Leaf and Land
"Drownded?" said several voices. They had heard this and other darker rumors before, of course, but hobbits have a passion for family history and they were eager to hear it again.
Your character’s class determines how they answer the call to adventure; your culture determines where you come from. Your background, though, is the real beginning of your story, determining where you find the courage to fight against the Shadow – or why you might succumb to despair.
Each background has the following entries:
Each background grants two bonus skill proficiencies.
A special ability or gift stemming from your background.
As the name implies, these are suggestions for each background. You can either pick the ones that most appeal to you, let a random roll inspire you, mix-and-match characteristics from several backgrounds, or even come up with your own Distinctive Qualities, Specialities , reasons to Hope and sources of Despair. If you do leave the path set out for you, though, remember to consult with your Loremaster to ensure that any Characteristics you create are suitable for both Middle-earth and the game.
Distinctive qualities define a Player-hero’s personality traits and physical peculiarities, whether inborn or developed during their upbringing. Highlighting one’s most distinctive quality is generally worth the awarding of Inspiration.
It’s worth noting that any distinctive quality can be found amongst members of any background; those listed in each background description are merely those most commonly associated with those backgrounds. You are free to select any distinctive quality for your character regardless of what background you belong.
Specialities represent the knacks, insights, and ‘craft secrets’ that are handed down to a character over the years. Like tool proficiencies, a speciality represents a body of knowledge that the Player-hero may occasionally call upon throughout the course of his adventures. As with distinctive features, you may take a speciality not offered on your particular background table; those listed are simply those most commonly found amongst Player-heroes of that background.
If you use a speciality in a creative way you are awarded with Inspiration. Generally, use of a speciality doesn’t require an ability check; it is after all your opportunity to shine with experiences from their past.
However, specialities shouldn’t automatically succeed if another ability check would normally be necessary. In such cases, you still need to succeed at an ability check, but you are considered to be proficient for the purposes of that check. If you are already proficient in the skill being used, then you gain advantage.
For example, the company are pursuing a fleeing Orc and a Hobbit Wanderer invokes her Gardener speciality to look for crushed plants to track his progress.
The Loremaster gives her inspiration and allows her to make a Wisdom (Survival) check with her proficiency bonus. If the character is already proficient in the Survival skill, then she gains advantage instead.
While all Player-heroes have hope, each has a particular trait that bolsters them more than others. This could be a particular bond with someone, an act of friendship, an inspiring event, or simply something that the Player-hero believes in that drives them forward when everything seems lost. Using one’s hope trait to strengthen them grants Inspiration.
If Hope drives Player-heroes to do great things, then despair is what tears them down. Despair creeps in whenever a Player-hero feels vulnerable, often when isolated or when the forces of Shadow just seem too overwhelming.
It’s also worth noting that Player-heroes could have a hope trait and a despair trait that seemingly contradict each other – it’s simply part of an internal conflict. Falling victim to despair grants Inspiration.
"I can't carry it for you, but I can carry you and it as well. So up you get! Come on, Mr. Frodo dear. Sam will give you a ride. Just tell him where to go, and he'll go."
You have dedicated your life to the service of another. You might be a member of a retinue of followers, or a knight in the king’s house, or just a humble gardener in the employ of a gentle-hobbit. You always put your master’s needs above your own, even when your master ignores or overlooks yours.
Skill Proficiencies: Insight, Traditions
You are always close at hand when your master is concerned, though your presence is often ignored. Unless the Loremaster rules otherwise, you are always considered to be nearby your master, even in situations where you would not normally be expected to be.
For example, if your master is summoned to a secret council, you are assumed to tag along and eavesdrop. If your master tries to sneak off alone, you are assumed to have followed after him like a loyal hound.
Loyal servants usually keep quiet and are overlooked, but when they speak up, it’s often with great insight or surprising knowledge. While they never expect to be heroes or receive accolades for their actions, the disregarded tend to do the right thing anyway, simply because it’s right. As for the rest…well, it’s just their lot in life.
