I freely admit this idea came form the 5E Player’s Handbook, which provides the background “outlander”. But that background only covers people from the wilds, not people from civilized but remarkably different cultures. I’ve watched enough professional wrestling to know that “foreigner” isn’t just a character archetype, it’s also a personality and often an alignment. And a city mouse in the country is just as lost as the reverse, so there’s no need to split that into two themes.
More than most, this background relies on role-playing. A farmer might not always talk about farming and a dragonkin might not always talk about how great their ancestors were, but a person lost in a confusing culture is always lost in a confusing culture. As such, I tried to dodge a lot of the obvious cultural differences like “everybody from around here cooks weird food” and “I can’t understand anything said with that accent” and “the phrasebook says that word means something else”. In reality that’s frustrating and in fiction it’s hilarious, neither of which is really the scope of optional mechanics. It’s up to the player to decide how much of that they’re willing to tolerate, and it’s up to the theme to provide small but tangible mechanical effects related to it. As such, you’ll probably need to justify each of these abilities in-character. And that’s fine. In fact, it’s kind of the point of themes in general.
An aside: I think one of the abilities in this theme is among the best mechanics I’ve ever written. See if you can spot it.
You’re not from around here. You were born and raised in a very different culture, like a nomadic tribe in the desert who have never even heard of iron, a small town deep in dwarven lands, or a secret underground society beneath the capital city. Uprooting your life taught you many important lessons, but you don’t want the old you to wither and die. You want to expose your friends and associates to your culture, fostering it and building acceptance for it in a new environment.
Theme Skills: Knowledge (history), Knowledge (local), Linguistics, Perform (any)
Theme Feats: Exotic Weapon Proficiency, Master Craftsman, Skill Focus, Spell Focus
Novice Quests: These quests are appropriate for advancing through 3rd tier.
- A stereotype is growing about your culture, fueled by the recent performances of a popular local bard. The stereotype isn’t wrong per se, but it is taken to a mean-hearted extreme. While the expatriate can try to prove it wrong through his or her actions, the most direct path to dispensing with it is to deal with the bard herself.
- Somebody from the expatriate’s culture has followed him or her, begging them to return. It might be the expatriate’s parent, childhood friend, or betrothed, and they have a compelling reason to ask the expatriate back. It is also clear that the return is expected to be permanent rather than a quick visit home. If the expatriate does not agree to return, or returns but does not agree to stay, the person who came for them may be willing to take extreme measures.
Expert Quests: These quests are appropriate for advancing through 6th tier.
- A museum or other local outlet has an exhibit or gallery about the expatriate’s culture. However, it’s wrong. It portrays the culture as something inaccurate and very unflattering. But the person who created the exhibit is going on the best information he has available. If the expatriate wants the exhibit to be accurate, he or she will need to not only convince its creator, but also provide proof and potentially give him something more complimentary to display.
- The expatriate has been exiled by their native culture. He or she is no longer considered a member of the culture or officially allowed to represent it anywhere the culture has influence. This may be due to some breach of the culture’s ethics, a new leader who has a vendetta against the expatriate, or a simple misunderstanding, but until it is resolved the expatriate will find themselves without aid from home and shunned by those who know of the exile.
Advanced Quests: These quests are appropriate for advancing through 9th tier.
- Something about the expatriate’s culture has started a moral panic. Not only has the government banned any overt cultural displays, but any member of the culture is subject to harassment, exile, or worse. The issue isn’t in changing the law, though that alone is a feat. The main problem is changing the hearts and minds of the anxious people.
- Following the expatriate’s example, a large group or family emigrates to his or her adopted culture, essentially looking to be the second wave of the cultural push he or she started. They’re more stuck in their old ways than the expatriate is, and without his or her years of experience they find it hard to adjust to the new laws, foods, styles of dresses, religion, and the rest of everyday life. It’s exactly the sort of cross-cultural situation the expatriate wants, but educating them about their new environment (and vice versa) is almost a full-time job with demands that conflict with the expatriate’s adventuring career.
