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Variant Rules

While the rules presented in the core rules are designed to give you and your group a baseline experience that’s easy to learn and fun to play, sometimes you’re looking for more customizable options. That’s where variant rules come in: options to alter the game’s rules to fit your needs. This page adds a collection of variant rules to your toolbox, often with additional options for how to use them.

Most of the variant rules here involve characters, how they progress, and how those pieces fit together. The variants included here are divided into the following sections.

  • Ability Score Variants includes an alternate ability score system that works entirely through Ability Points, plus ways to distribute what each ability score impacts more evenly.
  • Alignment Variants contains options for removing alignment and an incremental alignment system.
  • Deep Backgrounds replace simply selecting a background with a series of steps that flesh out more of the character’s backstory.
  • Feats and Features shows how to build characters who gain feats and class features in different ways, from dual-classed characters with all the options of two classes to characters with a free archetype or more ancestry feats.
  • Level 0 Characters can play through the characters’ adventures before they take on character classes.
  • Magic Item Variants contains rules deconstructing the magic item bonuses, allowing you to progress them automatically or via craftsmanship to more easily run a lower-magic game.
  • Proficiency without Level changes the fundamental math of the proficiency system to tell stories where being outnumbered by weaker foes remains a challenge and high-level characters are less superhuman.
  • Skill Points offers a more granular system for characters to choose and hone their skills.
  • Stamina grants characters a pool of Stamina Points that they lose before Hit Points and can recover with by resting to catch their breath.


Choosing Variant Rules

When you and your group are deciding which variant rules to use, think about the types of stories you want to tell together, including the genre, themes, and characters, and use that information to choose which variant rules might be the best fit. If different players think different variant options would work best for the game, let each of them make their point, but ultimately you as the GM make the final call.

You might discover that your game requires variant rules beyond those listed here—and that’s okay! In fact, it’s to be expected. Use these options as a starting point for some of the most commonly helpful tools, but you and your group should work together to build your own variant rules whenever you want a different experience. Don’t be afraid to deviate from the baseline—you and your group know what you like and what you’re looking for better than a baseline rules set ever could.

If you’re not sure about a variant rule, take a chance! Make sure everyone in your group understands that this is a trial run and that you might need to adjust or remove the variant rules later on if they’re causing unexpected side effects or not working as you intended. When you’re playing with variant rules, be sure to let any new players who join the group know about the variant rules your group has chosen. This helps them set their expectations and ensures they don’t feel ambushed by any variant rules the first time they’re encountered in the game, which is important for making sure there is a feeling of fairness among your players.

Combining Variants

If your group is playing a game with themes that call for it, you might wind up combining multiple variant rules together, possibly applying several options at the same time. For instance, in a gritty, low-magic, survival-horror game, you might start the PCs as 0-level characters, remove alignment to allow more shades of gray, alter the proficiency bonus progression to remove level, and remove magic items—all at the same time.

In general, the variant options here are sufficiently self-contained, with explanations of how they change the game, that you should be able to combine them without trouble. When you design your own variant rules, be on the lookout for places where new rules might have unexpected overlapping effects on each other and the game.

Ability Score Variants

The default method of generating ability scores in the core rules can help you learn your character’s story along the way, while the alternative method, rolling scores, is a nod to tradition. But other ways to generate ability scores might better suit the story you want to tell.

Gradual Ability Boosts

In this variant, a character gains ability boosts more gradually as they level up, rather than receiving four ability boosts at 5th, 10th, 15th, and 20th levels. Each character gains one ability boost when they reach each of 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th levels. These are collectively a single set of ability boosts, so a character can’t boost the same ability score more than once per set; players can put a dot next to each boosted ability score or otherwise mark it to keep track. PCs also receive an ability boost at 7th, 8th, 9th, and 10th level (a second set); at 12th, 13th, 14th, and 15th level (a third set); and at 17th, 18th, 19th, and 20th level (the fourth and final set).

This spreads out the ability boosts, and using them earlier means a character can increase their most important ability modifiers at a lower level. This makes characters slightly more powerful on average, but it makes levels 5, 10, 15, and 20 less important since characters usually choose the least important ability boost of the set at those levels.

Point Buy

This alternative ability score generation method replaces ability boosts and flaws with a number of Ability Points.

Players determine their ability scores by investing Ability Points into each score, as seen in Table 4–1: Cost for an Ability Score. These give players more customization in their ability scores and can allow a player to really prioritize their favorite ones, but the system is significantly more complicated to use.

Step 1: Decrease Starting Scores

All of a character’s ability scores start at 10. If the PC’s ancestry has ability flaws, decrease those ability scores to 8. A player can also voluntarily lower any ability score to below 10 to gain more Ability Points to use in Step 2.

They gain 1 Ability Point for lowering an ability score to 9, or 2 Ability Points for lowering a score to 8.

Step 2: Spend Points

Now that each player has set their minimum scores, they’ll spend Ability Points to increase their ability scores.

Ability Points come in two categories: dedicated and flexible. Dedicated Ability Points can be spent only on specified ability scores, but flexible Ability Points can be used to increase any scores. These Ability Points replace all the ability boosts a character would normally get.

The total number of Ability Points spent determines the character’s starting ability score, as shown on Table 4–1: Cost for an Ability Score. The maximum score a player can buy at character creation is 18. Raising a score costs 2 points more than the listed value if the score started at an 8 after Step 1, or 1 point more if the score started at a 9. Any Ability Points not spent during character creation are lost.

Dedicated Ability Points: A character gets 2 dedicated Ability Points for each ability score their ancestry gives predetermined ability boosts to. Human characters, or those with another ancestry that grants two free ability boosts, get 2 more flexible Ability Points instead. Each character also gets 2 dedicated Ability Points for one of their background’s choices of predetermined ability scores, and 2 dedicated Ability Points for their class’s key ability score.

Flexible Ability Points: Each character gets 15 flexible Ability Points, plus any gained for voluntarily lowering ability scores below 10 in Step 1.

Table 4–1: Cost For An Ability Score
Total Ability Points Spent Ability Score
–2 8
–1 9
0 10
1 11
2 12
3 13
5 14
7 15
10 16
13 17
17 18

Increasing Scores At Higher Levels

When a character levels up, they gain Ability Points at each level, as shown on Table 4–2: Ability Points Gained. Unlike the Ability Points from character creation, a player can save these to buy a more expensive increase, and they can increase ability scores to a maximum of 22. When a player is ready to increase one or more ability scores, they spend the number of Ability Points listed on Table 4–3: Raising an Ability Score and increase the ability score accordingly.

