Cantrips and Backgrounds Are a Perfect Match

My backgrounds project continues to expand, adding in many medieval/Renaissance professions that fit in the apocrypha of D&D and related fantasy worlds. At this point there are nearly three dozen frameworks down. None of them demand a magical world.

But, this is D&D, and in all (?) of the official, product-supported worlds of 5th edition magic is not something that is only held by leveled PCs and NPCs. If you visit a shrine in Forgotten Realms there is a great chance that one of the Acolytes there knows Thaumaturgy. The number of Guild Artisans (tailor) in Eberron that know Mending is almost certainly larger than the number that do not.

In these worlds there should be tales of those who became heroes after their less-than-mundane lives. The fantastic is part of the D&D experience – both in heroic journeys and in everyday life.

Exploring what cantrips make sense leads me to listing those cantrips that are not designed for warfare – essentially ignoring damage cantrips, but there are a few that make sense. Let’s take a look at the DnDBeyond list of cantrips and pare it down to just things that commoners would possibly know.

Cantrips for Fantastic Living

  • Control Flames – Yes, it can do damage, but its primary purpose is about starting and putting out fires. I’ll explore a Firefighter.
  • Create Bonfire – Similar to above.
  • Dancing Lights – This also has combat roles, but imagine the ability of a theater designer to take advantage of Dancing Lights in ways that amplify that experience. The name does not leap to mind, but a variant entertainer using light is needed.
  • Druidcraft – The most obvious way this works is to help a Farmer, Rancher, Herder, etc. On the other hand, imagine a Weather Forecaster.
  • Gust – Sailing across the sea and stuck? Find your empowered crew who can create a tiny wind.
  • Light – The uses are nearly infinite. The Lamplighter will be both apocryphal and fantastical.
  • Mage Hand – Thieves and Wizards alike enjoy this one, but so would construction workers. Why bother with a ladder when you have Mage Hand?
  • Magic Stone – While this is a combat cantrip it feels proper for certain wilderness Backgrounds to have access to it. An Herbalist hunting for a rare shroom may need to defend themselves, for example.
  • Mending – Tailors and Tinkers around the world would be thrilled.
  • Message – This would be useful for the Pamphleteer, the Town Crier, the Spy, the City Watch, and many more.
  • Minor Illusion – Another cantrip that would suit Entertainers.
  • Mold Earth – Masons and Farmers could both find uses for this cantrip.
  • Prestidigitation – A Realmsean Dry Cleaner could profit off of making the bloodied heroes, and criminals, presentable. Similar to Light and Druidcraft the Backgrounds that could take advantage of this are nearly infinite.
  • Produce Flame – A third in the fire series.
  • Shape Water – Immediately upon reading this one I thought about construction of aqueducts and water wheels.
  • Spare the Dying – In gameplay this may be one of the weakest cantrips. In the rough and tumble alleys of Baldur’s Gate it keeps the citizenry alive – Medic and maybe for the Barber as well.
  • Thaumaturgy – Acolytes and Sages should probably already know this one. The organized faiths of the world would have plenty of priests and others able to shout above the masses. This also has great application for a Town Crier, Herald, and Soldier.

Several more attacking cantrips have possible secondary uses. These are ignored because not every D&D world need be one of violence for the commoner.

Next Steps

In some cases adding these minor spells to existing Backgrounds makes sense. That would involve a slight change to the current rule set. We know that a cantrip is considered roughly equal to a skill or language based on the Feats Linguist, Prodigy, and Skilled. The product will address that.

But knowing these cantrips also means an exploration of how certain roles in the medieval/Renaissance apocrypha of D&D change because of magic. A Lamplighter (a custom background in development) with Light should be behaviorally different than one still using flint, steel, and oil.

Both will exist. You will be in charge of how your world borrows the ideas to come in Before We Were Heroes (tentative title).

Your world should be apocryphal and fantastic.

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5 thoughts on “Cantrips and Backgrounds Are a Perfect Match

  1. My initial pass at a framework for the Fantastic Firefighter

    Fantastic Firefighter
    Skill Proficiencies: Athletics
    Tool Proficiencies: Carpenter’s Tools
    Languages: None
    Cantrips: Control Flame, Shape Water
    Equipment: Traveler’s clothes, hand axe, hook, 3 wineskins, bucket, 5 gp
    Feature: Held in Honor


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