Doomed to Die
"So it ends as I guessed it would", his thought said, even as it fluttered away, and it laughed a little within him as it fled.
Things are not going to end well for you. You’ve known this for most of your life, although you don’t quite understand why. It may just be a gut feeling or perhaps you took some prophetic dream to heart and assume that you’re going to be denied a happy ending in life. You just soldier on as best you can before the inevitable happens, hoping that your actions will at least make you worth remembering in the songs and tales now being written.
Skill Proficiencies: Athletics, Intimidation
Feature: Dark Foreboding
While they know not the hour or manner of their death, those Doomed to Die often have a sixth sense of sorts when in the presence of Shadow. They may not know exactly what is behind this feeling, but they can sense its presence grow stronger or weaker. The Doomed to Die can usually tell, for example, whether an Orc band is an isolated raiding party or part of a larger force being driven by something more sinister, or whether a nearby ruin is steeped in Shadow.
Those Doomed to Die seem to have a grim acceptance of their fates. While they tend to make the best of things while they can, there’s always a hint of sadness behind their smiles and a dullness in their eyes.
While not necessarily pessimistic, the Doomed to Die often doubt whether they’ll live to see any plan through to completion, as they know that they are fated to die. They do, however, plan to make their mark a spectacular one, making the Doomed to Die one of the strongest and most prepared members of their companies.
Driven From Home
"They seem to have made a last stand by both doors," he said, "but there were not many left by that time.
So ended the attempt to retake Moria! It was valiant but foolish. The time is not come yet."
You have no place to call home. This may be because it no longer exists, your people cast you out for some real or imagined reason, or you have done something that would prove troublesome should you ever return. For whatever reason, those who you meet know that you are no longer welcome home even if they do not know the full details. You know that you are on your own as others are intimidated by you and prefer to keep you at arm’s reach, placating you only for as long as they must tolerate your presence.
Skill Proficiencies: Intimidation, Survival
Those who know of your past speak in half-hushed whispers of what drove you from your home. For some this is reason enough to give you a wide berth, for others it hints at a person desperate enough to take any job, no matter how menial or lowly. You can always find some sort of upkeep, at least enough to match your Standard of Living, whenever you are in a settlement of some sort.
Those Driven from Home are often seen as lone wolves who trust no one and who can’t be trusted themselves. This is not necessarily the case as many of those Driven from Home find camaraderie amongst fellow travellers, whether their travels are imposed or voluntary. When trust is earned, the Driven from Home are often among the most loyal and dedicated members of a company.
Emissary of Your People
"Give me leave," said he, "first to say more of Gondor, for verily from the land of Gondor I am come. And it would be well for all to know what passes there.
For few, I deem, know of our deeds, and therefore guess little of their peril, if we should fail at last."
The Free People of the West are beginning to again make connections with each other. Trade is improving, alliances are forming and folk who have had nothing to do with each other for centuries are finding reasons to communicate. You have been sent by your people to go out and meet other cultures, see strange lands and report back on what is out there in the grand world. The Shadow is lifting, and not just in Wilderland, and you are a beacon of hope for a new age.
Skill Proficiencies: Persuasion, Traditions
Feature: Sigil of Your Master
As an emissary you are entitled to a certain consideration amongst foreign peoples. While you cannot speak with the authority of your lord and master, you do receive some official respect. You can expect to pass through the lands of other Free Peoples unmolested, be able to call upon other kings and chieftains for lodging, and be received into the halls of power.
Emissaries are usually friendly negotiators; it is a rare Emissary that is dour and standoffish – such Emissaries were generally chosen for reasons other than their people skills. Emissaries are adaptable and accepting of foreign ways and understand that practicality and alliances must sometimes take precedence over tradition and old grievances. Unfortunately, an Emissary’s accommodating nature also makes them difficult to trust as many fear that deception often hides behind a toothy smile.
"The King under the Mountain is dead, and where are his kin that dare seek revenge? Girion Lord of Dale is dead, and I have
eaten his people like a wolf among sheep, and where are his sons' sons that dare approach me?"
