Custom Background: Detective

I wrote this background at the request of a player that was gearing up for my Rime of the Frostmaiden campaign. After talking with them about their character idea, I decided I would make this custom background for them in an attempt to capture the more classic detective feel that they were going for. I tried to keep in mind some of the classic tropes from detective flicks and noir films as I adapted them to the fantasy setting that is Dungeons & Dragons. They were super excited when I presented this to them and have been enjoying playing their character with it, so I figured I’d share it here. I hope you enjoy it!


Detectives have a keen eye for detail and an uncanny sense of intuition. This is usually accompanied by a mind that thinks outside of the box and comes with some interesting quirks. Sometimes this can make them hard to approach and they can come off as eccentric or outright troubled. Regardless, there is one thing they all do, and they do it well, gather information.

Information is power, and in most cases, more valuable than gold. A detective is adept at using their wit and intuition to take mundane details that seem useless to most expose a clue that can break a case wide open. Information never sleeps, this makes the job very demanding and just adds to the odd behaviors of the folks that embrace its calling.

Skill Proficiencies: Insight, Investigation

Tools: Land Vehicles

Equipment: magnifying glass, pocket sized notebook, a quill, a bottle of black ink, an item from your past (see Specialty table below), set of traveler’s clothes, a pouch containing 10 GP.

1Private Investigator Letter from a lost love, a result of your demanding occupation
2City Guard Signet ring
3Military Scroll containing the report of your discharge from service, however honorable, or otherwise
4Royal Guard Insignia emblazoned with the seal of the royal house you served
5Faction/Guild Agent Faction/Guild tattoo
6Paranormal InvestigatorAn odd token, bauble, or scar that is a grim reminder of a case you never solved

Feature: Friends In Low Places

Your record has proven that you’re no slouch when it comes to sleuthing, but even you know, not every case can be solved on your own. While in a populated area, you may spend an amount of time determined appropriate by your DM to gather information. This information may be used to point you in the direction of someone in the area, or nearby, that is somehow associated with your specialty. This contact can be used to gain insights into the surrounding area. This may include things like, points of interest, where to acquire supplies, operations of local authorities and more, at your DM’s discretion. They may still operate as a detective, and who knows, maybe their helping with your case means they’ll need a hand with one of theirs?

Suggested Characteristics

The keen mind of a detective thinks in ways most others don’t. This can often lead to them having personality traits that, though can be subtle, make them uniquely memorable to those they work with. The job is very demanding and the loyalty needed forms ideals of strong work ethics and perseverance while creating strong bonds that shape the way they think, sometimes exacerbating a peculiar flaw.

d8Personality Traits
1While deep in thought I subconsciously make unusual noises, that I don’t notice, but others find quite irritating.
2I am a creature of habit and have a routine for going about everything I do.
3I find the smell and/or sight of a simple everyday item appalling.
4I use alliterations to make strange comparisons of things that don’t make sense to most.
5I am an absolute germaphobe and refuse physical contact with others of any kind.
6I have a real problem with remembering people’s names. I constantly call people by names that are close but not quite right.
7I eat constantly and extravagantly, and have no qualms with having a conversation while my mouth is full of food.
8When confronted with a math problem, I am not satisfied with the answer until I have proven it multiple ways.
1Professional – Your word is only as good as your results, if you say you are going to get a job done, you get the job done. (Lawful)
2Charitable – Everyone needs a hand from time to time, who am I to say when someone can or can’t ask for help? (Good)
3Employable – The reasons someone came to me with a job never mattered to me as long as they had the coin to make it worth my time. (Chaotic)
4Focused – If it didn’t have to do with me, or my case, it wasn’t any of my business. (Neutral)
5Immoral – Working for royalty is nice and all, and sure it pays well, but so do criminals, and that work is more fun. (Evil)
6Curiosity  – I gave up detective work, but I can’t help but get wrapped up in a good mystery when I hear one. (Any)
1Long ago I experienced a strange, otherworldly phenomena that I can’t explain. I keep my eyes open for answers everywhere I go.
2A mistake I made while on a job got a close partner of mine killed. I do everything now to try and make up for it.
3Working a job kept my mind off of other things, so of course, I worked all the time.
4Once I saved a little girl from a complete psychopath, when her arms wrapped around me I understood why I did the work I did. I’ll never forget her face.
5I let a suspect get away, leaving me injured in the process. I swore I would have my revenge and am still trying to find them.
6The truth is out there. Trust no one.
1Addicted to nicotine, I can’t think straight without a cigarette in my hand.
2Haunted by the trauma of a case from long ago, I can’t stomach the thought of eating fish or seafood.
3My past has left me jaded and incapable of fully trusting anyone.
4I constantly play with things and fidget, and find it nearly impossible to sit still.
5 I have a strange addiction.
6While on a job I was trapped inside a burning building and nearly died. Now fire scares me and the smell of smoke makes me uncomfortable and anxious.

Depending on your career as a detective you may have a different opinion of the kind of tools that are useful to someone in your line of work. Maybe you spent a lot of your time chasing down thugs and criminals, or dealing with seedy, corrupt businessmen, and in doing so had to make some unsavory connections of your own. If so, you can use this variant feature from the Criminal/Spy background in the Player’s Handbook.

Feature Variant: Criminal Contact

You have a reliable and trustworthy contact who acts as your liaison to a network of other criminals. You know how to get messages to and from your contact, even over great distances; specifically, you know the local messengers, corrupt caravan masters, and seedy sailors who can deliver messages for you.

Not sure how backgrounds are used when making a new character? Or maybe you just need some advice on picking the one that’s right for you? If so, you can check out our article What Is A Background & How To Use It.

About The Author

Justin Dixon
Justin Dixon
Dix has been playing D&D for over 7 years and has been a professional dungeon master for about 3 years. He has been a featured author in multiple releases from Grim Press including Creatures of the Underdark and soon The Goblins of Beetle Hollow from Crumbling Keep. He has worked with the acclaimed pop-up tavern Orcs! Orcs! Orcs! He is the producer for the Help Action podcast and played Amelia Whiteheart on the live play podcast The Swordcast Adventures.

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