D&D 5e Background: Constable
I noticed the other day that there’s no background support for a concept that comes up in some D&D backgrounds: the heroic watch officer, the counterpart to the Criminal and Charlatan. Soldier does a reasonable job, but it’d be good to have something with a background feature that directly supports the kind of hero whose response to being mugged is actually to deliver the muggers to the authorities. Thus!
Law and order are the pillars society is built on, and your life has been spent serving them. You were trained to prevent crimes, find evidence (whether it’s a hidden knife wound on a body or an incriminating letter in a locked drawer), and to bring the perpetrators to justice. You might have been part of the close camaraderie of a city watch, the only student of a grizzled travelling peacekeeper, or an independent bounty-hunter catching outlaws for a pouch of gold, but now you use those same skills in the adventurer’s life.
That’s not the only thing you learned on the line between law and crime, though. You know how to wear your authority like a cloak, but what you do with it is another question. Do you have a deep faith in the importance of integrity, even when nobody’s there to see? Did some injustice teach you that sometimes you need to bend the rules to do the right thing? Or did you see that the law is as corrupt as anything else, and learn to exploit your position to get what you want?
Skill Proficiencies: Intimidation, Investigation
Tool Proficiencies: Vehicles (land), thieves’ tools
Equipment: A symbol of your position (watch officer’s badge, etc.); a set of manacles; a hooded lantern; a handbell or whistle; common clothing; a belt pouch containing 10gp
Feature: I Am The Law
As an adventurer, you work independently, but you’re still recognised as an officer of the law. You can invoke the right to investigate a crime, meaning law-abiding people will be inclined to answer your questions and cooperate in ways they would refuse to a stranger. You know local laws (at least the more straightforward ones - the subtleties of taxation or the details of magical-scroll regulations might be beyond anyone but a specialist), and you are familiar enough with the authorities that you can easily hand over the people you arrest to be tried as local law dictates; your accusations will be treated seriously, and your testimony is likely to be trusted when it contradicts other people’s claims.
None of these features require that you be acting in good faith, but if a blatant abuse of your position is discovered and news spreads, you are likely to lose that trust. It may, however, open opportunities for bribery and corruption.
In addition, you are supported at a poor-quality lifestyle, either in accommodation belonging to the organisation you work for or by the generosity of the more enthusiastically law-abiding common folk.
Discipline, study of the law and exposure to the seedy side of society all combine to shape a constable’s worldview. The conflict between high ideals and the realities of life’s harsh edges leaves its mark on you.
1: Nothing breaks my gruff demeanour.
2: I quote subsection and paragraph of laws most people have never heard of.
3: I’m always wary and alert - I know how quickly a conversation can turn into a murder.
4: I feel more at home among criminals than among the people I’m sworn to protect.
5: I tell people what I’ve deduced about them from their appearance and behaviour.
6: I’m always trying to assert my authority.
7: I treat everyone with respect, even when I’m arresting them.
8: I try to build camaraderie with joking insults, but anyone outside the group who tries it on will regret it.
1: Protect And Serve: The law exists for the good of society - I serve the people first and the law second. (Good)
2: By The Book: It’s my duty to enforce the law; bending the rules opens the door to corruption, even if we do it for the right reasons. (Lawful)
3: Justice Justifies The Means: I’ll get whoever did this, whatever it takes. (Chaotic)
4: Power Corrupts: Everyone’s on the take, so I look out for myself first. (Evil)
5: Keep The Peace: If everyone goes home unhappy and unstabbed, I’ve done my job. (Neutral)
6: Respect Authority: The authorities are there for a reason - I trust them, even if what they say seems to bend the rules. (Lawful)
1: I’ll do anything to protect my home and its people.
2: My partner died on the job; I’m going to bring retribution to those responsible.
3: I’ll never do anything my old mentor would disapprove of.
4: Someone escaped justice through legal tricks and bribery - I’m going to see them pay for what they did.
5: I listen to the people who slip through the cracks - nobody else will.
6: I look after the families of people who lose them to this job - dead comrades and imprisoned criminals alike.
1: I won’t compromise on justice, even when it’s hurting people.
2: I can’t let anyone find out about my corrupt dealings.
3: I take out my frustrations on the other side when I get into fights, and it can go too far.
4: Once I’ve decided someone’s scum, they’re nothing to me and I won’t believe a word they say.
5: I’m a sucker for a sob story.
6: I’m swayed by status - I’d let a noble get away with things I’d see a commoner in chains for.
I was persuaded to throw in Thieves’ Tools proficiency here, as your investigator will have a much easier time finding people’s incriminating paperwork if they can open the locked drawer, and it’s easier to spot the signs of a picked lock if you know how to do it yourself. If you want your constable heroes to be a touch more straightforward - whether it’s because they’re a Carrotesque pillar of good-natured obstinacy or just because you don’t want anything looking like a better idea than kicking the door down - you could give the character a language proficiency instead. City watch officers might be exposed to a few different languages in one place, while a Western-style travelling peacekeeper might serve insular communities where Common is rarely spoken.