The Background Skills optional system splits skills into two categories: adventuring skills and background skills. Characters get a few extra ranks in the latter, allowing them to acquire skills that rarely come up during adventures.
Adventuring-oriented skills such as Perception are usually more important for your character’s survival than background skills such as Profession, but these background skills are invaluable for fleshing out characters. This system separates skills into adventuring and background skills, so you don’t have to sacrifice your character’s life expectancy for her to have a rich background or engage in downtime activities.
The standard skill system has a lot of versatility. It allows characters to overcome various challenges related to their diverse talents, with simple rules for dealing with beneficial or adverse conditions. Though many players simply spend their skill ranks on the same skills at every level, it is also possible for a character to diversify his investment in order to gain access to more skills overall or to remedy a shortcoming.
However, not all skills provide the same benefit to characters. It’s difficult to argue that a high bonus in a Profession skill has the same value as a high bonus in a more general skill such as Perception. Yet Profession is an important skill for nonplayer characters, as well as for players who wish to show that adventuring isn’t the only thing their characters care about.
This system recognizes that skills such as Craft, Knowledge, and Profession serve an important role in the game. Though these skills don’t directly affect the careers of typical adventurers the same way that Bluff, Perception, and Stealth do, they are useful means for characters to interact with and explore the world outside of combat. You shouldn’t have to choose between having the knowledge to understand the world and the ability to survive in it!
These skills are called background skills because they reflect the non-adventuring interests and passions of a player character, or the skills more important to NPCs. All other skills are called adventuring skills.
In a campaign that uses the background skills system, each character gains an additional 2 skill ranks per level, which must be spent on background skills. More details appear in the Gaining Background Skills section. These new rules make characters and their skills more versatile, but because they boost non-adventuring skills, they’re unlikely to unbalance a campaign.
Appraise, Craft, Handle Animal, Linguistics, Perform, Profession, and some Knowledge specialties are all background skills. While all of these skills can be useful, or even necessary, in certain types of campaigns (such as Profession [sailor] in a nautical-themed campaign) or for certain types of characters (such as Handle Animal for a druid or ranger), they are often of less immediate value than sneaking up on a foe using Stealth or journeying through the wilderness using Survival.
This system also adds two new background skills: Artistry and Lore. A counterpart to Craft and Perform, Artistry is about developing a creative work that isn’t necessarily an object or a discrete performance. This skill can be used to write plays, musical compositions, poems, and all sorts of other works. Lore, on the other hand, functions like an especially specific Knowledge skill. A character might know Lore (elven history) without being trained more generally in Knowledge (history), or could be well versed in Lore (artistic masterpieces) without having ranks in Appraise, Artistry, or Craft.
New skill descriptions can be found on the following pages. These include entries on the new skills and expanded entries on existing skills that are now background skills.
The table below lists the new and redefined skills, separated into adventuring and background skills.
- Disable Device
- Escape Artist
- Knowledge (arcana)
- Knowledge (dungeoneering)
- Knowledge (local)
- Knowledge (nature)
- Knowledge (planes)
- Knowledge (religion)
- Sense Motive
- Use Magic Device
- Handle Animal
- Knowledge (engineering)
- Knowledge (geography)
- Knowledge (history)
- Knowledge (nobility)
- Sleight of Hand
Adventuring skills are those skills that are most relevant for characters while they’re actively adventuring. Adventuring skills are purchased with the standard skill ranks each character class receives, modified by a character’s Intelligence (and sometimes by race or other factors). No adjustments need to be made to these skills when using the background skills system.
Most adventuring skills are related to training and practice, and each has a clear and specific application to the everyday challenges that face a professional adventurer. Adventuring skills get used for the majority of skill checks, so most skill ranks should be devoted to those skills.
In addition to their normal allotment of regular skill ranks, all characters gain 2 background skill ranks each time they gain a level in a PC class. The character’s Intelligence modifier doesn’t adjust this value. Background skill ranks can be used to gain ranks only in background skills, not adventuring skills. Characters can expend their regular skill ranks on background skills if they desire.
