Background Bulge

While preparing for the new season of Encounters, I was reviewing the three new backgrounds presented in the module for players to choose. The backgrounds represent three orgins the players might come from – with only minor spoilage: Crystalbrooker, Sildaine, Sybaran. Each background has its associated skills.

As I was reading these, I felt the work that went into coming up was these backgrounds was largely redundant. Certainly a character can decide if they’re from a fey infested forest to gain a +2 to Nature – but  there are over 120 backgrounds to choose from that can also give you a bonus to Nature. Why make more backgrounds at this point? Why not present backgrounds that have already existed and present identical bonuses? Why not suggest some of the well adaptable generic backgrounds like Geography – Forest? It is really needed to create more glut to the already massive list of not-so-different backgrounds?

According to the Compendium, there are currently 785 backgrounds. Now approximately 162 backgrounds have different kinds of benefits – which is really cool. Unfortunately I’ve never even read most of them before today. It occurred to me that backgrounds really have no purpose in D&D anymore except as a cheesy way to gain a +2 to a skill or to make a skill a class skill for your character. Sure, I can pick which of the 683 backgrounds be fit the background I have in mind for my mul fighter, but if I just want Diplomacy as a class skill for my fighter, I only have to search Diplomacy in the Character Builder and pick one that pops up.

5 thoughts on “Background Bulge

  1. My players pick backgrounds for RP purposes and treat the skill bonus as an “extra”. That said, 700+ backgrounds seems just crazy. I don’t feel like there are that many in “Vanilla” D&D but maybe there are. That would put them in the same range as Feats which have proliferated beyond usefulness.

    Anyways, my goal with my players is help them craft the character they want, whether they’re into min maxing or RP, or both.

  2. Maybe one of the reasons for bloat *is* the knowledge that they are more feequently taken for a mechanical bonus. With this many options, you don’t end up with the unlikely scenario of having two former assassins in the party(now a cleric and a wizard respectively)because the players want to train stealth or thievery or some such.

    While I agree 100% that 700+ backgrounds is just silly, it does give the player who cares about both rp and min/maxing to find a suitable story fit to go along with the plus two they are hunting. And of course, this many backgrounds is just a giant candy store for stoey focused players. I have cooked up whole characters just based off of browsing the background list amd having a neat idea pop up.

    But yeah, I think we have hit a threshold here. I doubt any gamer is going to read them all, and a power gamer doesn’t care about the theme behind the bonus anyway, right?

  3. I think its a case of hindsight 20/20. Backgrounds were meant to bring flavor and roleplaying to your character, they are sort of were filling a bit of the emptiness left behind by the removal of the profession and more esoteric knowledge skills – Players still want to say things like “I used to be a scholar, so I have History even though I smash things with my axe” or whatever and have it reflected in a higher skill bonus. It seems to be the only justification for the mechanic. So the list will never be complete and one day we’ll have 500 ways to get a +2 to Acrobatics.

  4. Pingback: New Campaign Inspiration: 18 World Hooks « Leonine Roar

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