Last Updated on January 22, 2023
Backgrounds are an important piece of character building in 5e, even if they sometimes feel like they get lost in the, well, the background.
Aside from the skills, proficiencies, and features that we’re all excited to add, there are plenty of roleplay hooks a background offers that can make your life as a player so much easier.
With that, let’s jump into the Outlander background and talk about what it means to live in the wilderness.
Skill Proficiencies: Athletics, Survival
Tool Proficiencies: One type of musical instrument
Languages: One of your choice
Equipment: A staff, a hunting trap, a trophy from an animal you killed, a set of traveler’s clothes, and a pouch containing 10 gp
Origin: There’s a reason why you travel the outlands. The PHB gives us ten options but you’re free to choose what best fits your character or roll a d10 on the table below.
Characteristics: The PHB presents us with a variety of options for personality traits, ideals, flaws, and bonds that we can use to roleplay our character. Choose some of the options presented or roll on the tables below.
Feature: Wanderer: You can always recall the general layout and terrain of places you’ve been. You also can forage food and water for up to six people each day anywhere that foraging can be done.
What is an Outlander?
Well, it’s not just a drama on Starz. Outlanders are people that have spent enough time in the wilds to become adapted to life beyond the edges of civilization.
Some backgrounds give us professions or very specific heritages, but this background just outlines a general lifestyle that your character has grown accustomed to.
How does the Outlander differ from the hermit or far traveler?
If the only real basis is that these characters have spent time away from society, what makes them any different from each other? If you can’t easily distinguish these three, you’re not alone.
The big difference is in how they’ve separated themselves from society.
Hermits could go anywhere, so long as it’s in solitude, while far travelers aren’t necessarily removed from society, but rather removed from the society we deal with in this game.
Hermits tend to be pretty introverted and eccentric characters and far travelers just come chock-full of idiosyncrasies from a different culture.
Outlanders are in fact, much different than the two of these other backgrounds.
One of the first things the PHB says about outlanders is that they grew up in the wild. I personally look at this as having the option to go metaphorical or literal. Either way, your time in the wilds have shaped who you are as a person.
That brings us to the origins, something that not all backgrounds get to choose. I think of origins like subclasses for backgrounds. They’re a further level of specification that doesn’t actually have any mechanical impact, but can give you a lot of basis on how to roleplay your character.
Here is the table the PHB gives you to assist in choosing your origin:
|Exile or outcast
There’s a huge range of characters represented here. You’ve got everything from Boba Fett to Tarzan wrapped up in these origins. I want to briefly explain what each of these are in case any of these terms are confusing to anyone.
I know I certainly got tripped up by a few.
- Forester – While today the first thing that comes to mind is probably a Subaru, foresters used to be like sheriffs that resided in the woodlands to catch outlaws, poachers, and other various criminal sorts that would try to hide beyond the grips of society.
- Trapper – Someone that hunts creatures, picture the more folk-hero side of Davy Crockett.
- Homesteader – These are people who either live in a family or small community that is completely self sustained and cut-off from any sort of trade-route. Likely these people left larger societies in favor of more natural living.
- Guide – Pretty self explanatory, someone that guides people through the wilderness. Sacagawea is probably the most famous guide I know.
- Exile / Outcast – Just what it says. You could easily be in this category and another, that’s up to you.
- Bounty Hunter – Hunts down criminals on behalf of or in place of a forester. This sort of bounty hunter has a different set of skills than a city bounty hunter would, but fits the same archetype.
- Pilgrim – Travelers in search of a new home.
- Tribal Nomad – Likely to have never lived in a city or village, tribal nomads move often, typically following their food to the next temporary home. Goliaths typically live in a nomadic tribe.
- Hunter-gatherer – Hunter-gatherers can be any sort of person that sustains off the land. As opposed to homesteaders, these outlanders likely don’t have any sort of experience with modern societies.
- Tribal Marauder – As opposed to nomads, marauders travel with the express purpose of raiding and pillaging villages in their paths. This is the common depiction of your more barbaric orc tribe.
Your outlander doesn’t have to be limited to any of these smaller archetypes if you don’t want them to be, but there’s a lot of potential within each of these that should give you an idea how to make your character’s origin unique.
Sure, as long as they’ve spent enough time in the woods you’re good, but ask yourself a few questions. How did they survive? What was their purpose? Did they come from a city or were they raised in the wilds?
Also, technically speaking, this doesn’t have to actually have anything to do with “the woods.” I just say that because it’s the most common place for your outlander to have lived. In reality, anywhere that isn’t a city or village is good enough.
