Backgrounds - The Academic

Backgrounds - The Academic

I’m taking a small break from the equipment packs and starting a new series on character backgrounds. Backgrounds are not something that I gave much thought to when I started playing 5th edition. AD&D didn’t have a set of backgrounds or character histories, and many times your character came into existence with the opening campaign line “ So you are in a tavern….”. But the more I read about backgrounds and explored the possibilities, I’ve grown to appreciate what they can bring to a character and how it can influence the campaign, like when that horrible person from your past comes back to haunt you.

The Academic

The old saying is “Those who can’t do, teach.” but the academic is more than just a teacher. Part professor, part researcher, and part writer, the academic is unique as he has skills in multiple areas. Academics work in universities big and small, most of which are found in larger cities. Each academic specializes in one area, having studied for years to master that subject. They are required to teach a certain class load, all of which pertain to their area of expertise. When they are not teaching, the academic is expected to do research, write papers and have their books published. These books bring prestige to both the academic and the university, so there is a great deal of pressure to publish quality material as often as possible.

An academic can be played in a couple of ways. You could be a young professor that uses their research time to travel the land in search of knowledge, and by doing so get into all sorts of trouble. Maybe you are an older professor, tenured and without worry, but you long for some adventure in your life. You could be such great orator that your services are in demand and you travel the world doing guest lectures at other universities. The academic allows the player to pass along and use the knowledge of their area of expertise, but adventure and explore while doing their research. The options are endless.

So let’s take a look at the Academic and see what they can bring to the game.

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Area of Expertise

As an academic, you do not teach a subject that pertains to magic, as that would be a specialized field such as an arcane professor or teaching wizard. The areas you can choose from may seem mundane when compared to learning about the dark magic of a warlock, but trust me, they are not. The subjects you can excel in are listed below. You should not feel limited by this list. If you wish to be the foremost scholar in the subject of psychology, I say go for it.

  1. Nature - Druids got nothing on you. They call upon you to help them with the hard questions.

  2. Philosophy - Every world needs an Aristotle. Just remember not to ponder your mortality during battle.

  3. The Planes/Astronomy - You’ve heard Sigil is the place to be. Now if you could only get some time off to visit.

  4. Political Science - Nobles and Kings look to you for advice

  5. Religion - Your knowledge of the gods make clerics everywhere jealous.

  6. Linguistics - Misunderstandings due to poor translation between races have led to many a war. You make sure that every word means exactly what it should.

  7. Engineering/Technology - You can’t wait to check out the infernal machines you’ve heard so much about.

  8. Anthropology - Ever wonder how kobold societies work? These folks can tell you all about it.

Feature: Sharing Knowledge

Whether molding young minds or writing your latest book on the cultural impact the Sahuagin have with other underwater races, you do it in such a way that people can’t get enough. Your lecture halls are always packed, with students and faculty alike. Your books, no matter how dry the subject, fly off the bookshelves. Your knowledge of your favorite subject may be second to none, but it is the way that you present it that makes you celebrity in that field.

Personality Trait

Like all the backgrounds, some people’s personality is good and kind, while others are jerks.

  1. I know all there is to know about my subject - After all those years of studying and all the student debt you’ve racked up, I sure hope you know your stuff.

  2. Knowledge is the lifeblood of academia -You spend a lot of time in the library.

  3. I will take the time to answers my students' questions to the best of my ability - Your office hours always have a long line out the door.

  4. I will do whatever it takes to become the dean of the university - Ambition can be a dangerous thing.

  5. Research is what I love to do - You love your students, but your thirst for knowledge is insatiable.

  6. I am awkward in social situations - Even those department faculty mixers make your stomach hurt.

  7. Students have fresh ideas and I take the time to listen to them - Ah, the innocence of youth.

  8. Libraries are great, but they are no substitute for being out in the field - Fresh air, walking among the masses, and adventure are what you crave.


I feel like ideals are only good for your backstory and the very beginning of your campaign. As you go out into the world, I strongly believe your ideals will change as you experience things outside the classroom. Ideals should be more fluid, much like I feel alignment should be. Some people play their character based on their starting ideal the entire campaign, and while I may not play that way, you should always play your character the way you want.

  1. Control - Power can be a dangerous thing. Once you have it, you can manipulate people to do your bidding.

  2. Knowledge - It gets you respect amongst your peers and students.

  3. Discovery - Sometimes you find what you’re looking for, and even when you don’t, something good usually comes out of it.

  4. Search for Truth - There is no greater purpose than to speak the truth, honestly and sincerely.

  5. Logic - Mr. Spock is your idol.

  6. Influence - You make the ladies swoon when you talk about the Nine Hells.


  1. It is my responsibility to teach my students all I can -I can’t keep all this to myself, I must share it!

  2. Research and writing are my way to become immortal - Either that or become a lich.

  3. I will do whatever it takes to find the lost book of secrets - And then I will have ultimate power.

  4. I am loyal to my university no matter what - They do pay my salary after all.

  5. I care not where my research takes me, no matter the cost - That’s why I travel with my friend, Buzz the Barbarian.

  6. Real-life experience is what I want to give my students - The classroom is great, but they should get out there and experience life.


I love flaws. Sometimes we forget that our characters are ‘actual’ people, and people aren’t perfect. Everyone has seen that one person’s background that is 3 pages long, single-spaced, and they are the master of the universe even though they are 1st level. Flaws are great to role-play and can lead to some hilarious encounters.

  1. My curiosity can sometimes lead me into dangerous situations - Remember my friend Buzz?

  2. I've never been outside the university in my adult life - It’s scary out in the real world.

  3. Sometimes I get so lost in my research I forget where I am - That’s why I have a note pinned to me with my address on it.

  4. I am susceptible to the charms of my younger students - Sexual misconduct is wrong and will get you in real trouble.

  5. I lack in social graces and often insult people without meaning to - Foot meet mouth. You’re going to spend a lot of time here.

  6. My expertise in my field sometimes comes off as arrogant - I try not to be a pompous dick, but some people are just so slow.

So there you have it, the Academic background. We tend to think of people in the academia as boring, but there is no reason they have to be. Great movies like Indiana Jones (except for the 4th movie…ugh), the DaVinci Code, and National Treasure have shown us that even those who spend time in the classroom and library can be swashbuckling heroes.

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Cover Art Credit: Professor - Larry Wilson

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