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  • Writer's pictureMark S. Cookman

Alternate Sailor Backgrounds for D&D 5e: The Fisherman / Whaler

For my own D&D 5e campaign, which is based mostly upon the high seas of various worlds, one background for a generic sailor just didn't work. On the coast, everyone sails. Because there are many different types of sailors and nautical personalities, I felt that there needed to be more variety than just one generic sailor so I created five additional nautical backgrounds to supplement the original sailor/pirate. They are the merchant sailor/smuggler, the marine, the fisherman/whaler, the jack tar, and the deep water sailor/explorer. It is my plan to release one each day of this week. This is the third one. Here is where you can find the sailor/smuggler and here is where you can find the marine, if you missed them. Finally, I hope you enjoy the fisherman / whaler background.

Fisherman / Whaler

You were born in a small coastal village. You were raised with a strong work ethic and learned as a child that hard work does not guarantee success. You were taught the craft of your father and his father before; you learned how to take a bounty from the sea. The work was both demanding and exhausting, but you became quite skilled at it. An occurrence on a recent voyage has put you off this career and you have decided to seek your fortunes elsewhere.

After choosing this background, you must work with the Dungeon Master to determine what kind of a fisherman you were. Do you use nets or traps? Do you fish with poles from a small boat or with large hooks and nets from a two-masted ship? Do you hunt the mighty whalefish with sharpened harpoons? You must also work out with the DM where in the world you have sailed while plying your trade, as well as your driving event. Some happening has caused you to leave the ways of your forefathers. Roll randomly or choose from the driving events below.

Driving Events

d10 Driving Event

  1. I stood up to a gang of pirates and saved my mates. This has made me realize that I am meant for much more than being a simple fisherman.

  2. I saved a crew mate's life during a storm and my actions may have saved the ship, but I have no desire to return to the sea.

  3. I stood alone against a horror from below the waves. I have seen a creature that man was not meant to know exists and it haunts my dreams.

  4. I led a mutiny against a corrupt captain hoarding food from his starving crew. I now believe I can help more people if I go elsewhere.

  5. I have brought in the largest fish of my type on record. I'm the best and no one is better.

  6. I stood firm and led others in the defense of our catch from kua toa raiders. Being a hero was nice; I want to feel that way again.

  7. I helped to rebuild the village after it was destroyed by a natural disaster (e.g. tidal wave, hurricane, etc.). There is much more to life than the fish in the sea.

  8. I have seen a giant sea creature of such magnitude and beauty that I am forever changed.

  9. A mermaid, sea elf or similiar creature gave me a blessing or revealed my hidden destiny to me.

  10. I have worked my way up to the best crew on the biggest ship in this small harbor. There's nothing more for me here.​

Skill Proficiencies: Athletics and your choice of either Nature or Survival

Tool Proficiencies: Fisherman's Tools, Vehicles(water)

Equipment: A fishing net, fishing tackle, a crab/lobster trap, or a harpoon (as appropriate), a cargo hook, an oilskin cloak or coat, a set of common clothes, and a belt pouch containing 10 gold.

Feature: Experienced Angler

You are an expert at reading coastal terrain. You can easily determine where the shallow sections are, as well as where the big lagoons or large ship anchorages might be. More importantly you are familiar with the fish that inhabit these areas and how to catch them. You can provide enough fish to feed yourself and five other people as long as the area has not been fished out. You can easily tell if something is disturbing the natural balance with the fish in a given area, but cannot necessarily identify the cause.

Suggested Characteristics

Please refer to the Suggested Characteristics section of the Folk Hero background on pages 131 and 132 of the 5e PHB to determine your personality trait and ideal. Please roll or choose from the tables below to determine your bond and flaw.


d6 Bond

  1. My family is the crew that I eat, sleep, and travel with. I don't know any other way.

  2. I worked the sea, I love the sea, and I will protect the sea with my life's blood.

  3. The tools of my former trade are simply mementos. I only carry them with me to remind me where I have come from.

  4. I have sworn to those whom I have lost that I will hunt the great beast that took their lives to the ends of the world in order to have my revenge upon it.

  5. I know now there is much more beneath the waves than just fish and I long to visit there.

  6. My family roots are deep and I miss my family greatly while I am apart from them. I promise that I will return home to visit as often as I can and I keep that promise as I am able.


d6 Flaw

  1. I have made an enemy of a pirate captain who is determined to kill me.

  2. I have become convinced that I am blessed by the Gods and that nothing can really kill me.

  3. I have developed a weakness for strong drink and pipe weed, vices common to those in my former profession.

  4. I have trouble trusting allies that don't seem capable of a hard day's work.

  5. I will throw plans aside and caution to the wind for a chance to catch the one that got away!

  6. I was once deeply charmed by an aquatic creature and now sometimes must fight the urge to throw myself into the sea to search for it.

#dnd #5e #pirates #rpg #gmadvice #dmadvice #pirate #humpday

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