Choosing DnD backgrounds is a staple element of character creation. After picking a class, choosing a race, and assigning ability scores, it’s up to you to decide who your character is, where they’ve come from, and what they’ve done. Crucial to establishing the roleplaying beats of your character and to buffing their skills, this isn’t something to overlook. We’ve picked out the best backgrounds 5e offers for building a narratively complete Dungeons and Dragons character.
DnD backgrounds are set to change in the upcoming One DnD rules overhaul. Most notably, in the next version of the game, it’ll be your background, not your race, that determines your ability score bonus – affecting your DnD stats. For instance, a farmer will get an extra two points of Constitution and one point of Wisdom.
As with most elements of character creation, it’s best to have a few DnD classes, DnD races, or DnD character builds in mind when selecting your background, so you can choose one that suits your vision of the character. But remember that backgrounds are malleable – don’t be afraid to use those found in the core DnD books as a template on which to develop your own creation, and treat them as a foundation to be moulded to your roleplaying needs.
These are the best DnD backgrounds:
- Outlander 5e
- Anthropologist 5e
- Noble 5e
- Soldier 5e
- Rakdos Cultist 5e
- Faceless 5e
- Criminal 5e
- Entertainer 5e
- Urban Bounty Hunter 5e
- Hermit 5e
- Haunted One 5e
- Acolyte 5e
- Folk Hero 5e
- Guild Artisan 5e
- Astral Drifter 5e
Living in the wilds of nature, away from the prying eyes of civilisation, Outlander 5e make natural nomads and travelling marauders. They’re used to the brutal demands of the outdoors, and know all too well of the dangers that lurk in its undergrowth. If you’re roleplaying a mysterious stranger or a DnD Druid that’s kept their distance from society, this is a good place to start.
Outlanders really shine for their Wanderer feature, which lets you automatically find food and water for yourself and up to five others each day – provided you’re surrounded by vegetation. It effectively lets you feed the entire party for no cost, taking that administrative role out of your hands. Add to that proficiency in Athletics and Survival, as well as a hunting trap to keep handy, and you’ve got the makings of a formidable Ranger 5e.
A life of academic study is a strange choice for anyone to make – whether in the fantastical roleplaying world of D&D or the job market of real-life – but don’t write off the power of the Anthropologist 5e. Obsessed with the customs, beliefs, and practices of other cultures, they’re sources of great knowledge who not only adapt to the world around them, but take every opportunity to study it.
The real draw of Anthropologists, however, is their utility. Adept Linguist lets you communicate with any humanoid creatures that don’t share your language, after observing them for 24 hours. That will make traversing through foreign lands a little easier, and will help you avoid accidentally offending an entire group of people through a social faux pas. Throw in proficiency with Insight and Religion, and you have the makings of a classic wizened DnD Wizard.
If you have an overbearing sense of entitlement, or covet nothing but privilege and power, the Noble 5e background might be for you. Spanning anything from a wealthy aristocrat whose misplaced sense of adventure has landed them in a hot mess, to an upstart scoundrel who fancies themself a better life, there’s reams of roleplaying material to dig into here.
Their proficiency in Persuasion suits any Charismatic character, and the ‘noble knight’ option will hand you three retainers – think attendants, messengers, or squires – that are perfect for enacting silly shenanigans. They’re essentially free servants to use as you will. Make sure to work with your DM to decide how your noble family fits in with the wider world of your DnD campaigns, though. Consider how its notoriety determines how NPC will treat you, or what plot avenues might spring up as you explore.
Fighting, scrapping, and battling; the Soldier 5e is one of the easier D&D backgrounds to integrate into a character. Handing you a ready-made justification for your superior martial skills, it suits the Fighter 5e of the party who boasts superior combat aptitude than their travelling companions. But there’s still scope for refinement. Think carefully about where you learned your skills, how you trained, and your relationship with those who taught you.
While the Player’s Handbook suggests you build your character as a high-ranking military officer, who can lord their rank over common soldiers and guards, it’s not much of a stretch to switch the military with a fighting guild, or secret martial society. Skill proficiencies in Athletics and Intimidation will naturally suit the beefy DnD Barbarian, making Soldier a firm choice for characters focused solely on combat.
