Sarah Darkmagic's blog

Understanding Defamation Suits Part 2

First, I am not a lawyer. I’ve checked a few things with lawyers, I learned how to read court rulings in college, and this is an area I’m interested in. That said, nothing I write here should be construed as legal advice. If you take away anything, I suggest getting advice from a lawyer in your area to understand how things are done where you live.

Second, the allegations are quite difficult stuff involving descriptions of events that could fall into potential sexual assault territory and/or could at the very least be triggering. For the most part, I’m not going to include the statements themselves.

In this one, we’ll go over G’s complaint regarding S’s statement on his blog. This one is a bit trickier because it's not a small number of concise statements that need to be addressed and the Court organized this part of the ruling a bit differently.

Statements of Opinion

First, one of the defenses against defamation is that it is “non-actionable opinion.” The Court found one statement, 2-70 to meet that definition, “[G] only jumped on board with her accusations once the mob was decidedly on [N]’s side.” This means it can’t be defamation.

However, in this section the Court says the rest of the statements in the complaint “can reasonably be understood as declaring or implying actual facts capable of proving them true or false” and thus meet one of the requirements for a defamation claim.


Next, the Court discusses the falsity of the statements. One of the requirements is that the statements of fact must be false.

The Court references the previous finding on the case of S v G. And thus finds the following true: Statement 2-09b and Statement 2-18a. Those statements are not false and thus do not meet the requirements of a defamation claim.

However, using the findings from the first suit, the Court says several statements are false: Statement 2-02, Statement 2-09a, Statement 2-11, Statement 2-16, Statement 2-18a, Statement 2-18b, Statement 2-19b, Statement 2-39, Statement 2-75. These statements would meet one of the requirements for a defamation claim.

There’s an additional statement, 2-20, which the court finds partially true, in terms of why G was not invited to the Maxim shoot, but finds the stated motivation for posting the accusations in relations to the Maxim shoot to be false.

At this point of the review of the case, the court has found 10 statements or parts of statements that meet two of the requirements for a defamation claim: Statements 2-02, 2-09a, 2-11, 2-16, 2-18a, 2-18b, 2-19b, 2-39, 2-75, and 2-20.

Civil Code Section 45

California has some requirements in terms of what can be considered libel. As quoted from the ruling, the statement must “expose[] [the plaintiff] to hatred, contempt, ridicule, or obloquy, or…cause[] [plaintiff] to be shunned or avoided, or…ha[ve] a tendency to injure [plaintiff] in his occupation.”

This is a key difference between the two cases. S’s complaint is about accusations made against him that he did something to G. G’s complaint is more about S saying she lied in his defense of himself. It’s unclear if S’s statements had any of the above effects on G, or at the very least, G didn’t provide evidence to satisfy the Court that it was the case. Thus, the Court concludes that it doesn’t qualify as libel even though it does conclude that several statements in S’s post are false.


The Court further discusses the issue of what if there was evidence that the statements caused reactions that satisfy Section 45. The Court says since the statements don’t qualify as “libel per se,” G would need to prove special damages. There is a reference to a court case, Western Broadcast Co. v Times-Mirror Co (1936), which sets out an idea that “[I]t has been held in certain cases that it is not libelous per se to publish an answer challenging the correctness of an opponent’s statements and charging such opponent with ‘telling falsehoods’ or ‘falsely asserting.’”

The Court likens S’s post to that case, saying “[S]’s blog is clearly a response in self-defense to an earlier statement by [G]…[S] does not paint [G] to be a liar generally. Instead, [S]’s statements are limited in responding to the particular allegations in [G]’s Facebook post. Moreover, [S]’s blog is disjointed and makes sense only after reading [G]’s February 13, 2019 Facebook post, which provides necessary context for what it is that [S] is denying. Without the ‘explanatory matter’ of [G]’s February 13, 2019 Facebook post, it is difficult to follow [S]’s blog. Thus, [S]’s statements are not libel on their face.”

Given that, G would have to prove special damage in order to make the statements actionable. The Court found “that [G] has failed to prove any damages, let alone special damages.”

