Player Backgrounds in D&D 4e
One of the hits on fourth edition D&D is that there are no non-combat skills that allow players to roleplay. There are backgrounds available, but most people choose them for skill bonuses rather than for real background improvement. The shorthand skills method I will be using for my next game is that each player can declare two areas they are skilled in outside of the main skill system. This could be things like cooking, sailing, clock repair, mining, stone work etc. Whenever the PC needs to take a skill check in an area related to one of these skills they count the check as one level of difficulty easier than it would normally be. So if you picked sailing, and needed an athletics roll to climb the rigging and fix a loose rope, normally this would be difficult, but for you it would be moderate. If it was already an easy check you pass it for free. This doesn’t mean that things that are close count, mining isn’t dungeoneering, it is mining items from the ground, climbing a tower isn’t the same as climbing rigging etc., but if you are in something directly related it counts. This is better than the +2 bonus you get from the current backgrounds, but isn’t over powering.
Background categories can’t be adventuring ones but must be more usual things (see samples below) someone might be involved in. I will be warning players that these will be integrated pretty closely to character background story. I can see players wanting to stretch this pretty regularly if it isn’t clearly explained so here are some examples.
Sailing: would cover most basic ship activities, knowing where things are, how to set sails, climbing rigging but wouldn’t cover ship building, non-ship rope climbing, areas where air ships differ from sea ships.
Town Watch: should cover basic unit drill, military ranks, common civil punishments but not give combat bonuses or allow warlord type skill checks.
Apprentice: Where to find spell ingredients, history of local wizards group but not expanding burst range of spell, how to bind demons etc.
Weaponsmith: Basic forge work, metal working, creating basic weapons not applying arcane runes, working unobtanium, crafting vorpal weapons.