In the game of Dungeons & Dragons, a character’s background represents their upbringing and what they used to do with their life before becoming an adventurer. Every character is unique and spent their time differently before setting out to find fame and fortune slaying monsters and saving lives. This can make choosing a background difficult at times. If you are new to the game or would like to know more about how backgrounds function, you can check out my article What Is A Background & How To Use It.
What is an Acolyte?
The Acolyte background is very commonly used amongst clerics and paladins as it is rooted in being dedicated to a god, pantheon of gods, or some other form of religious ethos. Whichever it is, an acolyte has sworn to uphold the tenets of their deity and spent a portion of their lives in dedicated service to them, usually in a temple or other place of worship. This service may have included duties like performing sacred rights or rituals, spreading the word of your deity to recruit new followers, caring for the temple itself, or even overseeing its day-to-day functions and services.
Acolytes in D&D
As far as your D&D character goes, the term acolyte can cover a wide range of positions and experiences. Perhaps you were raised in the temple as a child and only know the words of your faith, but always longed for a life of excitement, or maybe you even rose to the position of the high priest in your temple when a tragic incident forced you out of your home and now you seek out a new means to spread your gospel. You could even go the other way with it. Let’s say you spent many years in dedicated service to a particular church, but then one day accidentally stumbled upon a secret meeting being held by the temple elders discovering that the church has been a cover-up for an unholy scheme led by a corrupt priestess and now all you want to do is escape your past and the others in the church that is now looking to prosecute you as a deserter.
With that being said, the acolyte background isn’t just reserved for the clerics and paladins in the party. Your background represents what you did before becoming an adventurer so you could have walked away from a life of religious servitude to pursue other goals. A Fighter could have the Acolyte background and fight in the name of justice or on behalf of a god of war, or you could be a Rogue that takes pride in thievery to honor a trickster god. The religious aspect of the Acolyte background may seem a little limiting at first, but with some imagination, you can make your acolyte into whatever you need them to be.
This background may also seem like it is reserved only for characters of good alignment, but that isn’t true either. There are many ways an Acolyte can be just as nefarious as a criminal. Instead of dedicating yourself to a temple or church, you could have been a member of a cult working to unleash a terrible evil upon the world, or maybe you served a god of cosmic balance, preferring to remain neutral and watch events unfold around you as long as they don’t tip the scales of power too far in one direction or the other.
Acolyte Feature: Shelter of the Faithful
Each background comes with a Feature unique to that background which gives you an additional mechanic for your character to use. Most background features are usually for aspects for your to roleplay and give your character a deeper connection to the world you play in and some features are more useful than others. The Acolyte feature, Shelter of the Faithful, can be one of the more useful ones if you are playing in a more typical fantasy-style setting.
This feature allows you to connect with others that share the same faith as you to gain access to certain perks. By proving the knowledge of your faith by performing the religious ceremonies associated with it you can earn free healing services for you and your adventuring party from those at a temple, shrine, or other establishment connected to your faith, though you do have to provide any material components required for them. You may also receive room and board comparable to a modest lifestyle for yourself, but your companions may not be given as fine accommodations as yours. You can even have a special relationship with a specific temple or establishment which can use to call upon the assistance of the priests or clergy of the said temple, as long as you aren’t asking them to do anything dangerous or immoral.
Customizing Your Acolyte
When you choose the acolyte background you are granted proficiency in the Insight and Religion skills as well as two languages of your choice. Suppose you aren’t playing a traditional acolyte, as in a cleric, paladin, or someone who is devoutly religious. In that case, you can work with your DM to swap out these skill proficiencies for something more fitting. For example, an Acolyte Druid may be more inclined to have a proficiency in the Nature skill rather than Insight to better accommodate their relationship with nature or even a specific nature deity while a Monk may favor Acrobatics over proficiency in Religion. These skills can easily be swapped out to allow you to capture the proper feel you want your character to have. You are also given a few basic pieces of starting equipment like a holy symbol of your chosen deity, and a prayer book or prayer wheel just to name a couple. If none of these items seem interesting or useful to you, feel free to chat with your DM and come up with something that will be more meaningful to you.
Suggested Deities by Class
As I said, you can have a character based in any class using the Acolyte background if that is what you are looking for in them. Below is a list of suggestions for deities from the Forgotten Realms, and their alignment, that could reasonably be associated with each class. These suggestions are not definitive, and with some creativity, I’m sure you can find a reason for any deity you like to fit into your character’s backstory.
Deneir(NG), Gond(N), Oghma(N), Waukeen(N)
Helm(LN), Loviatar(LE), Talos(CE), Tempus(N)
Cyric(CE), Lliira(CG), Milil(NG), Shar(NE), Sune(CG)
Eldath(NG), Lathander(NG), Myrkul(NE), Torm(LG), Tyr(LG)
Auril(NE), Chauntea(NG), Mielikki(NG), Selune(CG), Silvanus(N), Talona(CE)
Bhaal(NE), Helm(LN), Ilmater(LG), Tempus(N)
Eldath(NG), Helm(LN), Ilmater(LG), Lliira(CG), Oghma(N), Tymora(CG)
Helm(LN), Kelemvor(LN), Tempus(N), Torm(LG), Tyr(LG)
Auril(NE), Malar(CE), Mielikki(NG), Selune(CG), Silvanus(N), Umberlee(CE)
Beshaba(CE), Bhaal(NE), Mask(CN), Selune(CG), Tymora(CG)
Beshaba(CE), Leira(CN), Mystra(NG)
Azuth(LN), Deneir(NG), Leira(CN), Mystra(NG), Oghma(N), Savras(LN)
Beshaba(CE), Cyric(CE), Savras(LN)
- Acolytes come from a life of service devoted to a deity but aren’t beholden to just clerics and paladins.
- Shelter of the Faithful can get you and your party some decent perks that can save you time and money during your campaign.
- You can work with your DM to swap out your background proficiencies and starting equipment to put together something more suited for your character.
- With a little creativity you can make this background work for characters of any class, alignment, or faith.
If you would like the full details of this background for use in your games, you can find it in the Player’s Handbook.