Rakdos Cultist 5e
If you’re playing a campaign set in the Magic: The Gathering Multiverse, or think you can convince your DM to bend the rules just a little, you’re best off selling your soul to the ancient demon Rakdos to become his cultist. You won’t be just any old cultist, though, but a professional entertainer who wants nothing more in life than to serenade the Lord of Riots while he bathes in his lava pit of choice.
Found in Guildmasters’ Guide to Ravnica, the Rakdos Cultist 5e provides access to a brilliant spell list that’s perfect for offensive casters. You’ll get the Fire Bolt and Vicious Mockery 5e cantrips, Hellish Rebuke, Wall of Fire, and Dominate Person, which all pair beautifully with a DnD Bard’s support-focused spell list. You also get to pick what type of performer you are – ranging from a spikewheel acrobat, to pain artist, to nightmare clown – leaning even further into the thespian theme.
Create a fictional roleplaying character only to pretend to be someone entirely different with this D&D background. The Faceless 5e are not who they seem. They’ve donned a disguise (either literally or figuratively) and created a new persona with which to explore the world. Something in your past might prevent you from revealing your true identity, forcing you to deceive those you meet, including your own party, into believing you are someone you are not.
Proficiency in Deception and Intimidation, alongside a disguise kit and costume, makes the Faceless background a perfect pick for a DnD Rogue or Ranger. But it’s the roleplaying and exploration potential that’s the real draw. Able to switch personas at the drop of a hat, you’re adept at changing appearances.
That’ll come in handy when sneaking around guards, or can offer a fantastic character base: you’ve something to hide, and daren’t let anybody, even your friends, find out what. You can find this background in Baldur’s Gate – Descent into Avernus.
Not every adventurer is good. Sometimes it’s a joy to roleplay as a selfish evildoer, or a rule-breaker (deep in the Chaotic DnD alignment) that lives for transgression; the Criminal 5e background is perfect for this. Placing your character directly in the criminal underbelly of society is a simple way of injecting a dose of moral ambiguity into your adventure. Perhaps your character is a petty thief that was pushed into a life of crime through deprivation, or a reformed master criminal that has a hand in everyone’s pockets.
As a Criminal, you’ll gain proficiency in Deception and Stealth, a perfect mix for any Rogue. Add to that the background’s Criminal Contact feature, and you’ll have access to a seedy communications network that’s perfect for orchestrating daring raids and illicit odd-jobs. If you’re besotted with illusions of grandeur, use the variant Spy background to make yourself into a master of espionage that knows all the tricks of the trade.
Friendly, outgoing, and natural performers, adventurers with the Entertainer 5e DnD background make the perfect Bard 5e character. Always eager to impress passers-by or stir the hearts of a crowd, their tales of adventure and rollicking music are sure to inject some excitement into the party. If you’re after a less standard roleplaying touchstone, try playing a begrudging entertainer who wants nothing more than to leave the fetid glamour of showbiz behind.
The Entertainer background really shines for its By Popular Demand feature. Letting you acquire free lodgings and food at any inn, circus, noble court, or other place of rest that you pass, in return for regular nightly performances, it’s an easy means of ingratiating yourself with the higher echelons of society while securing safety for your vulnerable party. Think of this as a must-have for any Bard.
Urban Bounty Hunter 5e
The Urban Bounty Hunter 5e from the Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide is the most opportunistic of all the character backgrounds. Where regular folk see conflict, bounty hunters see profit. If there’s enough strife in society that people have taken to physical blows, you can be sure that there’ll be a highfalutin aristocrat or slimy criminal willing to pay you to do their dirty work. Maybe you see yourself as a vigilante protecting the streets? Or perhaps you’re chasing the flash of gold above all else?
Proficiency in two DnD skills among Deception, Insight, Persuasion, and Stealth offers a solid framework, but it’s the Bounty Hunter’s ‘Ear to the Ground’ feature that stands out. You’ll gain a trustworthy contact in every city you visit who can supply essential information about the people and places of the surrounding area. That kind of insight will kickstart your adventuring whenever you enter a new area.
Living in the tranquil solitude afforded by total seclusion, the Hermit 5e lends itself to secrecy and mystique. Often played as profound individuals who commit their lives to the pursuit of a great truth far from the distractions of typical society, the DnD Monk class aligns well with their diligent, devoted personalities. It need not be all roses, however. Perhaps you were forced into a life of solitude as penance, before setting out on a quest for vengeance.
