Personality and Background

Characters are defined by much more than their race and class. They’re individuals with their own stories, interests, connections, and capabilities beyond those that class and race define. This section expounds on the details that distinguish characters from one another, including the basics of name and physical description, the rules of backgrounds and languages, and the finer points of personality and alignment.

Character Details

Your character’s name and physical description might be the first things that the other players at the table learn about you. It’s worth thinking about how these characteristics reflect the character you have in mind.

Name

Your character’s race description includes sample names for members of that race. Put some thought into your name even if you’re just picking one from a list.

Sex

You can play a male or female character without gaining any special benefits or hindrances. Think about how your character does or does not conform to the broader culture’s expectations of sex, gender, and sexual behavior. For example, a male drow cleric defies the traditional gender divisions of drow society, which could be a reason for your character to leave that society and come to the surface.

You don’t need to be confined to binary notions of sex and gender. The elf god Corellon Larethian is often seen as androgynous or hermaphroditic, for example, and some elves in the multiverse are made in Corellon’s image. You could also play a female character who presents herself as a man, a man who feels trapped in a female body, or a bearded female dwarf who hates being mistaken for a male. Likewise, your character’s sexual orientation is for you to decide.

Height and Weight

You can decide your character’s height and weight, using the information provided in your race description or on the Random Height and Weight table. Think about what your character’s ability scores might say about his or her height and weight. A weak but agile character might be thin. A strong and tough character might be tall or just heavy.

If you want to, you can roll randomly for your character’s height and weight using the Random Height and Weight table. The dice roll given in the Height Modifier column determines the character’s extra height (in inches) beyond the base height. That same number multiplied by the dice roll or quantity given in the Weight Modifier column determines the character’s extra weight (in pounds) beyond the base weight.

RaceBase
Height
Height
Modifier
Base
Weight
Weight
Modifier
Human 4'8" +2d10 110 lb. × (2d4) lb.
Dwarf, hill 3'8" +2d4 115 lb. × (2d6) lb.
Dwarf, mountain 4' +2d4 130 lb. × (2d6) lb.
Elf, high 4'6" +2d10 90 lb. × (1d4) lb.
Elf, wood 4'6" +2d10 100 lb. × (1d4) lb.
Halfling 2'7" +2d4 35 lb. × 1 lb.

For example, as a human, Tika has a height of 4 feet 8 inches plus 2d10 inches. Her player rolls 2d10 and gets a total of 12, so Tika stands 5 feet 8 inches tall. Then the player uses that same roll of 12 and multiplies it by 2d4 pounds. Her 2d4 roll is 3, so Tika weighs an extra 36 pounds (12 . 3) on top of her base 110 pounds, for a total of 146 pounds.

Other Physical Characteristics

You choose your character’s age and the color of his or her hair, eyes, and skin. To add a touch of distinctiveness, you might want to give your character an unusual or memorable physical characteristic, such as a scar, a limp, or a tattoo.

Alignment

A typical creature in the game world has an alignment, which broadly describes its moral and personal attitudes. Alignment is a combination of two factors: one identifies morality (good, evil, or neutral), and the other describes attitudes toward society and order (lawful, chaotic, or neutral). Thus, nine distinct alignments define the possible combinations.

These brief summaries of the nine alignments describe the typical behavior of a creature with that alignment. Individuals might vary significantly from that typical behavior, and few people are perfectly and consistently faithful to the precepts of their alignment.

Lawful good (LG) creatures can be counted on to do the right thing as expected by society. Gold dragons, paladins, and most dwarves are lawful good.

Neutral good (NG) folk do the best they can to help others according to their needs. Many celestials, some cloud giants, and most gnomes are neutral good.

Chaotic good (CG) creatures act as their conscience directs, with little regard for what others expect. Copper dragons, many elves, and unicorns are chaotic good.

Lawful neutral (LN) individuals act in accordance with law, tradition, or personal codes. Many monks and some wizards are lawful neutral.

Neutral (N) is the alignment of those who prefer to steer clear of moral questions and don’t take sides, doing what seems best at the time. Lizardfolk, most druids, and many humans are neutral.

Chaotic neutral (CN) creatures follow their whims, holding their personal freedom above all else. Many barbarians and rogues, and some bards, are chaotic neutral.