A player can increase a score more than once at a given time, but they must pay for each increase individually, such as going from 14 to 16 by spending 2 points to increase from 14 to 15, and then 3 points to increase from 15 to 16.

For most games, it’s best to increase scores when leveling up, between game sessions, or during downtime.

Apex items work as described in the core rules.

They can increase an ability score to a maximum of 24.

Table 4–2: Ability Points Gained
Level Ability Points Gained
1 Starting points
2 2
3 2
4 2
5 2
6 3
7 3
8 3
9 3
10 3
11 4
12 4
13 4
14 4
15 4
16 5
17 5
18 5
19 5
20 5
Table 4–3: Raising An Ability Score
Current Ability Score Cost to Raise by 1
8 1
9 1
10 1
11 1
12 1
13 2
14 2
15 3
16 3
17 4
18 5
19 6
20 7
21 8


An elven rogue with the criminal background.

She starts with 10 in all ability scores and reduces her Constitution to 8 for being an elf. She decides to voluntarily lower her Strength and Intelligence to 8 each, gaining 4 flexible Ability Points. She has now set her minimum scores: Str 8, Dex 10, Con 8, Int 8, Wis 10, and Cha 10.

In Step 2, she starts by determining how many points she has to spend. She gains 2 dedicated Ability Points in Intelligence and Dexterity for being an elf, 2 in Dexterity for being a criminal, and 2 more in Dexterity for being a rogue. She also has 19 flexible points to spend: 15 plus 4 for the two ability scores she voluntarily lowered to 8.

She purchases an 18 in Dexterity, which costs her the 6 dedicated Ability Points plus 11 flexible Ability Points.

Spending her 2 dedicated Ability Points in Intelligence brings her to a 10, which she’s happy with. She now has 8 flexible Ability Points left. She’s worried she’ll be too frail with a Constitution score of only 8, so she spends 4 flexible Ability Points to increase it to 12, leaving her with 4 Ability Points left over. Finally, she raises Wisdom and Charisma each to 12 because it’s inexpensive but still grants her bonuses; this uses all her Ability Points, leaving her with Str 8, Dex 18, Con 12, Int 10, Wis 12, Cha 12.

When she reaches 2nd level, she gains 2 Ability Points.

She decides to save these until 3rd level, when she gains 2 more. She then spends 3 of her 4 Ability Points to raise her Constitution from 12 to 14. She then saves up for more Dexterity, gaining 2 Ability Points each at 4th and 5th levels, then 3 each at 6th and 7th levels. She spends all 11 Ability Points at 7th level to gain a 20 in Dexterity! Unless it helps her to have an odd score (for example, to satisfy a feat prerequisite), it’s usually best to wait until she has enough Ability Points that increasing a score will increase her modifier—just in case she changes her mind.

Alternative Ability Scores

The classic ability scores aren’t of equal value in the rules.

Dexterity, Constitution, and Wisdom tend to be more important unless a character requires a particular ability score from among the other three for a specific purpose. If you’d prefer ability scores to all be of roughly equivalent value in character building, this variant creates six ability scores that are in much closer balance with each other.

Make the following changes.

  • Strength does everything that both Strength and Constitution do in the core rules, and Constitution is gone. A character uses their Strength for melee weapon and unarmed attack rolls, damage rolls, Athletics, Hit Points, Fortitude saves, and so on.
  • Dexterity splits into two ability scores. The first, still called Dexterity, represents manual dexterity and applies to ranged weapon and unarmed attack rolls, attack and damage rolls with finesse attacks (if better than Strength), and Thievery checks. Agility, which represents footwork, applies to Armor Class, Reflex saves, Acrobatics checks, and Stealth checks.
  • Charisma applies to Will saves instead of Wisdom.
  • Wisdom is otherwise unchanged.
  • Intelligence is unchanged.

You’ll need a small number of gameplay tweaks. Anklets of alacrity become an Agility apex item, both the belt of giant strength and belt of regeneration become Strength apex items, and so on. The rogue’s thief racket is obsolete, so you might allow rogues to choose a different racket but still gain Thievery. For anything else that references an ability score, such as feats with a Dexterity prerequisite, decide with you group whether Dexterity or Agility makes more sense as the prerequisite. For instance, Agility would make sense for Feather Step since that feat involves footwork. Prewritten NPCs and monsters can just use their Dexterity modifier when their Agility modifier is necessary.

Alignment Variants

The alignment system has a long history in roleplaying games, and it helps define several aspects of worlds and characters. Yet it doesn’t work well for all games or groups. Altering or removing it offers new opportunities for your game.

This alignment system summarizes a character’s ideals, signals that some of the players’ opponents are despicable villains, and establishes that truly evil monsters exist. The alignment system can trouble some players because it doesn’t simulate the nuance and complexity of real-world moral issues, which are often not so easily categorized. What is considered “good” may be heavily influenced by societal norms or religious beliefs. It’s not hard to find two kind, generous people who hold starkly differing interpretations of what good is in specific situations. The variant alignment ideas below provide examples of other options and can serve as inspiration for your own games.

Minor Changes

If you want to keep parts of the existing alignment system, you can use either of the following variants to make changes without entirely removing or replacing alignment.

Alignment-based effects still exist in both of these variants, but they might not be as useful as in standard game.

Extreme Good and Evil

In this variant, some creatures exemplify the concepts of extreme good and evil by their very nature. Only fiends, celestials, and other residents of aligned Outer Sphere planes have an alignment. Remove most alignment restrictions— such as the cleric and champion restrictions—but not ones related to those extraplanar creatures. Replace the removed restrictions with appropriate anathema if necessary.

Incremental Alignment

Changing character alignment can be extremely dramatic under the core rules. Sometimes, this comes as a surprise to the player, as they find out they and the GM had differing ideas on how their acts impact alignment.

The incremental alignment variant breaks each axis of alignment into seven steps that reflect how close a character is to shifting alignments.

This lets you and the player better understand where the character falls, and it allows a player who wants to play a character living on the edge between alignments to see that represented in the rules. This is not meant to be a highly granular system or one a player can exploit by repeatedly making trivial gestures toward a given alignment. It’s meant to indicate the trends of a character’s behavior and foreshadow any alignment change that might occur over time. It’s typically harder to reach the ends of the scale through minor acts, especially for the evil versus good axis.

A character who commits multiple minor acts toward an alignment might shift one step, but it would take a truly reprehensible act to shift them fully to evil all at once— and to recover it could take a long-term atonement and commitment to good.

If a rule depends on a character’s alignment, disregard the “fully” and “somewhat” distinctions. A protection spell keyed against evil works against both somewhat and fully evil characters. However, some spells, like detect alignment, might give more precise information.