You are the last of a powerful bloodline, or at least that’s what your parents and those closest to them keep telling you. Your aristocratic line was highly influential, perhaps even royal, before some calamity befell them. Perhaps the lands they once ruled were overrun or a coup drove them from power. Perhaps it’s as simple as your forebears disappearing while travelling through treacherous terrain. Whatever the case, you have a powerful destiny ahead of you should you choose to seize it.
Skill Proficiencies: History, Traditions
Feature: Noble Bearing
Your family’s wealth, power and holdings may be gone, but your title remains. In social gatherings you are still a lord amongst lords and you are treated accordingly as such. You may call upon the rights of hospitality in any noble home and your words and advice often carry great weight; you aren’t easily dismissed. You are also expected to live up to your expectations and obligations, whatever they may be, and several nobles curry favor from you in the hopes that you reward them when your power is restored.
Fallen Scions tend to be aristocratic no matter what their current situation. They often ‘hold court’ amongst their friends and they do their best to act honorably, as they understand both the noble and common worlds. This makes them great diplomats and negotiators and they are often called upon to lead armies into battle.
Optional Lost Scion: Black Shield
Not all Fallen Scions wish to draw attention to themselves; some prefer to remain in the darkness. Such individuals often create alternate identities for themselves, pretending to be roving rangers or wandering merchants rather than a fallen noble.
Such characters take the Deception proficiency in place of History or Traditions (you may select which) and only reveal their true nature to local lords when safely behind closed doors.
"For on the eve of the sudden assault a dream came to my brother in a troubled sleep, and afterwards a like dream came oft to him again, and once to me."
You are plagued by a persistent dream. It beckons you to complete some task, although you are currently unsure of its particulars and whether fulfilling the dream will lead to good or ill. All that you do know is that the dream is strong and its intensity increases whenever you neglect its demands of you. It is simply impossible for you to get a good night’s sleep otherwise.
Skill Proficiencies: Lore, Investigation
Your dream often grants you riddles, verses and visions that not only directly aid you on your quest but also tangentially give you an insight into people and places that may only be peripherally related to your dream. Whenever you enter a new community or meet a person of note, you may have a flash of insight about their relationship to your dream.
For example, if you are meeting a lord for the first time you may recall that a dream-verse indicates that he acts honorably, which likely means that you can trust him. Similarly, you may walk into a community with a vision of their friendly faces turning to abandonment and even betrayal when they stand with others in the face of Shadow.
Be forewarned, however, that such knowledge may be incomplete. The lord may have acted honorably over guilt about his past duplicity, and the community may only have broken and run due to the influence of the agents of Shadow.
The Harrowed carry the burden – or curse – of knowing what lies ahead without completely understanding it or even their own role in bringing it about. They are driven by their dream to recognize the omens and see the prophecy through no matter what effect it has on them or their company. Many Harrowed find comfort in games of chance, as their inherent unpredictability is soothing to them.
Optional Harrowed: Storyteller
Not all Harrowed are forlorn; some revel in their enigmatic knowledge and are eager to share it with others in the hopes that it attracts those with even better knowledge of the events of which the Harrowed dreams. These story-tellers hide behind cheerful façades and merriment, claiming to live for today without worrying about tomorrow.
If you chose this option, you gain a a musical instrument of your choice. You may also replace your Investigation skill proficiency with Performance.
Hunted by the Shadow
"I do not know for what reason the Enemy is pursuing you," answered Gildor, "but I perceive he is – strange though that seems to me.
And I warn you that peril is now both before you and behind you, and upon either side."
You or your family have struck a blow against the Shadow and it hit back hard. The Shadow’s agents are tracking you everywhere, making it dangerous for you to stay in one place for too long. If that wasn’t enough, your reputation precedes you and your mere presence is disturbing and troubling to local notables. Most will still extend you the common courtesies due your station, but you are often encouraged to move quickly onward before the Shadow finds you.