Lawful evil (LE) creatures methodically take what they want, within the limits of a code of tradition, loyalty, or order. Devils, blue dragons, and hobgoblins are lawful evil.

Neutral evil (NE) is the alignment of those who do whatever they can get away with, without compassion or qualms. Many drow, some cloud giants, and goblins are neutral evil.

Chaotic evil (CE) creatures act with arbitrary violence, spurred by their greed, hatred, or bloodlust. Demons, red dragons, and orcs are chaotic evil.

Alignment in the Multiverse

For many thinking creatures, alignment is a moral choice. Humans, dwarves, elves, and other humanoid races can choose whether to follow the paths of good or evil, law or chaos. According to myth, the good-aligned gods who created these races gave them free will to choose their moral paths, knowing that good without free will is slavery.

The evil deities who created other races, though, made those races to serve them. Those races have strong inborn tendencies that match the nature of their gods. Most orcs share the violent, savage nature of the orc gods, and are thus inclined toward evil. Even if an orc chooses a good alignment, it struggles against its innate tendencies for its entire life. (Even half-orcs feel the lingering pull of the orc god’s influence.)

Alignment is an essential part of the nature of celestials and fiends. A devil does not choose to be lawful evil, and it doesn’t tend toward lawful evil, but rather it is lawful evil in its essence. If it somehow ceased to be lawful evil, it would cease to be a devil.

Most creatures that lack the capacity for rational thought do not have alignments—they are unaligned. Such a creature is incapable of making a moral or ethical choice and acts according to its bestial nature. Sharks are savage predators, for example, but they are not evil; they have no alignment.

Languages

Your race indicates the languages your character can speak by default, and your background might give you access to one or more additional languages of your choice. Note these languages on your character sheet. Choose your languages from the Standard Languages table, or choose one that is common in your campaign. With your DM’s permission, you can instead choose a language from the Exotic Languages table or a secret language, such as thieves’ cant or the tongue of druids.

Some of these languages are actually families of languages with many dialects. For example, the Primordial language includes the Auran, Aquan, Ignan, and Terran dialects, one for each of the four elemental planes. Creatures that speak different dialects of the same language can communicate with one another.

Standard LanguageTypical SpeakersScript
Common Humans Common
Dwarvish Dwarves Dwarvish
Elvish Elves Elvish
Giant Ogres, giants Dwarvish
Gnomish Gnomes Dwarvish
Goblin Goblinoids Dwarvish
Halfling Halflings Common
Orc Orcs Dwarvish
Exotic LanguageTypical SpeakersScript
Abyssal Demons Infernal
Celestial Celestials Celestial
Draconic Dragons, dragonborn Draconic
Deep Speech Aboleths, cloakers
Infernal Devils Infernal
Primordial Elementals Dwarvish
Sylvan Fey creatures Elvish
Undercommon Underworld traders Elvish

Personal Characteristics

Fleshing out your character’s personality—the array of traits, mannerisms, habits, beliefs, and flaws that give a person a unique identity—will help you bring him or her to life as you play the game. Four categories of characteristics are presented here: personality traits, ideals, bonds, and flaws. Beyond those categories, think about your character’s favorite words or phrases, tics and habitual gestures, vices and pet peeves, and whatever else you can imagine.

Each background presented later in this chapter includes suggested characteristics that you can use to spark your imagination. You’re not bound to those options, but they’re a good starting point.

Personality Traits

Give your character two personality traits. Personality traits are small, simple ways to help you set your character apart from every other character. Your personality traits should tell you something interesting and fun about your character. They should be self-descriptions that are specific about what makes your character stand out. "I’m smart" is not a good trait, because it describes a lot of characters. "I’ve read every book in Candlekeep" tells you something specific about your character’s interests and disposition. Personality traits might describe the things your character likes, his or her past accomplishments, things your character dislikes or fears, your character’s self-attitude or mannerisms, or the influence of his or her ability scores.

A useful place to start thinking about personality traits is to look at your highest and lowest ability scores and define one trait related to each. Either one could be positive or negative: you might work hard to overcome a low score, for example, or be cocky about your high score.

Ideals

Describe one ideal that drives your character. Your ideals are the things that you believe in most strongly, the fundamental moral and ethical principles that compel you to act as you do. Ideals encompass everything from your life goals to your core belief system. Ideals might answer any of these questions: What are the principles that you will never betray? What would prompt you to make sacrifices? What drives you to act and guides your goals and ambitions? What is the single most important thing you strive for?

