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Got the Goods? A Guide to the Smuggler Background 5e

Got the Goods? A Guide to the Smuggler Background 5e

So you want to be a smuggler, eh? You’ve come to the right place. We’ll guide you through the finer points of playing a character with the smuggler background in D&D 5e.

We’ll not only cover rules considerations but also some story inspiration as well. So climb aboard this rickety barge and keep your head down as we show you how to be a memorable, intriguing smuggler in your next game.

The Smuggler Background in D&D 5th Edition

In 5e, your background represents what you did in life before taking up the call to adventure. In many cases, it’s your character’s former profession. In your case, you transported things illegally. So what does the background grant you as far as making your D&D character? Let’s look at rules and story inspiration questions.

Skill Proficiencies

To represent your skills as someone who can fool a dockside guard as you smuggle magical daggers hidden in loaves of bread, you gain proficiency with the Deception skill. Also, your job kept you active, making you physically strong and fit, represented by proficiency with the Athletics skill.

Story Inspiration Questions

What sort of athletic person are you? Are you burly and towering like our favorite Cimmerian? Or are you lithe and sinewy, moving like a jungle cat? Which is greater, your raw strength or your endurance?

Tool Proficiencies

The smuggler background was introduced in the Wizards of the Coast adventure Ghosts of Saltmarsh. Since Ghosts of Saltmarsh focuses on adventures on the high seas, the smuggler background is thematically aquatic and gains a tool proficiency with Vehicles (water).

Story Inspiration Questions

Are you a smuggler who stalks the high seas, or do your transgressions take place on the land? Backgrounds are entirely customizable, so with your Dungeon Master’s permission, would it make more sense for you to take a tool proficiency with Vehicles (land)?

What was the vehicle—land or water—that you loved the most? What happened to it? Did it sink? Did someone steal it? Did it retire?


The starting equipment for the smuggler background is:

  • A fancy leather vest or a pair of leather boots
  • A set of common clothes
  • A leather pouch with 15 gp

Story Inspiration Questions

Why do you only have 15 gp? The real answer is because you’re creating a new character, but we can have more fun with it. What turn of fortune led you to become an adventurer with only the clothes on your back and a few gold pieces?

Also, what’s the story behind your fancy leather vest or leather boots? Do they belong to your ex-business partner? Your mentor? The rival you left stranded?


Your background feature, Down Low, highlights the fact that you have comrades from your smuggling escapades who will help you out in times of need. You could use this network of fellow smugglers to gain access to a safe house. This is at the Dungeon Master’s discretion and is designed to be used in a city, town, or a similarly sized community.

Story Inspiration Questions

How does your network view you? Are you in good standing? An outcast? What’s your reputation with your fellow smugglers? Are you trusted? Lauded as the best? What’s something you’ll never live down?

Now consider working with your Dungeon Master to create a few specific contacts within your network. Choose (or roll for) two of the following options to brainstorm.

Smuggling Contacts

1Your ex-business partner
2A friendly rival who bested you
3A sibling who always seems to outdo you
4Someone who hates you—for good reason
5A mentor who has fallen on hard times
6Someone you double-crossed or who double-crossed you

Want more fun with your Down Low feature? Any time you successfully use it, roll 1d6 on the above table. The result is your contact for gaining access to a safe house.

Claim to Fame

Your claim to fame is the one story that your character is famous for among smugglers and common folk alike. This is a story in which, against all odds, you somehow got off clean (mostly), and survived to tell the tale.

There are six claim to fame options in the official Ghosts of Saltmarsh background, but here are six more to make your smuggler unique. Roll on or choose an entry from the following table:

Even More Claims to Fame

d6Claim to Fame
1Invasive Maneuvers. You were paid to smuggle twenty crates of frogs into enemy territory in an ongoing war. The frogs were magical and invasive and emit powerful fear pheromones into the air. The enemy surrendered within the week.
2Accidental Hero. You were trying to escape with your money in a deal gone wrong, but the gold was weighing down your wagon. You jettisoned a chest in the town square to escape, but the townsfolk took it as a gesture of noble kindness.
3Ghost Ship. You escaped capture by using magic and theatrics to appear as the famous ghost ship, The Admiral’s Widow. Luckily your pursuers were deeply superstitious.
4Smugglers’ Circus. To smuggle a variety of animals and objects across the country in plain sight, you staged a phony traveling circus as a cover. The circus wasn’t half bad, and you got the job done.
5Wine for the Ages. While smuggling wine, you became trapped in a realm where time passed more quickly. You returned with the wine, aged hundreds of years in a matter of days. It became priceless. How you stayed young is your untold story!
6Robed Royalty. You once had to smuggle a dozen magical robes through a border crossing. You put on all twelve robes—one on top of the other—and acted eccentric and garish. Though you looked ridiculous, you convinced the border guards that you were traveling royalty and got through.

Suggested Characteristics

The smuggler background also has traits, flaws, bonds, and ideals to choose from. The ones in the official background tend to value survival first, with profit as a close second.

Playing an Intriguing Smuggler

Let’s talk about some more ways to flesh out the story of your smuggler. As with many character options that have an overall effect on the campaign world or story, some of these things will need to be approved by your Dungeon Master.

Smuggling in the Present

As we mentioned, backgrounds in 5th Edition reflect a character’s past before they began adventuring. With that said, no rules restrict your smuggling to the past. What if your character still actively smuggles as their profession? This can be a great way to add side-plots to your game.

What Kind of Smuggler Are You?

Smuggling is the illegal transportation of various things. But what is your smuggling specialty? To add more narrative depth to your background, roll or choose one of the options below.

Smuggling Specialty

2Strange and volatile substances
3People (refugees, prisoners, innocents from war zones)
4Magical or cursed objects
5Secrets and information
6Stolen items

Kobold’s Got the Goods for Smugglers

Did you know that Kobold has our own smuggler background that’s fully 5e compatible? Mix and match the smuggler information in both articles to create the perfect smuggler for your next game!

Beyond the smuggler background, you can find more character options and short adventures on our Patreon. Consider becoming a Patron of our Warlock Patreon for Midgard zines with support tiers starting at just $1 per month.

Finally, are you looking for a game to play in as your smuggler? If so, the Kobold Chronicles Discord channel handles monthly organized play for Midgard. Find your next game here.

5 thoughts on “Got the Goods? A Guide to the Smuggler Background 5e”

  1. Players who are interested in testing their abilities will find vex 3 to be an excellent choice because the game’s design is both tough and visually appealing.

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