In the game 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.
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What is a Sage?
To put it simply, a sage is someone that is known for being very wise. Sages are venerated for their sound advice and logical judgments and are very knowledgeable in a variety of subjects. This wisdom doesn’t necessarily mean they are highly intelligent but instead have a broader range of experiences usually making them more insightful and contemplative than most. They are astute at gaining and retaining knowledge and being able to call upon and apply that knowledge anywhere it could be useful.
Sages in D&D
This background is a must for any character that is to be portrayed as intelligent or studious. Did you attend a prestigious academy as a youth, or did you study under the teachings of a master in the subject that most fascinates you? Perhaps you had a job in a great library or were born to parents that were master sages themselves. Whatever your upbringing, a sage has dedicated themselves to attaining mastery of study, knowledge, and wisdom, especially in the subjects they find themselves most intrigued with.
An elven mage studying tirelessly to unlock the ancient secrets of their people, a monk seeking the path to true enlightenment, and a halfling chef memorizing countless recipes and cooking techniques in hopes of creating the perfect meal, are all examples of characters that could use the Sage background. Sages can be found anywhere and their expertise can fall into any number of obscure subjects. The fact that anyone can dedicate their life to studying any subject in the pursuit of becoming an expert makes this background suitable for any class. The background feature you acquire as a sage also comes in pretty handy.
When a sage finds a subject that fascinates them, they devote their time to studying every bit of information they can relate to it until they become nothing less than an expert on the matter. The field that interests a sage the most is their specialty. Someone interested in magic may seek out a respected wizard to apprentice while another that is interested in potions and other concoctions may search for an accredited alchemist to study under. Whatever it is that tickles your sage’s fancy, their specialty will help shape their area of expertise, their method of study, and who they studied with.
The Specialties table in the Player’s Handbook features a list of options you can roll on or choose from to represent your sage’s specialty. Your specialty determines what subject you spent your time infatuated with before becoming an adventurer. The specialties available range from things like astronomer and librarian to researcher and professor. A lot of the options available in the PHB are pretty bland and generic so don’t be surprised if you find yourself longing for something that isn’t on the list. I’ve got you covered as I’ll be providing fun new specialty choices for each class later in this article.
Sage Feature: Researcher
This background emphasizes the fact that your character spent a long time perfecting the art of studying and this background feature solidifies that sentiment. With the Researcher feature, you can attempt to learn or recall a piece of lore, how easy that is to do, is determined by your Dungeon Master. If you don’t know the information, you do know a place and/or a person you can attain the information from. Because of your studious background, this information is more than likely going to come from a library, university, scriptorium, another sage, or someone else knowledgeable on the matter. This is of course all dependent on the knowledge you seek. You won’t be able to reach out to someone and gain access to all the deepest darkest secrets of the multiverse. Your DM can rule any knowledge too powerful to be unattainable. Gaining such information could require you to embark upon an adventure or even an entire campaign.
Customizing Your Sage
When you decide to become a sage, this background grants you proficiency with the Arcana and History skills. It also allows you to pick two languages of your choice to become proficient with. The skill proficiencies are useful for any character that studies a lot, but those skills might not always match the idea you had for your character. What if your character isn’t a spellcaster or doesn’t care at all about magic? Let your DM know and you can work with them to swap out your Arcana proficiency for something more suitable for them. The same goes for the History skill. Make sure you are selecting skills that will be the best fit for the character you want. While picking your two extra language proficiencies you can use them to help give life to your backstory by representing what you’ve studied or possibly who your mentor was. Have fun with it and pick languages that make your character feel more connected to their backstory and the world around them.
A sage is also granted a short list of starting equipment. This list includes items like a bottle of ink, a quill, a small knife, a letter from a colleague posing a question you have not yet been able to answer, a set of common clothes, and a pouch containing 10 GP. The first few items that you are given are pretty basic but are still useful. The really fun item that you get is a letter from a colleague. This can be used as some great roleplaying fuel and can even end up being part of an adventure or an entire campaign. Work with your DM to come up with a letter that has something fun in it, or you can have your DM determine what it says in secret and be just as surprised as your party once you figure out what it means! Will it be a simple message or piece of information? Or will this letter lead you to discover the secrets of the cosmos? Whatever it is, work with your DM so it will be as much fun for you as possible.
Each sage’s specialty tells you what it is your character spent their lives doing before their adventure begins and can influence things like where you came from, who you studied with, and how you studied. Here I’m going to match each playable class with specialties from the PHB that work exceptionally well together while also giving you a host of new, much more flavorful, and entertaining options.
Armorer, Alchemist, Discredited Academic, Engineer, Forge Master, Shipwright, Tinkerer
Battle Tactician, Raid Specialist, Siege Master, Weapons Expert
Linguist, Lore Keeper, Musical Theorist, Poet, Scribe, Thespian
Librarian, Medic, Priest, Researcher, Ritualist, Theologian
Astronomer, Botanist, Meteorologist, Mycologist, Taxonomist, Zoologist
Battle Tactician, Commander, Gladiator, Weapons Expert
Acrobat, Librarian, Martial Artist, Philosopher, Researcher, Theologian, Yogi
Crusader, Mounted Combat Specialist, Priest, Theologian
Botanist, Hunter-Gatherer, Meteorologist, Survival Expert, Tracker
Acrobat, Assassin, Burglar, Detective, Escape Artist, Locksmith, Thief
Discredited Academic, Guild Mage, Herbalist, Lore Keeper, Occultist, Wizard’s Apprentice
Astronomer, Planar Expert, Lore Keeper, Occultist, Researcher
Discredited Academic, Illusionist, Librarian, Necromancer, Onomancer, Professor, Scribe, Transmuter
- Sages are folks who are known for their wisdom, knowledge, and dedication to becoming an expert in their field.
- Every sage has their favorite subject they have devoted themselves to and is represented by choosing their specialty.
- The Researcher background feature builds upon your studious training by allowing you to learn and recall information, or if you can’t, to know know where to go or whom to speak with to find it.
- Don’t be afraid to work with your DM and swap around proficiencies and make sure you come up with something fun for the mysterious letter from your colleague.
- You can choose from the list of new options I provided or come up with your own sage specialty to make your character more fun and unique.
If you would like the full details of this background for use in your games, you can find it in the Player’s Handbook.