Last Updated on January 22, 2023
The Cloistered Scholar background in D&D 5E is a great choice for (almost) any class and has a ton of fantastic roleplaying potential.
Here, we’ll cover everything you need to know about the background for both players and DMs.
You gain proficiency in History. You also gain proficiency in one skill of your choice between Arcana, Nature, or Religion.
You have proficiency in any two languages of your choice.
- Scholarly robs appropriate to your institution
- A writing kit containing a small pouch, a quill, ink, folded parchment, and a small penknife
- A borrowed book on a subject relevant to your studies
- A pouch containing 10gp
Feature: Library Access
Library access gives you free access to your institution’s library. You understand the inner workings of your institution’s bureaucracy and can easily navigate its administrative apparatus.
You’re also likely, as a visiting scholar, to be viewed kindly at other institutions of higher learning.
Suggested characteristics are, as always, a suggestion. The cloistered scholar background uses the same suggestions as the sage background. These can be found on page 138 of the Player’s Handbook and are:
|1||I use polysyllabic words that convey the impression of great erudition.|
|2||I’ve read every book in the world’s greatest libraries—or I like to boast that I have.|
|3||I’m used to helping out those who aren’t as smart as I am, and I patiently explain anything and everything to others.|
|4||There’s nothing I like more than a good mystery.|
|5||I’m willing to listen to every side of an argument before I make my own judgment.|
|6||I . . . speak . . . slowly . . . when talking . . . to idiots, . . .which . . . almost . . . everyone . . . is . . . compared . . .to me.|
|7||I am horribly, horribly awkward in social situations.|
|8||I’m convinced that people are always trying to steal my secrets.|
|1||Knowledge. The path to power and self-improvement is through knowledge. (Neutral)|
|2||Beauty. What is beautiful points us beyond itself toward what is true. (Good)|
|3||Logic. Emotions must not cloud our logical thinking. (Lawful)|
|4||No Limits. Nothing should fetter the infinite possibility inherent in all existence. (Chaotic)|
|5||Power. Knowledge is the path to power and domination. (Evil)|
|6||Self-Improvement. The goal of a life of study is the betterment of oneself. (Any)|
|1||It is my duty to protect my students.|
|2||I have an ancient text that holds terrible secrets that must not fall into the wrong hands.|
|3||I work to preserve a library, university, scriptorium, or monastery.|
|4||My life’s work is a series of tomes related to a specific field of lore.|
|5||I’ve been searching my whole life for the answer to a certain question.|
|6||I sold my soul for knowledge. I hope to do great deeds and win it back.|
|1||I am easily distracted by the promise of information.|
|2||Most people scream and run when they see a demon. I stop and take notes on its anatomy.|
|3||Unlocking an ancient mystery is worth the price of a civilization.|
|4||I overlook obvious solutions in favor of complicated ones.|
|5||I speak without really thinking through my words, invariably insulting others.|
|6||I can’t keep a secret to save my life, or anyone else’s.|
You can use these characteristics to build a central concept for your character. You can also use these characteristics if they fit well with your existing character concept.
It’s a bad idea, though, to shoehorn ill-fitting characteristics into an existing character concept. This will result in a weaker and less well-defined character.
If you already have a strong concept for your character then you should create characteristics of your own that fit your character.
How To Roleplay A Cloistered Scholar: Cloistered Scholars of Every Class
Cloistered Scholar is an incredibly versatile background because it represents an experience common to 42% of Americans – university education!
There are countless books and movies and TV shows that focus on higher education and that means there’s a massive array of pre-established character archetypes which fit into higher education as a premise.
Wizard and Cleric
Wizards and clerics are the most obvious choices for a cloistered scholar. These characters are generally very knowledgeable and studious, although their focus is very different.
With Wizards, in particular, much of the work of creating a backstory is already done for you – Wizard’s subclasses refer to different schools of magic and these are likely to be your specialized area of study.
