The following is a batch of variant backgrounds I've been including in the options I present to my players: mechanic, politician, explorer, hunter, professor, and scientist.
VARIANT GUILD ARTISAN: MECHANIC
Your craft is the building and maintenance of machinery. Your experience might involve gunsmithing, steam engines, gas lamps, blast furnaces, printing presses, threshing machines, or industrial mills, drills, and pumps. With the right resources, you can build and maintain these types of post-industrial machinery. Your hands are strong and careful, and you have plenty of experience getting them dirty. Rather than a guild, you belong to a union or society dedicated to technological progress. Such societies are the rivals of artisan guilds, whose members tend to be displaced by industrial machinery. Perhaps you’re a factory inspector, railway engineer, or a firearm manufacturer.
Choose tinker’s tools, carpenter’s tools, or smith’s tools for your artisan’s tools. Your skill proficiencies are Investigation and Perception, and if you wish proficiency with vehicles (land), vehicles (water), or firearms may replace your additional language.
VARIANT NOBLE: POLITICIAN
In a constitutional society, the influence of committees and parliaments rivals that of the aristocracy. Though many politicians are of high birth, many come from more humble roots. The most successful are shrewd and cunning leaders. Perhaps you are the prefect of a small city who rose to political prominence, or a calculating senator poisoning your way to the top of the food chain. If you wish, you can choose the People Person feature below instead of Position of Privilege.
You have a natural aptitude for remembering people. If you’ve met someone in person, however briefly, there’s a good chance you recall significant details about them. Maybe you never forget names, retain a clear memory of something they explained to you, or perhaps you notice details about their appearance that no one else would focus on. Even years later, these details stay with you.
A good number of politicians began their careers with an interest in law. You might choose to switch out Position of Privilege or People Person for the lawyer’s feature Legal Training, especially if your political position involves legislation.
d6 Personality Trait
I get excited when I’m in the public eye or given attention.
I’m flirtatious with most people, and it seems to get me places.
My words are calculated very carefully, especially when a group of people is listening.
There’s only one life to live. Why should I waste it in ceremonies and meetings?
Government is meant to protect the simple pleasures of life, like drinking and wenching.
I’ve got all the answers.
Protection. Power and authority exist to defend the weak and downtrodden. (Good)
Influence. I’m always looking for opportunities to do a favor, and get one in return. (Neutral)
Obedience. The law is the law is the law. To be civilized is to follow rules to the letter. (Lawful)
Might. It makes right, and I prefer to have the bigger stick. (Evil)
Accountability. The world is full of people in high places hiding their mistakes. (Chaotic)
Liberty. No one tells me how to live my life. (Chaotic)
My political career was backed by an influential organization, and now I can’t get free of their control.
I managed to book a meeting with one of most important people in the nation. Now what do I say to them?
No one knows it yet, but I have the perfect answer to a widely misunderstood political issue.
People from my hometown or constituency won’t stop coming to me with their problems.
I recently lost incriminating evidence that someone might use against me.
I have a valuable connection in espionage or private detective circles.
Everyone has a vice right? Well, I’ve got them all.
Crime pays. Weekly, in fact, if I turn a blind eye.
I always say what I think I’m expected to say.
When it comes right down to it, I’m apathetic about most parts of my life.
The better part of valor is making a deal with the enemy, offering up my friends if need be.
Beneath all the speeches and rhetoric, I’m pretty unintelligent.
VARIANT OUTLANDER: EXPLORER
Some wander the wilds in order to civilize them. They make and maps trails, develop relations with native cultures, and bring evidence of these achievements back to their homeland. Many of the same skills are shared between explorers and other outlanders, but their goals tend to be quite different. You might have set out to prove a geographical hypothesis, been hired to create a trail between two distant cities, or perhaps you’re looking for a mythical site rumored to be hidden in the wilderness.
Instead of a musical instrument, you’re proficient with vehicles (land), vehicles (water), or navigator’s tools. You can replace one skill proficiency with either the History or Nature skill. If you wish, you can use the Local Guide feature instead of Wanderer.
Your connections with the local inhabitants of a wild region provide you with a guide who knows the roads you mean to take. He or she warns you of the dangerous aspects of the journey, advises you on the best ways to forage for food and water, and can bring you to key landmarks in the area. If you pay a modest fee, the local guide might even agree to carry your equipment and hunt for you.
VARIANT OUTLANDER: HUNTER
Not every wilderness-dweller is concerned with the lay of the land. Hunters focus on the creatures that live in the outlands, using the senses and skills of a predator to track their game. While their motives vary, the best hunters share a deep respect for the majesty and power of nature and its beasts. You might be the last true hunter of your tribe, a lone archer living off the land, or a hired gun who keeps the bears and wolves from hampering an expensive expedition.
If you wish to be a hunter, you may replace your musical instrument proficiency for proficiency with the poisoner’s kit. You gain the Tracker feature instead of the Wanderer feature.
You know what beasts are native to an area, and you can identify their movements well enough to find one of a given type by tracking for 3 hours of downtime. You can’t use this feature to find a particular creature, but you can discover likely dens and hunting patterns of local beasts within half a day’s journey of your camp.
VARIANT SAGE: PROFESSOR
You have chosen to dedicate yourself to formal research and instruction in a chosen field. As part of an institution for higher learning, you’ve read most of what there is worth reading in your area of specialty. Prospective students who have heard your name come to you with questions and favors. When you choose this background, choose a field to determine which skill proficiencies will replace the sage’s, or roll a d20 and consult the following table.
d20 Academic Field Skill Proficiency
Anthropology History, Religion
Arcane Studies Arcana, History
Archaeology History, Investigation
Architecture History, Investigation
Art History History, Religion
Astronomy Arcana, Religion
Biology Nature, Survival
Chemistry Medicine, Nature
Economics History, Investigation
Engineering Investigation, Perception
Government History, Insight
History History, Insight
Literature History, Insight
Languages History, plus two additional languages of your choice
Mathematics Investigation, Perception
Medicine Medicine, Survival
Mythology History, Performance
Philosophy Insight, Persuasion
Psychology Insight, Persuasion
Theology History, Religion
VARIANT SAGE: SCIENTIST
Scientists study nature, hoping to solve its puzzles one by one and form a better understanding of the physical world. True scientists know, however, that every question answered brings two more to light. Whether privileged thinkers in the public eye or secretive madmen, scientists live on the cutting edge of progress, hoping curiosity will lead them to the next great discovery. Roll on the table below to determine which proficiencies will replace the sage’s. Add the corresponding tools to your starting equipment as well.
d6 Scientific Field Skill Proficiencies Tool Proficiencies Languages
Astronomy Arcana, Investigation Navigator’s tools One of your choice
Biology History, Nature Herbalism kit
3. Chemistry Medicine, Nature Alchemist’s supplies
4. Engineering History, Investigation Tinker’s tools
5. Geology History, Nature Mason’s tools One of your choice
6. Physics History, Perception Two of your choic