In my campaign, the Bounty Hunter background in the playtest documents was one of the more popular options. Since the setting runs more toward late-Renaissance and early-colonial rather than the core medieval setting of most campaigns, players used that background to cover slightly more modern law-enforcement concepts as well. The Player’s Handbook doesn’t offer a Bounty Hunter per se, though – instead, it’s a minor option within Outlander. That’s sufficient for the majority of campaigns – I don’t think WotC “did it wrong” on this by any means. All in all I’m impressed with how many character concepts are thoroughly covered by the Backgrounds that are in the book. But if, like me, many of your favorite characters are cops, detectives, bounty hunters, vigilantes, thief-takers, or inquisitors… read on.
You worked, or still work, in the field of enforcing rules – either the laws of society or the secret codes of behavior of an organization. Bounty hunters, city guards, inquisitors, thief-takers, vigilantes, leg-breakers… any of them might belong to this background. Their skills and motivations are strikingly similar, and the most cynical of them often note that legal codes are little more than a dividing line between teams. Discerning infractions requires more careful thought and evidence collection than most realize. If the enforcer is sufficiently feared, there are a lot fewer infractions in the first place.
When you choose this background, work with your DM to establish who your employer was and what kinds of “cases” you handled. Which set of laws concerned you, and which side of those laws did you come down on?
Skill Proficiencies: Investigation, Intimidation
Tool Proficiencies: One type of gaming set, vehicles (land)
Equipment: Club, a badge or token of office, a broadsheet or contract with a bounty for a target, gaming set, hooded lantern, manacles, traveler’s clothes, 5 gp for bribe
Someone hired you as an enforcer. If you still work for them, maybe they’re a continuing source of adventure hooks. Or did you burn bridges escaping your employer’s service?
|1||Bounty Hunter’s Guild (bounty hunter)|
|3||Craft Guild (thief-taker or caravan guard)|
|4||Local Baron or Count (palace guard)|
|6||Thieves’ Guild or Criminal Family (leg-breaker)|
Feature: Legal System (or “Legal” System)
You have knowledge and contacts in a legal system – not necessarily the same as one that you previously served. For example, a criminal who turned Crown’s Evidence might have contacts among the city guard. You have an easier time getting that legal system to hold prisoners for a few days for later questioning, possibly bending regulations to do so. It may be necessary to put some effort into maintaining these relationships, of course. Open violations of the rules of that organization may sour your connections as well, though your knowledge of the system is unchanged.
|1||You can never plan for too many contingencies.|
|2||Once I’m on a case, I can’t think of anything else until it’s resolved.|
|3||I like to sound clever, so I use a lot of big words… incorrectly, as often as not.|
|4||My manners are abrasive enough that I do not make many friends.|
|5||I love to quote legal principles in conversation.|
|6||My first resort in conflict is browbeating my opponents with threats of legal retribution.|
|7||I am stoic in the face of every kind of hardship.|
|8||Gallows humor? Bit redundant, wouldn’t you say?|
|1||Hidebound. If you can’t adhere to our laws and traditions, you must suffer the consequences. (Lawful)|
|2||“Efficient.” There’s a point, far out there when the structures fail you, and the rules aren’t weapons anymore, they’re shackles letting the bad guy get ahead. (Chaotic)|
|3||Mercy. Mercy and severity are a sacred balance. (Good)|
|4||Power. When all you have is the law, everyone looks like a criminal. Everyone is guilty of something.(Evil)|
|5||Justice. The rules apply equally to all, from the highest to the lowest. (Lawful)|
|6||Loyalty. With my help, the people I serve will rise above all other competitors. (Any)|
|1||I carry a tome of laws and precedents to remind me of my duty.|
|2||Need for an intellectual challenge draws me on.|
|3||A criminal escaped me once, and I have hunted that one across the years.|
|4||The law – and I – exist to protect the weak from the strong.|
|5||I do terrible things so that others do not have to.|
|6||I accused a powerful person of a crime, and I’ve been dodging assassins ever since.|
|1||I obey any legitimate authority, even when they might be wrong.|
|2||When I don’t have a puzzle to occupy my thoughts, my boredom turns dangerous.|
|3||I took the expedient path, and now I’m constantly trying to cover it up… but the web of lies is fragile.|
|4||I’ve seen the worst that my city or my race has to offer – only the bottle keeps the demons at bay.|
|5||Damsels, gentlemen, or other romantic interests in distress cloud my judgment.|
|6||I never forgive, nor forget.|
Personality traits, ideals, bonds, and flaws are a little tougher to write in a compelling way than I had anticipated. My main problem is figuring out the dividing line between them – especially between personality traits and flaws, and between bonds and ideals. What I’ve done here isn’t 100% right on that front, but it should be tolerably consistent with WotC’s content. The thing I had going for me was that there’s a huge amount of supporting fiction for this background, and I could just start thinking about the quirks, flaws, and so on of specific characters.
On an unrelated note, I offer my deepest apologies to Inspector Javert, Batman, Commissioner Gordon, Sherlock Holmes, Vic Mackey, Accuser Solder, Sam Vimes, and your average film noir private dick.
In addition to the Outlander background, there are others that might have been close-enough: Soldier and Criminal come to mind. Once I’m changing the skills, the tool proficiencies, and the Feature (and honestly, the traits, ideals, bonds, and flaws aren’t a great fit) – well, that’s how a new Background justifies its existence. I wouldn’t care to see a massive proliferation of Backgrounds in future content, though I’m taking it as read that that will happen. Hence, some justification.
I had a really tough time with picking the skills for the Enforcer. I initially wanted to use Investigation and Stealth, but the more I looked at it, the more I realized that Intimidation was a more universal feature of the characters I saw as Enforcers than Stealth was. Iconic Enforcers like the ones listed above are some of the best candidates in fiction for Charisma (or even Intelligence) Intimidation, as they either list all of the evidence they have uncovered or cite legal infractions. As long as a character had Intimidation from another source, I’d be great with Stealth as an alternate skill proficiency.