Even the most dedicated adventurers have other things they enjoy doing in their spare time. Some pursue business interests during their downtime between adventures, and though these can be modeled with the downtime rules, players who aren’t interested in such a robust system still might wish to include elements of those interests on their character sheets.
In the background skills system, classes use their standard class skill lists. Any class that gains Craft or Perform as a class skill also counts Artistry as a class skill. Lore is always considered a class skill for all characters.
For example, a wizard has Appraise on his class skill list normally, so a wizard has the Appraise background skill as a class skill. Craft is also on his class skill list, so Artistry is a class skill for him as well (even though Perform isn’t on his class skill list).
Typically, monsters don’t gain access to the background skills system from their racial Hit Dice. The Gamemaster might decide that certain types of monsters might have extensive lives as workers and crafters (such as storm giants, for example) and therefore gain background skills, but this is optional.
NPCs gain background skills in the same fashion PCs do, but only for PC classes they possess. This also applies to monsters with levels in PC classes. NPCs don’t have to spend their background skill ranks, and these skills rarely affect combat. Characters with only NPC classes—especially aristocrats, commoners, and experts—often spend their adventuring skill ranks on background skills.
The section presents full entries for two new skills: Artistry and Lore. Even if you’re not using the background skills system, you can still incorporate these skills into your game as normal skills.
You are skilled in the creative arts, following your aesthetic sensibilities to bring to life the wonders of your imagination. Like Craft, Perform, and Profession, Artistry is actually a number of separate skills. You could have several Artistry skills, each with its own ranks. The most common Artistry skills are choreography, criticism, literature (including poetry), musical composition, philosophy, and playwriting.
Like Craft, an Artistry skill is focused on creating something. However, what it creates is not necessarily a physical object; it could be a pattern or blueprint for an item, or a better method for crafting a type of item. Thus, an Artistry (musical composition) check could be used to create a new song, but the important act of creation is the song itself, not the paper on which it is written or even the performance. An artist is not necessarily a skilled performer, though she might be. An artist’s province is the creation of ideas and concepts, and the realization of those ideas in a way that can be enjoyed by others and contribute to the broader culture of the arts. Some art forms (such as painting or sculpture) skirt the line between Artistry and Craft. It’s up to the GM to rule whether certain Craft skills can be taken as Artistry skills instead.
Check: You can create works of art and try to earn a living by impressing possible patrons with your talent and ideas.
|10||Pedestrian work. No one buys your original work, but you get a few odd jobs using your skills—often just repairing or copying someone else’s work. You earn 1d10 cp per day.|
|15||Pleasing work. In a prosperous city, you find a few who wish to purchase your work, and earn 1d10 sp per day.|
|20||Impressive work. In a prosperous city, you earn 3d10 sp per day, and may receive an artistic commission from a wealthy or public figure. As a result, you gain a local reputation.|
|25||Memorable work. In a prosperous city, you earn 1d6 gp per day, and you are likely to attract the attention of wealthy patrons and to develop a national reputation.|
|30||Masterful work. In a prosperous city, you earn 3d6 gp per day. In time, you may draw attention from distant patrons, or even from extraplanar beings.|
Since works of art are products of imagination, masterwork tools are of no use in their creation.
Creating a Commissioned Work: If you are creating a specific commissioned work, determine the value of the work you wish to create by looking at the table below, then follow the listed steps. You must have a patron willing to pay this value to attempt to create a commissioned work. The amount earned from trying to make a living using Artistry is for works that are distributed among many people and publications, not bought by one patron.
|Quality of Work||DC||Commission Fee|
|Pedestrian work||10||1 sp|
|Pleasing work||15||25 gp (250 sp)|
|Impressive work||20||50 gp (500 sp)|
|Memorable work||25||100 gp (1,000 sp)|
|Masterful work||30||200 gp (2,000 sp)|
To determine how much time and money it takes to complete a work of art, follow these steps.
Step 1: Find the DC and price corresponding to the quality of the work you intend to create.
