New Background: The Revolutionary 3

The Aurikesh campaign is set in an early-colonial period, and revolution of various kinds (political, technological, cosmic) is a central theme. Several existing backgrounds touch on ideas of overthrowing the established order and expressions of zeal – the Acolyte, the Criminal, the Folk Hero, and the Hermit all come to mind. For the Revolutionary, though, I wanted to more closely model characters from history and media, even revolutions much later in relative world history than Aurikesh. Hamilton, Les Miserables, A Place of Greater Safety, and The Man Who Was Thursday (uh, one of these things is not like the other) are all inspirations here, as well as whatever history I can call to mind. (I haven’t done in-depth research here – impressionism is the order of the day.)


You struggle to overthrow what you see as a corrupt order. Your cause might be a radical, reactionary, nationalist, anarchist, or religious revolution – whatever your aims, you prepare yourself every day to fight and possibly die for the sake of the revolution. This puts you in deadly opposition to the established order and “decent” society. For some revolutionaries, there is an endpoint at which they could set down their banner and live in peace. Many find no peace after their victory, as a result of the compromises that victory requires, and continue the cause of the revolution or come to a messy end at the hands of those they put into power. This is not the life for those who prefer to sleep in comfortable beds – revolutionaries spends many nights on the move or in hiding.

When you choose this background, work with your DM to establish your cause and any network of support you may have.

Skill Proficiencies: Persuasion, Survival
Tool Proficiencies: One musical instrument
Languages: One of your choice
Equipment: 3 vials of alchemist’s fire, a set of common clothes, a book or pamphlet explaining your revolutionary cause, a belt pouch containing 10 gp


What cause have you chosen to spend your life fighting for?

d6 Cause
1 Political representation
2 Society-wide behavioral change (abolition, temperance, etc.)
3 Installing or replacing a ruler or governing body
4 Instituting or dissolving a state religion
5 Improving the standing of a racial, ethnic, or other societal group
6 Protection of nature

Feature: Hardened Against Privation
Long hours and desperate circumstances have been your life and your training, and many nights you’ve had nothing to feed you but the fire in your belly. You can survive indefinitely on half rations, and can go an additional 3 days without food before suffering noticeable ill effects. When you undertake a forced march, you can march an additional 4 hours before you need to make saving throws to avoid exhaustion. At any appropriate time during play, you may exchange this feature for the Alternate Feature, below.

Alternate Feature: Disillusionment
In the course of bringing about the revolution, you became disillusioned. Your passion for the cause is not what it was, though in time that flame could be ignited once again. You recall the hard-earned lessons that kept you alive, but you have lost the zeal that swayed others to your cause. Many of your personality features become the inverse of those shown below. You gain proficiency in Insight rather than Persuasion. You can pass as a loyal adherent to your old cause. If your rejection of revolutionary principles is revealed, however, you will be treated as an enemy of the revolution and (in many cases) executed. At any appropriate time during play, you may exchange this feature for the standard Feature, above.

d8 Personality Trait
1 I idolize a martyr for the cause, and any mention of them can stir me to action.
2 No matter how hopeless the situation, I keep a cheerful and confident attitude.
3 I plan to live fast and die young, so why not have another bottle of wine, maybe two?
4 I present an embittered, sarcastic facade to the world, but my dedication never wavers.
5 Anyone could be a spy or counter-revolutionary, so I keep secrets from everyone.
6 A pretty face is all it takes to distract me from my revolutionary zeal.
7 I disregard dire risks – this is just the life I have chosen.
8 I always have an inspiring speech prepared for when my comrades falter.


d6 Ideal
1 Greed: The revolution sounds great, but who says we can’t make some money on the side? (Evil)
2 Peace: No matter how the enemies of the revolution persecute us, we must not be the first to offer violence. (Good)
3 Independence: My own vision of the revolution is the only one I trust – I’ll rebel even against the leadership if they go astray. (Chaotic)
4 People: My true devotion is to my friends; the rest of the revolution is incidental. (Neutral)
5 Honor: No cause can end in honor if it begins in dishonor. (Lawful)
6 Glory: Dying for a noble cause is a kind of immortality. (Any)


d6 Bond
1 I must build a better world for my spouse and children to live in.
2 The revolution is my one chance to win fame, glory, and a better station in life.
3 I fight to take down the corrupt order that unjustly executed my parents.
4 I can never allow an innocent to suffer without doing all I can to aid them.
5 I want to complete the revolution so that I can return to the person I love.
6 A former friend betrayed the cause, and I must bring them to justice.


d6 Flaw
1 I pounce on any sign of an ally’s weakening devotion to the cause.
2 I use accusations to draw attention away from my own faults.
3 I hold myself to unattainable moral standards.
4 I blindly trust those who say the right words in support of my revolutionary cause.
5 My hot temper is going to get me in real trouble someday.
6 When things turn bad, the first to flee has the best chance to survive, and I am a survivor.

Design Notes

Huh, I’ve gotten a lot more practice at writing personality features since the first time I created a background. I feel reasonably good about these, though I’m open to suggestions on how to refine the text of each.

The switching back and forth between features is weird, compared to other backgrounds, but I wanted to capture the dynamic of revolutions that self-destruct or burn out their zealots. Disillusionment is only really useful when your former cause become your foes, but sacrificing a feature – any feature – suggests to me the trauma necessary to cause someone to turn away from all that they had believed in. Characters can switch back and forth, but I would strongly encourage players to only do so when it’s authentic to the story.

It’s my hope that this can stretch to cover anyone for whom dedication to a desperate cause is the only meaningful factor in their lives – maybe because they entered the cause in their youth, maybe because they have lost everything else in their lives to the forces of the corrupt order they hope to overthrow, maybe because there’s no other background for hot-headed college students.

Looking at other D&D settings, I would suggest that this is a no-brainer for Planescape and Eberron, and for the most technologically advanced Domains of Dread. It fits into most other settings only in narrow ways, though I would personally find it awesome to run a short campaign in a major city of Cerilia about revolution against monarchy.

Working on this also made me think about writing a Revolutionary or Partisan class or subclass. We’ll see if I ever go anywhere with that.

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