Skill Proficiencies: Stealth, Survival
Feature: Troubling to the Wise
You or your family’s deeds are well-known amongst the notables of Middle-earth and you have come to know many lords, Elves and even Wizards. Some of these you count as friends and others are merely names you can mention to be accorded food and shelter for the night.
Even your friends know that trouble follows you and they will do everything they can to help you on your way while keeping you as safe as possible. This means that you often have knowledge of the lesser-known hiding places and catacombs in the castles and cities that you visit.
Those Hunted by the Shadow tend to have thick skins, for they understand that the worried looks and desires for them to move on isn’t personal. The Hunted tend to keep themselves disguised while travelling, drawing little attention to themselves so as not to alert the agents of the Shadow. This sometimes means that they must turn to thievery to survive, reasoning that it’s safer for their victims to lose items of value than be associated with aiding them.
Lure of the Road
"I want to see the wild country again before I die, and the mountains."
You are a rover; the road calls to you and you must answer. Sometimes, rare years, you return home to friends and family, but it does not take long before you start longing for the next adventure, to explore a new land, or meet unusual people.
You aren’t limited to roads or the towns that dot them. No, you’d just as happily camp within a cave in the Misty Mountains or make a lonely camp in a deep wood than settle down in a roadside inn for the evening. Not even the Shadow will deter you from traversing every nook and cranny in this part of the world, no matter how dark and dangerous.
Skill Proficiencies: Animal Handling, Survival
As a seasoned traveller you have an uncanny ability to predict the weather; you can ‘smell’ rain or snow earlier than others or sense when a fog is about to roll in. You also know the best places to shelter from sudden storms and which areas to avoid. You have well-established habits and the ability to quickly forage what you need before settling in to wait out a storm. You also have a good grasp of creature habits in various types of weather conditions; you know where bears hibernate and where a Goblin band is likely to camp when a storm hits.
Those afflicted with the Lure of the Road, sometimes called rovers, tend to be adventuresome souls, always looking to explore a new land or return to an old haunt just to see what’s changed since they’ve last visited.
Rovers are self-reliant and used to travelling alone, although they do enjoy the company of other travellers. Rovers also enjoy collecting stories from far-off lands, motivating them to visit the places they mention.
"Not the fellow who used to tell such wonderful tales at parties, about dragons and goblins and giants and the rescue of princesses and the
unexpected luck of widow's sons? Not the man who used to make such particularly excellent fireworks!"
When your wagon rolls into a village you are immediately beset by happy children who can’t wait to watch you perform magic under the skeptical eyes of their parents. You are only too happy to oblige – that is how you make your coin, after all – but you are careful to guard your illusions as real magic. Amongst your company, of course, you are free to operate as you truly are, a companion whose skills at deception, legerdemain and other such arts are useful assets to have on an adventure.
Skill Proficiencies: Performance, Sleight of Hand
Feature: Air of Magic
While you rely on your theatrics and prestidigitation to provide you with room and board in your travels, there is another benefit to holding yourself as a magician: people tend to give you the benefit of the doubt. They may not believe that you can do everything that you say and most are savvy enough to know that at least some of your tricks are simple legerdemain, but that doesn’t mean that you don’t have some true magic inside you. No one wants to fall victim to a spiteful curse or be accused of being an agent of Shadow. As a result, people tend to give you a wide berth and accede to reasonable requests, so long as you don’t take undue advantage. A barn is always available to you even if the inn is full, food and wine are produced on request, and even minor conveniences like freshly washed clothes or grooming can be had with a simple ask. You can also sway opinions by noting that you prefer a particular course of action and insinuate that things may go badly if another course is taken, but be wary – there are always those who’ll gladly take a few coins to rid a community of a troublesome ‘Wizard.’
Magicians are first and foremost entertainers and as such tend to have friendly and outgoing personalities, at least outwardly. They are intensely curious about ‘real magic’ and spend a lot of time learning what they can about these arcane arts and whether they are simply stage illusions or something else. A magician would like nothing more than to learn true magic, but many come to the conclusion that none exists.