Thus, G’s case fails on this requirement of a defamation claim as well, which is why her claim overall failed. She failed to meet the burden of proof in her complaint.

However, even though G lost her case, those statements by S listed above as having been found false still have that finding, even if they weren’t actionable in this defamation claim.


So one of the things I’ve seen fans of S say is that he has been vindicated by this outcome.

I guess that means what one means by vindication?

Was he the only party that met their burden of proof for a defamation lawsuit…sure.

But it came at the cost of having a number of G’s statements being found to be substantially true by the Court, including ones that form part of the reason why a number of entities have distanced themselves from S. In addition, S has been found by the Court to have made false statements, which, while not legally damaging to him in this suit…definitely differs with the narrative some say about him.

Support for G

This case comes at a great cost to G, monetarily and otherwise. If you’d like to support her, she has a GoFundMe to help cover a portion of her overall legal expenses.

Understanding Defamation Suits

First, I am not a lawyer. I’ve checked a few things with lawyers, I learned how to read court rulings in college, and this is an area I’m interested in. That said, nothing I write here should be construed as legal advice. If you take away anything, I suggest getting advice from a lawyer in your area to understand how things are done where you live.

Second, the allegations are quite difficult stuff involving descriptions of events that could fall into potential sexual assault territory and/or could at the very least be triggering. For the most part, I’m not going to include the statements themselves. For those who want more info, I have a link to where one can find the court documents.

I recently posted on Twitter some of the results of the defamation lawsuit by [S] against [G]. Twitter isn’t always the easiest way to make some points, so I’d like to explain a bit more here.

What is defamation?

Loosely speaking, defamation is a false statement of fact made about someone that can harm that person’s reputation. It has to be communicated to at least one other person.

According to this pamphlet from Sacramento County Public Law Library (a group that attempts to provide self-help resources for the community, but importantly is education, not legal advice), a plaintiff in California attempting to prove a defamation claim must prove all of the following:

  • The defendant made an unprivileged statement to someone other than the plaintiff.
  • The statement was a false statement of fact.
  • The statement was made about or was understood to be about the plaintiff.
  • The statement was negligently made (if the plaintiff is a “public figure” then actual malice must be shown).
  • Actual damage naturally arising out of the statement or that the statement was slanderous per se or libelous on its face.

One important thing to note here is a fact is something that could be proven to be true or false.

What are some of the defenses against defamation?

The Sacramento County Public Law Library offers the following as defenses against defamation. I won’t include the descriptions here but feel free to reference the pdf linked above.

  • Truth
  • Not a Statement of Fact/Opinion
  • Fair Comment and Criticism/Plaintiff is a Public Figure
  • Privilege
  • Libel-Proof Plaintiff
  • Death

What was the outcome thus far of the suit?

[S]’s claim stated that there were 8 allegedly defamatory statements in [G]’s post. Since I want to be careful about the sensitive nature of the details, both to the defendant and to the community members, I’m going to concentrate less on what was alleged and more on the outcomes.

Statement Sub Part Is a statement of fact? Paraphrased Misquoted/Out of Context Defamatory
Statement 1 1 Yes No No No
Statement 1 2 Yes No No No
Statement 1 3 Yes No No Yes
Statement 2 * Yes No No No
Statement 3 * Yes Yes No No
Statement 4 * Yes Yes Yes No
Statement 5 * Yes No No No
Statement 6 * Yes Yes Yes No
Statement 7 * Yes Yes Yes No
Statement 8 * No No

So what does this mean?

For statement 8, the court said it was “a nonactionable opinion.” That means it doesn’t meet the definition of defamation because it’s not a fact.

For statements 2-7 and statement 1 parts 1 and 2, those were demonstrated to be true according to the court. Those as well don’t meet the definition of defamation because they are not false.

Only for statement 1, sub-part 3, did the court find that that portion of the statement was defamatory. To quote the court, “Thus, the Court finds that [S] has proven that [G] failed to use reasonable care to determine the truth or falsity of her statement concerning ‘forcing [G] to move in with [S],’ and the statement is not substantially true.”

