Best DnD backgrounds 5e 2023

Dungeons and Dragons' 5e backgrounds help flesh out your TTRPG character's backstory - here's the best DnD backgrounds to get started with.

DnD backgrounds 5e - Wizards of the Coast art of a half-elf adventurer

Choosing a DnD background is a staple element of character creation. After picking a class, choosing a race, and assigning ability scores, you’ll decide who your Dungeons and Dragons character is, where they’re from, and what they’ve done. Below you’ll find a list of all the backgrounds 5e offers (excluding some setting-specific variants) – but read further, and you’ll find detailed profiles and tips on some of our favorite backgrounds.

It’s best to have a few DnD classesDnD 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, backgrounds are malleable – you can use the ones in Wizards of the Coast’s core DnD books as a template, or foundation, on which to develop your own creation, to suit your story.

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.

These are the official DnD backgrounds 5e:

Background name Skill proficiencies Feature
Acolyte 5e Insight, Religion Shelter of the Faithful
Anthropologist 5e Insight, Religion Adept Linguist
Archaeologist History, Survival Historical Knowledge
Astral Drifter 5e Insight, Religion Divine Contact
Athlete Athletics, Acrobatics Echoes of Victory
Celebrity Adventurer’s Scion Perception, Performance Name Dropping
Charlatan Deception, Sleight of Hand False Identity
City Watch / Investigator Athletics, Investigation, Insight Watcher’s Eye
Clan Crafter History, Insight Respect of the Stout Folk
Cloistered Scholar History, plus one of Arcana, Nature, or Religion Library Access
Courtier Insight, Persuasion Court Functionary
Criminal 5e Deception, Stealth Criminal Contact
Entertainer 5e Acrobatics, Performance By Popular Demand
Faceless 5e Deception, Intimidation Dual Personalities
Failed Merchant Investigation, Persuasion Supply Chain
Far Traveler Insight, Perception All Eyes on You
Feylost Deception, Survival Feywild Connection
Fisher History, Survival Harvest the Water
Folk Hero 5e Animal Handling, Survival Rustic Hospitality
Gambler Deception, Insight Never Tell Me The Odds
Gladiator Acrobatics, Performance By Popular Demand
Grinner Deception, Performance Ballad of the Grinning Fool
Guild Artisan 5e Insight, Persuasion Guild Membership
Haunted One 5e Choose two from: Arcana, Investigation, Religion, or Survival Heart of Darkness
Hermit 5e Medicine, Religion Discovery
Inheritor Survival, plus one of: Arcana, History, or Religion Inheritance
Investigator Choose two from: Insight, Investigation, or Perception Official Inquiry
Knight History, Persuasion Retainers
Marine Athletics, Survival Steady
Mercenary Veteran Athletics, Persuasion Mercenary Life
Noble 5e History, Persuasion Position of Privilege
Outlander 5e Athletics, Survival Wanderer
Pirate Athletics, Perception Bad Reputation
Plaintiff Medicine, Persuasion Legalese
Rakdos Cultist 5e Acrobatics, Performance Fearsome Reputation
Sage Arcana, History Researcher
Sailor Athletics, Perception Ship’s Passage
Shipwright History, Perception I’ll Patch It!
Smuggler Athletics, Deception Down Low
Soldier 5e Athletics, Intimidation Military Rank
Urban Bounty Hunter 5e Choose two from: Deception, Insight, Persuasion, or Stealth Ear To The Ground
Urchin Sleight of Hand, Stealth City Secrets
Wildspacer Athletics, Survival Wildspace Adaptation

And here are the very best DnD backgrounds:

DnD backgrounds 5e - Wizards of the Coast art of a halfling bard playing a lute and dancing on a table

Acolyte 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.

DnD Backgrounds 5E - Wizards of the Coast art of a Warlock and Fighter peering into a book

Anthropologist 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.

DnD backgrounds 5e - Wizards of the Coast art of a Spelljammer crew

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.

DnD Backgrounds 5E - Wizards of the Coast art of two street urchins stealing the money of an oblivious customer

Criminal 5e

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.

DnD Backgrounds 5E - Wizards of the Coast art of a Dragonborn bard playing a lute

Entertainer 5e

Friendly, outgoing, and natural performers, adventurers with the Entertainer 5e DnD background make the perfect Bard 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, but don’t be afraid to stray a little further afield, too. A Rogue could use those Acrobatics and Performance proficiencies to their advantage, swindling the very people they entertain. Or perhaps you’re a Ranger who once used their impressive dexterity to earn some extra coin.

DnD Backgrounds 5E - Wizards of the Coast art of a warrior in a mask and robes

Faceless 5e

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.

DnD Backgrounds 5e - Wizards of the Coast art of a Tiefling child pointing a wooden sword at two friends

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 DnD Sorcerer who impressed their neighbours with incredible talent. 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. 

DnD Backgrounds 5E - Wizards of the Coast art of members of Xanathar's Guild

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 specializes 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. 

DnD backgrounds 5e - Wizards of the Coast art of a woman wielding a sword as ghoulish monsters approach

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 D&D 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 traumatized 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.

DnD Backgrounds 5E - Wizards of the Coast art of a house with legs stands alone in the forest

Hermit 5e

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.

DnD Backgrounds 5E - Wizards of the Coast art of a noble person standing next to a Beholder

Noble 5e

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.

DnD Backgrounds 5E - Wizards of the Coast art of a scared Elf hiding in a forest

Outlander 5e

Living in the wilds of nature, away from the prying eyes of civilization, Outlander 5e make natural nomads and travelling marauders. They’re used to the brutal demands of the outdoors and know all too well 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.

DnD Backgrounds 5E - Wizards of the Coast art of the demon Rakdos holding out his arms in a show of strength

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 spikewheel acrobat, to pain artist, to nightmare clown – leaning even further into the thespian theme.

DnD Backgrounds 5E - Wizards of the Coast art of a knight holding up a sword

Soldier 5e

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.

DnD Backgrounds 5E - Wizards of the Coast art of a Kenku waiting outside a room while drawing a sword

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.

Need more help crafting your Dungeons and Dragons character? Here’s some DnD character creators and DnD name generators that can help flesh them out. We can even recommend the perfect DnD character sheet to record their story on.