Backgrounds represent pieces of your character’s history that contributes to your character’s history as well as their ability to succeed with non-combat skills.
Each character has a number of points to allocate to a set of backgrounds. These are broad categories of experience (cat burglar, for example) rather than specific implementations of that experience (climbing and hiding).
Backgrounds don’t sync to a specific ability score, though some backgrounds obviously may get used more often with certain ability scores than others.
Assigning Background Points
Each character gets 8 background points, plus any extra that your class’s talents award. Assign your background points to as many backgrounds as you want, up to your total points. You can assign a maximum of 5 points to a single background (and minimum of 1).
Making Skill Checks
When you roll a skill check to find out if you succeed at a task or trick, the GM tells you which ability score is being tested. Then you choose the background you think is relevant to gain the points you have in that background as a bonus to the skill check.
Most skill checks require you to equal or beat a Difficulty Class (DC), set by the environment you are operating in, to succeed.
To make a skill check, use this formula:
D20 + relevant ability modifier + level + relevant background points
DC set by the environment
You can’t apply multiple backgrounds to the same check; the background with the highest (or tied for highest) bonus applies.
Choosing Your Backgrounds
Choose backgrounds that help you make sense of your characters past, jobs, and settings. Background and skill use is meant to be about fun in-character methods of attempting to advance the plot.
A few possible backgrounds include: acrobat, alchemist, animal trainer, architect, aristocratic noble, assassin, chef, con-woman, goblin exterminator, hunted outlaw, knight errant, magecraft, priest, refugee, scout, shepherd, soldier, spy, temple acolyte, thief, torturer, transformed animal, traveling martial arts pupil, tribal healer, tunnel scout, wandering minstrel, warrior poet, and so on.
Choose the Relevant Ability Score
For players, the point of this background/skill system is to encourage roleplaying and creative solutions to problems. Not every problem can be solved by your dominant abilities. For the GM, it’s the chance to make all of the ability scores matter at one time or another.
Natural 20s and Fumbles with Skill Checks
When a PC rolls a natural 20 with a skill check, the GM should feel free to give that character much more success than the player expected.
When a PC rolls a 1 with a skill check, the skill check fumbles and fails, perhaps in a particularly bad way. But a failure isn’t always entirely terrible….
Outside of battle, when failure would tend to slow action down rather than move the action along, instead interpret it as a near-success or event that happens to carry unwanted consequences or side effects. The character probably still fails to achieve the desired goal, but that’s because something happens on the way to the goal rather than because nothing happens. In any case, the story and action still keep moving.
All your skill checks increase by 1 when you level up. If you want even better skill checks, take the Further Backgrounding feat.
If you just want to move around the bonuses you already have to show how your character is changing, you can move one background point around among your current backgrounds each time you gain a level, or swap the point into an entirely new background, with the GM’s permission.