The Hermit’s proficiency in Medicine and Religion also goes hand-in-hand with the pious healing powers of the Cleric 5e, and their Discovery ability follows suit. As a Hermit, you’ll have made a unique, powerful discovery about the world – its history, its nature, or the hidden forces that work within it. Not a mechanical feature, it works best when integrated into the campaign, so check with your DM about using it effectively.
Haunted One 5e
If you’re looking for a background mired in the dark and supernatural, look no further than the Haunted One 5e from Curse of Strahd. This comes from the spookiest of all DnD campaigns, so expect monstrosity and torment.
As a Haunted One, you’ll get some nifty proficiencies in Arcana, Religion, Investigation, or Survival, plus a monster hunter’s pack. You also get something a little less helpful: your life before adventuring was defined by a single Harrowing Event. Perhaps you were born under a dark star, or you were once possessed by a fiend. Whatever your story, others can see horror behind your eyes – and in the unnatural trinket you carry around with you.
This backstory is ripe for your DM to exploit. However, the Haunted One does have one last trick up their traumatised sleeve. The Heart of Darkness feature ensures, if you’re ever caught alone in a fight, commoners will rush to your aid. A well-organised party shouldn’t need to go into combat solo, but it’s nice to have a backup plan should the worst happen.
This background could fit any DnD class. However, we recommend picking a character build that already has a dark tinge and going full edgelord. A Grave Cleric 5e, a DnD Warlock who made a dark pact, or even the homebrew Blood Hunter 5e.
Clerics aren’t the only characters who can have a powerful connection to their chosen religion. The Acolyte 5e is defined by their service to the DnD gods – whether that be from a childhood spent in a temple, a career spreading the words of a god, or from leading a fiendish cult.
The Acolyte background gives you proficiency in Insight and Religion, and your equipment includes evidence of your holy (or unholy) doings – a holy symbol, a prayer book, sticks of incense, vestments, and so on. Acolytes also benefit from the Shelter of the Faithful feature. This gives them the respect of those who share their faith, access to free healing at temples, and the ability to perform religious ceremonies for their deity.
Folk Hero 5e
The Folk Hero 5e is a big fish in a small pond. They may have begun life in a humble or simple setting, but it’s clear their destiny will take them to bigger and better things.
Perhaps you’re a Fighter who saved your village from a terrible tyrant or a natural disaster, or you’re a Cleric given a blessing that marked you as someone special. Any class can make a name for themselves, gaining a drive for greatness and their people’s support. What better beginning could there be for an adventurer?
As a Folk Hero, your starting proficiencies are Animal Handling and Survival, as well as land vehicles and one type of artisan’s tools. The Rustic Hospitality feature makes it easy for you to hide and rest among commoners, and they’ll even help you out if you’re being pursued.
Guild Artisan 5e
The Guild Artisan 5e background does what it says on the tin. Your character is a member of an artisan’s guild who specialises in a particular trade. Naturally, you’re proficient in a type of artisan’s tools, and you’ll have these on your person as you go adventuring. You also get proficiencies in Insight and Persuasion, as you’re used to navigating the complex social world of business.
Your background grants you Guild Membership, so your fellow members will offer you lodging, food, and support where needed. You pay five gold pieces a month for these privileges, but given your membership can get you in with powerful political figures or out of trouble with the lore, it’s a price worth paying.
Astral Drifter 5e
Astral Drifter 5e is one of the newest backgrounds, featured in the 2022 book collection Spelljammer: Adventures in Space. An Astral Drifter has spent their life travelling in the Astral Sea (think space, but D&D). Those who spend their time here can do so for decades or even centuries. They never age, and they need no food or water to live. As you can imagine, this changes your view of the world a bit.
The Astral Drifter background gives you proficiencies in Insight and Religion. You can speak two DnD languages, and you start out with traveller’s clothes plus all you need to keep a diary of your adventures.
As an Astral Drifter, you are 20d6 years older than you look thanks to the anti-ageing atmosphere you spent your time in. You also gain the Magic Initiate (Cleric) feat after a brief encounter with a cosmic deity who was willing to share some secrets. While early feats will be a staple feature in One D&D, there aren’t many 5e backgrounds with such easy access to 5e feats and 5e spells.