Major Changes

These two variants massively change how the alignment system works. In fact, one removes it entirely!

No Alignment

The simplest variant is to not use the alignment system at all. To many players, this feels like the variant closest to real-world morality. Creatures, NPCs, and players have complex and many-layered beliefs and motivations, just like humans in the real world. Not using the alignment system simultaneously embraces complexity and variance in what is seen as moral behavior. For example, worshipers of a powerful sun god might feel that spreading their deity’s light is virtuous behavior. Some might go so far as to say this means they should conquer their neighbors in order to achieve this. Another example might be a large and powerful government placing safety and security as its foremost concern, drawing the conclusion that it’s acceptable to sacrifice some individual liberties in favor of increasing the safety of its citizens.

Table 4–4: Changing Alignment
1 2 3 4 5 6 7
Fully Lawful Somewhat Lawful Somewhat Neutral Fully Neutral Somewhat Neutral Somewhat Chaotic Fully Chaotic
1 2 3 4 5 6 7
Fully Good Somewhat Good Somewhat Neutral Fully Neutral Somewhat Neutral Somewhat Evil Fully Evil

Moral Intentions

In this variant, every character, NPC, and monster selects one or more closely held beliefs, intentions, or loyalties. Simple statements about a character’s intentions, like the examples listed in the sidebar, flesh out characters and enliven roleplaying scenes.

This system requires some back-and-forth between the GM and the other players, and more thought on the part of everyone at the table.

Typically, specifying three intentions or loyalties works well to define a character.

These personal intentions cover broad spectra of behavior and in large part define the subjective definition of good for that individual. Intentions could be as abstract as acting with honor or as concrete as devotion to the character’s mother. A person following their core beliefs or intentions feels like they are acting in a good manner, and they are likely to view actions against or restrictions to these beliefs as evil. For example, a character who believes strongly in the law would see allowing a crime to go unpunished as evil.

A specific individual will likely have different levels of commitment for each of their intentions. Determine a relative order of commitment by considering what the character would do if these intentions came into conflict.

Rules Adjustments

Alignment restrictions no longer exist in either major variant.

You can replace them with edicts and anathema, if necessary, and make the following other adjustments.

Aligned Damage

If you’re using the no alignment variant, remove or replace aligned damage (chaotic, evil, good, and lawful damage), which requires significant adjustments for creatures like angels and devils that were built with a weakness to aligned damage. One option is to replace them one-for-one with new damage types like “radiant” and “shadow” that don’t have any moral assumptions. Another option is to simply change the damage type needed for creature weaknesses to some other damage type on a case-by-case basis. A third option is to remove the weaknesses, reduce the monsters’ maximum Hit Points, and call it good. No matter what you do with creatures, you’ll also have to replace abilities like the champion’s that deal aligned damage in a similar way, or remove those abilities.

If you’re using the moral intentions variant, you can replace chaotic, evil, good, and lawful damage with a single type of damage called aligned damage, which harms those with intentions directly opposed to those held by the character, as determined by you as GM.


Alignment-detecting effects don’t exist. In the moral intentions variant, you might replace such an ability with one that detects whether a creature is following its own intentions, or to detect others with similar intentions to the creature using the ability.


Alignment traits don’t exist, and anything that has those traits loses them. Effects that require the traits to function, like protection, don’t exist.

Example Moral Intentions

I will…

  • …never let my companions down.
  • …avenge my family.
  • …protect the natural world.
  • …achieve great wealth.
  • …spread the word of my deity.
  • …help others in need.
  • …spread the rule of the rightful government.

Deep Backgrounds

The decision of a character background is not necessarily a complicated one; the player simply selects from the available background options to reflect their character’s life before adventuring. While this is a good method for determining a character’s backstory, some players might want more insight into their character’s early life or family.

Using Deep Backgrounds

This variant replaces Step 4 of Character Creation. The player rolls on the tables in this section to determine their character’s family background, homeland, major childhood event, influential associate, relationships, and drawbacks. Each element of the player’s background adds options to the final list of ability boosts, skills, feats, and other options that their background can grant. The player writes these options down as they build their character’s background. At the end of the process, they select the following from among the options written down.

  • Two ability boosts, each to a different ability score.
  • Training in a Lore skill.
  • One skill feat (or possibly another feat or piece of equipment). If the player chooses a skill feat, they become trained in its prerequisite skill, or one of its possible prerequisite skills if it has multiple (such as Quick Identification). If the random results include a feat that isn’t a skill feat and the player selects that feat, they don’t gain training in a skill. If they choose a piece of equipment instead of a skill feat, the entry indicates what skill training, if any, they receive.

Rerolling and Selecting

At your discretion, the players don’t have to be bound by any results from the following tables. Depending on how your group wants to use deep backgrounds, players can reroll any result they don’t like, or even select a specific option from a table that fits their emerging vision of their character. However, if you allow players to reroll or directly select options (and potentially even if you don’t), you might want to exclude options that grant feats other than skill feats; these options are unusual enough that they might put too much pressure on players to select only these options.

Note that the following tables reflect the core rules and it’s associated campaign setting—if your game takes place in a different setting, feel free to adjust the tables or allow players to select the options that best fit your setting.

Generating Deep Backgrounds

As a player, follow the steps below to generate your character’s deep background.

Step 1: Family Background

The word family means something different to everyone.

You might have a biological family, adopted family, step-family, or any other kind and combination you choose; family bonds come in all types. To determine the number of family members you grew up with as an active part of your life, roll 1d% on the following table. Use the medium family for most ancestries, small if you’re a half-elf or half-orc, and large if you’re a goblin or halfling. For ancestries other than those in the core rules, use the column that best suits the ancestry. It’s up to you whether these family members are parents, siblings, grandparents, or other close relatives.

Table 4–5: Family Size
d% Small Family Medium Family Large Family
1–4 0 0 0
5–8 0 0 1
9–20 0 0 2
21–34 0 1 3
35–39 1 2 3
40–50 1 2 4
51–60 2 3 4
61–65 2 3 5
66–69 2 4 5
70–78 3 4 5
79–80 4 4 6
81–87 4 5 6
88–90 5 5 6
91–93 5 6 7
94–95 6 6 7
96–97 6 7 7
98–99 7 7 8+
100 8+ 8+ 8+
  • If you grew up with no family, you had to learn to survive on your own. Add a Strength ability boost and a Constitution ability boost to your options.
  • If you grew up with one or two family members, your closeness to them made you highly aware of their feelings, and you. Add an Intelligence ability boost and a Wisdom ability boost to your options.
  • If you grew up with three or more family members, you had to mediate family conflicts and negotiate a crowded home. Add a Charisma ability boost and a Dexterity ability boost to your options.

