and proclaim my faith as discovered in the wilds.|
|4||I am willing to get my hands dirty when I need to. No task is beneath me.|
|5||I saw things in the wild that made me certain that evil is out there and wants to destroy us.|
|6||I dislike speaking, preferring to answer as quickly as I can.|
A druid, like the ranger and barbarian, are good matches for the outlander background. Similarly to these classes, I would start my background by exploring why my druid either went into the wilds or why they left them. Both point to a larger motivation that is central to who they are as a character.
If your druid chose to enter the wilds, was it to explore the Old Faith more? To strengthen their connection to nature? Perhaps they were a hedge druid perfectly happy to help peasants in a rural community, but a plague or fearsome monster demanded that they enter the wilds and search for an answer.
If you decided to leave the wilds, think about what happened in the wilds to trigger you leaving. Did you see a vision of a looming threat that pushed you to leave your native habitat? Did a tribe of orcs burn down your grove, pushing you to turn to the city guard for help? Or did you return to civilization after being tired of the constant struggle for survival?
Whatever you choose, make it something exciting that you can connect with both as a player and as a character.
Here are some personality traits for your druid:
|1||I see every being as part of the web of life, and I try to not take a life if I can.|
|2||I meticulously take note of the strange customs and habits of the “civilized”.|
|3||I address animals first and then sentient races out of habit.|
|4||I will try anything once – and I mean anything.|
|5||I often forget words for common things, instead, I invent my own.|
|6||I like to tell a long-winded joke that I once learned from an oak tree at every chance I get.|
A fighter in the outlands may lean toward banditry or smuggling to make a living. Their skill with weapons might also lend them to be guides and hunters. It was not uncommon historically for fleeing soldiers to begin raiding villages and hamlets in the wolds in order to survive. Perhaps you are a soldier from a foreign land who stuck around after your army was smashed in the latest war.
You could also be part of a forward scouting unit, or even a sellsword for an acquisitions company that is focused on surveying and acquiring powerful relics found only in the wilds. You could even adapt this to be a kind of bounty hunter, with your survival skills serving you while on a long hunt.
Also, consider how you acquired your marital skills. Did you train in a remote outpost with a swordmaster? Did you learn your skills years ago when you still lived in civilization or did you acquire them in order to survive the wilds? And, importantly, what do you want most of all? What would your fighter be willing to die for? What would they kill for?
Here are some personality traits for your fighter:
|1||I love telling stories about the time I wrestled three bears and a cave troll.|
|2||I am a strong silent type unless the topic is weapons – then I gush for hours.|
|3||I have a keepsake from my time in the wilds that I always make sure is on my person.|
|4||I don’t care what you think, I refuse to take a bath.|
|5||Living in the wilds has taught me that you have to go after what you want, even if that means pushing people out of the way.|
|6||My mind wanders a lot, and I often am not listening. Especially when it comes to planning.|
A monk with the outlander background could be similar to the hermit background on the surface, but the key difference here is that the monk may not have had the same structure to their day as a hermit would. They may have been part of a small group of pilgrims or itinerant monks who traveled the world spreading their wisdom.
You could have even been a peasant who was forced off their land and turned to banditry, using the weapons you had at hand. Monks come with a lot of prebuilt lore around them, but there are tons of wushu movies where some rando has mondo-mystical powers.
You could develop your background more episodic than linear. Create a few defining episodes in your life that helped to shape where you begin the campaign. Why did you live in the wilds? What was your favorite memory? What was your least favorite? Why did you leave? And most importantly, what do you want?
Here are some personality traits for your monk:
|1||I often forget others are around me when I practice my mantras. And I practice VERY LOUD.|
|2||I vaguely remember what personal space is. I just like to feel out the room.|
|3||I like to test my strength whenever I can – no foe is too strong.|
|4||I have an insatiable curiosity about the world around me.|
|5||I like to pull apart things to try to understand how they work.|
|6||I do not trust those who cannot survive on their own.|
A paladin with the outlander background may have ventured into the wilds to stand against some force of darkness. Their experiences as a bandit, trapper, or wilder may have been a struggle to survive in a world where servants of evil lurked behind every tree. Perhaps they found their zeal in their adventures in the wilderness, finding a certain strength that leads them to become initiated as a paladin.
The key question to ask is why did my character become a paladin? What event or collection of events caused that to be the logical choice? Alternatively, if they were exiled to the wilderness, what happened to force them out?
Paladins have a reputation for living justly and correctly. What happens when one breaks that oath or commits a crime (or is framed for one)?
As a paladin, what do you stand for? What is the thing that you are fighting to achieve?
Here are some personality traits for your paladin:
|1||My faith is the touchstone that I always turn to in times of trouble.|
|2||I don’t trust city folk, and I always haggle for a better price.|
|3||I do not have time for social niceties or graces.|
|4||I always carefully choose my words, preferring listening over speaking.|
|5||I like to sleep outside and prefer sleeping in a barn than in an inn.|
|6||I love to keep current about what is fashionable, you never know when you have to look good!|
A ranger is a natural match with the outlander background. A life exploring the wilds, pushing into unknown and wild territories is the lot for a ranger. While this background is an easy paring, you can make it your own by identifying the key scene from your life as an outlander in which you:
- Gained your martial skills
- Learned your survival lore
- Decided to leave the wilds and explore civilization.
