Everyone Has a Past

Friday, May 11, 2018

While we all live moment-by-moment, we are also shaped by our past. This is especially true for adventurers. After all, very few elves at the ripe age of 14 think to themselves, "Hey, I think I'm going to become a barbarian." There is a path that leads the character to their class. It might synergize obviously with the class's discipline, or at first blush it might seem a non sequitur, but the path is there.

In the Pathfinder Playtest, your ancestry talks a bit about your past, but it also speaks to your present and the promise of the future, by virtue of the fact that you continue to gain ancestry feats through the course of your adventuring career. But to help you dig deeper into your past, you'll choose a background.

Generally, backgrounds allow you to select a bit of backstory that mechanically affects the current state of your character. The first thing it does is grants you a pair of ability boosts (with some limitations on one of those ability boosts), and then it grants a skill feat tied to the theme of your background and proficiency in a Lore skill that also ties into the background. For instance, here is an old chestnut:

Illustration by Wayne Reynolds

Blacksmith (Background)

You were a blacksmith or a blacksmith's apprentice, and during countless hours toiling at the forge, you learned how to smith armor and weapons. Perhaps you worked hard each day and dreamed of adventure each night, or perhaps the adventuring life was thrust upon you by a pivotal event.

Choose two ability boosts. One must be to Strength or Intelligence, and one is a free ability boost.

You gain the Specialty Crafting skill feat for blacksmithing, and you're trained in the Smithing Lore skill.

Sure, it's a bit cliche, but it's a fun cliche. Before becoming a fighter, you were a blacksmith's apprentice. Maybe you crafted your sword or suit of armor and decided to protect home and hearth from monsters. But take a closer look at the background. It's more flexible than that. It's also an excellent background for an alchemist or another character who wants to specialize in crafting. Since you can boost Intelligence via this background, and Intelligence is the key ability score for both Crafting skill and the alchemist class, you can refocus this background into that of an intelligent tinkerer who uses innovation rather than toil to create metal objects. And who knows? Maybe later on in your career, you can fuse your background with other skill feats to invent a new form of alchemical armor or some kind of metal construct.

Not all backgrounds have to do with gainful employment; others deal with the circumstances of your upbringing that you can parlay into useful skills. Here is another example of a classic fantasy trope:

Street Urchin (Background)

You eked out a living by picking pockets on the streets of a major city, never knowing where you'd find your next meal. While some folk adventure for the glory, you adventure as a means of survival.

Choose two ability boosts. One must be to Dexterity or Intelligence, and one is a free ability boost.

You gain the Pickpocket skill feat, and you're trained in the Underworld Lore skill.

While a classic rogue background, this background also has enough flexibility to serve as a perfectly fine background for a wizard or alchemist, and that's only if you dwell on the limited ability boost. Remember, one of the ability boosts if free, so you can play against type and still make a perfectly reasonable character. Imagine a paladin with this background, which isn't so hard if you know anything about a certain iconic paladin...

Not all backgrounds are so all-encompassing, though. After all, your background not only deals with activity but also your personal focus. You may have been an apprentice blacksmith, even for a long while, but retained none of its benefits because you were too busy dreaming about being a Pathfinder.

Pathfinder Hopeful (Background)

You've long wanted to join the adventurous Pathfinder Society, a world-spanning organization of relic hunters. This aspiration has led you to take up the dangerous life of an adventurer eager to make a name for yourself and gain the attention of the Pathfinder Society.

Choose two ability boosts. One must be to Strength or Intelligence, and one is a free ability boost.

You gain the Additional Lore feat, and you're trained in the Pathfinder Society Lore skill.

While the boosts are similar to that of the blacksmith background, the skill selection is, of course, different. I can easily picture this background as that of a young dreamer, toiling away when she must but finding whatever time she can to read various Pathfinder Chronicles (both real and forged) and honing her body and mind for the chance to join the Pathfinder Society.

Incidentally, this is not a background you will find in the Pathfinder Playtest Rulebook. While that weighty tome provides 19 backgrounds, you'll find six more backgrounds in the Pathfinder Playtest Adventure: Doomsday Dawn. Those six are tailor-made for the adventure, granting the opportunity for small, sometimes incidental perks during play for those who take them and allowing you to tailor your character to the story. This is one of the chief benefits of the background system—it can be used to make very general backgrounds or to tailor specific backgrounds to an adventure or a campaign.

