Backgrounds represent your youth, your origins, who you were and what you did before becoming an adventurer. Whether you left that life behind, or it is still a part of you, the lessons you have learned from that time are still with you.
Mechanically, background provides most of your skills, though you gain some from both your class and race as well. Having the same background skill from multiple sources offers no additional benefit, the skill is either a background skill or it is not. Background provides two major aspects to your character:
Skills: These are skills associated with your background.
Combat Ability: These combat abilities have many names, and each one is unique. They represent an aspect of your background that can come in handy when weapons are drawn.
You grew up in a temple. You ran barefoot there and played games in the shadow of statues. Were you left at the temple as an orphan or a ward? Are your parents still alive? Or were your parents the clergy at the temple? Where was the temple? Was more than one deity worshiped there? Did you have any rivals among the worshipers or the clergy?
Skills: Endurance, Heal, Negotiation, Knowledge (history, nature, religion, social), Insight, Occult
Armor of the Gods: When you suffer a critical hit you can use a surge to turn it into a normal hit.
You were an unskilled laborer. Did you work on a farm, raised crops or livestock? Did you work in a factory? Or perhaps docks or warehouses? Were you forced out or did leave that way of life for greener pastures?
Skills: Athletics, Endurance, Heal, Knowledge (engineering, nature, religion, science), Mechanics, Survival, Vehicle Operation
First Aid: When performing a heal check you use a lesser action to perform it (move instead of standard, minor instead of move, free instead of minor)
You had a skilled occupation dedicated to a particular craft, such as baking, blacksmithing, carpentry, or cobbling. What did you make? Did you enjoy your work, or was it only a means of supporting yourself? What was your finest creation, and what happened to that item?
Skills: Athletics, Endurance, Knowledge (engineering, mystic, nature), Mechanics, Negotiation, Streetwise, Occult, Vehicle Operation
Steady Footing: Whenever you would be knocked prone you can make a saving throw to remain standing.
You were a dancer, a singer, an acrobat, a storyteller, or another kind of performer. Were you a solo entertainer, or did you perform as part of a group? Were you well known? If so, do you still encounter admirers?
Skills: Acrobatics, Athletics, Charm, Deception, Endurance, Negotiation, Insight, Knowledge (social), Thievery, Vehicle Operation
Not the Face!: When you take full defense action or use second wind, you gain an additional +1 bonus to all defenses.
Skills: Acrobatics, Athletics, Endurance, Heal, Insight, Knowledge (nature), Perception, Stealth, Survival, Thievery
Careful Footing: When you move (but not shift) you can ignore up to 2 squares of difficult terrain, and treat it as normal terrain.
Skills: Deception, Endurance, Heal, Insight, Knowledge (mystic, nature, religion), Negotiation, Streetwise, Survival
Reliable Healing: All your rolls to determine amount of vitality and temporary vitality restored or gained have brutal 1 property.
You are a skilled hunter. Did you hunt animals or monsters? Did you hunt to support a family or were you a loner? What sorts of weapons did you use? What brought you out from the wilderness? How do you use your hunting techniques as an adventurer?
Skills: Athletics, Endurance, Knowledge (monster, nature), Mechanics, Occult, Perception, Stealth, Thievery, Vehicle Operation
Sixth Sense: You are never surprised.
Skills: Coercion, Deception, Knowledge (engineering, history, mystic, social), Negotiation, Streetwise, Occult, Thievery
Minor Talent: You gain one at will Wizard cantrip.
Skills: Athletics, Endurance, Heal, Insight, Knowledge (engineering, science),Occult, Perception, Thievery, Vehicle Operation
Stop, Drop and Roll: You gain ↑ to saving throws against ongoing damage.
You were engaged in the buying and selling of goods. What kinds of goods did you buy or sell? Were you an honest merchant, or did you take advantage of your customers? Did you or your family own the business, or did you work for someone else? Did you travel, or did you work at a shop or inn?
Skills: Charm, Deception, Insight, Knowledge (engineering, history, mystic, social), Negotiations, Streetwise, Vehicle Operation
Scuttle Away: You can shift while prone.
