Excerpts Archive | 10/2/2009
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Excerpts: Primal Power Backgrounds

In today's Primal Power preview, we look at new backgrounds for characters, including geographic, societal and racial options.


The following material expands on the background system presented in Player’s Handbook 2, with a focus on geographical backgrounds. These backgrounds speak to powerful archetypes of primal characters in legend and fiction, such as the stalking barbarian from the frigid north or the druidic sage who studied herbs and animals in quiet contemplation before being thrust into a life of adventure.

Like the backgrounds in Player’s Handbook 2, the backgrounds in this book fall into these categories: geography, society, birth, occupation, and racial backgrounds.


These backgrounds give examples of wild places from which primal heroes might originate. The exact location of the homeland in relation to the rest of the world is up to you and your Dungeon Master. The land of your birth or upbringing might be a previously unexplored or forgotten stretch of countryside.

It might be an isolated region in the Feywild. Or you might have been born in a region of an existing realm recently suffused with primal energy. These backgrounds include both associated skills and associated languages, which are usually the languages of the races most commonly found in each geographical area.

If you are using a published world, such as the Forgotten Realms or the Eberron campaign setting, you can easily adapt the primal homelands described here to a setting-specific location. For example, the Wrathwood could represent the Reaching Woods in Elturgard or the Grove of the Guardian Trees in the Eldeen Reaches. Similarly, the Sea of Dust might be the Dust Desert of Raurin or a region in the Demon Wastes on Khorvaire. Although primal homelands can exist anywhere in the world, be sure to work with your DM to find a suitable location.

Broken Lands

Great canyons and towering earth spires, spectacularly striated rock, dry and thirsty soil

The Broken Lands are an arid region marked by dramatic natural features: ravines, rock spires, and steep slopes with colorfully patterned striations. Vegetation is sparse, and rainfall is infrequent but intense. Drakes and lions hunt a variety of prey through the canyons. The cliffs, loose soil, and patches of slick clay make traversing the Broken Lands difficult, so travelers are rare and roads are unknown. The people of the Broken Lands, mostly dwarves and orcs, war with each other for what few resources the dry land has to offer.

You were born in the Broken Lands and grew up accustomed to hardship. The ways of the world beyond your homeland are strange to you, and you’re marked by a strong competitive streak. Barbarians are the most common primal characters from the Broken Lands, but druids and shamans are also good options.

Associated Skills: Endurance, Intimidate
Associated Languages: Dwarven, Giant


The society background element in Player’s Handbook 2 describes social and economic status in the broadest terms. These additional backgrounds tell more specific stories about your character’s social origin.


You are the child of a tribal chieftain, raised with the expectation that you would one day take on that position. After years of training, the time came for you to complete the great hunt, in which you would slay a mystic red stag and take your place at your father’s side. Tracking the beast was easy, but when you found the stag, you could not bring yourself to slay it. It met your gaze, and it seemed to speak to you, though you’ve never been able to express what it said in words. You returned to your tribe in disgrace, your failure seen as a sign of weakness. The chieftain and the other members of the tribe declared that you were not fit to rule, and you were banished, told not to return until you had redeemed your honor.

What did the stag communicate to you? How can you regain your honor? Do you want to return and claim your rightful title, or is the adventuring life more appealing to you now?

Perhaps political rather than primal factors led to your banishment. Were you falsely charged with a crime you didn’t commit? Were you expelled on the whim of your jealous father or mother? Or did you renounce your people voluntarily?

Associated Skills: Arcana, Diplomacy

Racial Backgrounds

Racial traditions color the way that primal heroes interact with the primal spirits and might shape the way you build your character. These backgrounds reflect the specific primal slants of different races. Some of them have less to do with the events of your past than with the beliefs or traditions of your people.

A few races don’t have background entries here. For goliaths and shifters who have primal classes, the racial backgrounds in Player’s Handbook 2 are appropriate. If you want to play an elf who has strong ties to the primal spirits, consider the wild elf background in Player’s Handbook 2. Human characters should consider geography, society, or other background elements from that book or this one.


Dragon Totem Warrior: In the way that some barbarians adopt totem animals that embody the qualities they aspire to, you look to the qualities of drakes and dragons as a model for your own ferocity. You might come from a tribe of dragonborn that serves a living dragon ruler, or perhaps you venerate a long-dead dragon spirit that once ruled your ancestors. Gray dragons and cobalt dragons are the most common totem dragons for dragonborn characters, because they are the most rapacious hunters among dragonkind.

Associated Skills: Athletics, Endurance


Underdark Survivor: You never saw the lightless depths beneath the earth as a place of death and unmoving stone. To your eyes, it teemed with life—not just the life of fungi and crawling things, but the whispers of the Deep Winds and other primal spirits. Even the terrible spider symbol of Lolth you saw as an echo of the Fate Weaver, a being of far greater wisdom than the dread and demented Spider Queen. Your beliefs and strange behavior earned you exile from your home city, but you didn’t mind much—you always felt more at home in the wild caverns anyway.

Associated Skills: Dungeoneering, Nature

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