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. 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.
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.
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.
Sleight of Hand