Ok, three… two… one… Let’s jam.
Whether you grew up loving Cowboy BeBop, Star Wars, or Blade Runner, I think we can all agree that bounty hunters are freakin’ awesome.
If you want to bring your own rendition of Rick Deckard, Spike Spiegel, Jango Fett, Boba Fett, the Mandalorian, Dr. King Schultz, or any number of other fantastic bounty hunters to life in your next game of Dungeons & Dragons 5e, the Urban Bounty Hunter background is a great place to start.
Background: Urban Bounty Hunter
Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide (SCAG)
Skill Proficiencies: Choose two from among Deception, Insight, Persuasion, and Stealth
Tool Proficiencies: Choose two from among one type of gaming set, one musical instrument, and thieves’ tools
Equipment: A set of clothes appropriate to your duties and a pouch
Feature: Ear to the Ground
An Urban Bounty Hunters treads a careful (or not so careful) line between the law and the criminal underworld, and most successful bounty hunters have one foot firmly on either side of that line. Your profession brings you into frequent contact with the people who move in the same circles as the criminals you hunt.
Whenever you enter a new city, you can draw on your web of contacts for information about the people, places, and factions there. Your contact might be a member of an assassin’s guild, a rough-and-tumble street urchin, an ex-bounty hunter, a high society gadfly with a taste for the seedy side of life, or anyone else with their finger on the pulse who might owe you a favor.
When you pick the Urban Bounty Hunter background, either choose or randomly determine characteristics like your personality quirks, bonds, ideals, and flaws using the tables below.
While totally optional, these entries can help flesh out your character’s backstory and reasons for taking up the adventuring life.
The Urban Bounty Hunter uses the same Suggested Characteristics as the Criminal background, with the suggestion that you modify the results to suit your background. Because that’s honestly a bit lazy, SCAG, we’ve made the modifications for you – although you can read the originals here.
You should feel free to play with the results as much as you like, or just make up your own.
|1||I always have a plan for what to do when things go wrong.|
|2||I am always calm, no matter what the situation. I never raise my voice or let my emotions control me.|
|3||The first thing I do in a new place is look for at least two emergency exits in case things go south.|
|4||I don’t talk much. Why use words when we both know it’s only a matter of time before our weapons do the talking for us?|
|5||I am incredibly slow to trust. Those who seem the fairest often have the most to hide.|
|6||I don’t pay attention to the risks in a situation. Never tell me the odds.|
|7||The best way to get me to do something is to let me name my price.|
|8||I treat every hunt like a puzzle to crack or a way to test my skills.|
|1||Honor. I would never poach another hunter’s bounty. (Lawful)|
|2||Adventure. I got into this line of work to get into trouble and drink whiskey, and my glass is looking mighty empty. (Chaotic)|
|3||Justice. I hunt down bad people who do bad things before they can do any more harm. (Good)|
|4||Greed. I will do whatever it takes to become wealthy. (Evil)|
|5||People. I’m loyal to my friends, not to any ideals, and everyone else can take a trip down the Styx for all I care. (Neutral)|
|6||Redemption. There’s a spark of good in everyone. (Good)|
|1||I’m trying to pay off an old debt I owe to some very dangerous people.|
|2||Every bounty I bring in brings me closer to retirement and the quiet life.|
|3||My first ever bounty got away and people I loved got hurt because of it. Never again.|
|4||I’m sworn to protect someone or something that some very bad people are looking for.|
|5||I always get my mark.|
|6||I owe everything to the people who trained me.|
|1||If the wanted poster reads “DEAD OR ALIVE”, I always bring them in dead.|
|2||When faced with a choice between money and my friends, I usually choose the money.|
|3||If there’s a plan, I’ll forget it. If I don’t forget it, I’ll ignore it.|
|4||I don’t trust anyone enough to tell them the whole truth about anything I think is important.|
|5||I turn tail and run when things look bad.|
|6||I turned an innocent person in for the reward. I’m okay with that.|
Playing an Urban Bounty Hunter
Before becoming an adventurer, a lot of characters had very little to do with the adventuring life. But you’re no cloistered scholar, acolyte or hermit: your life was probably already exciting enough because you hunt people for money.
You’re not some backwater hick or savage outlander either; you plied your trade closer to home, in the back alley gambling dens, dive bars, catacombs, and cocktail galas of your home town.
You cultivated your contacts on both sides of the law, perhaps working with other bounty hunters, as an independent contractor for the city watch, or as the long arm of a criminal syndicate. You’ve probably done all three. Every good bounty hunter knows its best to keep their options open.
Your prey might be cunning pickpockets and thieves, whom you regularly chase across the rooftops in the dead of night. You might hunt murderers and outlaw sorcerers, or simply overfed merchants who racked up too many debts.
Perhaps you move in different circles altogether, providing security for the great and good, prowling through champagne galas and the corridors of power on the hunt for thieves and assassins.
Not only are bounty hunters one of the most indisputably cool archetypes in all of fiction, but the profession lends itself almost perfectly to a character in D&D. Diving into the seedy underbellies of cities to chase down leads, look for clues, and stare moodily into the evening rain can be a lot of fun.
There’s already plenty of overlap between being a bounty hunter and a low level adventurer. You live a life half in the shadows, tracking and fighting nasty people that the city guard can’t deal with, and probably breaking your share of local laws along the way.
The only drawback of this class is that it really shines in city-based campaigns, or if your adventures take place in more cosmopolitan reaches of the world. An Urban Bounty Hunter in the frozen wastes or deep, scorching desert probably isn’t going to be much use to anyone.
Still, there’s plenty of flexibility as to where you ply your trade – whether in a sprawling, bustling metropolis, or some backwater version of fantasy Tijuana.
Running a Bounty Hunting Game
Also, if you choose an Urban Bounty Hunter character, I can guarantee that your dungeon master will love you for it.
There are very few backgrounds that have a quest-giving mechanic so readily baked in, and your DM will definitely love being able to hand you a stack of wanted posters for you to chase down in between bigger adventures.
Or, maybe the bounty hunting goes hand in hand with the adventure. Just look at the Mandalorian – easily the most “D&D-ish” show to air in recent years, with a core story loop that I regularly steal for adventures in my own games.
Basically, Mando and Grogu arrive somewhere new, have some kind of misadventure that means they need something from someone who says they’ll give it to them in exchange for a favor, which typically involves hunting some bounty or other.
Perfect fodder for a D&D 5e campaign, and having a bounty hunter in the party would make it really easy to keep this sort of campaign going.
Or, if you want to go down more of a Django Unchained route, tracking a single bounty across multiple different locations would also make for a fantastic low-level game.
So, saddle up, grab your fantasy equivalent of your six-shooter and hit the road. Those bounties aren’t going to catch themselves.
See you soon,
Space Fantasy Cowboy.