Sage Background in DnD 5e: Use Your Research Feature!

Backgrounds in Dungeons and Dragons Fifth Edition are a critical part of character building. They not only provide roleplay and writing opportunities, but they also give your character additional mechanical advantages.

The Sage background is popular amongst new players for its general usefulness, but veteran players can find great uses for the Sage’s background feature. Here’s your quick guide to the Sage background.

Skill Proficiencies: Arcana, History

Languages: Two of your choice

Equipment: A bottle of black ink, a quill, a small knife, a letter from a dead colleague posing a question you have not yet been able to answer, a set of common clothes, and a pouch containing 10 gp

Characteristics: Sages have spent years studying the intricacies of the multiverse. You have poured over scrolls and scripts learning everything you can about the world’s lore and other worlds beyond your own.

Their knowledge influences their ideals, bonds, and flaws. Players can make their own ideals, bonds, and flaws, select from the tables below, or roll to determine what they choose from the tables.

Die ValuePersonality Traits
1I use polysyllabic words that convey the impression of great erudition. 
2I’ve read every book in the world’s greatest libraries—or I like to boast that I have. 
3I’m used to helping out those who aren’t as smart as I am, and I patiently explain anything and everything to others. 
4There’s nothing I like more than a good mystery. 
5I’m willing to listen to every side of an argument before I make my own judgment. 
6I … speak … slowly … when talking … to idiots, … which … almost … everyone … is … compared … to me. 
7I am horribly, horribly awkward in social situations. 
8I’m convinced that people are always trying to steal my secrets. 
Die ValueIdeal
1Knowledge. The path to power and self-improvement is through knowledge. (Neutral)
2Beauty. What is beautiful points us beyond itself toward what is true. (Good) 
3Logic. Emotions must not cloud our logical thinking. (Lawful) 
4No Limits. Nothing should fetter the infinite possibility inherent in all existence. (Chaotic) 
5Power. Knowledge is the path to power and domination. (Evil) 
6Self-Improvement. The goal of a life of study is the betterment of oneself. (Any) 
Die ValueBond
1It is my duty to protect my students. 
2I have an ancient text that holds terrible secrets that must not fall into the wrong hands. 
3I work to preserve a library, university, scriptorium, or monastery. 
4My life’s work is a series of tomes related to a specific field of lore. 
5I’ve been searching my whole life for the answer to a certain question. 
6I sold my soul for knowledge. I hope to do great deeds and win it back. 
Die ValueFlaw
1I am easily distracted by the promise of information. 
2Most people scream and run when they see a demon. I stop and take notes on its anatomy. 
3Unlocking an ancient mystery is worth the price of a civilization. 
4I overlook obvious solutions in favor of complicated ones. 
5I speak without really thinking through my words, invariably insulting others. 
6I can’t keep a secret to save my life, or anyone else’s. 

Specialty: Sages undergo formal training in academic training that aids them in their pursuits of academia. Players can choose one of the disciplines from the table below, make up their own, or roll to choose from the table.

Die ValueSpecialty
1Alchemist
2Astronomer
3Discredited academic
4Librarian
5Professor
6Researcher
7Wizard’s apprentice
8Scribe

Feature: Researcher

Sages don’t just have intimate knowledge of the multiverse; they also know where to find a more intimate understanding of the multiverse.

When attempting to recall information about the secrets of the multiverse, if a Sage doesn’t immediately know the information, they usually know where they can find it.

The information that Sages know of may not be easy to find. The secrets of the multiverse are not found in most common libraries and may require an adventure — even an entire campaign — to obtain.

Dungeon Masters will need to determine the relative value of the information the Sage is seeking and use that to create a unique path to the information.

How to Play a Sage

Sages are wise beyond their years, but that doesn’t mean they’re all boring book nerds. They’ve chosen to leave the comfort and safety of their research institute, so you have plenty of room for your Sage to have a bit more of a wild personality than the classic nerd with coke-bottle glasses.