For the others, the Court found as follows:

Statement 2
”Given the abundance of testimony noted above on this point, which the Court credits, the Court finds that [G] has demonstrated that Statement Two and all of its subparts true.”
Statement 3
[G] has demonstrated that Statement Three is true.
Statement 4
[G] has demonstrated that Statement Four is true.
Statement 5
[G] has demonstrated that Statement Five is true.
Statement 6
[G] has demonstrated that Statement Six is true.
Statement 7
[G] has demonstrated that Statement Seven is true.

That means for those statements, they are not defamatory because they are true according to this ruling.

Please always check with a lawyer and this is not legal advice, but broadly speaking, having a “Findings of Fact” from a court likely could be used as evidence in a substantial truth defense. This may also be why the Sacramento County Public Law Library cautions, “Any plaintiff considering filing a defamation case in court should consider the possibility that the defendant will assert a truth defense.”

Additionally, besides the above findings of fact, there were a number of times where the Court had to correct the statements claimed by [S]'s complaint. I bring this up because it’s a pattern others have noted about [S]’s “debate” style.

For statement 4, the Court noted, “[S] has taken Statement Four out of context and characterized the quote that [G] attributed to [S] as a threat when in fact the context of Statement Four makes clear that [G] was describing what initially started as a joke that [S] repeatedly made. Even when the joke no longer felt like a joke to [G], Statement Four makes clear that [S] ‘still would laugh when saying it.’”

For statement 6, the Court notes not only is the claimed statement paraphrased but also misquoted. “First, the Court notes that [G]’s February 12, 2019 post did not use the word ‘coerced’ as alleged in [S]’s Complaint. Instead, [G]’s post used the word ‘pressured,’ which is reasonably construed as an inherently subjective term[.]”

For statement 7, the Court again notes the claimed statement is paraphrased and misquoted. The exact statement was “For my birthday, he bought me my first breast implants,” but the claim has the statement as “[S] pressured [G] to obtain breast implants.”

Libel-Proof Plaintiff

I want to bring up another detail I found interesting in the ruling. Under the damages section, the judge points out not only did [S] not provide evidence of the damages that could be attributed to the single instance of defamation alleged in his suit, the defendant’s lawyer pointed to a plethora of other sources of [S]’s loss of reputation not to mention the general downturn in some activities due to Covid during this time period.

Note above that in the list of common defenses, one of them is the “libel-proof plaintiff.” From the Sacramento County Public Law Library informational guide, a libel-proof plaintiff is “[a] person whose reputation is tarnished as to have no value, such as a convicted serial killer, cannot prove damage.”

One of the issues brought up in the ruling is with everything [Z] is in the middle of, with 4 other similar suits, thoughts of suing 2 others, having “been involved in a large number of highly visible clashes with people in the role-playing games industry,” and with his allegations of harassment and “hate mob” against even more people, how can he ever show the damages can be tied to any single allegedly defamatory statement.

I have no idea if [G]'s lawyer was trying to lay the groundwork for that defense or if [S] would qualify in this case, but it was interesting to me.

Frequently Asked Questions

There are a few questions that keep coming up about this case that I’d like to discuss.

How can both parties claim to have won?

So, civil lawsuits like this can be confusing and hard because there are multiple types of winning. So in this particular case, legally speaking [S] as the plaintiff in his original complaint is the winner because he was able to find part of [G]’s statement to be defaming. Had none of the statements or subparts thereof been found defaming, he would have lost his claim.

However, just because he is listed as the winner of the case, doesn’t mean that all of the alleged defaming statements were ruled by the court to be defaming. [G] was able to prove to the court’s satisfaction that Statements 2-7 were substantially true. This not only means is she not liable for any damages from them but there is now a Statement of Fact regarding them in Court records. I hope it’s easy to see how some folks might feel that [G] won in that sense.

If the Court believes [G]’s statements 2-7 were true, how could they declare [S] the winner?

Because the Court is about the law. They are not there to make value judgments. [G] couldn’t prove the one subpart to be true according to the law and since the burden of evidence was on her, [S]’s claim stood and it was determined to be defamation.