And so there you have it; that's the skinny on backgrounds. What kind of backgrounds can you imagine?

Stephen Radney-MacFarland
Senior Designer

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MidsouthGuy wrote:
All I'm going to say is that people who decide to roll for their stats need to get some kind of modifiers so we can stand alongside those who choose to use the standard method or point buy. Rolling for stats has been part of the game since the beginning. Would it really be so bad to put in a paragraph or two about what bonuses and penalties you get when rolling for ability scores?

There will be some rolled stat method.

We don't know exactly how it works.

We can reasonably assume it won't usually generate results drastically different from the normal method.

In the unlikely event that it doesn't involve the racial mods, you can submit feedback about that. (I'm guessing something like 2d6 + 5 would work if you subtract one to any odd results.)


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graystone wrote:
Well, I guess you could do it if you modified the dice, like 2d6+1d4 or 2d6+4 or something like that so the unmodified totals equal 16.

I suspect we'll get something like that, so ancestry can have an impact for those who want to have old school stats of dice plus race/ancestry, but won't give them a major potential boost against normal stat generation. Using only dice would go against the classic feel that I suspect a lot of the players who want to roll are going for.

I'd actually prefer to still be able to get a 20 at start. It that case we could use the same dice + Ancestry mods as in previous versions.

Running the numbers over at Anydice (great site by the way for dice probability calculations), I find that as expected, 2d6 + 1d4 works much like the current "Classic" method: 3d6 except with 16 as maximum, to replicate a similar curve to the "Standard" 4d6 drop the lowest is a bit trickier, but 3d6 + 2d4 drop the lowest of each die type seems to be the closest fit. While for the "Heroic" 2d6 +6, it seems to work simply using 2d6 +4. Although these do all have lower means as well as lower maximums. Highest 2 of 3d6 +4 gives a mean that's a bit better than "Standard" but worse than "Heroic" and may be a good choice.
My rather ugly program is Here. It's probably best to comment out or delete lines you're not currently working with and recalculating to de-clutter things a bit.


AnimatedPaper wrote:

Whatever you want I suppose. You're firmly into houserule territory at that point.

Edit: Actually, you might be right. Giving rolled characters ancestry boosts is not much different than racial adjustments now.

I agree. You can even get a character with a 20 ability score now if you roll an 18 and slap a +2 racial bonus on it. Also, so what if we end up with a character in the group with a 20 in one ability score? Big deal. I've played in plenty of games with a character like that and it wasn't game breaking or overpowered. Strength that high might be ridiculously strong for a human or half-orc, but it's nothing when compared to something like a Rune Giant.


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QuidEst wrote:
MidsouthGuy wrote:
All I'm going to say is that people who decide to roll for their stats need to get some kind of modifiers so we can stand alongside those who choose to use the standard method or point buy. Rolling for stats has been part of the game since the beginning. Would it really be so bad to put in a paragraph or two about what bonuses and penalties you get when rolling for ability scores?

There will be some rolled stat method.

We don't know exactly how it works.

We can reasonably assume it won't usually generate results drastically different from the normal method.

In the unlikely event that it doesn't involve the racial mods, you can submit feedback about that. (I'm guessing something like 2d6 + 5 would work if you subtract one to any odd results.)

And a Point Buy option, too, maybe?


Doktor Weasel wrote:

{. . .}

Running the numbers over at Anydice (great site by the way for dice probability calculations), I find that as expected, 2d6 + 1d4 works much like the current "Classic" method: 3d6 except with 16 as maximum, to replicate a similar curve to the "Standard" 4d6 drop the lowest is a bit trickier, but 3d6 + 2d4 drop the lowest of each die type seems to be the closest fit. While for the "Heroic" 2d6 +6, it seems to work simply using 2d6 +4. Although these do all have lower means as well as lower maximums. Highest 2 of 3d6 +4 gives a mean that's a bit better than "Standard" but worse than "Heroic" and may be a good choice.
{. . .}