Optional Magician: Folk Healer
There are those learned in the healing arts who understand the power of positive thinking in one’s recovery. Perhaps not all of the old folk remedies work, but the patient’s belief in them help them get better.
Such folk healers effectively become magicians, sprinkling their remedies with a healthy dose of folklore and theatrics to convince their patients that they are on the mend. The more unscrupulous amongst them hawk their ‘remedies’ for coin.
If you choose to be a Folk Healer, you are proficient in Medicine in place of Sleight of Hand. Gardener, Herb-lore, and Leechcraft are common specialities amongst Folk Healers.
"And when all this land is clean of the servants of Sauron, I will hold the oath fulfilled, and ye shall have peace and depart for ever."
You are a pillar of your community, whether noble-born or someone who has already accomplished great deeds, and you have publicly sworn a great oath. Due to your station no one doubts that you’ll either succeed in your oath or die trying. Towards that end you muster all of your energies to fulfilling your oath, as you know that both fate and Man do not look kindly on oath-breakers.
Skill Proficiencies: Intimidation, Traditions
Feature: Mighty Oath
You have sworn a mighty oath, one that is now indelibly associated with your name. The oath itself should be both suitably epic and possible to accomplish; “I want to kill the merchant who cheated me” fails the first test, while “I want to rid the world of Shadow” fails the second. Vowing to destroy a Dragon plaguing the land is suitably epic, as is overthrowing an evil kingdom.
A mighty oath carries its own legend and you often find yourself receiving aid from those who want to help the legend or even become embroiled in it. When you enter Lake-town, for example, you may find a merchant or two willing to donate a priceless weapon to your cause or re-provision you, while an eager young would-be adventurer may ask to join you on your quest.
The downside is that the subject of any such oath obviously wants to do away with you and if you enter a town or countryside that is beholden to the subject you may quickly find yourself in very difficult circumstances!
Fate also frowns on oath-breakers. If you ever abandon or break your oath, then fate conspires against you. Your reputation suffers and you become a magnet of ill-fortune. Such troubles tend to be minor at first, coaxing you back towards fulfilling your oath, but eventually the weight of them becomes so much that it destroys you in spirit if not of body as well (death is often too merciful for an oathbreaker).
It takes a strong person to swear an oath as such things aren’t taken lightly. Thus, the Oathsworn tend to be bold and prideful, firmly believing that they are capable of living up to the terms of their oath. They tend to steer clear of people, places and events that may cause them to waver and an Oathsworn dreads the day when some worthy cause forces them to choose between doing what is right versus keeping their word.
Optional Oathsworn: The Devoted Friend
Some Player-heroes don’t need to make a formal oath to cement their bond with another, their love is enough to create a bond that is unbreakable. No matter what trouble the object of their devotion finds themselves in, the Devoted Friend will always have their back and help them to see any difficulties and obstacles through. While such Player-heroes don’t have a ‘great oath,’ their devotion is apparent to those around them and devoted friends always find aid from those who are genuinely touched by such devotion. If you take this option, you are proficient in Insight and Persuasion instead of Intimidation and Traditions.
"To the end of his day Bilbo could never remember how he found himself outside, without a hat, a walking-stick or any money, or anything
that he usually took with him when he went out, leaving his second breakfast half-finished and quite un-washed-up, pushing his keys into Gandalf's hands,
and running as fast as his furry feet could carry him down the lane, past the great Mill, across the Water, and then on for a mile or more."
If you had your way, you’d lead an idyllic life staying at home and tending your garden, perfectly boring and peaceful. You don’t know why you keep leaving home and walking the roads and trails of the land. It is never your choice, at least never your direct choice, but circumstances conspire and there you are, a hundred miles from home, cold, wet and without your handkerchiefs. You never actually enjoy your adventures… do you?
Skill Proficiencies: Medicine, Nature
Feature: Pathetic and Bedraggled
You can take on the mien of a sad, desperate and despondent figure. As long as you are not threatening, strangers will take pity on you and give you a warm place to sleep for the night, hot food and a bit of comfort. Every time this happens you promise yourself that you will just stay home, yet you always soon find yourself back out in the Wild, living off of roots and berries, without any handkerchiefs.