The case was unfair so we should accept the part that supports [S] and reject the rulings that don’t

I’m seeing this argument a decent bit from a few people. There are a few things to consider with this argument.

First, everyone had to play by roughly the same rules and the rules are known at the beginning. According to this self help guide, discovery in California can start 0-10 days from the time the first papers are served and must be completed 30 days before trial. Additionally, parties often have at least 30 days to respond, so plenty of padding needs to be added in. And the rules for how to do discovery are often very strict. Not following them may mean that evidence might not be usable during trial.

Second, even after the trial starts, there are legal ways of doing things. Typically the evidence all has to be shared between the parties before it can be used, it needs to be entered into the record, the arguments need to build on each other, etc. This can seem very arbitrary and unfair, and sometimes…they are. What one judge might allow, another won’t.

But that’s the system we all agree to. That’s why defamation lawsuits can be a bit of a gamble. They are intentionally designed to be hard to win because otherwise they can be used to silence any criticism or opposition.

But no matter those feelings and arguments, the current ruling is the legal ruling. And the same arguments made by [S]’s supporters could be made regarding the one sub-part that was ruled to be defamatory. Had [G] had just a bit more time, maybe enough evidence could have been produced. Who knows? But in the end, it doesn’t matter legally.

If you have a need to see the ruling itself or any of the other records pertaining to the case, they can be downloaded from the LA County Court and the case number is 20STCV09708.

Artish Explorations: Simple Web Server Architecture as RPG Map

My day job is in tech. I spent about 10 years working as a full-stack engineer at start ups which really meant I did a bit of everything. Javascript, CSS, backend programming and configuration, etc. For the past 10 years or so, I’ve worked more on the DevOps, cloud engineer, and now security side of things.

An issue I see is that while things are less complex in many ways than they used to be, they are still complex and some spaces have gotten even more so. For cloud platforms like AWS and GCP, the more you make things simple for end users by offering higher level services, the more important the configurations become in protecting things.

So I’ve been reflecting a lot on my career lately and I had challenged myself to do something artful each day of October. One of those days, both streams converged and I created this image.

Simple WebServerSimple WebServer

It’s a simple web server portrayed as a small one-bedroom house. It’s sort of just out there and people could in theory approach from any direction.

The front door is to the top of the drawing and it leads to a simple entry way. I used a proxy icon as a rug in the room. In my mind, I was thinking of that front door as port 443, which is the port often assigned for secure hypertext protocol (http) traffic. Today, it’s the main way we should be conversing on the public internet although sometimes we open up other means.

Off of the entry there are just two options. One can go to the living room or the dining room. For the Living room, I have three pieces of furniture representing the common types of static content: html (the structure of web pages), css (the design for web pages), and javascript (providing some dynamic elements, fetching information via apis, etc). Living rooms tend to be more formal and rigid.

The dining room for me represented the first level of the backend, the part that most application developers out there would be working on. It’s taking the outputs of a lot of more private (like the database) or semi-private (such as the kitchen or family room) and making it into something that guests might like.

There’s a pretty free flow between the dining room and the semi-private areas. That’s because there often has to be communication between libraries or other services on the machine. And sometimes we might even invite our guests to be part of those areas for us. However, the bedroom (which represents the data layers on our web server) has a door and we likely will limit who goes through there.

That said, as with many simple public web servers, there are a few flaws with this architecture.

A notable one is that the house’s only bathroom is inside the bedroom. We often have this in web servers too. We sometimes have to let guests into the most sensitive areas of our systems because we don’t have a place to duplicate the service in a safe way.

Likewise, in order for us to have easy access to our kitchen, we have a door that opens near where we park our cars. While we can use a different key, keep it locked, etc, it can be very difficult to ensure only we can get in the back door.

Additionally, if things grow, like we get a bunch of valuable stuff, it’s hard for us to store it without potentially giving guests access to it. If we want more security, it has to go in that little bedroom. We don’t have a good way to scale out as our life changes.

