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Background/Skills » List of Backgrounds » Skill Descriptions
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Every story has a beginning, and your background reveals where your character came from, how he or she became an adventurer, and your character's place in the world. Your fighter might have been a courageous knight or a grizzled soldier. Your wizard could have been a sage or a witch. Your rogue might have gotten by as a thief or commanded audiences as a demagogue.
Your background is one of four key decisions you make about your character, providing you with important cues about his or her identity. In addition, your background provides you with several benefits that aid you in your adventures and also gives you a suggested equipment package that goes further to reflect your character's past.
Each background grants training in three skills. A skill reflects an area of expertise within an associated ability. When you attempt a task or action that involves a skill in which you are trained, you use your skill modifier in place of your ability modifier.
Training: A skill has an underlying ability. Your modifier when making checks using that skill equals 3 + the ability modifier associated with the skill.
If you already have training in a skill and would gain training in that skill again (for example, a skill granted by both your class and background), you instead choose a different skill in which you become trained.
Improving Skills: As you gain levels, you also gain the ability to improve your skills and gain training in new skills. At 2nd level, and at every even-numbered level thereafter, you can increase the bonus granted by one of your skills by 1 (to a maximum of +7).
How Do I Use My Skills?
During play, you describe what your character is doing and, if the Dungeon Master deems it necessary, you make a check using the ability the DM specifies. Since skills point to specific tasks, you simply use your skill modifier in place of the ability modifier when making these checks to perform these tasks. For example, if you describe you would move silently past the orc sentries, the DM might call for a Dexterity check. In this case, you make a check using your Dexterity modifier. If you have the Stealth skill, however, you use your Stealth modifier in place of your Dexterity modifier since Stealth covers tasks related to hiding and move silently.
As a player, it's up to you to describe clearly the action that you're trying to take. You can incorporate the use of skills in your task description: "Drawing on my knowledge of Forbidden Lore, I study the strange glyph." If the DM calls for a check, you just use that skill, without needing to reference the ability as well. Or, if your DM calls for a check in a situation where you haven't specified a skill, you can offer up the check total with the skill: "I rolled a 16, or a 19 if my Intimidate skill applies." Clear descriptions help your DM realize your intentions and adjudicate the check in a way that both makes sense in the context of a game, and that gives you the chance to take advantage of your character's aptitude.
Backgrounds also provide you with a trait. A trait is a special ability that describes something you can do, or something you can expect, related to your character's place in the world. Typically, traits are exceptional, and the description of each trait explains how they function in the game.
Each background also provides an equipment package. If you take the equipment package, you must also take the equipment package granted by your class. Or you can forgo taking the equipment packages and instead take 175 gp, with which you purchase your starting equipment.