Players have a lot of decisions to make when they put together a Dungeons & Dragons character. Spell choices, weapon choices and where to put ability scores influence how a character comes together mechanically. But what about the fictional side of the character? In Dungeons & Dragons, the Background choice offers some mechanical support for what a character was like before they became an adventurer, but it doesn’t tell the whole story. A character with a good background can give a Dungeon Master several wonderful ways to hook a character into dashing into danger.
A useful background doesn’t have to be a full-fledged biography about a character’s life before first level. Most serial stories take their time to spool out juicy bits of background info as the story unfolds. Sometimes it makes more sense to leave specific elements open so that what happens in the game can inform details. This series of articles offers five background questions for Dungeons & Dragons classes that a player can answer with a few short sentences whenever they want (yes, we’ll be doing one for each class). Players can answer these questions ahead of the first Dungeons & Dragons session, or DMs can facilitate this character building exercise with a session zero.
Ask these questions build your cleric’s backstory.
How Did You Know You Were Called To Serve Your God?
Gods have many followers but they only gift a few with the powers of a cleric. Did you manifest your powers randomly? Are you carrying on a family tradition? Did a holy ritual awaken your clerical powers?
Who Gave You Your Holy Symbol?
The symbol of your god is how you identify yourself as a servant of the divine and also helps you channel your magic. Did a mentor give it to you as they sent you out into the world? Was it passed onto you after the death of another cleric who served in your god’s name? Did you travel to a holy site and create it as part of your initiation?
What Non-Magical Ritual Means the Most to You?
Clerics often perform other rites and blessings that aren’t necessarily manifestations of divine power. Do you love to see the bright, smiling faces of people in love as you perform a wedding ceremony? Do you offer a shoulder to cry on when completing funerary rites? Have any of the children that you’ve given a naming ceremony gone on to greatness?
How Do You Feel About Rival Gods and Followers?
Tensions between religious groups often cause conflicts that may be up to you to help settle. Is there a rival god of the same concept whose followers you often encounter? Are any gods positioned as your god’s opposite in the pantheon? Do you respect the beliefs of others even if they disagree with your own?
What Rank Do You Seek within Your Own Temple?
Most clerics are part of an organization of religious worshippers. Are you expected to convert those who don’t follow your faith? Do you hope to establish a parish or build a temple? Are there rival factions with whom you butt heads?
Originally published on March 7, 2019.
Rob Wieland is an author, game designer (Star Wars RPG, Firefly RPG, Camelot Trigger) and professional nerd. who occasionally tweets and livestreams RPGs with the Theatre of the Mind Players while his meat body is resides in scenic Milwaukee, WI.