Shakespearean Background Options for D&D

Here’s a handful of Background Options pluck’d from the Bard himself. Add these to your PC to inject some good old-time Shakespearean flavour to your character, or (if you GM) run a Shakespearean campaign complete with quick witted duelists, storm-tossed lovers, rival noble houses, clowns, shipwwrecked magicians and more.

Each player can choose as many Background Options as they want for their character, but only one (the primary) confers a benefit. Each Background Option suggests two skills; select one and either gain a +2 bonus to that skill, or add it to the list of available Class Skills that your character can gain Training in.

For example, Marcus generates Horace Vedicci, Gentleman Rogue. He takes both Born of Noble House & Political Exile and adds  Diplomacy as a Class Skill to reflect both his upbringing and experience among the political circles. He could use one of his available skill slots during character generation to gain the +5 Training bonus or take a +2 bonus for free, depending on just how interested Horace was in his studies.

Born of Noble House Diplomacy, Streetwise

Clown Acrobatics, Bluff

Keen Witted Duelist Acrobatics, Insight

Loyal Friar Religion, Insight

Night Watchman Endurance, Perception

Playwright History, Insight

Political Exile Endurance, History

Senator Diplomacy, Insight

Shipwrecked Scholar Arcana, Endurance

Wily Merchant Diplomacy, Bluff

Witch Arcana, Nature

I’m sure you can think of more!

Offering Background Options is a great way to reinforce the style and tone of a Campaign Setting as well as giving the players a minor reward for providing a thematic backstory for their characters. The Background Options above put us firmly into Shakespeare’s world. Provide Background Options such as Loyal Samurai, Peasant Farmer, Honourable Spy, Artisan or Merchant and you’ve transported D&D into the world of Feudal Japan.

The fun comes in the way the Background Options inter-relate with the Classes, and it’s the unusual combinations which sparkle the most. Having a Night Watchman who is a Fighter is one thing, but what if your Night Watchman has secretly sold his soul and is an Infernal Pact Warlock – that’s a whole ‘nuther ball game. Likewise, a Playwright Bard is a good and obvious choice, but what about the Playwright Wizard who weaves spells of enchantment into his Acts and Scenes, or a Playwright Cleric who composes mystery plays for the common masses against the will of his elders?

All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages.

4 Comments on “Shakespearean Background Options for D&D”

  1. As a huge fan of the Bard, I really love this blog!

    You definitely can get a lot of campaign personality, as well as character “flavor” from borrowing from a source as prolific and dynamic as Shakespeare’s works – and well worth considering to add something special to a D&D game. Well done!

  2. Shakespeare can make any game better. There was 3rd party materials for 3rd Edition that was based on Shakespeare’s plays.

    However, Shakespeare wrote for a different medium. In a roleplaying game, all the PCs are protagonists. They don’t exactly take the other roles in the story (there’s at least 8 roles for a full story to be made).

    In a Shakespeare play, the characters all play one of 8 roles, even if you can’t tell which is which.

  3. “‘Expelliarmus’ is not a D&D spell!”
    “But I’m a Playwright Wizard!”
    “And you’ve been watching too much Who.”

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