I was planning to do this (for Pathfinder 1st Edition) for output [highest 3 of 4d6] with a spreadsheet (actually already made one, but it has some deficiencies that need correction before using). But good find -- I see that the mean for output [highest 3 of 4d6] falls on the equivalent to an 18 point buy, but with the mean shifted somewhat lower; however, since the regular Pathfinder point buy doesn't support values less than 7 (before adjustments) and 7 is worth -2 point buy points, that shifts the median down; but on the other hand, the median (13) is just below the point at which additional ability score points start to cost more than 1 point buy point, so that shifts the point buy equivalent up. So 20 point buy isn't far off from output [highest 3 of 4d6]. I would need to go ahead and finish fixing the spreadsheet to be sure.


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MidsouthGuy wrote:
AnimatedPaper wrote:

Whatever you want I suppose. You're firmly into houserule territory at that point.

Edit: Actually, you might be right. Giving rolled characters ancestry boosts is not much different than racial adjustments now.

I agree. You can even get a character with a 20 ability score now if you roll an 18 and slap a +2 racial bonus on it. Also, so what if we end up with a character in the group with a 20 in one ability score? Big deal. I've played in plenty of games with a character like that and it wasn't game breaking or overpowered. Strength that high might be ridiculously strong for a human or half-orc, but it's nothing when compared to something like a Rune Giant.

Not much different in PF1E terms, no - but potentially making quite a difference within the PF2E mathematical framework.


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There's a thing that bothers me about the general approach, too. It's assumed that a character was a good fit for their previous career, leaving out all the misfits and malcontents that you'd expect adventuring to attract.

Consider this for a rogue's background: He was born on a farm and expected to help out from an early age, but he was a total slacker and sometimes put even more energy into avoiding his chores than doing them. He ran off to the nearest city, but was unprepared to survive there and quickly found himself kidnapped to fill out the crew on a pirate ship. Even there, he put in the minimum amount of effort and was forever trying to find a way to sneak extra rations of rum. Eventually the pirates gave up and sold him off as a slave. Once he was no longer confined to a ship, it was easy to find an opportunity to escape, and he joined the Pathfinders in part to stay one step ahead of anyone trying to settle past grievances with him.

This story explains why a 1e character could start off being good at Bluff, Disable Device, and other traditional rogue things. But the only 2e background that matches on a story basis is farmhand, which I'm pretty sure will not be helping with any of those.

I know there are people who want their characters to have been awesome at everything they've ever done, and I'm not arguing that characters like that shouldn't exist. But it would be no fun if I had to play a character like that all the time too.

Paizo Employee Senior Designer

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Nekome wrote:
Consider this for a rogue's background: He was born on a farm and expected to help out from an early age, but he was a total slacker and sometimes put even more energy into avoiding his chores than doing them. He ran off to the nearest city, but was unprepared to survive there and quickly found himself kidnapped to fill out the crew on a pirate ship.

I think in this situation you would take a "kidnapped by pirates" background, and just have the farming part in the story background. Look at them is your most formative experience.


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Mark Seifter wrote:
ChibiNyan wrote:

Awesome! But wish they each had like some unique special ability(s) like 5e and SF. That way they are more than just "plug in your 2 boosts, + skill feat + lore" and actually have unique stuff that makes them special!

Otherwise the splatbooks are not gonna offer much in the way of backgrounds besides "some permutation you could have done yourself + some lore on it". The campaign traits in the past were really cool! Wanna see some of those exlcusive powers still in 2e.

The trouble with that idea is that we want backgrounds to be fun but flexible, allowing you to try out all sorts of combinations for your characters. But if they had a unique and desirable ability you can't get anywhere else, suddenly they become extremely inflexible: you have to take the background that gives you a particular unique ability or you will never be able to get that ability. Does that make sense?

But you could just also use 5e custom background system. Pick 3 different boosts +1 skill +1 cool magic thing et cetera. Then splats can still offer up cool magic special power and be 100% flexible.

Sovereign Court

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Stephen Radney-MacFarland wrote:
Nekome wrote:
Consider this for a rogue's background: He was born on a farm and expected to help out from an early age, but he was a total slacker and sometimes put even more energy into avoiding his chores than doing them. He ran off to the nearest city, but was unprepared to survive there and quickly found himself kidnapped to fill out the crew on a pirate ship.
I think in this situation you would take a "kidnapped by pirates" background, and just have the farming part in the story background. Look at them is your most formative experience.