You never put your roots down, never stayed in one place for a long time. Do you travel alone or with your family or tribe? Why did you never settle down on one place? Were you running from something? Or because that was the way of your people? How do outsiders view and treat you?
Skills: Acrobatics, Athletics, Heal, Insight, Knowledge (monster, nature, social), Mechanic, Perception, Vehicle Operation
Swift Runner: You have +2 bonus to speed and you ignore difficult terrain when running.
Your life once revolved around knowledge. What area of scholarship was your domain? Were you a teacher or a scribe, an architect or an astrologer, a barrister or a sage, an engineer or a scientist? Did others respect your theories, or did they scoff at your ideas? Do you still seek to learn and to teach, or have you given up academia for a life of adventure?
Skills: Knowledge (mystic, nature, engineering, science, social, history, religion), Heal, Mechanics, Occult
Known Weakness: When you score a critical hit all bonus dice you get on a crit count as an average roll (round up) if you rolled below average.
You swindle others out of their wealth through deception and misdirection. You might have been a small-time con artist, playing shell games on dirty street corners. Or you might have run the long con, setting up elaborate schemes to take the bigger prize. What was your best job? Your line of work creates many enemies. Who holds the worst grudge and what will they do to get even with you? Some grifters work with crews. If so, who were they and why are you not with them now? Or are you?
Skills: Athletics, Charm, Coercion, Deception, Insight, Knowledge (social), Negotiation, Streetwise, Thievery, Vehicle Operation
Auspicious: Use your highest ability modifier instead of your Con or Cha to determine your bonus surges.
You are a member of the aristocracy, or a family in high standing within the society. Does your family have a noble rank? How did your family get its prestige? Are you the heir to a title, and if so, how many people stand between you and that title? Under what circumstances did you become an adventurer?
Skills: Charm, Coercion, Deception, Knowledge (history, nature, social), Negotiation, Insight, Vehicle Operation
Tall and Proud: When reduced to zero or fewer vitality you do not fall unconscious until the end of your next turn or until after you take a single action.
You served in a military organization, such as an army or a city guard. Were you conscripted, or did you volunteer? What was your rank? How did you leave the service? Or are you still in service?
Skills: Acrobatics, Athletics, Coercion, Endurance, Heal, Knowledge (social), Mechanics, Perception, Stealth, Vehicle Operation
Diehard: Use your two highest attributes to determine your starting vitality, instead of Con and Cha.
You were a thief. Were you a cutpurse, a burglar, a grifter, or something else? Were you driven to thievery by necessity? Were you part of a guild or syndicate, or harassed by one as an independent operator? Are you still a member or still hunted? If so, where is the guild based? If not, why did you leave—or why did the guild let you be? Was the parting amicable or are there people out there looking to settle a score with you?
Skills: Acrobatics, Athletics, Coercion, Deception, Mechanics, Occult, Perception, Stealth, Streetwise, Thievery
Uncanny Senses: You do not grant combat advantage to enemies you cannot see.
You were a thug, such as an enforcer, a tough, or a bodyguard. Did you work for anyone? If so, who? What sorts of missions did you undertake? Were you feared in your community? Or did you stand up for those who were too weak to protect themselves? Why did you leave? Did you leave behind any enemies?
Skills: Acrobatics, Athletics, Coercion, Endurance, Deception, Mechanics, Occult, Stealth, Streetwise, Vehicle Operation
Tough: You gain one additional wound.
You traveled the world and seen places most people don’t even dream of. Yet you always had a home to come back to if you needed or wanted to. What made you leave your home in the first place? How does your family feel about your travels? Did you make friends or enemies along the way?
Skills: Charm, Negotiation, Heal, Knowledge (history, social, nature), Navigation, Perception, Streetwise, Vehicle Operation
Quick Feet: You gain +1 bonus to speed.
You grew up without a steady income. Were your family members peasants, servants, or unskilled laborers? Did you and your family have to beg in the streets to stay fed? What was the biggest sacrifice you or your family had to make to survive? How did you come to own your starting possessions?
Skills: Athletics, Coercion, Deception, Endurance, Heal, Knowledge (social), Stealth, Streetwise, Survival, Thievery
Opportunist: When you have combat advantage your damage rolls gain brutal 1 property.