Do you enjoy the Dragon Age RPG? Wish you could invent your own Backgrounds? Do you think this is a short introductory paragraph? WHO CARES!? Here is my official “How To” on creating your own Backgrounds.

The Breakdown

Creating a Background is easier than you think. Dragon Age Set 1 actually offers a complete breakdown of each component on page 20 of the Player’s Guide:

  • An increase to one or more of your character’s abilities
  • One or more ability focuses
  • Determination of your race
  • Determination of your class choices
  • The languages you can read and/or speak

When Set 2 was released, it showed that Backgrounds could also have a minor trait applied to them, as revealed with the High Born, Low Born, and Duster Dwarves’ magic resistance. The trait is so minor that it doesn’t cause any game imbalance.

In the Dragon Age Oracle interview with Wolfgang Baur, he offered a Background build where the character’s race determined what the ability modifier was while the 2d6 chart remained a single column that applied to all the races in the background.

What I have failed to see, however, is a breakdown of what the odds are to roll certain things on the 2d6 chart. I did the math myself (with a little help from AnyDice). Below is a chart representing the probability of rolling certain things on the 2d6 chart for any background.

Roll Benefit* Chances
2 +1 Ability 2.78%
3-4 Ability (Focus) 13.89%
5 Ability (Focus) 11.11%
6 Ability (Focus) 13.89%
7-8 +1 Ability 30.56%
9 Ability (Focus) 11.11%
10-11 Ability (Focus) 13.89%
12 +1 Ability 2.78%

*You can sometimes substitute an Ability (Focus) for the ability to wield a certain weapon type or to be able to speak a new language.

Fluff and Mechanics

Now that you understand the breakdown of Backgrounds, how do you put one together for yourself? What you need to understand about Backgrounds is that they transcend race and locale. They represent what you are or were, to your core. A Dalish Elf is defined by that Background in the same manner that a Circle Mage is defined by that rather than their race. A pirate is a pirate, no matter if they are human or a dwarf. I believe you get my point.

The hard part is reflecting this in the mechanics. I won’t lie; it takes time and effort. I honestly thought an article on Backgrounds that I wrote on my own blog would come out a lot sooner than it did but I needed to finish the Backgrounds (in between a new job and the Holidays). To help you speed things along with your group, here is a list of the different elements and how to meld them with the fluff of the background:

Hmm, should I play as an evil genius or as a mighty barbarian?

Consider the concept. When creating a background, a strong core concept can go a long way to helping you finish it in a hurry. If your player wanted their character to be, for example, a Traveling Entertainer, you need to consider what that encompasses. The name alone is a little vague, but one can know for certain their goal in life is to perform in front of an audience. This can be done through acrobatics feats or a magic show. Some Traveling Entertainers could juggle while others face off against lions, or tigers, or bears (oh, my) in a caged ring.

Choose an ability to boost. The +1 ability boost is usually the easiest element to determine due to a limited number of options. Discuss with your players what ability would best suit every character that would choose this background. In regards to the Traveling Entertainer, this character would need a strong Communication ability in order to properly use the Communication (Performance) focus which is something every character choosing this background would want to have.

Choose two ability focuses. These two ability focuses should have strong ties to the background’s core concept, but at the same time can split those that choose the background into two unique identities. Using our Traveling Entertainer example, we can easily determine that Communication (Performance) will be one of these choices, but what about the other choice? Well, we need a focus that brings in the more physically oriented performers, like trapeze artists or contortionists. Keeping that in mind, I believe Dexterity (Acrobatics) would be an excellent choice.

Determine the available races. This is where your setting will come strongly into play. You’ll need to debate on what races are available in your setting, what makes them different from one another, and which of them apply to your background. For the sake of accessibility, we’ll use the fantasy standard of human, dwarf, and elf as the available races for the Traveling Entertainer. After that, determine how the different races will be applied to the background. Will it follow the example of Player’s Guide where races are split through the 2d6 tables, or will it follow the example given above where race determines the starting ability boost?

Determine the languages you can speak and/or read. Once again, your setting will influence this portion of the background. There is usually a common language or trade tongue that everyone can speak for easy communication, and a few scattered racial or national languages. Some backgrounds can allow characters to learn multiple languages while others can limit the language options to speak or read only. Since Traveling Entertainers, well, travel a lot, they will pick up several languages to which I will place in an option of being able to read certain ones.

