ANCESTRIES & BACKGROUNDS
Your character’s ancestry determines which people they call their own, whether it’s diverse and ambitious humans, insular but vivacious elves, traditionalist and family-focused dwarves, or any of the other folk who call Golarion home. A character’s ancestry and their experiences prior to their life as an adventurer—represented by a background—might be key parts of their identity, shape how they see the world, and help them find their place in it.
A character has one ancestry and one background, both of which you select during character creation. You’ll also select a number of languages for your character. Once chosen, your ancestry and background can’t be changed.
This chapter is divided into three parts:
- Ancestries express the culture your character hails from. Within many ancestries are heritages— subgroups that each have their own characteristics. An ancestry provides ability boosts (and perhaps ability flaws), Hit Points, ancestry feats, and sometimes additional abilities.
- Backgrounds, starting on page 60, describe training or environments your character experienced before becoming an adventurer. Your character’s background provides ability boosts, skill training, and a skill feat.
- Languages, starting on page 65, let your character communicate with the wonderful and weird people and creatures of the world.
Each entry includes details about the ancestry and presents the rules elements described below (all of these but heritages and ancestry feats are listed in a sidebar).
HIT POINTS (HP)
This tells you how many Hit Points your character gains from their ancestry at 1st level. You’ll add the Hit Points from your character’s class (including their Constitution modifier) to this number. For more on calculating Hit Points, see Step 7: Record Class Details, on page 25.
This tells you the physical size of members of the ancestry. Medium corresponds roughly to the height and weight range of a human adult, and Small is roughly half that.
This entry lists how far a member of the ancestry can move each time they spend an action (such as Stride) to do so.
This lists the ability scores you apply ability boosts to when creating a character of this ancestry. Most ancestries provide ability boosts to two specified ability scores, plus a free ability boost that you can apply to any other score of your choice. For more about ability boosts, see here.
This lists the ability score to which you apply an ability flaw when creating a character of this ancestry. Most ancestries, with the exception of humans, include an ability flaw. For more about applying ability flaws, see here.
This tells you the languages that members of the ancestry speak at 1st level. If your Intelligence modifier is +1 or higher, you can select more languages from a list given here. More about languages can be found on page 65.
These descriptors have no mechanical benefit, but they’re important for determining how certain spells, effects, and other aspects of the game interact with your character.
Any other entries in the sidebar represent abilities, senses, and other qualities all members of the ancestry manifest. These are omitted for ancestries with no special rules.
You select a heritage at 1st level to reflect abilities passed down to you from your ancestors or common among those of your ancestry in the environment where you were born or grew up. You have only one heritage and can’t change it later. A heritage is not the same as a culture or ethnicity, though some cultures or ethnicities might have more or fewer members from a particular heritage.
This section presents ancestry feats, which allow you to customize your character. You gain your first ancestry feat at 1st level, and you gain another at 5th level, 9th level, 13th level, and 17th level, as indicated in the class advancement table in the descriptions of each class.
Ancestry feats are organized by level. As a starting character, you can choose from only 1st-level ancestry feats, but later choices can be made from any feat of your level or lower. These feats also sometimes list prerequisites—requirements that your character must fulfill to select that feat.
Backgrounds allow you to customize your character based on their life before adventuring. This is the next step in their life story after their ancestry, which reflects the circumstances of their birth. Your character’s background can help you learn or portray more about their personality while also suggesting what sorts of things they’re likely to know. Consider what events set your character on their path to the life of an adventurer and how those circumstances relate to their background.
At 1st level when you create your character, you gain a background of your choice. This decision is permanent; you can’t change it at later levels. Each background listed here grants two ability boosts, a skill feat, and the trained proficiency rank in two skills, one of which is a Lore skill. If you gain the trained proficiency rank in a skill from your background and would then gain the trained proficiency rank in the same skill from your class at 1st level, you instead become trained in another skill of your choice.
Lore skills represent deep knowledge of a specific subject and are described on page 247. If a Lore skill involves a choice (for instance, a choice of terrain), explain your preference to the GM, who has final say on whether it’s acceptable or not. If you’d like some suggestions, the Common Lore Subcategories sidebar on page 248 lists a number of Lore skills that are suitable for most campaigns.
