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If you define background as "everything that happened to a character before now," then you can use this character background variant to actually generate a character. The system detailed below lets you build a high-level character as if that character had started at 1st level, undertaking adventures and earning experience points.
Before starting to use this system, you'll need to generate a set of ability scores and decide on the character's race; the tables in this section take care of the rest.
To finish generating the character, simply choose the type of adventuring activity he undertook at each level, stopping when you have the character level you want. For example, if you want a 9th-level character, use the tables in this section nine times. You can roll percentile dice or choose the result you like.
This variant is a quick way to bring a new character into an ongoing campaign. You'll get a character who's had some life experiences and built up a personal history. It's also a useful variant if you want to create characters for a new campaign that starts with characters of higher than 1st level. This background variant works best in conjunction with the event-based reputation variant and the contacts variant; if you aren't using reputation and contacts, then ignore those columns in the tables that follow.
As a general rule (if it matters, depending on how you use this variant), each of these background selections is considered to take up 1d6 months of game time. For example, if you create a dwarf character who begins adventuring at age 48 (see Table: Random Starting Ages) and you apply four background selections to the character, the dwarfs age as a 4th-level character is 48 years + 4d6 months.
If you let the dice fall where they may with this variant, you'll get more multiclass characters than you would in a standard campaign where PCs start at 1st level or build their characters to a target level before the campaign begins. Spellcasters in particular lose significant power if they have more than a handful of nonspellcasting levels, so you'll want to monitor the dice results closely.
Each of the tables in this section contains eight pieces of information. Here's what the information means.
A word or phrase that summarizes what the character focused his attention on, or learned the most about, during the time he spent advancing from one level to the next.
The class in which the character's most recent level was gained. Some of the entries in this column are prestige classes or classes with alignment restrictions. If you don't qualify for the class indicated, select one of the other classes on the table instead.
The character chooses one of the given feats if he is at a level when he ordinarily would gain a new feat (such as 1st, 3rd, or 6th) or when he gains a bonus feat by virtue of his new class level (such as 5th level in wizard). If the feat selection requires a choice because more than one feat is mentioned, it's okay to wait until you're done determining the character's entire background before making that choice. if the character doesn't meet the prerequisite for a feat or already has the feat, take one of the listed alternatives (if applicable) or a feat that appears elsewhere on the table you're using. If the character has a feat that has an improved or greater version (such as Weapon Focus, Spell Penetration, Cleave, or Weapon Specialization), he can take the improved or greater version of the feat whenever the basic version appears on the table. .
This column identifies three or more skills that the character must spend skill points on at his new level. Start at the beginning of the list in an entry, taking one rank in each skill listed, in the order the skills are presented, until you're out of skill points. If you reach the end of the list with skill points remaining, spend the rest however you like.
This column provides guidance for equipping the character, and it only matters when you've finished creating the character's background. In general, a character spends up to 30% of her wealth on the gear associated with her most recent activity, up to 20% of her wealth on the gear for her second most recent activity, and up to 10% on the gear for her third most recent activity. Background choices made earlier than "third most recent" don't affect the character's equipment. You can spend the character's remaining wealth on anything you choose.
For example, you want to create a 5th-level wizard with a background entirely in academic magic by rolling d% five times on the table below to represent the five levels. At 3rd level, the d% result is 34, and the Gear column gives Wand/staff with abjuration spells." At 4th level the result is 63 (Wand/staff with illusion spells), and at 5th level the result is 11 (Rod or staff).
A 5th-level character has wealth equal to 9,000 gp. The character can spend 30% of this amount, or 2,700 gp, on a rod or staff—a staff of fire with 7 charges, for instance. She can spend 20%, or 1,800 gp, on a wand or staff that holds an illusion spell, such as a wand of invisibility with 20 charges. She can spend up to 10%, or 900 gp, on a wand or staff that holds an abjuration spell, such as a fully charged wand of shield.
This column applies only if you're using the contacts variant and the character would earn a new contact at this level.
Similarly, this column applies only if you're using the reputation rules. If a bonus appears in this column, add it to your Reputation score.
With accomplishments come rewards, in the form of recognition by one's peers or by others who may be impressed by a character's status. To benefit from the reward (if any) identified in this column of a table entry, the character must make a recognition check, which is 1d20 + any modifiers that might apply, as indicated in a background description. Most often, this modifier is the number of ranks the character has in a relevant skill, which is a generally accurate measure of how much time the character has spent honing that skill, which in turn is closely tied to the character's level. (The more you have learned about the skills that are most central to your success, the more likely it is that you will earn recognition.)
This reward has no specific game effect, but the game master is free to grant an ad hoc bonus of some sort when a famous or accomplished character interacts with those who are impressed by the recognition that character has earned.
- Academic Magic Background
- Aristocratic Background
- Cross-Cultural Background
- Government Background
- Maritime Background
- Mercantile Background
- Military Background
- Religious Background
- Skilled Background
- Underworld Background
- Wilderness Background
Background selections are like prestige classes: They function best when the DM interates them tightly into the campaign world. You have a lot of room to modify the background activities described in this section to suit the needs of your campaign and inject the rules with the flavor of your game world. For example, perhaps a city-state has elite flail-wielding commandos. The shock trooper activity in the military background could offer a decoration in the Recognition column, a dire flail in the Gear column, and a +1 in the Reputation column (they are elite, after all).