The Caravanserai – a 5th edition D&D Background

One gap in the official backgrounds is the trope of innkeeper. So many tales that inspired this game consist of an innkeeper (and we’re keeping that slightly different than barkeep) who exists as an NPC. A related topic, and one I wished to amplify is that version of an innkeeper who plies their trade at a frontier stop or waypoint on a much travelled road. The Caravanserai is meant to capture that individual, and the alternate the urban innkeeper.

Caravanserai at Dogubayazit, Turkey
Caravanserai at Dogubayazit, Turkey by Charlie Phillips (CC BY 2.0)

Caravanserai

Along dusty roads and alpine trails there are forts that operate as a rest stop, place to pickup supplies, maybe an opportunity to trade, and a safe enclosure from the dangers of people and nature. You grew up at one of these caravanserais, or moved there when young, learning the lingua franca and other tongues, picking up on the various cultures that came through the walls to spend a night or a week in your safety.

When bandits attacked you helped to defend the fort, as did everyone within. Some may focus on those tales. Others would focus on the caravans traveling with spices and fabrics from lands that others only think of fanciful stories, but for you are the real origins of people you’ve met. You are worldly, without travelling the world until now. Gifted a family heirloom you are off on a journey away from safety, ready to explore spaces that are no longer fiction.

Skill Proficiencies: Animal Handling, Insight
Tool Proficiencies: None
Languages: Any two (Thieves Cant included) — as always, using cultures is better
Equipment: Abacus, Baton (a club with finesse properties), Bell, Blanket (2), Guestbook, Candles (5), Map Case, Traveler’s Clothes, Ink Pen, Heirloom Spyglass, 5 gp

Feature: Warm Welcome

When you first meet new people they usually assume you are friendly. Your demeanor is such to put them at ease. Those being chased, followed, or otherwise harassed seek you for protection and comfort. For the most part, thinking peoples want to be on your good side because you are known to accept those in need, especially those who can pay.

Characteristics: For now, use those from the Folk Hero or pick & choose your favorites. Whenever my background project sees full publication there will be unique characteristics for each of them.

Alternate: The Innkeeper

You either worked at an inn owned by others, once owned your own small inn, or have left the inn owned by your family as you head out into the world of adventure. Whether you come from a small town or a metropolis, your experiences are generally urban. You know the temples, libraries, parks, and other civic buildings of the neighborhood as well as someone who works or lives there.

People know your inn as a place for visitors and some locals. They know your for your ability to make friends, for your ready weapon to enforce the peace within your building, a willingness to clean up a mess, and that you always have the right key available.

Changes from Caravanserai

Replace the Animal Handling skill with Persuasion or Intimidation.

Replace the equipment of the Caravanserai with the following.

Equipment: Abacus, Any Simple or Martial Weapon, Bell, Blanket (2), Guestbook, Candles (5), Map Case, Traveler’s Clothes, Towel or Rag, a Key Ring, Ink Pen, 10 gp

This map from Newbie DM inspired the release of these backgrounds. Every innkeeper should have an inn they left when they started out on their adventure. There are many reasons to leave that life, some by choice and others more sinister. When creating an innkeeper or caravanserai have a map of that location, and a story about why you left.

Caravanserai Design Goals

I’ll admit, leading with the Caravanserai is inspired by my studies (Near Eastern Cultures and Civilizations, Arabic), my gaming passion for al-Qadim, and my visits to Palestine, Israel, and Kuwait. Also, there are some unique spaces to fill. The heirloom spyglass is a fun trick of creation. Taking that away from the family adds story. Adding a weapon in which the character may not be proficient is a technique I’ll lean into a bit in the backgrounds project. Certain civilian (aka non-adventuring) roles in a society will have a weapon, but not necessarily be good at using it.

Whether the Silk Road or ancient mountain pass, travel routes have always, in every culture and geography, needed the safe respite away from brigands, bandits, wild animals, and extreme weather. At this locales the caravanserai and/or innkeeper offers a warm smile, food & board, and information all for just a few coins.

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