Islands, mountain tops, the Underdark, anywhere that your character would have to face the elements and fend for themselves is enough to make them a true Outlander.
If you have a 5e character sheet, you’ve probably noticed four sections along the right of the first page. Those spots designed for personality traits, ideals, flaws, and bonds are meant to give you a basis of how to play your character.
This is a huge part of the roleplaying experience that lets you really leave yourself behind and jump into the game of D&D.
For outlanders, those characteristics are forged by their time surviving in the wilderness.
Was your character hardened by the elements, or did they gain peace living alongside nature?
These are the questions to start asking yourself as you pick from the following tables. Of course, you can always roll and immerse yourself in a character chosen for you by fate itself.
Personality traits are things that make your character unique. For an outlander, these are related to why they ended up in the wilds, or possibly something they gained from living in the wilds for so long.
|I’m driven by a wanderlust that led me away from home.
|I watch over my friends as if they were a litter of newborn pups.
|I once ran twenty-five miles without stopping to warn my clan of an approaching orc horde. I’d do it again if I had to.
|I have a lesson for every situation, drawn from observing nature.
|I place no stock in wealthy or well-mannered folk. Money and manners won’t save you from a hungry owlbear.
|I’m always picking things up, absently fiddling with them, and sometimes accidentally breaking them.
|I feel far more comfortable around animals than people.
|I was, in fact, raised by wolves.
Ideals are the principles a character holds in the utmost importance. It represents how they think the world works, and for a character that’s spent so much time in the wild, that can be a very interesting thing to explore.
|Change. Life is like the seasons, in constant change, and we must change with it. (Chaotic)
|Greater Good. It is each person’s responsibility to make the most happiness for the whole tribe. (Good)
|Honor. If I dishonor myself, I dishonor my whole clan. (Lawful)
|Might. The strongest are meant to rule. (Evil)
|Nature. The natural world is more important than all the constructs of civilization. (Neutral)
|Glory. I must earn glory in battle, for myself and my clan. (Any)
These are the connections a character has that ties it to the world around them. For a lot of characters, this is the drive that keeps them going. Think of this like how you were taught nouns; it’s all about people, places, and things.
In this case, it’s the people, places, and things that either drove you from the wilds or keep you attached to it in some way.
|My family, clan, or tribe is the most important thing in my life, even when they are far from me.
|An injury to the unspoiled wilderness of my home is an injury to me.
|I will bring terrible wrath down on the evildoers who destroyed my homeland.
|I am the last of my tribe, and it is up to me to ensure their names enter legend.
|I suffer awful visions of a coming disaster and will do anything to prevent it.
|It is my duty to provide children to sustain my tribe.
Noone is perfect, and every character should have a flaw. I find it hilarious that the first one just makes you an alcoholic as if that’s a flaw specific to the wild outlands.
That being said, explore what possibly harsher side-effects the wilderness might have had on your personality.
|I am too enamored of ale, wine, and other intoxicants.
|There’s no room for caution in a life lived to the fullest.
|I remember every insult I’ve received and nurse a silent resentment toward anyone who’s ever wronged me.
|I am slow to trust members of other races, tribes, and societies.
|Violence is my answer to almost any challenge.
|Don’t expect me to save those who can’t save themselves. It is nature’s way that the strong thrive and the weak perish.
Playing an Outlander
Roleplay is a huge part of a background. In fact, it’s most of what makes a background important. There are other pieces to it too though, the feature and various proficiencies you pick up from being an outlander can be very useful.
The question is, who are they useful for?
The PHB lets us know exactly who should be an outlander. In fact, this background is suggested for both barbarians and rangers. Considering there are more backgrounds than classes in the PHB, that’s pretty impressive.
The skills offered are both part of the options for these classes, and perfect for a character that wants to explore any sort of wilderness. Athletics lets you climb, swim, jump, and all around maneuver things you’ll come across with much more ease.
Survival gets a bit more specific, allowing you to track, predict the weather, and do any number of things that someone adapted to wild living should be able to do.
Then there’s that beautiful feature that lets you forage for food and water. Small things like this help with immersion so much while making sure that you’re not dying of starvation every time your group heads beyond the city limits.
A lot of the time our characters won’t experience the comfort of a warm hearth. When it comes to situations that take us outside of that comfort zone, every party will want an outlander at their side.
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As a kid, I was often told to get my head out of the clouds and to stop living in a fantasy world. That never really jived with me, so I decided to make a living out of games, stories, and all sorts of fantastical works. Now, as an adult, I aspire to remind people that sometimes a little bit of fantasy is all you need when life gets to be too much.