I super enjoyed exploring these ideas in this way. I’m tempted to continue with the metaphor. :)

Cleaning? How is that Gaming Related?

Cleaning has never been my strong point and after I was diagnosed with ADHD, my issues with it made a lot more sense. A lot of the things folks tell you to do, like creating routines, magically remembering to do things, etc, are just…a lot harder if not nigh impossible. And what works for one person (even someone with ADHD) might not work well for another. We have a cleaner who comes in every other week but stuff was easily getting out of hand between visits from our cleaning fairy. All of this has been a hurdle to getting back to gaming. I decided to do something about it.

So…it’s only be two weeks…but I found something that at least makes sense at the moment for me and it’s been helping. Importantly, it reminds me so much of games, I just had to share my thoughts about that portion of it.

The framework I’ve been using is called The Organised Mum Method. The creator is in the UK and it’s full of hovering and hobs. She provides a few routines for folks to use to keep their home tidier with limited effort.

The Organized Mum MethodThe Organized Mum Method

There are two “levels” of tasks that one does each day, Monday thru Friday. The level 1 tasks are things you do on each day and that list doesn’t change. The level 2 tasks change each day of the week with a slight twist. Monday thru Thursday are the same tasks for each day every week with Monday being Living Room, Tuesday being Bedrooms, etc. And then on Friday, it’s a Focus Day and it picks one area from an 8-week cycle.

For level 1 tasks, the idea is you do what you can in about 15 minutes. Since this level includes doing laundry, it definitely is not wall clock time but rather how much time it takes to do the active parts of the task. For level 2 tasks, you do 30 minutes of work, choosing the highest priority tasks first. So, can’t get to the dusting today? Do that first next week!

And the idea is that your week won’t become perfect within the first week but that the ongoing application of these little tasks will, over time, make your home cleaner.

I’ll be upfront, sometimes it over promises. Like the idea that your house will be clean in just 30 minutes a day (not including weekends). That time doesn’t include things that we are assumed to be doing, like dishes or laundry and the like. But that’s ok, it’s not important at the moment. I’m probably putting way too much thought into this but it reminded me of a board game or even D&D, on a few different levels.

The first similarity I see is the idea that you have certain actions to take each turn. Here the turns are days and you have two types of actions, the level 1 and level 2 ones. You are resource constrained in terms of those minutes, and so you pick the actions you can take, trying to get the best result with the resources you have left.

What I also am digging about it is that it’s a loose framework that’s primed for being extensible. Think D&D and our ability to use different methods for generating a character’s ability scores. Here each day has 2 types of tasks with the second group having a different meaning Monday thru Thursday than on Friday.

The other similarity I see, more for D&D than for some other types of games, is that it’s about incremental change rather than big flourish changes while also not getting such a large list that it becomes overwhelming. D&D has traditionally been about a bunch of smaller choices/actions leading to a larger outcome. This has the benefit of being less swingy (which isn’t for everyone). But the outcome is super clear and obvious and builds on itself over time.

If one uses the app, it will keep track of what you have and haven’t done, allow you to reschedule some tasks, customize each group of tasks, and congratulate you when you complete all of your tasks. It’s not quite gamified but still fairly nice.

If you think about games as finding ways to simplify and organize thoughts around a topic or genre and helps reproduce those experiences in a steady manner, it makes sense that a system that tries to simplify cleaning could feel comfortable to a gamer. If like me, you need to tame your house, you might want to give it a try.

One D&D Backgrounds

Now that we’ve taken a look at the changes to the fantasy races (Part 1, Part 2), let’s look at the backgrounds. Clearly this is one of the biggest areas of change since the start of 5e. There are a number of facets to look at these changes and I’m likely going to miss a few of them.

One D&DOne D&D


First, let’s look at what a background looks like from the start of 5e. I will leave out the flavor text

You have spent your life in the service of a temple to a specific god or pantheon of gods. You act as an intermediary between the realm of the holy and the mortal world, performing sacred rites and offering sacrifices in order to conduct worshipers into the presence of the divine. You are not necessarily a cleric — performing sacred rites is not the same thing as channeling divine power.

