Criminal Background 5E

Hello adventurers of all shapes and sizes! Welcome to my spellbook and thank you so much for checking out the 13th episode of our background series. From this article we’re going over the criminal dnd 5e background or the spy depending on how you want to look at it. The spy is considered to be a variant of this background, however there’s zero mechanical difference between the two. So, it’s really just the same thing.

It is found in the good old players handbook so everyone should have access to it and i do want to say this is probably one of the more popular backgrounds chosen belonging right up there with the charlatan and even the urchin as well. To be honest i can kind of see the appeal behind it.

It fits in with a lot of the classes outright namely the rogue but who knows. In any case let’s dive right on into its description. After reading this article we recommend you to check all of the backgrounds of dnd if you haven’t checked them yet.


In dnd 5e backgrounds we have different kinds of backgrounds. So from those you’re an experienced criminal background 5e because of that you have a dare to break the laws too and of course you have done so many times.

You’d got this experience of breaking the law from other criminals with whom you had spent more time among the other criminals and more over you’ve contacts within the criminal underworld too.

Of course from all those people you know you are far closer to the world of the murder, theft and also violence which pervades the underbelly of the civilization and of course you’ve survived up to this point by simply flouting most of the rules and regulations of the society.

Criminal Specialty

In dnd backgrounds there are so many kind of criminals, and of course within the thieves guild or the similar kind of criminal organization, individual members had specific specialties.

Even the d&d criminal’s those who operate outside of the such organizations can have the strongest preferences for certain kinds of crime over the others. So you can select the role that you’ve played in your life when you being a criminal, or else you can simply roll on the below table.

D8Criminal Specialty
5Highway robber
6Hired killer

It provides you with a nice d8 table to kind of see what is your favorite specialty as it were. However feel free to come up with your own as well i don’t really find these charts to be overly helpful but that is just me. Now let’s take a look at those mechanics.


Under skill proficiencies you will deception and stealth which are both incredibly useful in almost all elements of play. Under tool proficiencies you will see one type of gaming set so dragon’s chess or cards, dice whatever and thieves tools as well. Under equipment you will see a crowbar, a set of dark common clothes with a hood and a pouch containing 15 gold piece which puts it above that 10 gp average.

  • Skill Proficiencies: Deception, Stealth
  • Tool Proficiencies: One type of gaming set, thieves’ tools
  • Equipment: A crowbar, a set of dark common clothes including a hood, and a pouch containing 15 gp

Overall mechanically this is certainly quite a sound background and lends itself to a pretty diverse method of play. Now let’s take a look at the feature, also know as criminal contact.

Feature: Criminal Contact 5E

You do have the best reliable and also trustworthy contact those who acts as your liaison for a network of the other dnd criminals. Actually, you do know that how to get the messages to and from your contact, even over to the great distances; most particularly, you closely know the local messengers and the corrupt caravan masters, and even the seedy sailors those who can deliver messages for you.

I gotta say this is probably one of my favorite features to have being a DM, so if a player has it i really do like it. It provides a great tool up to the dungeon master to provide you with clues and exposition you may have. Otherwise missed or overlooked during your exploration pillar of play.

It’s really nice, i like it and if you’re crafty DM you can work it into their backstory and the more they use the criminal contact the more of a sedimental attachment the party is likely to form towards them.

Not to mention it does imply that this network is aware of you and your party and may influence the party’s direction in some form of fashion and there’s nothing to stop the criminal contact from requesting favors issuing quests and adventures and maybe even pointing the party in specific directions.

So it is really nice, i do like it, feel free to incorporate a little bit of magic in the messages as well as some other backgrounds have but overall i like it, i think it’s really neat. Now let’s take a look at some suggested characteristics here.

Suggested Characteristics

Of course all the criminal in dnd might have seem like the villains on a surface and most probably many of them are villainous to the core. But some of them have abundance of endearing and if not redeeming, characteristics. There might be a great honor among those thieves, but all the criminals rarely show any kind of respect for the law or the authority.

Personality Traits

For personality trait i went with “I always have a plan for what to do when things go wrong.” Which just kind of fits in with the criminal/spy mentality.

D8Personality Traits
1I'm always polite and respectful.
2I'm haunted by memories of war. I can't get the images of violence out of my mind.
3I've lost too many friends, and I'm slow to make new ones.
4I'm full of inspiring and cautionary tales from my military experience relevant to almost every combat situation.
5I can stare down a hell hound without flinching.
6I enjoy being strong and like breaking things.
7I have a crude sense of humor.
8I face problems head-on. A simple, direct solution is the best path to success.


Under ideal i put “Honor. I don’t steal from others in the trade and this is lawful.” And that might also serve a utility benefit as well.

1Greater Good: Our lot is to lay down our lives in defense of others. (Good)
2Responsibility: I do what I must and obey just authority. (Lawful)
3Independence: When people follow orders blindly, they embrace a kind of tyranny. (Chaotic)
4Might: In life as in war, the stronger force wins. (Evil)
5Live and Let Live: Ideals aren't worth killing over or going to war for. (Neutral)
6Nation: My city, nation, or people are all that matter. (Any)


Under Bond i went with ” Someone i love died because of mistake that i mage and that will never happen again.” That would likely loop back to the personality trait itself.

1I would still lay down my life for the people I served with.
2Someone saved my life on the battlefield. To this day, I will never leave a friend behind.
3My honor is my life.
4I'll never forget the crushing defeat my company suffered or the enemies who dealt it.
5Those who fight beside me are those worth dying for.
6I fight for those who cannot fight for themselves.


Under Flaw i went with ” When i see something valuable, i can’t think about anything but how to steal it.” That kind of goes in line with perhaps why they even became a criminal in the first place.

1The monstrous enemy we faced in battle still leaves me quivering with fear.
2I have little respect for anyone who is not a proven warrior.
3I made a terrible mistake in battle cost many lives – and I would do anything to keep that mistake secret.
4My hatred of my enemies is blind and unreasoning.
5I obey the law, even if the law causes misery.
6I'd rather eat my armor than admit when I'm wrong.

Variant Criminal / Spy: Spy

Even though your abilities aren’t more differ from those of burglar or the smuggler, you’ve learned and also practiced them in a different context; Like an espionage agent. Of course, you might be an officially sanctioned agent of the crown, or else probably you’ve sold the secrets which you’ve uncovered to the highest bidder.

It is really cool and i do really think the potential for role play opportunities and world building is off the charts for the criminal and not to mention it would be pretty fun for the average player. Now let’s move on to my personal thoughts on this background.

Read our latest blog post on hermit background 5e and comment there your opinion on it.


Overall i really do love it. I do find however sometimes you’ll get players who take this background to just kind of be jerks to other party members and abuse the term it’s what my character would do endlessly. Overall if you’re gonna go with this background know that it’s strong enough mechanically and through its feature alone to justify you being a little bit more lenient with party members.

And there’s likely a reason you guys all grew up together in the first place. So it’s probably best to focus on that common goal before you focus on the things that separate you.

Not to mention if you pursue your criminal past while you’re with the group, you’re likely just to drag them down into whatever punishment you’re likely to receive and as good as your feature is and as great as these mechanics are. It’s not likely to help you out to a point where you can break out yourself and your whole party consequence free.

I mean who knows if you’re high enough a level, i’m sure there’s some magics that’ll help with that but it’s better off not to do that at least on the onset of the game.


In any case overall quite nice i like it, let me know what you think about the criminal/spy down beneath in the comment section. Be sure to mention any thoughts, questions, comments or concerns you have regarding it. In any case i hope you all have a great day and as always happy adventuring.

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