Step 3: Attempt an Artistry check with the appropriate DC, representing 1 week’s worth of work. If you succeed, multiply your check result by the DC. If the resulting value equals the price of the item in sp, then you have completed the work of art and gain your commission fee. (If the resulting value equals double or triple the price of the work in silver pieces, then you’ve completed the task in half or one-third of the time. Other multiples of the DC reduce the completion time in the same manner.) If the resulting value doesn’t equal the price, then it represents the progress you’ve made this week in sp. If the check fails, you make no progress.
Step 4: If you didn’t complete the work of art, you can either continue working or call it done and cut your losses. If you continue working, you must spend 1/4 the price again for each week you work. Record the result of your check from the first week, and add your progress for each subsequent week to the total until you either complete the item or cut your losses. If you decide to cut your losses, you gain the commission of the highest-quality level that your total could have completed. For instance, if you were trying to create a memorable work (a commission price of 1,000 sp) and have made only 600 sp worth of progress, you can cut your losses to gain a commission fee for an impressive work (500 sp, or 50 gp). You can’t earn the value for a higher quality than you were aiming for, so if you aimed to create a memorable work but ended up creating a masterful work, you couldn’t gain a commission price higher than 100 gp. When you cut your losses, you don’t gain back any money you spent on supplies and services. So if you spent 250 sp when trying to create a memorable work, selling an impressive work would net you only 250 sp total if you spent 1 week of work, and would cause you to break even if you spent 2 weeks. It’s possible to lose money working on a commission.
Action: Varies. Trying to earn money by creating minor works of art typically involves a full week’s work. If you work less than 1 week, you earn the daily average amount appropriate for your level of workmanship. Creating a commissioned work typically takes a week or more.
Implementing background skills in an established campaign is easy. To convert a character’s skill ranks into this system, first determine the total number of background skill ranks she has—this is equal to 2 × the PC’s character level. Next, find out how many ranks she has already spent on skills that are background skills under this system. The character gains that number of regular skill ranks to spend on any skills—essentially refunding the regular skill ranks spent on background skills. Finally, subtract this number from the character’s total number of background skill ranks to determine how many background skill ranks she still has to spend. For example, a 5th-level rogue would have 10 background skill ranks. If she had already put 5 ranks into skills that are now background skills, she would spend 5 of her background skill ranks on those skills, freeing up the original 5 ranks to spend on any skills, and she would still have 5 background skill ranks left to spend on background skills.
The GM might want to allow some amount of retraining to factor in the new background skills. A character who took Profession (poet) might prefer to put those ranks in Artistry (poetry) instead, or a character who took Knowledge (geography) to represent the time she spent traveling a specific river might take Lore in that river instead.
Try Again: Yes. Retries are allowed, but they don’t negate previous failures. If you’re trying to earn a living as an artist in a city where the public hasn’t been impressed with your work (because you failed a DC 15 Artistry check in the previous week), you have a hard time breaking into the marketplace with future artwork (increase the DC by 2 for each previous failure). If you leave the area for a month or more before trying again, this increase resets to 0.
You possess a specialized area of knowledge, generally narrower than that of a full-fledged scholar. Lore acts as a catchall skill for information, similar to how Craft handles artisanal skills and Profession handles professional skills.
The category of a Lore skill can vary widely from that of another Lore skill. It could be regional (such as a city or country), about a discipline (such as cryptography), or related to a narrow set of people (such as famous musicians). The scope of region-based Lore skills can also refer to specific subcategories, such as taverns in a particular region.
A Lore skill must be narrow—far narrower than the most relevant Knowledge skill. The broader the scope of a given category of Lore, the shallower your knowledge is on that topic. If you know about taverns in a wide region, you know less about each of them than you would if you had Lore in taverns of a specific city. Lore skills normally can’t be used to identify monsters the way Knowledge skills can, unless they refer to a specific type of monster (such as owlbears or vampires). If Lore involves a common, broad category of race or monster, it needs to be more specific. Lore (elves) would be too broad, as would Lore (dragons).