Choose a god, a pantheon of gods, or some other quasi-divine being from among those listed in appendix B or those specified by your DM, and work with your DM to detail the nature of your religious service. Were you a lesser functionary in a temple, raised from childhood to assist the priests in the sacred rites? Or were you a high priest who suddenly experienced a call to serve your god in a different way? Perhaps you were the leader of a small cult outside of any established temple structure, or even an occult group that served a fiendish master that you now deny.

Skill Proficiencies: Insight, Religion
Languages: Two of your choice
Equipment: A holy symbol (a gift to you when you entered the priesthood), a prayer book or prayer wheel, 5 sticks of incense, vestments, a set of common clothes, and a pouch containing 15 gp
Feature: Shelter of the Faithful
As an acolyte, you command the respect of those who share your faith, and you can perform the religious ceremonies of your deity. You and your adventuring companions can expect to receive free healing and care at a temple, shrine, or other established presence of your faith, though you must provide any material components needed for spells. Those who share your religion will support you (but only you) at a modest lifestyle.

You might also have ties to a specific temple dedicated to your chosen deity or pantheon, and you have a residence there. This could be the temple where you used to serve, if you remain on good terms with it, or a temple where you have found a new home. While near your temple, you can call upon the priests for assistance, provided the assistance you ask for is not hazardous and you remain in good standing with your temple.

Now, let’s look at the background of the same name in Unearthed Arcana:

Ability Scores: +2 Wisdom, +1 Intelligence
Skill Proficiencies: Insight, Religion
Tool Proficiency: Calligrapher’s Supplies
Language: Celestial
Feat: Magic Initiate (Divine)

You devoted yourself to service in a temple, either nestled in a town or secluded in a sacred grove. There you performed hallowed rites in honor of a god or pantheon. You served under a priest and studied religion. Thanks to your priest’s instruction and your own devotion, you also learned how to channel a modicum of divine power in service to your place of worship and the people who prayed there.


Book (Prayers) Calligrapher’s Supplies
Holy Symbol Parchment (10 sheets)
Robe 3 GP

From Feature to Feat

One of the biggest shifts is the move from feature to feat. Most of the features appear to have been intended to connect characters to the world, to give them networks of folks that they could tap into for help and assistance. When 5e was released, there was a huge push for factions to help provide connections as well.

An issue I could see with the features as often written is that they often required a Dungeon Master to make flesh out those networks. Even many adventures didn’t necessarily provide tie ins for them. They were ambiguous and unclear, which can work great depending on player and DM but can also be frustrating or unused.

By moving to a Feat, things are now more defined. In the case of the Acolyte, it also addresses an issue often remarked upon which is that they cannot perform any divine magic unless they happened to take a class that allowed it.

Previously, feats were an optional rule that allowed the player to forgo an ability score improvement to take on a feat. Now, instead of adding a background’s feature, one can add a first-level feat related to the background.

If you’re interested in the shift for backgrounds that exist in both the Players Handbook and Unearthed Arcana Playtest, here’s what the shift looks like.

Background PHB Feature UA Feat
Acolyte Shelter of the Faithful Magic Initiate (Divine)
Charlatan False Idenitty Skilled
Entertainer By Popular Demand Musician
(Guild) Artisan Guild Membership Crafter
Hermit Discovery Magic Initiate (Primal)
Noble Position of Privilege Skilled
Sage Researcher Magic Initiate (Arcane)
Sailor Ship’s Passage Tavern Brawler
Solider Military Rank Savage Attacker
Urchin City Secrets Lucky

Ability Scores

As mentioned in previous articles, another big change is that it’s now backgrounds that provide ability score bonuses instead of the character’s fantasy race. This makes a whole lot more sense to me. What you do and what you apply yourself to shapes what you are good at.

Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything has an explanation of why ability scores were originally tied to the fantasy races and why they gave alternate rules for apply ability score increases.

