One of my favorite mechanics introduced in 5th edition D&D is the inclusion of backgrounds. I think they really help to flesh out a character and provide for some much needed customization options that have a meaningful impact on characters moving forward. Because I like backgrounds so much, I'd like to address each of the backgrounds presented in the Player's Handbook, starting alphabetically with the Acolyte.
What is it?
An acolyte is a person involved with religious activity in some way. You are typically raised in or around churches or other sacred spaces. You are familiar with religious rites, and tend to be in good standing with members of your faith. This is good for religious characters, so Clerics and Paladins are likely to choose it, but it can be selected by anyone.
How can my class use it?
As mentioned above, Clerics and Paladins are the obvious carriers of this background, but monks make for equally good choices, since they often spend their lives secluded in prayer and meditation anyway. Druids and Rangers might find this useful as well, provided they have some sort of gathering place or hermetic lodge where they could bring up fledgling heroes. One idea that sticks out to me as being interesting would be to pair this with a Warlock. The pairing of these two naturally leads me to think of someone born and raised into a cult. Warlock patrons include demons and other strange things that may not be accepted readily, so being sequestered away and indoctrinated into occult teachings would be a predictable way of raising children of the cultists. Likewise, sorcerers might claim some sort of divine lineage or mandate of heaven, perhaps even painting their innate magical power as some sort of messianic quality. Bards also have a fun opportunity with this background. They could be members of the church choir, or simply divinely-inspired artist and poets. Rogues could be those who were trained to delve into ancient ruins to search for lost relics. Fighters and Barbarians can be great defenders of the faith, with the latter being a sort of zealous berserker, fueled and protected by his faith. Wizards tend to fit in pretty naturally here as scholars with a religious bent.
Why should I use it?
Religion is a powerful unifying force in most fantasy settings, and having the support of your faith can make for a practical ally as well as a driving force for character personality and development. Religion has the added benefit of transcending borders, whereas political power typically doesn't. This pairs well with (and is somewhat expressed by) the two bonus language proficiencies that you get for selecting the background. Which is honestly quite handy, especially at lower levels, where you have less access to magical translation. This background is best suited to any sort of character that wants any connection with a higher power.
What if I play a system other than D&D?
That's great! So let's talk about how you can still draw inspiration from this. A character with a religious upbringing would be shaped by that upbringing and their role in the church. Faith will likely be a central tenant to the character, and their worship of a particular god might be to the exclusion of others, and so be a source for potential conflict moving forward. You can also hone in on your specific task in the church. Did you keep their records? Preach as a missionary? Ring bells in the bell-tower? Especially in medieval times, churches were often autonomous and had very complex daily rituals. They were often attended by a whole host of laymen who were not themselves priests but instead serves in support role for the men and women of the cloth. You don't have to be a priest to be an acolyte. Anyone who shows sufficient piety and dedication to the church can be counted among their ranks, and it is these qualities that set the character and their upbringing aside from others.
I hope you enjoyed this and the rest of the content by Digital & Dice. If you would like to read further on fantasy religious topics, consider checking out the post "Unorthodox Clerics" on my personal blog. Until next time…Game on Internets!
- Draconick, Digital and Dice Contributor
I, Nick “Draconick” Johnson, am a writer and roleplaying enthusiast with over ten years of experience in various tabletop roleplaying games both as a player and as a GM. I am also somewhat involved in other forms of tabletop gaming such as wargaming, board games, and card games. It is my hope that by creating and maintaining this website that I can share my unique take on all things within our hobby and to foster a community of like-minded individuals.