I think it is pretty easy for people to misconstrue a Background as the entirety of a characters previous experience. That's a bit of a byproduct of how the blogs are presented. I hope the book makes it more clear that Background is intended as the most formative element of your backstory, even though that backstory may include elements of other Backgrounds.


Stephen Radney-MacFarland wrote:
I think in this situation you would take a "kidnapped by pirates" background, and just have the farming part in the story background. Look at them is your most formative experience.

And is there going to be a "kidnapped by pirates" or "escaped slave" background available?


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Pathfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

"Escaped Slave" will likely come out relatively quickly. Plenty of Halflings are going to have that background, especially in Cheliax.

Paizo Employee Senior Designer

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Nekome wrote:
Stephen Radney-MacFarland wrote:
I think in this situation you would take a "kidnapped by pirates" background, and just have the farming part in the story background. Look at them is your most formative experience.
And is there going to be a "kidnapped by pirates" or "escaped slave" background available?

Depending on how the Playtest progresses, I think you can count on it. There are many possible backgrounds we can design that are either general or specially geared toward Adventure Paths or other adventure formats.


KingOfAnything wrote:
Stephen Radney-MacFarland wrote:
Nekome wrote:
Consider this for a rogue's background: He was born on a farm and expected to help out from an early age, but he was a total slacker and sometimes put even more energy into avoiding his chores than doing them. He ran off to the nearest city, but was unprepared to survive there and quickly found himself kidnapped to fill out the crew on a pirate ship.
I think in this situation you would take a "kidnapped by pirates" background, and just have the farming part in the story background. Look at them is your most formative experience.
I think it is pretty easy for people to misconstrue a Background as the entirety of a characters previous experience. That's a bit of a byproduct of how the blogs are presented. I hope the book makes it more clear that Background is intended as the most formative element of your backstory, even though that backstory may include elements of other Backgrounds.

The sad thing for me is they already spelled that out in the blog:

Not all backgrounds are so all-encompassing, though. After all, your background not only deals with activity but also your personal focus. You may have been an apprentice blacksmith, even for a long while, but retained none of its benefits because you were too busy dreaming about being a Pathfinder.


Pathfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

In a post that got deleted amid the flame wars, I advocated a partial solution.

What if we could pick secondary backgrounds? Instead of freely selecting any stat, you instead pick from the two choices that a second background offers, and you get the associated lore skill. For instance, if you were a pathfinder dreamer but ALSO paid attention during your blacksmithing lessons, you'd pick between strength and intelligence, then between strength and intelligence again (with the normal restriction that you can't pick the same bonus twice during the background phase), get pathfinder lore and the additional lore feat (since pathfinder hopeful is your main background), and then you get smithing lore on top of that. I'd even allow characters to make the same choice again, moving one of their free picks from the last phase of char gen into the background phase, and picking up a lore skill by choosing a third background that applies a limit to your stat choices. Mind, I would insist that you still follow the prohibition on picking the same ability twice, so you wouldn't be able to select a third (or fourth, fifth, or so on) background with strength and intelligence as it's preselected abilities.

Does this make sense? It's a bit late for me.


So, I watched the recording of the twitch stream of the Paizocon presentation, and they put up the two page spread showing all of the backgrounds from the playtest (at 1:25:09). I can make out the titles, but not the text so I'll just name them here:

Acolyte, Acrobat, Animal Whisperer, Barkeep, Blacksmith, Criminal, Entertainer, Farmhand, Gladiator, Hunter, Laborer, Merchant, Noble, Nomad, Sailor, Scholar, Scout, Street Urchin, Warrior

I would have thought acrobat would fit under entertainer, but I guess not. Blacksmith does seem to be the only real artisan background, which is a pretty significant oversight but it doesn't look hard to add new ones. No Other option shown here, but maybe there is something on that on the next page.

This does seem to be a decent starting point. Off the top of my head, most of my characters I can see a fitting background here (at least based on the name if not the text) but not all.