The Ability Score Increase trait in a race reflects an archetypal bit of excellence in the adventurers of this kind in D&D’s past. For example, if you’re a dwarf, your Constitution increases by 2, because dwarf heroes in D&D are often exceptionally tough. This increase doesn’t apply to every dwarf, just to dwarf adventurers, and it exists to reinforce an archetype. That reinforcement is appropriate if you want to lean into the archetype, but it’s unhelpful if your character doesn’t conform to the archetype.

Now that we are moving away from using ability scores to help define archetypes, how can the game help create that sort of story within the rules? We get an interesting look into that in terms of the languages.


One of the more subtle changes is in how languages get assigned. Before we get into how languages help define the setting and create archetypes, let’s look at how language assignment via backgrounds has changed over the years in 5e.

In the Players Handbook, fantasy race typically bestowed about 2 languages to the character and 7 out of 16 of the backgrounds would add 1 or 2 more languages.

Book Backgrounds with Languages Backgrounds without Languages
Players Handbook Acolyte (2 of your choice)
Guild Artisan (1 of your choice)
Hermit (1 of your choice)
Knight (1 of your choice)
Noble (1 of your choice)
Outlander (1 of your choice)
Sage (2 of your choice)
Folk Hero

In later books, it’s interesting to see how few backgrounds don’t add languages.

Book Backgrounds with Languages Backgrounds without Languages
Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide City Watch / Investigator (2 of your choice)
Clan Crafter (Dwarvish or 1 other)
Cloistered Scholar (2 of your choice)
Courtier (2 of your choice)
Faction Agent (2 of your choice)
Inheritor (1 of your choice)
Knight of the Order (1 of your choice)
Uthgardt Tribe Member (1 of your choice)
Waterdhavian Noble (1 of your choice)
Mercenary Veteran
Urban Bounty Hunter
Curse of Strand Haunted One (2, one must be Abyssal, Celestial, Deep Speech, Draconic, Infernal, Primordial, Sylvan, or Undercommon)
Tomb of Annihilation Anthropologist (2 of your choice)
Archaeologist (1 of your choice)
Wayfinder’s Guide to Eberron House Agent
Guildmasters’ Guide to Ravnica Azorius Functionary (2 of your choice)
Boris Legionnaire (1 of Celestial, Draconic, Goblin, or Minotaur)
Dimir Operative (1 of your choice)
Golgari Agent (1 of Elvish, Giant, or Kraul)
Gruul Anarch (1 of Draconic, Giant, Goblin, or Sylvan)
Izzet Engineer (1 of Draconic, Goblin, or Vedalken)
Orzhov Representatives (2 of your choice)
Rakdos Cultist (1 either Abyssal or Giant)
Selesnya Initiate (1 of Elvish, Loxodon, or Sylvan)
Simic Scientist (2 of your choice)
Ghosts of Saltmarsh Fisher (1 of your choice) Marine
Acquisitions Incorporated Celebrity Adventurer’s Scion (2 of your choice)
Failed Merchant (1 of your choice)
Far Traveler (1 of your choice)
Gambler (1 of your choice)
Plaintiff (1 of your choice)
Rival Intern (1 of your choice)
Baldur’s Gate: Descent into Avernus Acolyte (2 of your choice)
Faceless (1 of your choice)
Guild Artisan (1 of your choice)
Hermit (1 of your choice)
Noble (1 of your choice)
Outlander (1 of your choice)
Sage (2 of your choice)
Folk Hero
Acolyte (2 of your choice)
Sage (Cobalt Scholar) (2 of your choice)
Volstrucker Agent (1 of your choice)
Criminal (Myriad Operative)
Sailor (Revelry Pirate)
Spy (Augen Trust)
Mythic Odysseys of Theros Athlete (1 of your choice)
Van Richten’s Guide to Ravenloft Investigator
The Wild Beyond the Witchlight Feylost (1 of Elvish, Gnomish, Goblin, or Sylvan)
Witchlight Hand (1 of your choice)
Strixhaven: A Curriculum of Chaos Lorehold Student (2 of your choice)
Prismari Student (1 of your choice)
Quandrix Student (1 of your choice)
Silverquill Student (2 of your choice)
Witherbloom Student
Spelljammer: Adventures in Space Astral Drifter (2 of your choice) Wildspacer
Total 47 20 (32 if we count each individual House Agent background)

Unlike in the PHB where approximately half of the backgrounds provided languages, across the remaining books, we’re looking at 47 backgrounds that do versus 20 or 32 that do not. So the move to just standardize that the background will assign one language makes a lot of sense.