Step 2: Homeland

Where you grew up is highly formative. Roll on the following table to determine the nature of your homeland.

If your character is a dwarf, subtract 3; if an elf, add 2; if a goblin, subtract 4. For ancestries other than those in the core rules, apply a modifier that best suits the ancestry, if needed. Work with your GM to flesh your homeland out in further detail. With any of these options, you add a Lore skill based on your homeland’s terrain to your background options, such as Forest Lore for a wooded frontier or Absalom Lore if you grew up in that city.

Table 4–6: Homeland
d20 Result Details
1 or less Underground You grew up in a partly or wholly underground region, such as a human mining town, a goblin warren, or a dwarf-held cavern. Add Engineering Lore, Labor Lore, and Mining Lore to your background options.
2–3 Frontier You grew up at the edge of a settled region. This might have been isolated hills if you are a dwarf, a ranch or farm if you are a human, or another similar frontier. Add Farming Lore, Fishing Lore, Hunting Lore, Scouting Lore, and Lore pertaining to a type of creature that threatened your homeland regularly (such as Giant Lore) to your background options.
4–5 Trade Town People frequently passed through your homeland. You might have been raised near a major thoroughfare or crossroads, or in a small trade town. Add Accounting Lore, Guild Lore, Mercantile Lore, Stabling Lore, and Lore of a common ancestry (such as Dwarf Lore) to your background options.
6–7 Simple Village You were raised in a sleepy village such as a bucolic gnome hamlet, a close-knit human town, or an established goblin fort. Add Herbalism Lore, Midwifery Lore, Milling Lore, Tanning Lore, and Lore of a type of food, drink, or product the village was known for producing (such as Alcohol Lore or Wagon Lore) to your background options.
8–9 Cosmopolitan City You were raised in a community where no single ancestry predominated. This might have created tensions, but the community might also have pulled together from diverse foundations. Add Art Lore, Guild Lore, Legal Lore, and Underworld Lore to your background options.
10–11 Metropolis You grew up in one of the largest cities in the world, such as Absalom or Westcrown. Add Architecture Lore, Gladiatorial Lore, Guild Lore, Legal Lore, and Theater Lore to your background options.
12 Front Lines You grew up in a homeland torn by war. Even if you didn’t personally participate, it was never far away. Add Heraldry Lore, Scouting Lore, and Warfare Lore to your background options.
13–14 Itinerant You never had a single place to call home. You might have been part of a nomadic caravan, a traveling group of entertainers, or a smuggling ring. Add Circus Lore, Fortune-Telling Lore, Games Lore, Labor Lore, and Underworld Lore to your background options.
15 Another Ancestry’s Settlement Randomly determine another common ancestry; you grew up surrounded by that ancestry. Reroll on this table (with a modifier for the new ancestry, if applicable) to determine the type of community in which you grew up (for example, if your gnome grew up among dwarves and rolls a 3, they grew up underground). Add the Adopted Ancestry feat and the Lore skill related to your adopted ancestry (such as Dwarf Lore) to your background options. If you select this feat instead of a skill feat, you aren’t trained in a background skill.
16 Coastal Community You grew up along a wide river, in a wetland, beside an ocean, or on an island. Add Fishing Lore, Sailing Lore, and Lore of a specific type of sea creature (such as Shark Lore) to your background options.
17–18 Religious Community You were raised in a community of religious scholars, such as the town around an abbey, a remote elven forest shrine, or a dwarven temple-city. Add Art Lore, Scribing Lore, Lore about a deity that was the focus or enemy of your community, and Lore about a plane (other than the Material Plane) where that deity resides to your background options.
19+ Academic Community You were raised in or near a university, academy, or other center of learning. Add Academia Lore, Genealogy Lore, Library Lore, and Scribing Lore to your background options.

Step 3: Major Childhood Event

During your childhood, you were influenced by a significant event that helped shape the person you became. Roll on the table below to determine the type of event that shaped you.

Table 4–7: Major Childhood Event
d20 Result Details
1 Abandoned in a Distant Land Due to some mischance (such as wandering off while on a trip or being press-ganged onto a seagoing ship), you had to survive in a distant land for a while. Add the Multilingual skill feat to your background options.
2 Academy Trained You attended an academy where you studied a number of topics and skills. Whether you were a studious pupil or a dropout, the academy was your home for a good portion of your formative years. Add the Additional Lore skill feat to your background options. If you select Additional Lore as your skill feat, instead of becoming trained in Lore, you become trained in your choice of Arcana, Occultism, or Society.
3 Attained a Magical Gift When you were a child, you found, stole, or were given a magic item that gave you an extraordinary ability. Add the Arcane Sense skill feat to your background options.
4 Betrayed A friend or family member whom you trusted more than anyone else betrayed you. Add the Lie to Me skill feat to your background options.
5 Bullied In your early life, you were often picked on. The callousness of bullies sharpened your resolve to stand up for yourself and others. Add the Intimidating Glare skill feat to your background options.
6 Captured by Giants You were captured by marauding giants and fought your way free. Add the Titan Wrestler skill feat to your background options.
7 Claimed an Inheritance You were bequeathed great wealth or property at an early age. You retained some of it; add a piece of common adventuring gear worth 15 gp or less to your background options. If you select it instead of a skill feat, you are trained in Society.
8 Died You died or came so close that you walked the boundary between life and death. Add the Diehard feat to your background options. If you select it instead of a skill feat, you aren’t trained in a background skill.
9 Fell In with a Bad Crowd In your youth, you ran with a criminal element: a gang, thieves’ guild, or similar organization. Add the Experienced Smuggler skill feat to your background options.
10 Had an Ordinary Childhood Your childhood was fairly ordinary, with no major catastrophe—a stark contrast to most adventurers. Add the Assurance skill feat for a skill of your choice to your background options.
11 Had Your First Kill You’ve had blood on your hands since your youth, when you first took the life of another. You still have the weapon you used for the deed; add a common weapon worth 15 gp or less to your background options. If you select this option instead of a skill feat, you are trained in Athletics.
12 Kidnapped You were kidnapped at some point in your childhood and had to escape, perhaps by pirates, slavers, a cult, or someone else. Add the Quick Squeeze skill feat to your background options.
13 Lost in the Wilderness Whether lured to the wilderness by a malevolent force or simply lost, you had to survive on your own for a while. Add the Survey Wildlife skill feat to your background options.
14 Met a Fantastic Creature When you were a child, you made contact with a magical creature, such as a dragon, unicorn, genie, pixie, or similar creature. Add the Recognize Spell skill feat to your background options.
15 Raided  A horde of raiders attacked your settlement and killed and wounded several of your people. This could have been a band of highway robbers or a conquering army. You have a relic from those times; add an armor or shield worth 15 gp or less to your background options. If you select this option instead of a skill feat, you are trained in Medicine.
16 Robbed Your family’s possessions were stolen, and you vowed to catch the next burglar in the act. Add the Snare Crafting skill feat to your background options.
17 Survived a Disaster You witnessed and survived a major disaster in your childhood years—such as a great fire, flood, earthquake, volcano, or storm—by relying on what was at hand. Add the Quick Repair skill feat to your background options.
18 Trained by a Mentor A mentor or patron took an interest in your development and volunteered to train or sponsor you. Add the Experienced Professional skill feat to your background options.
19 Witnessed War You grew up against the backdrop of a major military conflict that affected much of your childhood world. Add the Battle Medicine skill feat to your background options.
20 Won a Competition You distinguished yourself at an early age when you won a competition. This might have been a martial contest of arms, a showing of apprentice magicians, high-stakes gambling, or something more mundane, like an eating contest. Add the Fascinating Performance skill feat to your background options.

