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Background Skills

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.

Skill Changes

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.

Adventuring Skills

Background Skills

Gaining Adventuring Skills

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.

Gaining Background 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.

Class Skills

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).

Monsters and NPCS

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.

New 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.

Artistry (Int)

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.

Artistry DC Workmanship
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 2: Spend 1/4 the price of the work you intend to create. This represents buying supplies such as parchment and ink, hiring the services of musicians, paying for research materials, and the like.

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.

Converting Characters

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.

Lore (Int; Trained Only)

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
Cats Animals
Drow matriarchs Drow
Dwarven history Dwarves
Frost giants Giants
A particular deity Gods
Dagon Demon lords
Phlegethon Hell
Military commanders Warfare
Famous singers Music
Infernal contracts Devils
Evocations Spells
Silver and mithral Metals
Tea Beverages
Trees Plants
Tattoos Art

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.

Expanded Skill Uses

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”.

Expanded Craft

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.

This entry also includes two useful Craft skills not specifically listed previously: Craft (blacksmithing) and Craft (musical instruments).

Task Craft Skill DC
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.

Item Craft Skill
Alchemist’s lab Alchemy
Artisan’s tools Blacksmithing or carpentry
Backpack Clothing or leather
Barding Armor
Bedroll Cloth or leather
Caltrops Weapons
Cart or carriage Carpentry
Chain Blacksmithing or traps
Chest Carpentry or locks
Climber’s kit Blacksmithing
Disguise kit Alchemy or paintings
Flint and steel Blacksmithing or stonemasonry
Grappling hook Blacksmithing or weapons
Gunslinger’s kit Alchemy or blacksmithing
Harrow deck Paintings
Healer’s kit Alchemy or cloth
Hemp rope Baskets or cloth
Lamp Blacksmithing or glass
Manacles Blacksmithing or locks
Masterwork tool Blacksmithing
Musical instrument Musical instruments
Saddle Leather
Scroll case Carpentry or leather
Signet ring Jewelry
Silk rope Cloth
Silver holy symbol Blacksmithing or sculpture
Skeleton key Locks
Spell component pouch Leather
Spyglass Glass
Tattoo Paintings
Tent Cloth or leather
Thieves’ tools Blacksmithing or locks
Waterskin Leather
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
Amulet Jewelry
Belt Leather or clothing
Bracelet Blacksmithing or jewelry
Bracer Armor or leather
Brooch Jewelry
Cape or cloak Cloth or clothing
Circlet Blacksmithing or jewelry
Crown Blacksmithing or jewelry
Gauntlet Armor
Girdle Clothing or leather
Glasses or goggles Glass
Glove Clothing or leather
Hat Clothing or leather
Headband Cloth or clothing
Helm Armor
Mask Clothing or leather
Necklace Blacksmithing or jewelry
Periapt Jewelry
Phylactery Leather or carpentry
Ring Jewelry
Robe Clothing
Vestments Clothing

Expanded Perform

In addition to being able to put on a show, a performer knows the prominent works of her chosen type of performance.

Task Perform Skill DC
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

Expanded Profession

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.

Task Profession Skill DC
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.

Section 15: Copyright Notice

Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Pathfinder Unchained © 2015, Paizo Inc.; Authors: Dennis Baker, Jesse Benner, Ross Beyers, Logan Bonner, Jason Bulmahn, Robert Emerson, Tim Hitchcock, Jason Nelson, Tom Phillips, Stephen Radney-MacFarland, Thomas M. Reid, Robert Schwalb, Mark Seifter, and Russ Taylor.