For the same project as the Cultist background, I’m creating another close variant on the acolyte, but on the opposite, more enforcing side of the social order. Inquisitors work about equally well as crusading heroes or the authority to rebel against. Figure out which side is the underdog in your setting, and then put the PCs there – or figure out which your PCs want to play, and crank up the opposition until it’s standing on their necks.
You are, or once were, a servant of the inquisitorial arm of an organized religion. The job involves hunting down cultists of dark powers, heretics within your own faith, and blasphemers among the faithful. Mercy is the work of your superiors; inquisitors carry out the work of justice and retribution. The work is often not pretty. As a direct result of the Inquisition’s power and authority, corruption is near at hand, and inquisitors themselves often come under investigation. When they are found guilty, they receive even less mercy.
Alternately, you might work for an arcane order, enforcing the regulations that they impose on wizards and other spellcasters. Much of what is possible in magical practice is forbidden. Everyone’s safety may be at stake if these inquisitors falter in their duty.
Work with your DM to determine the faith or faiths that you serve. In a fantasy setting, it’s entirely possible that a pantheon or alliance of deities have formed an ecumenical inquisitorial order. If you’ve left the service of the order, was it a loss of faith, corruption at the top, or a desire to pursue the enemies of the faith without the constraints that the order places upon you?
Skill Proficiencies: Investigation, and your choice of Arcana or Religion
Tool Proficiencies: Vehicles (land)
Equipment: A holy symbol (your badge of office), a book of canon law, a set of manacles, a set of common clothes, and a belt pouch containing 10 gp
Feature: Right of Entry
Many places recognize your inquisitorial authority, and no concept of warrants curtails your right to enter and ask questions. Temples of the faith that you serve, or the arcane sanctums that you oversee, will grant you food, shelter, and space to detain up to two prisoners. If they are not corrupt, they also share useful information to the best of their ability. If they are corrupt, they provide minimal or misleading information.
Alternate Feature: From My Last Mission
Though you no longer have any inquisitorial authority, you still have a few lingering benefits. You have access to a cleared-out shrine of a dark cult and three useful informants. The shrine offers a safe and secret living space in a city or large town, a secure place to detain and question up to five prisoners, and two books of forbidden lore.
|1||I analyze everything people say to me in conversation to find hidden intent.|
|2||I can’t bear to be in anyone’s debt a moment longer than necessary.|
|3||The moment I’m off-duty, I want a stiff drink.|
|4||I eat and drink only enough to sustain my life; anything more is gluttony.|
|5||I believe the best about people, right up until the moment they give me a reason not to.|
|6||My work gave me a respected position in society, and I developed a taste for extravagance.|
|7||I’d rather break an enemy’s will than fight them directly.|
|8||I’m always gathering secrets and blackmail material, just in case I need leverage.|
|1||Tradition. We have fallen away from the truths that the gods gave us. (Lawful)|
|2||Self-Sacrifice. My hands are stained red so that innocents can remain so. (Good)|
|3||Zeal. Any strictures placed upon me are just ways for the bad guys to elude me. (Chaotic)|
|4||Retribution. No one is pure, so I might as well make some money from my judgments. (Evil)|
|5||Duty. As long as I obey my superiors, my eternal reward is assured. (Lawful)|
|6||Equality. There is no one I won’t examine for wrongdoing, be they peasants or high priests. (Any)|
|1||I will find out who in the temple hierarchy ruined my reputation.|
|2||I must track down the cultists who stole a relic from my temple.|
|3||The inquisitorial order took me in as an orphan, and I can’t hope to balance that debt.|
|4||I must scourge enough evil from the world to balance my own sins.|
|5||I and my order are the only check against power-mad spellcasters.|
|6||I will prove that the leader of the great heresy is a vile deceiver.|
|1||I am unnecessarily antagonistic with all but my close friends.|
|2||I’m reluctant to find fault with my superiors, even in the face of evidence.|
|3||I once told a lie that now threatens to undo my entire career.|
|4||I neither forgive nor forget.|
|5||Romantic attraction too often clouds my judgment.|
|6||I don’t like taking risks, and caution sometimes makes me miss the optimal moment.|
I spent a bunch of time trying to work out a background feature that gave the inquisitor improved (not to say “enhanced”) interrogation techniques. I dropped it because social features are hard to write well, and because I like that background features Just Work rather than needing a skill check, generally speaking. Of course, an ex-inquisitor can’t keep throwing their weight around, so I created an alternate feature for them. It’s entirely feasible that you could start with the first feature and transition to the second in the course of the narrative.
Most of the personality features assume that you’re playing a religious rather than arcane inquisitor. Adjusting these to suit the latter is left as an exercise for the reader and/or GM.
Like the long tradition of the Lawful Stupid or jerkass paladin, I think there’s a huge weight of tradition around inquisitors being unlikable and bad team players. Don’t. Do. That. Figure out any other way to play your character than that. Extensive pre-negotiation of your character-portrayal goals can make a lot of risky choices safer at the table.