Step 4: Influential Associate

You may have had several people who played key roles in developing their skills and personality, but one likely stands out as the most influential. Use one of the results below as a template to develop an NPC in deeper detail.

Work with your GM to determine the current fate of this NPC and whether you can still call upon the NPC for aid.

Table 4–8: Influential Associate
d20 Result Details
1 The Academic One of your associates had a thirst for knowledge that could never be satisfied with simple answers. Through this association, you developed a keen appreciation for numbers, geometry, logic, hard study, and problem-solving. Add an Intelligence ability boost to your background options.
2 The Boss You once gained employment under a powerful individual with far-reaching influence. When the boss spoke up, everyone listened. This could have been a military commander, village leader, guild head, or gang boss. From the boss, you learned how to make people listen and keep them in line. Add a Charisma ability boost to your background options.
3 The Champion You were close to someone who excelled at athletic endeavors and tests of strength or skill. Through your friendship or rivalry, you developed a competitive spirit that continues to drive you in everything you do. Add a Strength ability boost to your background options.
4 The Confidante You could tell this person anything. They know your deepest secrets and vulnerabilities just as you know theirs, and thinking critically about another’s perspective became second nature to you. Add an Intelligence ability boost to your background options.
5 The Crafter One of your major influences cherished perfection through art. From this person, you developed a disciplined mind, a solitary focus, and the ability to create something useful and beautiful. Add an Intelligence ability boost to your background options.
6 The Criminal One of your associates committed crimes regularly. They regaled you with many stories of daring robberies and break-ins—perhaps even murders. You learned what you know of the criminal element from this friend. Add a Dexterity ability boost to your background options.
7 The Dead One One of your greatest influences was a sapient undead creature, such as a ghost, lich, graveknight, or vampire. Through this strange relationship, you learned of its mortal life, giving you perspective on your own life. Add a Constitution ability boost to your background options.
8 The Fiend You dealt with, or were possessed by, a fiend who lent you power at a time of great need. Some part of it remains inside you, influencing you toward destructive ends. Add a Strength ability boost to your background options.
9 The Fool One of your close associates mocked propriety and custom, engaging in wild and somewhat random actions from time to time. After a while, you learned there was simple wisdom to this foolery—a careless worldview that taught you to cast off concern. Add a Wisdom ability boost to your background options.
10 The Hunter This person was a lone wolf who cautiously allowed you to become a member of their solitary pack. They taught you how to remain quick and thrive on your own in spite of natural dangers. Add a Dexterity ability boost to your background options.
11 The Liege Lord You became close with someone you were bound to serve, be it an employer, minor lord or lady, or even a king or queen. Though this person held power over you, they held you closer than a subject or servant. As a result, you’re used to dealing with and being close to power. Add a Charisma ability boost to your background options.
12 The Lover You had a romantic connection in your past, and this person deeply influenced your personality. Perhaps this was a first love, a casual partner you grew close to, or the one who got away. The experience bolstered your confidence in romantic interactions, even though your thoughts still stray toward that special someone from long ago. Add a Charisma ability boost to your background options.
13 The Mentor You had a mentor who taught you everything worth knowing about life. This could have been the person who taught you your heroic abilities, or simply a kindred spirit who helped form your worldview. Add a Constitution ability boost to your background options.
14 The Mercenary With this person, the Mercenary was always a cost. No deed came without a trade for something of equal or greater value. You respected their cynical but fair dealings, and they influenced your philosophy. Add a Strength ability boost to your background options.
15 The Mystic You were especially close to a holy person in your community who fundamentally changed your life, opening your eyes to the incredible powers that exist beyond the natural world. Regardless of whether you now follow a faith, certain religious artifacts, rituals, and texts played a large part in making you the person you are. Add a Wisdom ability boost to your background options.
16 The Pariah You met a disgraced exile and found in their words something that spoke to you. What once seemed true in your religion, society, or family began to appear false, and you quickly learned not to trust everyone you meet. Add a Wisdom ability boost to your background options.
17 The Relative You were especially close to a specific relative growing up. To you, this person was the meaning of family. They helped shepherd you into adulthood, teaching you everything you know about the world. You resolutely strive to keep a promise, vow, or oath that you made to them. Add a Constitution ability boost to your background options.
18 The Seer You were close to a person who claimed to see the future—perhaps an oracle, seer, prophet, or merely some festival charlatan. The seer’s influence either made you into an optimist with a drive to fulfill that future or a fatalist resigned to accept it. Add a Wisdom ability boost to your background options.
19 The Wanderer You knew someone who traveled from place to place with the changing of the wind, such as a minstrel, merchant, outcast, mercenary, or sailor. This person brought you wondrous mementos and inspired a wanderlust within you. Add a Dexterity ability boost to your background options.
20 The Well-Connected Friend In your circle of associates, there was someone everyone knew. This person had contacts in every social circle. Through this connection, you continue to meet and associate with a wide variety of people in every walk of life. Add a Charisma ability boost to your background options.

Step 5: Relationships

This aspect of background generation determines the relationships you have with the other PCs and why your character might choose to adventure with them. This step is best performed when the entire group is sitting together and can generate and discuss these connections with each other.

You should select another character and roll on the first table to generate an inspiring connection, then determine a different character and roll on the second table to generate a challenging connection.

You might choose these characters randomly, or the group might decide that each character has an inspiring connection with the character of the player sitting to the left and a challenging connection with the character of the player sitting to the right.

