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 a Noble?
A noble is someone who comes from a life of wealth, power, and privilege. Carrying the title noble is not taken lightly as it is not just your reputation at stake but also that of your entire family. Carrying such a title comes with your family owning land, collecting taxes, and wielding at least some political influence. Nobles can be pampered aristocrats who aren’t at all accustomed to real work or discomfort, a lucky merchant that has just been granted the noble title, or even a low-life scoundrel disowned by their family with an overwhelming sense of entitlement. Nobles generally rely on their status and connections to solve most of their problems for them. There’s normally someone they can pay to handle it for the others.
Nobles in D&D
The Noble background is ideal for characters that come from a background of power or want to have a deep connection to a place or specific people in a campaign. Also, making a character with this background does not mean they are rich. Their family may be very wealthy, but that does not mean you will have access to all the money you wish. This background is intended to focus on the connections that come with being part of an influential household and how you interact with them. Are you directly involved in the family business, or do you try to get by doing as little work as possible? Are you, and your family, liked by the other people in your region? This focus makes this background great for characters who are interested in social and political intrigue.
The important thing to remember when creating a character with the Noble background in D&D is that the title is not a stand-alone title it is connected to your family. Because we are talking about nobles in a fantasy-style setting they can come from all sorts of crazy families involved in all sorts of wild endeavors. Make sure you work closely with your DM to figure out how your character’s family fits into the world and how much power your family’s title holds. Is your family old and established with deep roots in a specific region, or was your family recently granted the title of nobility? How much influence do they have and how do they use it? How is your family regarded by other noble families? How does your family feel about your life as an adventurer? It’s important to work out the answers to such questions with your dungeon master so they can help you have a well-thought-out connection to the world you’ll be playing in, in turn giving you a nice rich backstory.
Noble Feature: Position of Privilege
With this background feature, people recognize your position of nobility and are inclined to think the best of you, perhaps until you show them otherwise at least. You are welcomed into gatherings for those of high society and people will assume you have the right to be present anywhere you are. Because of your high status, common folk will make every effort to make sure they accommodate you the best they can while making sure to avoid doing anything to upset you. This can give you influence over those of lesser ilk allowing you to possibly get away with more than another common folk would.
With your noble pedigree, others of high birth regard you as a member of the same social circles which can get you access to prestigious events and social gatherings. It can also help you gain an audience with specific members of local nobility as well should you seek it. This trait of this feature can be useful if you find yourself seeking specific information and hear of someone who might have it or in many other instances. This can also present opportunities for fun roleplaying experiences as you interact with other powerful figures that may or may not be connected throughout your campaign.
Customizing Your Noble
Choosing the Noble background for your character will grant you proficiency in the History and Persuasion skills. It will also get you proficiency with one type of gaming set and one language of your choice. I think Persuasion is a great skill for the Noble background as most nobles spend most of their effort in getting others to do things for them. History is a decent skill to have but if it, or Persuasion for that matter, doesn’t fit what you had in mind for your character ask your DM if you can swap it out for something else. Likewise if your noble isn’t the lazy type, you can talk to your DM about swapping out your gaming set proficiency for an artisan’s tool proficiency and picking a tool that represents what it is they do for a living or their family.
When you select a background your character is also granted a list of starting equipment. Choosing the Noble background gets you equipment like a set of fine clothes, a signet ring, a scroll of pedigree, and a purse containing 25 GP. All in all, none of the starting equipment from this background is that exciting. The best part of this list is that you start with more money than the other backgrounds you can choose from. You can get a little creative with some of the items though to give them a bit more life. Are your clothes the similar style of dress and color your family is known for wearing, or do you dress distinctly differently to avoid association with them? Do you wear the signet ring of your family? Hide it? Or is it the signet ring of another noble house you like to impersonate? Though some items may seem basic or lackluster, you can have some fun with your DM coming up with ways to make them a little more interesting.
Noble Variant: Knight
Receiving a knighthood is like receiving an entry-level noble title being considered the lowest tier of nobility in most societies, but it can be the start of a path to a higher status. This variant is great for any noble character that plans on using a martial class like Fighter or Paladin. This variant doesn’t change any of the proficiencies or equipment you are granted by the Noble background, but feel free to work with your DM to swap them out for anything that will help your knight character feel more appropriate.
Variant Background Feature: Retainers
The Noble background is one of the few background options in the PHB that offer you a variant background feature, the only other one being the Sailor background. When using the Noble background you can select the Retainers variant instead of the usual Position of Privilege feature. When you choose this variant you gain the service of three retainers that are loyal to your family. They can be messengers, attendants, or even a majordomo which is like the head of a household. These retainers are commoners that can take care of mundane tasks for you. As commoners though, they will not willingly head into dangerous situations or do any fighting and they will abandon you should they be put into harm’s way too many times or feel abused by you. If you are using the Knight background variant then it is suggested that one of the retainers could be a lowly noble working as your squire in exchange for training while the other two could be used to care for your horse or your weapons and armor. Whichever way you choose to go, this feature lets you live up to the life of a noble by having a small group of people at your disposal to do your bidding as you see fit.
- Nobles are people that come from a background of wealth, power, and privilege and are used to a way of life very few others will get to experience.
- Each noble’s title is not just tied to them, but also their family.
- The background feature Position of Privilege earns you respect from commoners and the opportunity to interact with local nobility.
- The Knight background variant doesn’t change any benefits of the Noble background but can be customized to provide a more appropriate set of skills or tools.
- The Retainers background feature variant grants you the service of three commoners that can handle all of your boring day-to-day activities so you can just worry about yourself.
- Be sure to work with your dungeon master on how your character and their influence interact with the world you will be playing in.
If you would like the full details of this background for use in your games, you can find it in the Player’s Handbook.