Players who want to play a Sage will want to remember that their character is, first and foremost, some type of researcher. They’re interested in knowledge; that’s how they became sage in the first place!

Sages will seek any and all knowledge that they can get their hands on. If the Sage doesn’t already know about it, you bet they want to! They’re learned folks who might come across as haughty or arrogant to those they don’t know. A Sage is aware of their position in the world and thinks very highly of their academic prowess.

Additionally, Sages tend to value academia over all other disciplines of study. A particularly arrogant Sage may look down upon their own party members who are of martial disciplines. They may run afoul of those who they see as lesser than themselves, which for some Sages is… everyone.

Sages will generally make their first stop in every new location in a library or other academic institution. Should one not exist, they’ll likely seek out a town elder or other learned person from whom they can learn the land’s secrets directly.

They take the idea that “knowledge is power” very seriously and seek to better themselves endlessly through the pursuit of knowledge.

A Sage will likely carry around some manner of note-keeping and have a great wealth of information that they have personally written down and organized. While they’ll likely keep the crux of their collection back in their hometown, they’ll also probably collect a significant amount of information during their travels as well.

A Sage may find themselves overburdened by the fruits of the travels. Notebooks aren’t exactly lightweight, and when you’re looking to gain any and all knowledge, there’s a lot of space you will need to set aside for your scholarly pursuits. Not to mention ink, pens, and other scholarly accouterments. 

They may also bump heads with their party members when their pursuit of knowledge leads them astray from the rest of the party. The Sage may want to stop and study the local flora and fauna while the rest wishes to get all of this the heck over with.

Sages are blessed with incredible book-smarts, often at the expense of their people and world-smarts. So, they may be awkward when faced with a situation where they need to interact with their party personably.

How to Use Researcher

The Sage’s Researcher feature is one of the best ways to jump-start a campaign or find a plot hook where there is none. Sages have an increased ability to recall information since they gain proficiency in Arcana and History. 

What information they are unable to recall, they can still remember where to find it. This feature allows Sage players to lead the party to a destination on the promise of information about their pursuits.

It also enables the Sage to create plot hooks out of thin air when the party runs out of ideas or fails their investigation checks, leaving them unable to find their way to the next plot hook.

What Classes are Best Used with Sage?

Sage will see the most immediate uses on Wizards and Artificers. Wizard and Artificer are both Intelligence classes that synergize perfectly with the Sage’s extra proficiencies.

The Sage also synergizes well with roleplay features for both Wizards and Artificers. Both classes heavily emphasize academia and will get a lot of use out of Sage’s Researcher feature.

Sage may also see good roleplay opportunities with the Druid and Cleric classes. Additionally, the College of Lore Bards may see extra mechanical options when combining their class features with the Sage’s Research feature. However, these classes aren’t as optimal for the additional proficiencies since Intelligence is a stat they won’t be dipping Ability Score Increases into.

Sage (NPC)

Medium Humanoid (Any Race), Any Alignment  

Armour Class: 10

Hit Points: 22

Speed: 30 ft

STRENGTHDEXTERITYCONSTITUTIONINTELLIGENCEWISDOMCHARISMA
81010181511

Saving Throws: INT +8, WIS +6

Skills: Arcana +8, History +8, Insight +4, Investigation +8, Medicine +6, Nature +8, Religion +8

Condition Immunities: None

Senses: Passive Perception 12

Languages: Common plus any four languages 

Proficiency: +2

Challenge: ½ (100 XP)

Final Thoughts

There’s no one best way to play a character, and every character will be different when played by other people. While we’ve outlined the best mechanical options you can take with the Sage background; there’s no harm in taking it even if the mechanics don’t necessarily line up with the optimal builds.

As always, the essential part of any game is that you’re having fun. Ensure that your build is what works best for you as a player. Dungeon Masters should encourage their players to make unconventional choices if it would improve the player experience.

Good luck, have fun, and happy questing!