Determine if a minor trait is required. As mentioned above, some backgrounds have a minor trait that gives more flavor to the background, but does not break the game mechanics. Usually it is no more than a +2 to a certain roll or resistance. Our Traveling Entertainer does not require any kind of minor trait so I will skip this part for now.

Determine which classes are available to the background. At this point, you should have a solid grasp on the flavor and setting information as it pertains to the background. This will make determining which classes a character with this background can take rather simple. Can characters with this background wield mighty weapons and equip heavy armor? Can they be nimble and quick enough to wield light blades and light armor effectively? Can they cast spells? I feel this is the easiest part of creating a background. Since a group of Traveling Entertainers will have to be varied and individually unique, all three classes will be an option. If you feel that these three classes do not fit what you are looking for, do a search online for home-brewed classes. I know a few options exist, and I’m planning on trying my hand at creating one in the near future.

Drat! I rolled Focus: Cunning (Toilets).

Fill in the 2d6 table’s ability slots. And we come to the hard crunch. Filling in the 2d6 chart is undoubtedly the most difficult and time-consuming portion of background creation. If you’re lucky, like I have been only once or twice in the past, you can blow through this with no problem what-so-ever. First off, the comparatively easy part; you need to discover what secondary abilities can apply to your background and the different races, if you are using the separate 2d6 tables option. For example, Constitution is a commonly assumed important ability for a dwarf, so that will be placed in the 7-8 slot which a player has the highest probability of rolling. Magic is the same for elves, who are commonly considered as being the strongest with Magic, and then I’ll give humans Dexterity to bring in the acrobats. Think in a similar fashion for the ability options at slots 2 and 12, the slots with the lowest probability to roll.

Fill in the 2d6 table’s focus slots. Don’t give up because you are almost done! However, I will have to admit that I have sometimes stopped creating entirely due to this portion of background creation. Because of the amount of slots that you have to fill (5 per race), it can become rather daunting. Feel free to use the same focuses between the different available races. Keep in mind the above table describing the probability of the different slots. Ability focuses with higher probabilities need to have a strong tie to both the background and the associated race. Below you can see the final result of the ability focuses chosen for the Traveling Entertainer.

Add the flavor text. The flavor text of a background is the frosting on the cake, the whipped cream on the frappuccino, the sprinkles on the cookie…I think I might have a sweet tooth. Now that you have all the mechanical elements of your background figured out, write in the flavor text. How does this background fit into your setting? What makes this a viable option for your players to choose? The more generic the background, the harder this may become (as I am discovering with the Traveling Entertainer) but do what you can to make it both compelling and interesting. You don’t want your players to be bored.

You now have a finished Background entirely compatible with Green Ronin’s Dragon Age RPG. Below is the final result of the Traveling

Entertainer background that I created while writing this article.

Traveling Entertainer

May I play a song for you, my lady?

  • Add 1 to your Communication ability. As a performer, it is important that your act speaks to the audience on a deep level.
  • Pick one of the following ability focuses: Communication (Performance) or Dexterity (Acrobatics).
  • Choose whether your character is a dwarf, elf, or human.
  • You can speak and read Common, and speak Dwarven, Elven, and Orc which you can then choose one that you can also read.
  • Choose a class. You can play either a warrior, rogue, or mage.
Roll Dwarf Elf Human
2 +1 Strength +1 Dexterity +1 Cunning
3-4 Focus: Willpower (Self-Discipline) Focus: Cunning (Arcane Lore) Focus: Cunning (Cultural Lore)
5 Focus: Communication (Deception) Focus: Dexterity (Bows) Focus: Cunning (Musical Lore)
6 Focus: Strength (Might) Focus: Communication (Persuasion) Focus: Communication (Deception)
7-8 +1 Constitution +1 Magic +1 Dexterity
9 Focus: Communication (Persuasion) Focus: Dexterity (Riding) Focus: Dexterity (Legerdemain)
10-11 Focus: Communication (Animal Handling) Focus: Perception (Empathy) Focus: Communication (Persuasion)
12 +1 Willpower +1 Perception +1 Magic