Reluctant Adventurers are always easy to spot; they are cold and miserable and they tend to let everyone around them know about it. They are only on this adventure because of some skill or talent that the rest of the company lacks. Deep down inside, however, some Reluctant Adventurers really enjoy the thrill of exploring new places and having grand adventures. Such individuals don’t mind sharing one or two moments of merriment at their circumstances but they are careful to let those around them know that such moments are fleeting.
Seeker of the Lost
"Where iss it, where iss it: my Precious, my Precious? It's out, it is, and we wants it."
There is something missing from the world and you feel that it is your mission to find it, whether is be something from your own history or from those close to you. You might wish to reclaim an ancestral home, a forgotten treasure, or long faded lineage. Whatever it is, the search drives you and threatens to consume you.
Skill Proficiencies: Lore, Investigation
Feature: Lore of the Lost
While you have not found that which you seek, you have come across much lost lore concerning other issues. You know tidbits of lore, hints of where lost kingdoms lie, ruins lay buried and relics have been discarded.
When you hear about a new region or ruin for the first time, you probably know at least a bit of lore about it and where you can likely find even more information (such as a song known to minstrels of a particular region, an old book in a library in Rivendell, Goblin cave paintings in the Misty Mountains and so on).
While they are driven to uncover some mystery, Seekers of the Lost are not bound to it. Many Seekers are happy to take their time uncovering the past, joining companies on grand adventures that may hopefully provide an extra clue or two towards solving their mystery. A few are single-mindedly driven and will leave no stone unturned to solve the mystery that vexes them.
West, west away, the round sun is falling.
Grey ship, grey ship, do you hear them calling?
The voices of my people that have gone before me?
I will leave, I will leave the woods that bore me;
For our days are ending and our years failing.
I will pass the wide waters lonely sailing.
You’ve had quite enough of the world; you’re either very long-lived or you’ve just seen so much in your life that you’ve grown tired of it. All of the pain and misery that you have endured was for naught; you simply want to live out the rest of your days until that merciful final journey commences. Unfortunately, something always calls you back to face danger one last time…but you’ll never admit that that ‘something’ likely comes from within.
Skill Proficiencies: History, Insight
Feature: Seasoned Connections
Through the course of your long career you’ve met many people and made friends throughout the land; it is rare for you to enter a large town or city where you don’t know at least one person of import. Usually you can call upon these old connections for specific aid and favors based upon their professions and influence.
Your enemy amongst these connections is time. A lot could happen between the heyday of your travels and now. Old friends that owed you favors may be dead and their children uninterested in helping you, a local prince may have fallen under the influence of the Shadow, or something unresolved since the last time you left still festers. Such difficulties are even more pronounced if you are a member of a long-lived race and it has been decades since you last set out on an adventure. Whenever you call on old contacts for aid be aware that your Loremaster may twist them into something else due to the passage of time.
The World Weary are often cynical and tired; they have seen everything before and there is nothing new under the sun. They may appear happy and content, but there is always the hint that they are missing something from life or what there is left of it. In truth, the World Weary have simply fulfilled everything they thought they had accomplished – or given up hope of accomplishing – and they are eager, even if they don’t realize it, to find a new purpose in life.
Optional World-Weary: The Call of the Sea (Elves Only)
The Elves are leaving Middle-earth. As the long years go by and the Shadow deepens, more and more of the Firstborn seek the Grey Havens and take to the ships that wait for them there. They go West, sailing the straight path to the Undying Lands beyond. If you take this background, you are leaving Middle-earth and are on your way to the Sea, although you may take a winding road to get there. Replace the Seasoned Connections feature with Sea-Dreams.
Feature: Sea Dreams
You often have dreams of the shores of the Undying Lands calling you, and sometimes the voices in your dreams bring you news of distant events or things yet to come. The Loremaster will inform you if you have such a prophetic dream or warning from the Valar.