Other players can reject a relationship connection they don’t feel fits with their vision of their own character; in this case, pick another character or a different relationship. Even though you and the other characters share a connection, only you add the skill feats from the relationships you roll to your background options.

Table 4–9: Inspiring Relationship
d12 Result Details
1 Animal Helpers When you and this character were younger, you worked together to nurse sick animals back to health. Add the Train Animal skill feat to your background options.
2 Comrade-in-Arms You and this character were once comrades in military service, and you trained yourself and this character to improve your physical fitness. Add the Assurance skill feat for Athletics to your background options.
3 Desperate Intimidation You had to frighten off pirates or slavers looking to capture you and this character. Add the Group Coercion skill feat to your background options.
4 Homelessness At a time when you were both living on the streets, you taught this character valuable pointers to survive. Add the Streetwise skill feat to your background options.
5 Kindly Witch This character connected you to a kindly but reclusive person who was living at the edge of civilization but had expansive knowledge to share. Add the Natural Medicine skill feat to your background options.
6 Liberators You and this character worked together to free some captives—including one of your friends or relatives—from a gang of slavers. Add the Lengthy Diversion skill feat to your background options.
7 Magician This character supported your brief dalliance with stage magic, which you took up as a precursor to learning actual magic or simply to keep your fingers nimble. Add the Subtle Theft skill feat to your background options.
8 Missing Child When a young relative disappeared in a busy market, this character helped you question merchants and shoppers and find the child before they came to any harm. Add the Hobnobber skill feat to your background options.
9 Patron of the Arts This character encouraged you to excel at a type of performance you loved, even going so far as to support you in lean times. Add the Virtuosic Performer skill feat to your background options.
10 Religious Students You and this character shared some religious training in the past, even if you didn’t stick with it, and you admired their piety. Add the Student of the Canon skill feat to your background options.
11 Timely Cure When a family member of yours was dying and there didn’t seem to be much hope, this character brought a simple but effective alchemical cure. You are determined to pay this favor forward. Add the Alchemical Crafting skill feat to your background options.
12 Wasteland Survivors You and this character were lost in a dangerous wasteland together and depended upon each other for survival; you’re still not certain that either of you would have survived the ordeal without the other’s aid. Add the Forager skill feat to your background options.
Table 4–10: Challenging Relationship
d12 Result Details
1 Accidental Fall This character once inadvertently shoved you off a ledge or balcony. You’re mostly certain it was a mistake, but the fall was terrifying, and you’ve resolved to never be caught unaware like that again. Add the Cat Fall skill feat to your background options.
2 Accusation of Theft You were once secretly certain that this character stole a cherished valuable from you. You were determined to steal it back, until you learned that this character wasn’t in fact to blame and you’d only misplaced the item. Add the Pickpocket skill feat to your background options.
3 Called Before Judges Information provided by this character—either intentionally or inadvertently given—required you to justify yourself in front of a group of bureaucrats or magistrates. Add the Group Impression skill feat to your background options.
4 Matter of Might You have long considered this character your rival in a question of strength. You are determined to prove yourself to be mightier, perhaps by intelligent application of force if you aren’t physically imposing. Add the Hefty Hauler skill feat to your background options.
5 Mercantile Expertise To encourage an employer to hire you instead of this character, you worked hard to demonstrate your keen mercantile sense. It didn’t work; the employer hired this character anyway. Add the Bargain Hunter skill feat to your background options.
6 Privileged Position You once sought the favor of a powerful spellcaster as a mentor, but this character was plainly the mentor’s favorite, no matter how hard you tried. Add the Quick Identification skill feat to your background options.
7 Relationship Ender You once warned off an admirer seeking this character’s affections. You still maintain that the match would have been a poor one and that you did this character a favor. Add the Quick Coercion skill feat to your background options.
8 Rival Trackers You and this character worked for a time as rival hunters, whether tracking animals or escaped criminals. Add the Experienced Tracker skill feat to your background options.
9 Seeking Accolades You never seemed to capture the attention of the crowds at the tavern as easily as this character did, so you worked hard to practice your showmanship. Add the Impressive Performance skill feat to your background options.
10 Slander You and this character were rivals for the same person’s affections, and you stooped to spreading vicious lies before the whole situation fell apart. Add the Charming Liar skill feat to your background options.
11 Social Maneuvering You have always wanted to prove yourself better than this character in a fancy social situation but have yet to decisively do so. Add the Courtly Graces skill feat to your background options.
12 Spy You spied upon this character in the past, either at the behest of someone else or because of your own suspicions. Add the Read Lips skill feat to your background options.

Dual-Class PCs

Sometimes, especially when you have a particularly small play group or want to play incredibly versatile characters, you might want to allow dual-class characters that have the full benefits of two different classes.

Feats and Features

The Core Rulebook presents a character progression carefully designed to offer plenty of options and depth without overwhelming players with too many choices at once. However, you can use the rules here to create an infinite number of variant progressions. If your group wants more powerful characters, specific themes for all characters, or the like, you can implement these variants.

Building a Dual-Class Character

When building a dual-class character, the primary changes to the character creation process are fairly straightforward.

Choose and implement your character’s ancestry and background as normal. Then, when you get to the step of choosing a class, select two classes and add everything from each class except Hit Points and starting skills: initial proficiencies, class features, class feats, extra skill feats and skill increases for rogues, and so on. As always, use the highest proficiency granted for a given statistic. For instance, if one class gave you expert proficiency in Will saves and the other gave you master proficiency in Will saves, you would be a master in Will saves.

Use only the higher Hit Points per level from the two classes. For starting skills, apply the skills automatically granted by each class, and then apply the larger number of additional skills.

For instance, a cleric/ranger would gain Hit Points equal to 10 + their Constitution modifier per level, start with the trained proficiency rank in Nature and Survival from ranger and Religion and either Crafting or Performance from cleric, and then gain a number of additional skills of their choice equal to 4 + their Intelligence modifier, since the ranger provides the trained proficiency rank in more additional skills than the cleric does (this example doesn’t include any skills they gained from their background or other sources). This character would also have the deity, divine spellcasting, divine font, and doctrine class features from cleric plus the Hunt Prey, hunter’s edge, and ranger feat class features from ranger.


Dual-class spellcasters get full access to all the spells of any spellcasting classes they have.

For instance, a sorcerer/wizard gets five cantrips in their spell repertoire from sorcerer, five prepared cantrips from wizard, three spontaneous 1st-level spell slots from the sorcerer (with three 1st-level spells in their repertoire), and three 1st-level prepared spell slots from wizard (or four, for a specialist). They keep these spells entirely separate and get the full benefits of both spellcasting class features, even if both classes use the same tradition.

