D&DNext: Morally Ambiguous Character Backgrounds

Yeah, Really.

Hey look, D&D content! Holy shit mark your calendars folks I’m back in business! After a brief twitter conversation with Trevor from WotC the other day I was pleasantly surprised to hear that we can in fact make some stuff for D&DNext without breaking NDA. The stipulation is just ensuring that text from the play test documents isn’t being put out there verbatim, and to that I say “no problem”!

So here I’ve got some “shades of gray” for your D&DNext characters. Shades of Gray was the very title of this piece before that horribly horrible book became so wildly popular and before I ever even knew it existed. So as a result I’ve renamed it with a very vanilla title but oh well, vanilla is good and sometimes you put chocolate on it. When you put chocolate on the vanilla the colors mix together and make gray. See what I did there? Okay, let’s move on and pretend I didn’t write such an awful joke. Most of the backgrounds below are quite gray indeed, with the exception of Tinkerer who is temporarily replacing the Fence (which still needs some work to set it further apart from the Grifter). The Tinkerer is just fun though, so enjoy.

Dusting Off My Brain

I wrote these a while back but I’ve been wanting share them for a while, so I tidied them up and updated them a bit to match current playtest documents. Hopefully they should tide some people over (including myself) until I can get some more D&DNext content up on the blog here. I’ve still got a backlog of board game reviews, IKRPG and Warmachine stuff to talk about too but I am extremely happy to say that I’m looking forward to actually writing about D&D again. I’m not going to be jumping back on the “blog about D&D nonstop” bandwagon just yet as it is still very hard to write for an ephemeral rule set. Not to mention I’ll be trying to make sure I don’t break NDA because I really don’t want to overstep boundaries and end up blacklisted, I”m sure you can understand. Anyway, any writing level above “not at all” in regards to D&D is one that I’m pleased with.

Welcome to Aetas

So herein are some character backgrounds I’ve created for my players that are custom tailored to my home brew setting. They may seem a little strange in places because they were meant for own campaign world Aetas, but I think you’ll enjoy them anyway. Speaking of that Aetas, I should let you all know that I’m beginning work on a full-blown system neutral campaign setting book (currently untitled) set there that I’m looking to publish sometime next year. More details on the world are forthcoming and sprinkled throughout the images and backgrounds below. If you want to know a little more about the world check out my one page dungeon “A King With No Crown” which takes place within the world of Aetas, just outside one of its major cities. It’s going to be one hell of a journey but I’ll talk more on that later, for now just enjoy some of the themes.

Note: I’ve left out the “Starting Equipment” portion backgrounds contain because I find them to be tedious and un-interesting. 


You’ve spent a lot of time around cadavers. You possess uncanny knowledge of the human anatomy and you’ve done your fair share of stitching flesh, draining blood, and making the gruesome look pristine. These skills come in handy perhaps more often than you’d like them to, but your services are valued and sought after especially among certain circles. You’re also intimately familiar with having cadavers reanimate while working and you can put them back down swiftly to avoid becoming one yourself. As an undertaker you also often keep a few zombies around your dwelling to be used as servants, decor, door stops, and more.

Skills: Disguise, Heal, Knowledge (Undead), Sleight of Hand
Trait – Dead Man’s Hands: Your funerary services are highly sought after. You can gain access to surgical tools, embalming fluid, and cadavers upon request and proper presentation of your credentials within any civilized area that acknowledges such practices. You can also earn whatever the local going rate in gold is for performing your services when asked. Additionally, once per day you may gain advantage on any check made to interact with undead.


You’ve had your fair share of bribes, so you know when to take a good one and when to pass on one that might wind you up dead in a gutter. Running favors or turning your head away from what goes on inside a cell often comes a high price that’s not always paid in gold, and because of this you have friends in the highest and lowest of places. You’re keen on the true intentions of most people and those they answer to, which makes you an expert at ‘information procural’. You can read criminals like an open book, after all…it takes one to know one. However no matter the situation, you’re always the one on the right side of the iron bars.