The subtle thing is how they provide which language the background will assign.

Language Backgrounds
Abyssal Cultist
Celestial Acolyte
Common Sign Language Urchin
Draconic Noble
Dwarvish Guard

Elvish Entertainer
Giant Guide
Gnomish Artisan
Goblin Soldier
Halfling Farmer

Infernal Charlatan
Orc Gladiator
Primordial Sailor
Sylvan Hermit
Thieves’ Cant Criminal

From this list, we have a bunch of world building, right? The strategies of goblinoid generals are widely studied by soldiers and are so revered that soldiers learn the Goblin language to study them. Elvish is key for recording and studying lore, whether in the form of books or ways of entertaining the masses. So much of the knowledge used by guards or stone masons is tied to the Dwarves and thus folks with those pursuits learn Dwarvish. This world building ties the different groups to trades or roles.

In addition to the language from the background, players get to choose one language from the standard list and provide their own reason for why their character knows it.

Skill and Tool Proficiencies

While all backgrounds in the PHB provided skill proficiencies, tool proficiencies were not universal. In the UA playlets, a core component for the background is adding a tool proficiency. This overall feels more like a tweak to make it easier to custom build backgrounds rather than a major change.

Likewise, while there are some changes in the skill proficiencies, most of them remain the same. Here’s a comparison of the backgrounds that are in the PHB and UA.

Background PHB Skills UA Skills
Acolyte Insight, Religion Insight, Religion
Charlatan Deception, Sleight of Hand Deception, Sleight of Hand
Entertainer Acrobatics, Performance Acrobatics, Performance
(Guild) Artisan Insight, Persuasion Investigation, Persuasion
Hermit Medicine, Religion Medicine, Religion
Noble History, Persuasion History, Persuasion
Sage Arcana, History Arcana, History
Sailor Athletics, Perception Acrobatics, Perception
Soldier Athletics, Intimidation Athletics, Intimidation
Urchin Sleight of Hand, Stealth Insight, Stealth

As you can see, very few of the skill proficiencies have changed. The ones that have are interesting. Artisans get “Investigation” instead of “Insight.” I like this because “Investigation” seems to be a rare trait and a lot of art is about experimentation and discovery.

The Sailor moves from “Athletics” to “Acrobatics” which is a good way to further distinguish sailors from soldiers.

Finally, the Urchin has “Sleight of Hand” move to “Insight.” The background talks about how they only resort to theft when nothing else has worked to get what they need, so having both Thieves’ Tools and Sleight of Hand was probably a bit too much.

Overall Thoughts

I went right into the details when discussing the backgrounds, in part because it was the easier part to discuss. Overall, backgrounds were given a bit of a promotion. There is a solid core that remains from the earlier version in that skill proficiencies largely stay the same, some of the equipment was shifted around, in part to give every one a tool proficiency, and while languages were expanded a bit, they were there in many backgrounds already.

The move of ability scores to background helps the game sidestep some of the issues around them being tied to fantasy race which helps the game feel lighter to me. I get that Tasha’s said to ignore it if it didn’t fit your concept anyway but not having to do the work of ignoring is much easier. And moving from the features that I always struggled to use at the table to a feat helps give it that oomph that makes me want to pick or create a background.

And that’s something we should talk about here, there are 3 ways proposed to use backgrounds:

  • Use a prebuilt background
  • Choose a prebuilt background and alter it
  • Create your own background

It’s an extensible system to provide something for just about everyone.

Speaking of extensible, these suggested changes point to the flexibility of the 5e system. Using an older version that applies the ability scores? Either forgo the ability score increases from the older fantasy race or the ones from the background. But you can use bits from each.

What will be interesting is going forward, what gets the plain moniker of “Orc,” the original Player’s Handbook version or whatever comes from the play test.

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