Check: Lore skills use the same DC scale as Knowledge skills: DC 10 to answer easy questions, DC 15 for basic questions, and DC 20 to 30 for really tough questions. In many cases, Lore can substitute for a Knowledge skill, such as Lore (elven history) filling in for Knowledge (history) in a check involving elves. At the GM’s discretion, a player might be able to apply a Lore skill that’s only partially related to a subject with a –5 penalty, such as using a Lore skill about a region to recall information about a particular city in that region or applying knowledge of distilling to winemaking.
The table below describes some examples of Lore skills alongside examples of skills that would be too broad. This is by no means a comprehensive list, and the GM has final say on whether a particular Lore skill is appropriate.
|Appropriate Lore Skills||Inappropriate Choices|
|A particular small city||Settlements (or smaller settlement)|
|One district of a large city or metropolis||An entire large city or metropolis|
|A particular monastery||Monasteries|
|Taverns in a region||Taverns|
|Bandits in a region||Banditry|
|Famous battles in a region||Famous battles|
|The spice trade||Commerce|
|A particular deity||Gods|
|Silver and mithral||Metals|
Bards: Lore is treated as a Knowledge skill for the purposes of bardic knowledge and lore master, as well as similar abilities found in other classes, creatures, and archetypes. This applies only to Lore skills in which a character is trained. In other circumstances, use the more relevant Knowledge skill.
Skills such as Craft, Perform, and Profession already include basic uses, such as crafting objects and making money. However, they can also be useful for other tasks related to practicing those skills. Further uses are expanded upon here, with sample DCs for common tasks. These expansions are meant to include additional uses to help these skills work into the framework of a regular game, and can be used separately from the background skills system if desired. These uses, particularly those that allow you to aid another at a lower DC, are at the GM’s discretion. For more in-depth subsystems to replicate crafting and running a business, see “Alternate Crafting and Profession Rules”.
An understanding of the properties and quality of an object comes part and parcel with the ability to craft it. Some of these checks could take extended periods of time, especially involved tasks like restoring a mural, as determined by the GM.
|Determine what culture (e.g., elves, frost giants, etc.) made an item||By item type||15|
|Identify a famous maker’s mark||By item type||10|
|Identify an obscure maker’s mark1||By item type||20|
|Identify the creator of an item with no mark1||By item type||30|
|Determine the hardness and hit points of an item1||By item type||20|
|Determine the items an alchemist makes with substances from his lab1||Alchemy||15|
|Etch metal armor plates with decorative designs||Armor or paintings||15|
|Identify a suit of masterwork armor on sight||Armor||15|
|Determine what type of environment a basket’s material came from||Baskets||10|
|Determine the specific region a basket’s material came from||Baskets||20|
|Smelt ore and refine the metal||Blacksmithing||15|
|Create armor spikes or shield spikes without Craft (armor)1||Blacksmithing||+5|
|Determine a book’s approximate age||Books||10|
|Identify a composite bow on sight||Bows||10|
|Identify a masterwork bow on sight||Bows||15|
|Determine a writer’s experience level and handedness1||Calligraphy||10|
|Write an invitation that matches appropriate social conventions||Calligraphy||10|
|Create a makeshift barrel or crate||Carpentry||10|
|Create a rudimentary raft from found materials||Carpentry or ships||15|
|Carve fine woodworking||Carpentry or sculptures||15|
|Create wooden armor or a wooden shield without Craft (armor)||Carpentry||+5|
|Correctly dye a garment or bolt of cloth||Cloth||10|
|Mend a sail||Cloth, clothing, or ships||15|
|Tailor a garment to another size or body shape||Clothing||10|
|Create temporary cold-weather gear (grants a +2 bonus)||Clothing||20|
|Create padded armor without Craft (armor)||Clothing||+5|
|Locate or identify naturally formed glass||Glass||10|
|Identify the work of famous jewelers||Jewelry||15|
|Create a fake gemstone1||Jewelry||Opposed2|
|Identify the sort of creature from which a piece of leather came1||Leather||103|
|Skin an animal and tan the hide||Leather||15|
|Create a high-quality item from the hide of a nonstandard creature1||Leather||20|
|Create leather, studded leather, or hide armor without Craft (armor)||Leather||+5|
|Aid another on a Disable Device check to open a lock1||Locks||5|
|Tune a musical instrument||Musical instruments||10|
|Create paint or other pigments from scratch||Paintings||10|
|Re-create someone’s likeness from memory||Paintings||15|
|Re-create someone’s likeness from an eyewitness account||Paintings||20|
|Create a temporary or makeshift kiln||Pottery||20|
|Make a mold of an object or part of a body||Sculptures||10|
|Alter shoes to a different size or foot shape1||Shoes||10|
|Recognize a famous ship and where it likely came from||Ships||10|
|Identify whether a stone wall is entirely stone or a veneer||Stonemasonry||10|
|Create a temporary stone support or small rampart with found supplies||Stonemasonry||15|