You can choose any ideals you like, but your character’s alignment is a good place to start defining them. Each background in this chapter includes six suggested ideals. Five of them are linked to aspects of alignment: law, chaos, good, evil, and neutrality. The last one has more to do with the particular background than with moral or ethical perspectives.

Bonds

Create one bond for your character. Bonds represent a character’s connections to people, places, and events in the world. They tie you to things from your background. They might inspire you to heights of heroism, or lead you to act against your own best interests if they are threatened. They can work very much like ideals, driving a character’s motivations and goals. Bonds might answer any of these questions: Whom do you care most about? To what place do you feel a special connection? What is your most treasured possession?

Your bonds might be tied to your class, your background, your race, or some other aspect of your character’s history or personality. You might also gain new bonds over the course of your adventures.

Flaws

Finally, choose a flaw for your character. Your character’s flaw represents some vice, compulsion, fear, or weakness—in particular, anything that someone else could exploit to bring you to ruin or cause you to act against your best interests. More significant than negative personality traits, a flaw might answer any of these questions: What enrages you? What’s the one person, concept, or event that you are terrified of? What are your vices?

Inspiration

Inspiration is a rule the game master can use to reward you for playing your character in a way that’s true to his or her personality traits, ideal, bond, and flaw. By using inspiration, you can draw on your personality trait of compassion for the downtrodden to give you an edge in negotiating with the Beggar Prince. Or inspiration can let you call on your bond to the defense of your home village to push past the effect of a spell that has been laid on you.

Gaining Inspiration

Your DM can choose to give you inspiration for a variety of reasons. Typically, DMs award it when you play out your personality traits, give in to the drawbacks presented by a flaw or bond, and otherwise portray your character in a compelling way. Your DM will tell you how you can earn inspiration in the game. You either have inspiration or you don’t - you can’t stockpile multiple "inspirations" for later use.

Using Inspiration

If you have inspiration, you can expend it when you make an attack roll, saving throw, or ability check. Spending your inspiration gives you advantage on that roll. Additionally, if you have inspiration, you can reward another player for good roleplaying, clever thinking, or simply doing something exciting in the game. When another player character does something that really contributes to the story in a fun and interesting way, you can give up your inspiration to give that character inspiration.

Backgrounds

Every story has a beginning. Your character’s background reveals where you came from, how you became an adventurer, and your place in the world. Your fighter might have been a courageous knight or a grizzled soldier. Your wizard could have been a sage or an artisan. Your rogue might have gotten by as a guild thief or commanded audiences as a jester. Choosing a background provides you with important story cues about your character’s identity. The most important question to ask about your background is what changed? Why did you stop doing whatever your background describes and start adventuring? Where did you get the money to purchase your starting gear, or, if you come from a wealthy background, why don’t you have more money? How did you learn the skills of your class? What sets you apart from ordinary people who share your background? The sample background in this chapter provides both concrete benefits (features, proficiencies, and languages) and roleplaying suggestions.

Proficiencies

backgroundEach background gives a character proficiency in two skills. Skills are described in the Using Ability Scores section. In addition, most backgrounds give a character proficiency with one or more tools. Tools and tool proficiencies are detailed in the Equipment section.

If a character would gain the same proficiency from two different sources, he or she can choose a different proficiency of the same kind (skill or tool) instead.

Additional Languages

Some backgrounds also allow characters to learn additional languages beyond those given by race. See "Languages" earlier in this section.

Equipment

Each background provides a package of starting equipment. If you use the optional rule from the Equipment section to spend coin on gear, you do not receive the starting equipment from your background.

Suggested Characteristics

A background contains suggested personal characteristics based on your background. You can pick characteristics, roll dice to determine them randomly, or use the suggestions as inspiration for characteristics of your own creation.

Customizing a Background

You might want to tweak some of the features of a background so it better fits your character or the campaign setting. To customize a background, you can replace one feature with any other one, choose any two skills, and choose a total of two tool proficiencies or languages from the sample backgrounds. You can either use the equipment package from your background or spend coin on gear as described in the Equipment section. (If you spend coin, you can’t also take the equipment package suggested for your class.) Finally, choose two personality traits, one ideal, one bond, and one flaw. If you can’t find a feature that matches your desired background, work with your DM to create one.