downton and dragons: backgrounds

August 16th, 2012 by paul

Last weekend, I ran a D&D game for a big group: nine players plus myself. As it happened, an oddly large percentage of the players were in graduate school, so I took the only course open to me: I classed it up.

I haven't seen a lot of Downton Abbey, but I've seen enough to know the basic premise. There's an Earl. His closest heirs are drowned on the Titanic. Now they're stuck with some distant, middle-class relative as the next in line to the estate! Hijinx ensue.

It seems like a pretty good setup for a D&D adventure. Except that D&D characters have some options not open to the characters in the show: they can GO DOWN TO THE TITANIC, fight the zombified remains of John Astor and the other upper-crust disaster victims, and, in one way or another, set things right.

Not only was this adventure a TV show homage, it was a Fifth Edition playtest. I made a few tweaks to match the 1912-England-plus-elves-and-magic setting. Maybe next week I'll publish the adventure: today, here are the custom backgrounds I made available to the player characters. Note that they're generally more powerful than the 5e playtest backgrounds: I like to go gonzo for one-shots.

Dependent Noble

You're of good birth, but you're not in line for a fortune. You might be dependent on relatives, or the possibility of a good marriage. Your charms are your greatest asset.

You start the game with the following equipment:
1 set of noble clothing
10 GP
popular novel

You start the game with your choice of one of the following irons in the fire:
1) A rich suitor or admirer
2) a secret career as an artist, nurse, revolutionary, or other low trade
3) a disgraceful engagement with someone entirely unsuitable
4) knowledge of a secret which you could use for blackmail

You also start the game with 1 family heirloom. Roll on the following chart:
1-2: +1 weapon or magic staff of your choice.
3-4: +1 armor, shield, or ceremonial robes of your choice.
5: Your heirloom necklace is decorated with 1d4 resurrection stones.
6: Devoted valet or lady's maid (AC 15, attack +5, damage 1d6+3, 20 HP) whose expertise gives you +1 on all charisma checks.
7: Roll again on this chart using a d6. The item you roll up comes with a curse.
8: Your choice of item.

You have the following skills:
Diplomacy
Bluff
Society Lore

Finally, come up with one friend, enemy, or other associate with whom you have an important relationship (it may or may not be another player):

Click here to read the rest of the backgrounds!

You can cut each page into strips and let people grab whichever background suits them. Note: There are some duplicates here. For instance, there are several copies of "loyal servant" background, but only one "tycoon." First come, first served.

Next: The adventure!

6 Responses to “downton and dragons: backgrounds”

  1. katre says:

    I don’t know Downton Abbey but this sounds like a great set of backgrounds for a Regency Romance D&D game.

  2. Steven Jarvis says:

    Spectacular! I’d say you have a pretty good handle on Downton Abbey! I totally want to play this game. I bet my wife would even want to join in, and she’s never had any desire in 21 years of being around me and my nerdy friends.

  3. kaloo says:

    I like these backgrounds. Seems like a potentially quite good game. How did it go?

  4. Michael (Gronan) Mornard says:

    * applause *

  5. Brian says:

    This is spectacular.

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