Not every campaign takes place in a city or even near one, but even a Ranger with a party adventuring near a remote mining town needs a reason to be there and not traipsing through some remote forest or living with their tribe. What does your ranger want most of all in life? What draws them to a life of adventure?
Here are some personality traits for your ranger:
|1||I was raised in the wilds by wolves.|
|2||I have a deep wanderlust, and I chafe at having to stay in any one place for a long time.|
|3||It is difficult for me to trust others, but once earned my loyalty lasts forever.|
|4||I am determined to be the first to make a massive discovery.|
|5||I dislike people and will avoid them whenever I can.|
|6||I like to touch everything that I can – especially delicate things!|
A rogue with the outlander background could easily be a brigand, roving the hills with a pack of cutthroats, stealing from the rich (read: anyone with anything useful) and giving to the poor (read: themselves). You could have learned your skills in the wilds as a means of surviving the wilds, or perhaps your adventure out there.
You could have been a city dweller who left to find your fortune in the wilds, like a 49er searching the hills for gold. Think about your reason for being in the wilds, whether you were born there or adopted it as your home. And like all the other backgrounds, why did you pursue a life of adventure?
Perhaps you found an ancient tomb and became convinced that this was your path to riches, power or whatever your character wants to pursue. Your want could be as simple as your own homestead, or a quiet shack near the sea. Take some time to brainstorm what your rogue wants most of all and let this form the core of their character.
Here are some personality traits for your rogue outlander:
|1||I keep track of my possessions obsessively.|
|2||I tend to mimic the accent of whomever I meet in an effort to fit in.|
|3||I put my welfare above others – even my friends.|
|4||I like to hide my possessions in trees, under rocks, wherever, to keep them safe.|
|5||I really don’t understand what the fuss about crime is all about. What’s wrong with taking something that nobody is holding and isn’t mine?|
|6||I always keep enough food to last me at least a week on my person.|
A sorcerer can discover their bloodline really anywhere, so why not in the wilds? With the outlander background, the first potential backstory that comes to mind is a member of a tribal society or a remote village manifesting their powers and being kicked out or being sent to try to learn to control them.
Alternatively, you could be part of a community of sorcerers who live apart from civilization primarily because people get nervous living next to a village full of people who can shoot fire from their hands. This background can help round out your character with some survival skills.
Your character may have even discovered/acquired their powers during their time in the outlands. Perhaps they were doused by a potent magical elixir while exploring an ancient Dragonborn ruin and acquired chaotic magic, or found out they were descended from dragons after stumbling across a gold dragon’s lair.
Consider also what your character most wants, and why they returned to civilization. What are they looking for? What do they want to do once they have what they are looking for?
Here are some personality traits for your sorcerer:
|1||I like liting fires when I am bored. Little ones, of course.|
|2||I always talk loudly, as if I am standing next to a raging river.|
|3||I love jokes and will laugh long and hard at them.|
|4||My best friend is a crow that I taught to swear.|
|5||I am afraid o my powers and do what I can to hide them.|
|6||If I like exploring new places – temples, banks, homes, wherever!|
A warlock outlander can combine some of the potential backgrounds as the sorcerer – perhaps you were kicked out of civilization or retreated from it to find your patron, or maybe you discovered them while living in the wilds.
As a child maybe you were raised by the fey and then set loose on the world to further the Seelie Court’s agenda. Or perhaps a devil arranged your birth to a remote mountain tribe only to approach you with promises of power and answers to your questions.
Whatever you choose, you can tie together the reasons for being in the wilds with the reasons for you to make a pact with your patron. Maybe the only place an old god can touch this plane is a hidden pond that reflects foreign stars.
Flesh out what your character most wants, who they love, who they hate, and what they are willing to do to get what they want.
Here are some personality traits for your Warlock:
|1||I am very slow to trust anyone I meet.|
|2||I love indulging in the finer things in life.|
|3||I purposefully make people uncomfortable so that they leave me alone.|
|4||I always try to make a good impression, but I often don’t know how.|
|5||I like to pick up delicate things and see how they work.|
|6||I have a strict routine that I stick to no matter what.|
A wizard with the outlander background could be someone who retreated to the wilds in order to conduct their experiments in peace. A necromancer tired of being harassed by the townsfolk, or an evoker who needs some open space to make things explode, or even an illusionist who’d rather be left alone.
If you started life in the outlands, how did you gain your education as a wizard? Were you apprenticed, or self-taught? How do you see yourself when compared to wizards with more formal education? Are they inflexible and outdated, or intimidating?
Why did you leave the outlands and become an adventurer? To find knowledge? To achieve power? And what do you plan to do once you have what you want? How did your time in the outlands influence your wants?
Here are some personality traits for your wizard:
|1||I take copious notes about each new place I come to and store them in my spellbook.|
|2||I will often think aloud, even if my thoughts are rather rude.|
|3||My need to prove myself drives me to greater heights.|
|4||I don’t care about anything other than unlocking the secrets of the universe. Even if I have to step on some toes.|
|5||I feel responsible for the welfare of those I consider to be my friends.|
|6||I prefer eating food that I have foraged myself.|
Next week we will be looking at the Sage background, so study up!
What backgrounds are your favorite? Did you have any memorable outlander characters? Comment below!
Artwork is The Hunt in the Forest by Paolo Uccello.