10
\$\begingroup\$

I feel like background features are a little more "final" than normal feats. Take for example the Outlander features Wanderer.

You have an excellent memory for maps and geography, and you can always recall the general layout of terrain, settlements, and other features around you. In addition, you can find food and fresh water for yourself and up to five other people each day, provided that the land offers berries, small game, water, and so forth.

I'm really confused as to what this means to gameplay. So if he can "always recall the layout of terrain", does that mean he can skip checks for getting lost? Can and should the DM just decide when and how this applies?

In my situation, I'm playing Out of the Abyss, and wondering if "and so forth" includes stuff in the Underdark. Which is nothing like the things listed. Does it apply anyway, letting him auto-succeed on foraging checks? Or does it like not apply at all.

I'm sure these situations come up a lot with background features. Because they're all so generally applicable and don't involve rolls. As a DM, how should I deal with these features when I feel they don't super apply, or maybe just don't want them to?

\$\endgroup\$
11
\$\begingroup\$

You as the DM always get to decide if the situation is applicable. The Wanderer feature says "general layout", which does not mean you can't possibly get lost. In most situations, I'll give a character with that feature advantage on checks for getting lost. Foraging likewise is conditional, depending on the foodstuffs available. The Underdark is very different to forage in than the forest. Again, I might give the Forager advantage, or might have him roll normally, but be able to feed 1 or 2 people more than his roll normally would. You could decide that his Foraging experience was completely different, and offers no help in the Underdark, if you wanted.

I generally try to find, or at least allow, ways for the characters' backgrounds to be useful and advantageous, because I think that adds to roleplaying and to interesting storymaking.

\$\endgroup\$
  • \$\begingroup\$ I'd very much caution against this as it screws with player agency heavily. The feature states you can recall, which explicitly details where you've already been or seen on a map. So even if you're injected into somewhere brand new, you can always backtrack accurately because you have that sense of direction (for example: like I do in real life). As for the foraging, so long as the land allows for the collection of edible food, the feature allows for that too. Going out of your way to intrude on something core to the character is likely to make them resentful of why they bothered taking it. \$\endgroup\$ – Lino Frank Ciaralli Mar 2 '18 at 5:29
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ I disagree. The background skills and features are background, not primary. The character's race and class are the main determinants of what they are capable of as adventurers. The backgrounds are mainly supplemental abilities and flavor. As I noted, I generally try to find, or at least allow, ways for the characters' backgrounds to be useful and advantageous, because I think that adds to roleplaying and to interesting storymaking, but it isn't critical to player agency. \$\endgroup\$ – Phil Boncer Mar 2 '18 at 5:51
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ My background as a technician is physics, electronic theory and troubleshooting to component level. They're background skills and features, not my primary job. However they're INCREDIBLY essential to doing my primary job well. I think the problem here is the assumption that a character's background is "just flavour" instead of the the reason for the character to be who he/she is. I build themed characters, background is key to my roleplay. It's very centric to my character and is a large part of that character's agency. \$\endgroup\$ – Lino Frank Ciaralli Mar 2 '18 at 5:55
  • \$\begingroup\$ Yay. If you think the answer should be different, write your own answer. You play your game, and I'll play mine. \$\endgroup\$ – Phil Boncer Mar 2 '18 at 7:39
10
\$\begingroup\$

As it is written, the definition is:

You have an excellent memory for maps and geography, and you can always recall the general layout of terrain, settlements, and other features around you. In addition, you can find food and fresh water for yourself and up to five other people each day, provided that the land offers berries, small game, water, and so forth.

We can see the use of the term memory in the definition. This implies that for the feature to be useful in terms of knowing your way around generally, you have to have been in the area before. Now, I don't know that much about the Underdark, as I've never played in a group that has gotten there, but I believe that, unless you are playing a drow or part of your backstory has you in the Underdark, that feature will not be handed for you until you are back to where you have been before.

\$\endgroup\$
  • \$\begingroup\$ Why did someone downvote my comment? \$\endgroup\$ – Peregrine Lennert Mar 2 '18 at 11:55

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.