|Determine the age of a mechanical trap||Traps||15|
|Identify a masterwork weapon on sight||Weapons||15|
1 A character must be trained in the listed skill to attempt this task.
2 With a successful opposed Perception or Craft (jewelry) check, a character identifies the work as a fake.
3 This DC is for items made from the hides of common animals, such as cattle, and increases by 5 for other types of creatures.
The table below lists which craft skills to use for certain prominent items and adventuring tools. The list omits obvious items—outfits are made with Craft (clothing), keelboats with Craft (ships), and so on. More specific skills can also be used instead of the listed skill, such as using Craft (tattoos) instead of Craft (paintings) for a tattoo.
|Artisan’s tools||Blacksmithing or carpentry|
|Backpack||Clothing or leather|
|Bedroll||Cloth or leather|
|Cart or carriage||Carpentry|
|Chain||Blacksmithing or traps|
|Chest||Carpentry or locks|
|Disguise kit||Alchemy or paintings|
|Flint and steel||Blacksmithing or stonemasonry|
|Grappling hook||Blacksmithing or weapons|
|Gunslinger’s kit||Alchemy or blacksmithing|
|Healer’s kit||Alchemy or cloth|
|Hemp rope||Baskets or cloth|
|Lamp||Blacksmithing or glass|
|Manacles||Blacksmithing or locks|
|Musical instrument||Musical instruments|
|Scroll case||Carpentry or leather|
|Silver holy symbol||Blacksmithing or sculpture|
|Spell component pouch||Leather|
|Tent||Cloth or leather|
|Thieves’ tools||Blacksmithing or locks|
|Wood holy symbol||Carpentry or sculpture|
The following table indicates which Craft skills are typically used to create common worn items. While the normal system for creating magic items doesn’t incorporate Craft skills, such skills could reasonably be used while creating a magic item to make it appear especially ornate.
|Worn Item||Craft Skill|
|Belt||Leather or clothing|
|Bracelet||Blacksmithing or jewelry|
|Bracer||Armor or leather|
|Cape or cloak||Cloth or clothing|
|Circlet||Blacksmithing or jewelry|
|Crown||Blacksmithing or jewelry|
|Girdle||Clothing or leather|
|Glasses or goggles||Glass|
|Glove||Clothing or leather|
|Hat||Clothing or leather|
|Headband||Cloth or clothing|
|Mask||Clothing or leather|
|Necklace||Blacksmithing or jewelry|
|Phylactery||Leather or carpentry|
In addition to being able to put on a show, a performer knows the prominent works of her chosen type of performance.
|Mimic the style of a famous performer||Varies||15|
|Recall or recognize all the notes, lyrics, or lines of a popular work||Varies||15|
|Recall or recognize all the notes, lyrics, or lines of an obscure work||Varies||20|
|Improvise a routine on a specific subject||Act, comedy, oratory, or sing||20|
A profession often encompasses many smaller areas of expertise, and these auxiliary skills can come in handy in situations beyond just making money or answering trade-specific questions. Below are some sample additional uses for Profession skills, and GMs are encouraged to create their own.