Classes with focus pools get all the Focus Points granted by all of them. These share one focus pool as normal, with the standard cap of 3 maximum Focus Points.

Character Advancement

A dual-class character gains the class feats and class features for both classes at each level as they advance, with the exception of ability boosts, general feats, skill feats, and skill increases—the character gets each of these benefits only once per level, since both classes would provide the same benefit. (A dual-class rogue/ranger still gets the extra skill feat and skill increase at levels where the other class doesn’t provide them.)

If a character gains the same proficiency rank in a statistic more than once, they still use only the highest rank. In the example above, when the cleric gets Alertness at 5th level, they wouldn’t change their Perception rank, since it was already expert due to the ranger’s initial proficiencies.

Playing With Dual-Class Characters

Playing a dual-class character certainly gives a character more options, and adding additional spellcasting classes can result in a significantly wider variety of powerful spell effects available to each character. Nonetheless, this sort of dual-classing is more likely to increase the party’s longevity than it is to drastically adjust the level of opponents a dual-class character should be fighting.

The increases to saving throw proficiencies and Hit Points make characters somewhat sturdier and able to take on slightly higher challenges, but not every fight should be harder, nor should encounters exceed extreme-threat difficulty.

Dual-classing in two similar martial classes to double up on their advantages can result in characters who, instead of increasing their flexibility, become drastically more powerful in one focus. For instance, a fighter/ranger with the flurry hunter’s edge gains access to incredibly accurate press actions, and a barbarian/fighter has the barbarian’s high damage plus the fighter’s high accuracy.

One way around this is to simply disallow combinations that double down on a narrow ability, and instead encourage dual-class characters that open up narrative options and increase the character’s flexibility. The other solution is to raise the challenge from the opposition, treating the party as if the characters were a level higher.

However, this is a choice that affects the whole group, even if only one character is built to mow down foes.

Due to the increased number of class feats a dual-class character has, you should limit how much of a benefit a character gets from feats that scale based on the number of feats you have, such as Resiliency feats from multiclass archetypes. Typically, the limit should be half the number of total class feats the character has.

Free Archetype

Sometimes the story of your game calls for a group where everyone is a pirate or an apprentice at a magic school. The free archetype variant introduces a shared aspect to every character without taking away any of that character’s existing choices. It can also provide a lighter version of dual-class characters by giving everyone a free multiclass archetype.

Building A Character

The only difference between a normal character and a free-archetype character is that the character receives an extra class feat at 2nd level and every even level thereafter that they can use only for archetype feats.

Depending on the needs of the group and the theme of the game, you might restrict the free feats to those of a single archetype each character in the group has (for a shared backstory), those of archetypes fitting a certain theme (such as only ones from magical archetypes in a game set in a magic school), or entirely unrestricted if you just want a higher-powered game.

If the group all has the same archetype or draws from a limited list, you might want to ignore the free archetype’s normal restriction of selecting a certain number of feats before taking a new archetype. That way a character can still pursue another archetype that also fits their character.

Playing With Free Archetypes

Free-archetype characters are a bit more versatile and powerful than normal, but usually not so much that they unbalance your game. However, due to the characters’ increased access to archetype feats, you should place a limit on the number of feats that scale based on a character’s number of archetype feats (mainly multiclass Resiliency feats). Allowing a character to benefit from a number of these feats equal to half their level is appropriate, as this is the maximum number of feats you could use to take archetype feats without this variant.

Ancestry Paragon

Most characters have some elements that connect them to their ancestry but identify more strongly with their class or unique personality. Sometimes, though, a character is the embodiment of their ancestry to the point that it’s of equal importance to their class. For a game where an ancestral background is a major theme and such characters are the norm, your group might consider using the ancestry paragon variant.

Building an Ancestry Paragon Character

When creating an ancestry paragon character, instead of starting with one ancestry feat and gaining another at 5th, 9th, 13th, and 17th levels, the character starts with two ancestry feats and gains another at every odd level thereafter (3rd, 5th, 7th, 9th, and so on) for a total of 11 ancestry feats.

Playing With Ancestry Paragon Characters

Ancestry paragon characters have a bit more versatility and power than other characters, though their extra abilities are usually limited to themes the ancestry already was suited for. It’s unlikely to affect the game balance of combat encounters, but it might make exploration and social challenges easier for the heroes.

Simplified Ancestries

The variants presented so far have mostly been aimed at groups looking to increase their nuance in exchange for greater character complexity. However, sometimes players are looking for something a little simpler instead, or want to increase the complexity in one area and decrease it elsewhere, keeping a rough balance. In games where a character’s ancestry is only incidental and each PC is more defined by their class and individual characteristics, simplified ancestries allows your group to pick an ancestry and go.

Building A Simplified Ancestry Character

When choosing an ancestry for a simplified ancestry character, you gain the ancestry’s normal abilities at 1st level, choose a heritage, and gain the appropriate lore feat (Dwarven Lore for dwarves, for example) as your ancestry feat. Simplified ancestry characters never gain ancestry feats beyond that first lore feat. If you want to keep the power level of your game consistent, you can replace the ancestry feats gained at higher levels with general feats.

Simplified Skill Feats

The standard system gives feats specifically to spend on skills to let PCs gain fun, skill-based options without feeling like they had to sacrifice a feat that could have improved their class’s core specialties. In some games, especially those focused on combat with little exploration, downtime, or social interaction, the PCs might have more skill feats than they need. The simplified skill feats variant allows you to reduce this aspect of decision-making.

Building A Simplified Skill Feat Character

Simplified skill feat characters don’t receive any skill feats, even from their backgrounds. They still gain general feats and can use those to select skill feats if they want a crucial ability.

You may want to allow rogues to gain skill feats, but at the normal advancement most characters have, instead of their usual double advancement.

Playing With Simplified Skill Feat Characters

While you probably won’t need to adjust combat challenges at all for simplified skill feat characters, skill-based challenges—especially social challenges—will be tougher, especially at higher levels where it’s expected characters will have more efficient skill-based abilities due to skill feats. If you prefer more baseline difficulty, you could adjust the expectations down slightly.

Building Characters

Building a level 0 character is similar to building a 1st-level character, but you stop after choosing your ancestry and background. A level 0 character still gets the four free ability boosts from Step 6 of the normal character creation process, but not the class ability boost.