Doktor Weasel wrote:

So, I watched the recording of the twitch stream of the Paizocon presentation, and they put up the two page spread showing all of the backgrounds from the playtest (at 1:25:09). I can make out the titles, but not the text so I'll just name them here:

Acolyte, Acrobat, Animal Whisperer, Barkeep, Blacksmith, Criminal, Entertainer, Farmhand, Gladiator, Hunter, Laborer, Merchant, Noble, Nomad, Sailor, Scholar, Scout, Street Urchin, Warrior

I would have thought acrobat would fit under entertainer, but I guess not. Blacksmith does seem to be the only real artisan background, which is a pretty significant oversight but it doesn't look hard to add new ones. No Other option shown here, but maybe there is something on that on the next page.

This does seem to be a decent starting point. Off the top of my head, most of my characters I can see a fitting background here (at least based on the name if not the text) but not all.

Yeah, the new confirmed ones look like Gladiator and Sailor. I'm more surprised by the addition of Gladiator than Sailor, but I suppose it'll cover a significantly more specialized niche than Warrior.

Sovereign Court

How many different Lore Skills will there be, and does anyone know if you only gain them from background?

Liberty's Edge

Marcus Gehrcke wrote:
How many different Lore Skills will there be, and does anyone know if you only gain them from background?

Like Profession in PF1, there are a theoretically infinite number since you can write your own. And you can get as many as you like, though they cost the same as other skills after the first, so that'a a tad bit suboptimal.

Liberty's Edge

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Lore skills are basically identical to Shadowrun's Background Skills, and I always really appreciated that SR didn't make you pay for them - you got a handful for free, to help define your character. I can't help thinking that "choose two Lore Skills at Trained or one at Expert, no cost" might be an early houserule for me.


Shisumo wrote:
Lore skills are basically identical to Shadowrun's Background Skills, and I always really appreciated that SR didn't make you pay for them - you got a handful for free, to help define your character. I can't help thinking that "choose two Lore Skills at Trained or one at Expert, no cost" might be an early houserule for me.

IIRC you get a Lore skill or two from your Background.

Liberty's Edge

Shisumo wrote:
Lore skills are basically identical to Shadowrun's Background Skills, and I always really appreciated that SR didn't make you pay for them - you got a handful for free, to help define your character. I can't help thinking that "choose two Lore Skills at Trained or one at Expert, no cost" might be an early houserule for me.

You already get at least one for free. Maybe more since we don't know details on how things work yet.

Liberty's Edge

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Deadmanwalking wrote:
Shisumo wrote:
Lore skills are basically identical to Shadowrun's Background Skills, and I always really appreciated that SR didn't make you pay for them - you got a handful for free, to help define your character. I can't help thinking that "choose two Lore Skills at Trained or one at Expert, no cost" might be an early houserule for me.
You already get at least one for free. Maybe more since we don't know details on how things work yet.

The only one we know about is fixed by the Background. Which is all to the good, I am not complaining, but I am talking about ones that can be freely chosen and aren't locked-in by the Background.


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Shisumo wrote:
Lore skills are basically identical to Shadowrun's Background Skills, and I always really appreciated that SR didn't make you pay for them - you got a handful for free, to help define your character. I can't help thinking that "choose two Lore Skills at Trained or one at Expert, no cost" might be an early houserule for me.

Yeah, the open-ended nature of them and their specificity are problematic. Why invest a skill point into Lore: Famous Ping Pong Players, when it costs the same as a point into a skill you'll actually use. And when a lore skill does come into play, it's probable that none of the PCs will have the skill in question. We get the free one from background, but that's one lore skill. Will each PC only have one lore skill unless they decide to take more at the expense of actual useful skills? I can understand them in principal to add flavor and depth to a character. But mechanically, they seem a bit problematic.

Relatedly, the existence of Lore: Smithing makes little sense. Isn't that a function of the craft: smithing skill? So someone with the craft skill but not the lore one doesn't understand the knowledge about the profession they're skilled in? That's a problem I've already seen in PF1 regarding Craft and Profession skills, and what to do about ones that overlap.


The tailored backgrounds provided in the adventure paths will come into play. That's (some of) the point of having them. Generally, I don't know.