Skills: Diplomacy, Gather Rumors, Knowledge (Crime), Sense Motive
Trait – Under Lock and Key: Any time you or your allies would find yourself incarcerated, you can always manage to gain an audience with one of your captors. You have intimate knowledge of prison architecture and layout, making escape attempts almost infallible. You have advantage when making checks related to speaking with those who have detained you, and also may gain advantage once per day on any check made to physically attempt to escape jail confines.


Perhaps you’re a fallen member of an order, religion, cult, or otherwise. Perhaps you were wronged by someone from one of these organizations or you just don’t believe in the nonsense they spout. No matter the situation, you are considered an outcast not to be listened to or taken seriously. Whether you retain remnants from your former affiliation or by your vast knowledge  alone, you’ve become quite adept at posing as one of them. You do not believe their rhetoric, and though you may not actively preach against them, you work toward enlightening those you care about not to be taken in by the charms and false claims they preach.

Skills: Bluff, Disguise, Knowledge (Religion) OR Knowledge (Forbidden Lore), Sneak
Trait – Resonance: Pick an order, religion, cult, belief system, or other ideology or organization in which you completely denounce and abhor. You possess enough knowledge and nuance regarding the group in which you speak heresy upon that you can pass as one of their own. Secret meetings, exclusive events, an inside knowledge pertaining to them can be yours when you seek it. Depending on the organization itself and your level of involvement and history with them, you may also posses some of their abilities or special training. These details will need to be agreed upon by you, your fellow players, and the GM.


A con, a swindler, a fraud. Not only is this is what you are, it’s your livelihood. You’ve studied the miscellaneous and the marvelous from all corners of the world and learned how to fake its most precious tales and trinkets. You know a good fake when you see one and on the contrary, you know how to convince others into believing the real thing is a fake as well. Lies put food in your belly and hyperbole puts clothing on your back. Speaking of your back, you remain ever watchful of those around you so’s not to be stabbed in it by those you’ve wronged.

Skills: Appraise, Bluff, Craft (Small mundane items), Persuade
Trait – Piracy: You are skilled in the arts of duplication, forgery, and fabrication. If you have sufficient materials you can quickly forge a replica of any document, map, necklace, ring or other bauble in 1 days time. If you do not have materials you can procure them in 1d3 days time for a simple item, and 1d6 days for a more complex one.


Alchemy? Check. Steam power? Check. Dabbling in arcane and divine powers? Check. You’ve gotten into it all. From springs and coils and gears to powders and potions and oils, you’re a jack of all trades when it comes to inventing things. Your creations might not always prove useful or even reliable, but 60% of the time, they work every time. You are known for finding unconventional means for most any situation and are known by many as being a trailblazer in your field(s) of work.

Skills: [Player’s Choice], Craft(Choose), Knowledge (Science), Knowledge (Nature)
Trait – There’s An Apparatus for That: A tinkerer can produce extraordinary things with even the most mundane items and a little bit of ingenuity, they can always make use of seemingly useless things and turn them into something useful such as improvised weapons, tools, and other items per DM discretion. You also own a small shop somewhere that is sought after by curious and resourceful types far and wide, while away adventuring you have loyal understudies who continue your work and serve to produce some of your most common and marketable items.

Additionally, who knows what you’ve dreamt up throughout all of your experiments and amalgamations? Because of this choose one skill and one craft to gain training in. Perhaps you’ve developed an alchemical concoction that heightens your olfactory nerves which allows you to identify and track creatures by scent, or you’ve created a mechanized pair of boots that propel you great bounds and allow you to jump great distances.


  1. Totally love these! I’ve been withdrawing myself from D&D Next related stuff, but, that’s never stopped me from reverse engineering them into another edition. Would love to play a Grifter.

  2. This look good. However, I do not like the Undertaker’s ability because unlike every other background it adds a combat ability and I think the Jailer’s ability is a little overpowered.

    • Yeah, these were actually originally created for 4e which is I think why some of the combat flavor seeped into a few. I’ve gone and made some modifications to the abilities to tone them down a bit after thinking about your suggestion and also trying to put them on par with other D&D Next backgrounds.

  3. Great Backgrounds! My mind was racing with ideas for each one. I particularly loved the Tinkerer – it really encourages Skill usage and offers a solid application therein.

    Based on past group experiences I’ve had, the Jailer is the most useful Background ever. Like, ever.

    Thanks for sharing!

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