Bards are scholars primarily for the social life. Their area of study probably relates to their art form, whether that’s music, dance, painting, or poetry.
Some might have a passion for studying the academic side of their art form and its history. Others, though, are engaged in academic study or research so they can go out partying every single night of the week.
Fighter and Paladin
Fighters and Paladins are natural jocks. They pass their classes comfortably and also throw themselves into extra-curricular activities. They’re almost always on at least one sports team.
Paladins, in particular, have enormous strength of personality. Alongside their studies, these characters probably also ran for elected roles, representing the student body.
You could roleplay your barbarian cloistered scholar similarly to a fighter or paladin. That said, there’s a particular trope that fits barbarians perfectly while allowing you to play against type: nerd rage.
Instead of a hulking brute, your barbarian is a pencil-neck dweeb, so often overlooked and denied agency that there’s a sea of bubbling, violent rage just beneath the surface. You can draw inspiration from characters like Bruce Banner here.
Artificers could be lumped in with wizards but they’re a little more specific. These are the mad inventors, whether they’re mixing up chemicals in the alchemy lab or building magical constructs. These characters are highly studious, albeit in a more hands-on way than Wizards.
The Monk class comes with a lot of flavor built in. Monks live in secluded monasteries where they study to attain mental and physical self-improvement. This is a close parallel to the Cloistered Scholar background, which focuses on self-improvement through academic study.
One way you can make these concepts intersect is if your monk’s monastery is one that focuses on knowledge-gathering as a road to enlightenment.
Sorcerers are child prodigies. Learning came effortlessly to them throughout their entire childhoods and they even cruised through college. Now they’re working as full-time scholars though, they’re finally competing against their intellectual equals. Challenged for the first time in their lives, how will they react?
Warlock and Rogue
Warlocks and rogues are slackers, aiming to coast through their later life in cushy tenured positions. Their strategies for getting there, though, are very different.
Rogues cheat on every test and sabotage, or even murder, their competitors while warlocks bargain with extra-planar beings for the knowledge to excel. For these characters, you can draw inspiration from the faculty of the Unseen University, as they’re portrayed in the earlier Discworld novels.
Ranger and Druid
These two classes are the trickiest to fit into a cloistered scholar background because they’d normally favor working in the wilds over nature. A ranger might fit as a disciple of botany or geology – studies that could rely heavily on field work in nature.
Rangers and Druids are a great fit for the hippie environmental activist archetype but it may be difficult to find an analog to those political issues for your D&D campaign. While D&D worlds often include an impending cataclysm, this often isn’t a slow-burning, human-created problem.
What To Consider When Creating a Backstory
Your Area of Study
One of the most important things to your character is likely to be whatever they’re studying.
This can be immensely broad or unnervingly specific. Your character could study “Natural Philosophy” – the generalized study of nature and the precursor to what we now call Science.
You could also be a researcher who specializes in studying one particular ancient text, which just happens to be very relevant to the campaign’s central plot.
Higher education, in most D&D worlds, isn’t available to most people. These institutions probably charge high tuition fees and require a level of past schooling that many people haven’t attained. It’s a good idea to consider, as a cloistered scholar, where that money came from.
Was your character the heir of a noble house, that sent you to school so you could become a better leader? If so, how did your family react when your studies finished and you decided to pursue teaching and research over returning home and learning to manage their lands?
Does your character come from a poorer background?
Perhaps your parents had to scrimp and save so you could afford schooling.
That might leave you with feelings of obligation, that you need to succeed for their sake and give them a better life.
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Rich is an avid D&D player and DM. He has been playing since the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 1st and 2nd editions. He has run campaigns of various editions with family and friends for over 20 years. Playing DnD 5th Edition in person at local game stores and online with VTT’s over the past 10 years has provided a consistent connection to how the game has grown. He strongly believes in understanding the source material, but catering the games to your individual players. Feel free to ask anything in the comments or drop him an email: [email protected].