Legendary Quest: The expatriate’s culture is gone, wiped from the collective memory of the world. Nobody has heard of it, it appears in no historical texts, and its effect on other cultures has disappeared. The expatriate and his or her belongings are the only physical evidence that the culture ever existed. It lives only in the minds of the expatriate and his or her closest allies, who must find the cause of the shift and correct it lest the entire culture be lost forever.
Ancestral Enemy (Ex): Your people once warred against creatures who used a specific type of magic, and the resistance they built up has been passed on to you. Choose one school of magic. You gain a +1 theme bonus to saving throws and a +1 theme bonus to AC against spells of this school.
Exotic Mien (Ex): To others you seem strange and compelling. You gain a theme bonus to Diplomacy and Intimidate checks made to influence the attitude of creatures not familiar with your culture. This bonus is equal to half your theme tier. You must be at least 4th tier and possess the quick learner ability before selecting this ability.
Folk Tales (Ex): The stories you heard growing up contained small but crucial details about certain topics. Once per day you can add your theme tier as a bonus to a Knowledge check. You can apply this bonus after you make the check but before you know the result.
Landmark Sense (Ex): You make sure to never get lost in an unfamiliar place. When you enter a location, pick a visible landmark. You always know the direction and approximate distance to the landmark. This ability ends if you move while unconscious or select a landmark for a different location.
My Father’s Sword (Ex): You wield a weapon passed down from generation to generation. Select a specific non-siege manufactured weapon. You gain a +1 bonus to attack and damage rolls made with that weapon.
My Mother’s Training (Ex): You specialize in your culture’s combat style. Select one combat maneuver. You gain a bonus to your Combat Maneuver Bonus whenever you use that maneuver and a bonus to your Combat Maneuver Defense against it. This bonus is equal to one-half your theme tier. You must be at least 4th tier and possess the my father’s sword ability before selecting this ability.
Quick Learner (Ex): You’re careful not to the make the same cultural mistake twice. If you fail a Bluff, Diplomacy, or Intimidate check while interacting with somebody, you gain a +2 bones to Bluff, Diplomacy, and Intimidate checks against that person for one day.
Religious Aspect (Ex): Your early religious studies were narrow but focused. Select one cleric domain. When you cast spells from this domain, your caster level is considered two higher.
We Do It Differently (Ex): You learned another way to perform some basic actions. Select one Strength-based skill and one Dexterity-based skill. You use your Strength modifier in place of your Dexterity modifier for the Dexterity-based skill and vice versa.
Representative (Ex): You may be the only member of your culture many people meet, and you’re devoted to showing off what you can. At 4th tier, you gain a bonus to Craft, Perform, and Profession checks to demonstrate your culture. This bonus is equal to one-half your theme tier. This bonus only applies when your intention is to share your culture with others. For example, this bonus would not apply when a bard makes a Perform check as part of the countersong ability because the intention is to grant a saving throw, even if he does it with a song from his hometown. You also gain this bonus to Appraise and Knowledge checks regarding your culture.
Emissary (Sp): You feel responsible not just for your culture, but for its members. At 7th tier, any allies who are a part of your culture gain a +2 bonus to AC and saving throws whenever they are adjacent to you. You must be conscious to provide this benefit. Bonuses from multiple expatriates do not stack. In addition, you can cast comprehend languages once per day as a spell-like ability. Your caster level for this ability is equal to your theme tier.
Ambassador (Ex): To most, you are your culture and vice versa. At 10th tier, you automatically succeed on Appraise and Knowledge checks regarding your culture. You also gain an embassy within a major city of your choice. The embassy itself is a small house whose cost cannot exceed 10,000 gp. You have full jurisdiction over the house and its property, though if you overtly or repeatedly violate the laws of your host city your status may be revoked.