At some point in your past, and for a substantial amount of time, you were incarcerated for a crime. While the exact details may vary from case to case, all prisoners have this in common, at least. Your time in prison taught you how such institutions work and gave you various skills that would help anyone make it through such an experience.

Skill Proficiencies: Sleight of Hand and your choice of either Stealth or Athletics

Languages: Two of your choice

Equipment: A set of common clothes, a small knife, an easily concealed and inexpensive bauble or keepsake, and a pouch containing 5 gp.


Feature: Time on the Inside

As a prisoner, you quickly learned how life inside a prison works. It didn’t take you long to understand the various routines and tricks involved with surviving in such a place.

As such, whenever you are in or dealing with a prison that you spend at least four hours studying, you always have at least some idea concerning the following (the GM has final discretion on what information is available to you, but these are some examples): how to find the major figures among the jailers and inmates, what general types of threats and hazards might be present to the occupants, the best way to contact the outside world, who might deal in contraband or be able to smuggle items in or out, and possible avenues to infiltrate or escape.

Fleshing Things Out

Some questions to consider when determining how this background applies to your character: Where were you imprisoned? What crime made you a prisoner? Were you innocent and falsely accused of this crime? Or were you guilty? How long were you imprisoned? Were you released, or did you escape? In either case, what were the circumstances surrounding that? What was your time in prison like?

You should also consider what caused you to take up the role of an adventurer. Did you end up in prison somewhere along the line in your adventuring career? Or did you get out of prison (legally or otherwise) and then set out on an adventure? In either case, how did that sequence of events play out, and how are they related?

d8 Personality Trait
1 I don’t share food.
2 I always hide my money.
3 I don’t mind eating out of the trash – I had worse in prison.
4 I’ll tell the story of my time behind bars to anyone who wants to know.
5 I find it hard to trust anyone.
6 I’m fiercely loyal to my close friends.
7 I always keep at least one knife on me somewhere.
8 I prefer to dress well to forget the rags and chains I once wore.
d6 Ideal
1 Supremacy. Better to rule in hell than to serve in heaven. (Evil)
2 Freedom. Being locked up is the worst thing imaginable. (Chaotic)
3 Justice. The punishment should fit the crime. (Lawful)
4 Redemption. Punishment leads to rehabilitation. (Good)
5 Pragmatism. Be willing to consider all options to get what you need or you might not make it out alive. (Neutral)
6 Identity. Time in prison can really show you who you are. (Any)
d6 Bond
1 I still owe a debt to the person that helped get me out of prison.
2 I was sent to prison with three partners, but two didn’t make it out alive.
3 I promised some of my fellow inmates I would contact people on the outside for them. I still need to find most of them.
4 I stashed a hidden treasure before I was imprisoned, and I have not recovered it yet.
5 There was a doctor at the prison who saved my life.
6 The one responsible for me being sent to prison remained at large and turned out quite successful while I was incarcerated.
d6 Flaw
1 I‘m plagued by nightmares and horrible memories.
2 I hoard even the most inconsequential of items.
3 I take foolish risks to remember I’m alive and free now.
4 I firmly believe no one’s experiences have ever been worse than mine.
5 I became addicted to an illicit substance in prison.
6 I have masochistic tendencies.

Variant: Snitch

Though potentially dangerous, you may have served as an informant for your jailers while you were incarcerated.

Perhaps your fellow inmates did not know what you were up to, maybe you had protection, or perhaps you merely survived attempts on your life. No matter your story, if you choose the Snitch variant of the Prisoner background, replace the background’s skill proficiencies with your choice of two from Perception, Sleight of Hand, and Stealth.

Section 15: Copyright Notice

The Big Book of Backgrounds Copyright 2019, P.B. Publishing, Phil Beckwith, and Cody Faulk.

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