I could, for example, see backgrounds related to being a member of a knightly order, mages' school, or any number of other, more flavorful options.
That said, I wanted to try my hand at writing up my own background, so I followed the design considerations I assumed the writers of D&D followed and came up with a "generic" background that can be used for almost any sort of character. I came up with the laborer; a very broad background that makes sense for a fantasy setting, especially one with a grittier feel.
You have worked as a manual laborer your entire life. You have dirt under your fingernails and never shy away from a little hard work. Most of your time is filled in back-breaking labor, the type of work that keeps merchants and mine owners in business even as it makes you just enough money to get by. It’s a hard life, but it’s toughened you and made you confident in your abilities. Your past marks you as one of the common folk, but all great heroes start somewhere.
Skill Proficiencies: Animal Handling, Athletics
Tool Proficiencies: One type of gaming set, vehicles (choose water or land)
Equipment: A job-related tool (choose a piece of equipment from the gear table that costs 2 gp or less), small knife, a set of bone dice or a deck of cards, a set of common clothes, and a belt pouch containing 10 gp.
Laborers are everywhere in the city and countryside, from the dockworker unloading goods, to the cart driver delivering them, to the miner deep underground. Choose which type of laborer with which you have the longest history or roll on the table below. This list is not exhaustive so you can make up your job with the DM’s permission.
d8 Type of Laborer
Feature: Day Laborer
As one of the working class, finding work and a place to stay is easy for you. In any location that needs workers, you can find room and board plus enough money for a poor lifestyle for as long as the work holds out, unless you prove to be a danger to those around you. Your employer and the other laborers may even protect you from the law or anyone else searching for you, though they will not risk their lives for you.
Laborers are the workaday people that fill the cities and countryside, but just because they’re looked over by everyone doesn’t mean they’re not capable of great deeds. Most are likely to run from danger, but the exceptional few rise up from their humble origins to be great heroes. They tend to be earthy and defer to those of a higher social rank out of habit. They hold their family, friends, and home in high regard.
d8 Personality Traits
1 I work hard and I play hard.
2 I am always looking for ways to get out of working. If there’s a job to be done, someone else can do it.
3 I am gruff and have the social graces of a mule.
4 I take a measured approach to all problems. Any problem can be solved by thinking it through.
5 I have no patience for people who think they’re too good to get dirty.
6 I have a different pithy comment or aphorism, passed on from my grandfather, for every situation.
7 I prefer to stay silent than ask or say something stupid.
8 My family and friends come first, no matter what.
1 Tradition. I trust in the traditions handed from my parents and grandparents. What worked for them works for me. (Lawful)
2 Greed. I work hard and expect to be paid for it. I will do whatever I must to become wealthy. (Evil)
3 People. I do what I do for the people who are important to me, not because of the gods or what others think of me. (Neutral)
4 Respect. Everyone, even the lowest of the low, deserve to be treated well. (Good)
5 Independence. It’s my life and I’ll live it any way I want to. (Chaotic)
6 Aspiration. I want to prove that I’m exceptional in some way. Any way. (Any)
1 I’ll prove myself to the one I love with great deeds.
2 The home I grew up in is the most important place in the world to me.
3 I will avenge the death of my loved ones by destroying those who took them from me.
4 I have a family that means the world to me. I will always find my way home to them.
5 I owe my life to the company owner who took me in and gave me work.
6 Relatives from long ago were nobles. I will reclaim their title and land.
1 I can’t be trusted with secrets. Actually, I just can’t be trusted.
2 I’m jealous of anyone stronger or smarter than me.
3 I’m bad with money, love to drink and gamble, and I’m always in debt.
4 I’ll do anything to get ahead.
5 I’m rude and pushy to people weaker than me. I say it’s to toughen them up, but really I enjoy it.
6 I think people look down on me because of my history and take offense at the smallest slight.
I'm really looking forward to creating more flavorful backgrounds, but this is a good start. I look forward to any feedback you have to offer.