|Determine hardness and hit points of a structure or engineer||Architect||20|
|Prepare trail rations (takes 1 hour per day’s worth of rations)||Baker or cook||10|
|Obtain a legal permit||Barrister or clerk||15|
|Get someone released from jail who has been imprisoned for a minor crime1||Barrister||20|
|Ask a special favor from a judge (such as arresting someone)||Barrister||30|
|Brew alcohol of exceptional quality||Brewer||20|
|Notice poison in a beverage||Brewer||25|
|Skin an animal and tan the hide||Butcher, shepherd, or tanner||10|
|Slaughter and butcher an animal||Butcher, cook, or shepherd||15|
|Reduce a legal fine or tax by half the result of the check in gp2||Clerk||20+|
|Cook a meal of exceptional quality||Cook||20|
|Notice poison in food||Cook||25|
|Find potential clients within an establishment or large group||Courtesan||10|
|Assess a social hierarchy||Courtesan||15|
|Continue steering a vehicle when you take damage||Driver or sailor||5|
|Take cover (as the Ride skill) while steering a vehicle||Driver or sailor||15|
|Identify a non-creature plant||Farmer or gardener||10|
|Rejuvenate dying plants||Farmer or gardener||15|
|Provide 1 day’s worth of food for yourself and others in the wild||Fisherman or trapper||153|
|Recall the rules of a game of chance||Gambler||10|
|Get a hunch regarding whether a game is rigged||Gambler||20|
|Reduce an average or lower cost of living by 50%||Innkeeper||153|
|Sate hunger or thirst for 1 day||Herbalist||10|
|Identify common medicinal herbs||Herbalist||10|
|Identify rare medicinal herbs||Herbalist||15|
|Aid another on a Knowledge check using reference material||Librarian||5|
|Recall the name of a rare book||Librarian||15|
|Determine where an item was manufactured||Merchant||104|
|Recall where a common good fetches a higher price||Merchant||15|
|Safely deliver a child||Midwife||15|
|Safely deliver a child despite complications||Midwife||20|
|Grind a small piece of a non-magical substance into powder||Miller||10 + hardness|
|Identify common metal or semiprecious stone||Miner||5|
|Identify rare metal or precious gem||Miner||15|
|Ignore half hardness when attacking a stone or metal object||Miner||20|
|Increase carrying capacity for 8 hours as if Strength were 2 higher||Porter||15|
|Unload a vessel in half the normal time||Porter||20|
|Navigate a ship in fair conditions||Sailor||20|
|Pilot a ship safely through a hazardous seaway||Sailor||25+|
|Determine which scribe wrote a document||Scribe||104|
|Copy a document (30 minutes per page; requires a blank book)||Scribe||10|
|Illuminate a manuscript (1 hour per page)||Scribe||20|
|Determine the quality of woolen textiles||Shepherd||10|
|Determine whether a weapon or armor is of masterwork quality||Soldier||10|
|Estimate the size of a military force||Soldier||15|
|Identify advantages and disadvantages of a military formation||Soldier||20|
|Keep horses fed in the wild||Stable master||10|
|Fit or remove barding in half the normal time||Stable master||15|
|Recognize damaged or sabotaged horse tack||Stable master||20|
|Determine the quality of leatherwork (and tell if it’s masterwork quality)||Tanner||10|
|Aid another on an Escape Artist check to get out of a trap or snare||Trapper||5|
|Reset a trap in half the normal amount of time||Trapper||20|
|Scavenge wood suitable for campfire or shelter||Woodcutter||5|
|Ignore half hardness when attacking wooden object||Woodcutter||20|
1 A major crime typically requires a trial involving a series of Bluff, Diplomacy, Intimidate, Profession (barrister), and Sense Motive skill checks, as well as appropriate Knowledge checks.
2 To a minimum of 25% of the original value.
3 Provide this benefit for yourself plus one other person for every 2 points by which your skill check exceeds the DC.
4 Increase the DC by 5 if the item is from a region the character is unfamiliar with, and by another 5 if it’s more than 20 years old. Exceptionally rare or ancient pieces can’t usually have their origin identified in this way.