Doktor Weasel wrote:
Shisumo wrote:
Lore skills are basically identical to Shadowrun's Background Skills, and I always really appreciated that SR didn't make you pay for them - you got a handful for free, to help define your character. I can't help thinking that "choose two Lore Skills at Trained or one at Expert, no cost" might be an early houserule for me.

Yeah, the open-ended nature of them and their specificity are problematic. Why invest a skill point into Lore: Famous Ping Pong Players, when it costs the same as a point into a skill you'll actually use. And when a lore skill does come into play, it's probable that none of the PCs will have the skill in question. We get the free one from background, but that's one lore skill. Will each PC only have one lore skill unless they decide to take more at the expense of actual useful skills? I can understand them in principal to add flavor and depth to a character. But mechanically, they seem a bit problematic.

Relatedly, the existence of Lore: Smithing makes little sense. Isn't that a function of the craft: smithing skill? So someone with the craft skill but not the lore one doesn't understand the knowledge about the profession they're skilled in? That's a problem I've already seen in PF1 regarding Craft and Profession skills, and what to do about ones that overlap.

There's a difference between being able to make a thing and being versed in the history of the thing. Someone could be a total nerd about smithing without ever picking up a hammer, and someone could spend decades behind a forge without learning who invented it.

The craft skill might let you recognize that a sword is legendary quality or forge one yourself, but the Lore skill let's you say which legendary Smith forged it.

How much will this come up? Shrug city. If Lore gets treated like background skills in Unchained they won't be a big investment so it isn't a huge deal. But I have been pretty consistently impressed with how Paizo adventures sprinkle in checks with less often used skills, often with a lower DC than using a more common skill would have to get the same job done.


Somewhere I have seen a post that gives the backgrounds and what attributes they modify. I can't find it. I am trying to figure out what is a good background for a cleric and a paladin.

Can someone link that post?


Saint Bernard wrote:

Somewhere I have seen a post that gives the backgrounds and what attributes they modify. I can't find it. I am trying to figure out what is a good background for a cleric and a paladin.

Can someone link that post?

I don't have the post, but that list came from here. You can make out most of it if you put it to max resolution.


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Saint Bernard wrote:

Somewhere I have seen a post that gives the backgrounds and what attributes they modify. I can't find it. I am trying to figure out what is a good background for a cleric and a paladin.

Can someone link that post?

Here's a quickly re-listed version, since I'd copied it somewhere else.

Acolyte - CON or WIS, Student of the Canon, Lore skill corresponding to your deity
Acrobat - STR or DEX, Steady Balance, Circus Lore
Animal Whisperer - WIS or CHA, Train Animal, Animal Lore
Barkeep - CON or CHA, Hobnobber, Alcohol Lore
Blacksmith - STR or INT, Specialty Crafting (blacksmithing), Smithing Lore
Criminal - DEX or INT, Experienced Smuggler, Underworld Lore
Entertainer - DEX or CHA, Fascinating Performance, Entertainment Lore
Farmhand - CON or WIS, Assurance skill feat with Athletics, Farming Lore
Gladiator - STR or CHA, Fascinating Performance, Gladitorial Lore
Hunter - DEX or WIS, Survey Wildlife, Hunting Lore
Laborer - STR or CON, Robust Recovery, Labor Lore
Merchant - INT or CHA, Bargain Hunter, Mercantile Lore
Noble - INT or CHA, Courtly Graces, Nobility Lore
Nomad - CON or WIS, Assurance skill feat with Survival, Lore skill related to one terrain you traveled in
Sailor - STR or DEX, Underwater Marauder, Sailing Lore
Scholar - INT or WIS, Assurance skill feat in either Arcane, Nature, Occultism or Religion, Academia Lore
Scout - DEX or WIS, Forager, Scouting Lore
Street Urchin - DEX or INT, Pickpocket, Underworld Lore
Warrior - STR or CON, Quick Repair, Warfare Lore


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what i like about backgrounds is how fast you can house rule your own player comes with their own background

"slave"
STR or CON, Robust Recovery, Underworld lore.

"runner"
dex or con, athletic feat, lore urban.

"Drunk"
STR or con, robust recovery, Alcohol lore

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