Dungeons & Dragons: The New Backgrounds Of Spelljammer, Explained

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  • Astral Drifter
  • Wildspacer
  • What These New Backgrounds Mean For The Future Of D&D

When creating a Dungeons & Dragons character, players have various elements that they can use in order to make a given character distinct, from their class and subclass to their race. Easily among the most overlooked elements of character creation is your choice of background. Representing a character's upbringing and/or past experiences, backgrounds offer not just flavor and backstory, but the likes of additional proficiencies, access to additional languages, and helpful features that can help adventurers in their travels.

Within the released Spelljammer: Adventures in Space are two brand new backgrounds: the Astral Drifter and the Wildspacer, each of which is among the strongest backgrounds now available in D&D's fifth edition. As these are noticeably incredibly powerful background options, we're going to explain everything you need to know about them to help you see if either is fitting for your next character!

Astral Drifter

The Astral Drifter background is a background representative of a character who has spent a substantial amount of their lifetime within the Astral Plane. This inherently offers a unique perspective from characters native to the Material Plane, as creatures within the Astral Plane don't age. This is represented within the background's Longevity feature that states that your character is 20d6 years older than they appear. While this doesn't offer a mechanical benefit, it's definitely a unique way to put a fun spin on a character's age and the way that character views the world around them.

From a mechanical stance, Astral Driver offers two proficiencies, Insight and Religion, whilst offering two additional languages of your choice, though Celestial and Gith are recommended due to their presence within the Astral Plane. While this is largely comparable to other backgrounds within previously released D&D supplements, Astral Drifter's Divine Contact feature offers a notably potent edge. As a character who's spent a substantial amount of time within the Astral Plane, the Plane that is home to a wide variety of gods, Astral Drifter allows a character to have a Divine Contact: a god whom that character has encountered on one or more occasions.

While this opens up the door to a lot of interesting personal story hooks for a character, this also automatically provides an Astral Drifter with the Cleric version of the Magic Initiate Feat. That means that this background provides a character of any race and any class immediate access to a great feat that can provide magic to a character that wouldn't have it otherwise. As feats are incredibly useful and are normally only gained through gaining levels or through playing a Variant Human (or Custom Lineage character), this is a Major boon to be granted for free.

Wildspacer

Alongside the Astral Drifter, the Wildspacer is a new background representing adventurers experienced in traversing the depths of Wildspace. Perfect for any character within a space-fairing Spelljammer campaign, this background automatically provides a character with proficiency in Space Vehicles, making it an excellent choice for those looking to take the wheel of a Spelljamming vessel. In addition to this great piloting proficiency, Wildspacers gain access to Navigator's Tools as well as Athletics and Survival proficiencies.

While the background features a fun built-in backstory hook regarding a close encounter with a dangerous foe in Wildspace, perhaps the biggest appeal of this background is that like Astral Drifter, it provides automatic access to a feat. In the case of Wildspacer, this background allows a character to automatically access Tough Feat, meaning they gain an additional +2 HP for each of their levels, significantly improving one's survivability. As if this weren't already stellar enough, for those playing within Spelljammer campaigns, characters with this background also ignore the disadvantage on attack rolls caused by zero-gravity environments.

What These New Backgrounds Mean For The Future Of D&D

It's safe to say that moving forward, Astral Drifer and Wildspacer have set a precedent for what we can expect to see from new backgrounds in D&D's fifth edition moving forward. While some backgrounds in the past have provided helpful and flavorful perks, it should be no surprise that feats are inherently more powerful than traditional background features.

Prior to their release, the only backgrounds that provided immediate access to a Feat were the various Strixhaven Student backgrounds of Strixhaven: Curriculum of Chaos, each of which was locked behind the fact that they only functioned within the Strixhaven setting. However, Astral Drifter and Wildspacer function within any setting, offering a powerful incentive for those looking for immediate feat access.

As the recently released Character Origins Unearthed Arcana showcases a full restructure of all backgrounds automatically providing characters with feats at level one, it's safe to say that the writing is on the wall that complimentary feats with every background are soon going to be the new normal in D&D's fifth edition, leading to inherently more powerful characters with additional mechanical functionality.

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