Skill feats expand the functions of your skills and appear in Chapter 5: Feats.
While most backgrounds are available to any character, some backgrounds are so unusual that just having them makes a character rare and extraordinary.
These rare backgrounds can give a player a significantly different roleplaying experience by setting their character up with a history or legacy beyond the norm. Whether a character with the royalty background is heir to the throne of the kingdom where your campaign takes place or to a distant but powerful nation in the same world, the character is situated in a special position within the narrative. Your character's background is an intrinsic part of where they come from and not something they earn during the game. Rare backgrounds should be chosen only after a discussion between the GM and the other players as to whether one would apply for a particular character in your group's game.
Backgrounds can also be unique, such that no other character can have them if your character does. To create unique backgrounds, you can adapt the rare backgrounds in this section by including more specific details.
Once you’ve played through the listed Adventure Path, these rare backgrounds can become available in your future campaigns after the events of this Adventure Path.
The people of the Inner Sea region speak dozens of different languages, along with hundreds of dialects and regional variations. While a character can generally get by with Taldane, also known as Common, knowing another language is vital in some regions. Being able to speak these tongues can help you with negotiation, spying on enemies, or just conducting simple commerce. Languages also afford you the chance to contextualize your character in the world and give meaning to your other character choices.
Your ancestry entry states which languages you know at 1st level. Typically, this means you can both speak and read these languages. Having a positive Intelligence modifier grants a number of additional languages equal to your Intelligence modifier. You can choose these languages from the list presented in your character’s ancestry entry and from those available from your region or ethnicity. Ask your GM if there’s a language you want to select that isn’t on these lists. If your Intelligence changes later on, you adjust your number of languages accordingly.
The languages presented here are grouped according to how common they are throughout the Inner Sea region. Languages that are common are regularly encountered in most places, even among those who aren’t native speakers. Languages that are uncommon (see Table 2–2 and Regional Languages) are most frequently spoken by native speakers, but they are also spoken by certain scholars and others interested in the associated cultures.
Druidic is a secret language, and is available only to characters who are druids. In fact, druids are prohibited from teaching the language to non-druids (described further in Anathema on page 130).
It is possible for your character to learn languages later in their adventuring career. Selecting the Multilingual feat, for example, grants a character two new languages chosen from those listed in Table 2–1: Common Languages and Table 2–2: Uncommon Languages. Other abilities and effects might grant access to common or uncommon languages, as detailed in their descriptions.Table: Common Languages
|Common||Humans, dwarves, elves, halflings, and other common ancestries|
|Draconic||Dragons, reptilian humanoids|
|Goblin||Goblins, hobgoblins, bugbears|
|Jotun||Giants, ogres, trolls, ettins, cyclopes|
|Sylvan||Fey, centaurs, plant creatures|
|Undercommon||Drow, duergars, xulgaths|
|Aklo||Deros, evil fey, otherworldly monsters|
|Aquan||Aquatic creatures, water elemental creatures|
|Auran||Air elemental creatures, flying creatures|
|Ignan||Fire elemental creatures|
|Necril||Ghouls, intelligent undead|
|Shadowtongue||Nidalese, Shadow Plane creatures|
|Terran||Earth elemental creatures|
Regional languages depend on the game world you’re playing in. Chapter 8: The Age of Lost Omens lists the regional languages of the Pathfinder world and where they’re spoken (page 432). These languages are uncommon.
Most characters learn the Common language. This is the most widely used language in the region where the campaign takes place. In the Inner Sea region of Golarion, the Common tongue is Taldane, for example. Characters with Common might face a language barrier if they travel somewhere with a different Common language
SIGN LANGUAGE AND READING LIPS
The language entry for most characters lists languages they use to communicate in spoken words. However, you might know the signed version of a language or know how to read lips. You can learn these by taking the Sign Language and Read Lips skill feats. If you are creating a character who is deaf, hard of hearing, or unable to speak, discuss with your GM whether it makes sense for your character to know sign languages or lip reading. If so, your GM might allow you to select one of these feats for free (even if you don’t meet the prerequisites) to represent your character concept.