Initial Proficiencies

A level 0 character is trained in Perception, all saving throws, unarmed attacks, unarmored defense, and one simple weapon of their choice. Additionally, they are trained in a number of skills equal to 2 + their Intelligence modifier. The proficiency bonus for a level 0 character works the same way as normal, but since the level is 0, the total proficiency bonus for being trained is +2.

Hit Points

A level 0 character adds their Constitution modifier to their ancestry Hit Points to determine their starting Hit Points.

Starting Money

A level 0 character starts with 5 gp (50 sp) to spend on equipment.

Apprentice Option

If the story you want to tell is about characters who have started training to become a particular class, you can grant them a small number of additional abilities.

An apprentice character is trained in the skill or skills specified for their chosen class (such as Occultism and Performance for a bard) in addition to the skills they gain through their initial proficiencies. They also gain benefits based on the class.


An apprentice alchemist gains the advanced alchemy ability of the alchemy class feature. Their advanced alchemy level is 1, and they have one batch of infused reagents each day. They can make only infused alchemical items.

Level 0 Characters

Before they were heroes, every PC came from somewhere, whether they worked on a farm or picked pockets on the streets. Sometimes, it can be a lot of fun to play a prequel game years before the PCs’ first adventure as heroes, or you may have an idea for a low-powered adventure that calls for commoners and apprentices. The rules below provide ways to easily build and use level 0 PCs in your games.


An apprentice monk gains the powerful fist class feature.

Other Martial Class

An apprentice of another martial class (barbarian, champion, fighter, ranger, or rogue) is trained in light armor, all simple weapons, and one martial weapon listed in the class’s initial proficiencies. If a martial class not listed here lacks light armor or martial weapon training (as the monk does), give it a different ability as well.


An apprentice spellcaster is trained in the appropriate magic tradition and gains two cantrips from their class. A prepared caster can’t change these cantrips each day.


Combat can be especially dangerous for level 0 characters. For safety’s sake, you might treat the characters as level –1 when determining what combat encounters are appropriate. For skill checks, they can still accomplish tasks with a simple trained DC using their trained skills, but success is less certain. Since they have fewer skills, the party might not have anyone trained for a given task.

If you’re playing these characters for more than a few sessions, consider advancing them to 1st level using the fast advancement speed (800 XP). If your group wants a longer experience at level 0, start the group without the apprentice benefits, then level up to apprentice (gaining those benefits and the apprentice adjustments for their class), and then level up to 1st level.


As the characters start with 5 gp, their adventures up to 1st level should account for the rest of a 1st-level character’s starting money. That means you’ll distribute treasure worth 10 gp × the number of PCs, a large percentage of which should be in currency.

Magic Item Variants

The magic item system is calibrated for a high-fantasy world, with plenty of access to magic. However, not all settings, games, or subgenres match those assumptions. Varying from the default magic item system can help your group build games in low-magic settings, where the availability of magic items is unreliable, or where most or all of the power comes from the character and not their gear.

Automatic Bonus Progression

This variant removes the item bonus to rolls and DCs usually provided by magic items (with the exception of armor’s item bonus) and replaces it with a new kind of bonus—potency—to reflect a character’s innate ability instead.

In this variant, magic items, if they exist at all, can provide unique special abilities rather than numerical increases.

Special Class Features

Every character automatically gains the class features on Table 4–11: Automatic Bonus Progression.

Table 4–11: Automatic Bonus Progression
Level Benefits
2 Attack potency +1
3 Skill potency (one at +1)
4 Devastating attacks (two dice)
5 Defense potency +1
6 Skill potency (two at +1 each)
7 Perception potency +1
8 Saving throw potency +1
9 Skill potency (one at +2, one at +1)
10 Attack potency +2
11 Defense potency +2
12 Devastating attacks (three dice)
13 Perception potency +2; skill potency (two at +2 each, one at +1)
14 Saving throw potency +2
15 Skill potency (three at +2 each, one at +1)
16 Attack potency +3
17 Ability apex; skill potency (one at +3, two at +2 each, two at +1 each)
18 Defense potency +3
19 Devastating attacks (four dice), Perception potency +3
20 Saving throw potency +3; skill potency (two at +3 each, two at +2 each, two at +1 each)

Attack Potency 2nd

Starting at 2nd level, you gain a +1 potency bonus to attack rolls with all weapons and unarmed attacks. This increases to +2 at 10th level, and +3 at 16th level.

Skill Potency 3rd

At 3rd level, choose a single skill.

You gain a +1 potency bonus with that skill. At 6th level, choose a second skill to gain a +1 potency bonus. At 9th level, choose one of those skills and increase its potency bonus to +2. At 13th level, increase the potency bonus of your second skill to +2 and choose a third skill to gain a +1 potency bonus. At 15th level, increase the third skill’s potency bonus to +2 and choose a fourth skill to gain a +1 potency bonus.

At 17th level, choose one of your three skills with a +2 potency bonus to increase to +3, and choose a fifth skill to gain a +1 potency bonus. Finally, at 20th level, choose one of the two skills with a +2 potency bonus to increase to +3, choose one of the three skills at a +1 potency bonus to increase to +2, and choose one new skill to gain a +1 potency bonus.

You can spend 1 week to retrain one of these assignments at any time.

Devastating Attacks 4th

At 4th level, your weapon and unarmed Strikes deal two damage dice instead of one. This increases to three at 12th level and to four at 19th level.

Defense Potency 5th

At 5th level, you gain a +1 potency bonus to AC. At 11th level, this bonus increases to +2, and at 18th level, to +3.

Perception Potency 7th

At 7th level, you gain a +1 potency bonus to Perception, increasing to +2 at level 13 and +3 at level 19.

Saving Throw Potency 8th

At 8th level, you gain a +1 potency bonus to saves, increasing to +2 at level 14 and +3 at level 20.

Ability Apex 17th

At 17th level, choose one ability score to either increase by 2 or increase to 18 (whichever grants the higher score).

Adjusting Items and Treasure

With this variant, you can ignore as much of Table 10–9: Party Treasure by Level of the core rules as you want, though you’ll usually want to provide consistent currency. The main area your choice will impact is in spellcasting items, such as scrolls and wands.

Remove all potency runes, striking runes, and resilient runes.

Items that normally grant an item bonus to statistics or damage dice no longer do, other than the base item bonus to AC from armor. Apex items do not increase ability scores. If your world still includes magic items, a safe bet is to continue to give out consumable items at roughly the rate on Table 10–9 of the core rules.

If you choose to eliminate runes entirely, this can reduce the PCs’ damage since they won’t have runes like flaming or holy. If you’ve removed nearly all treasure, challenges might become more difficult, even with automatic bonuses.


In this variant, gear can provide bonuses even if it’s not magical. This is useful for games and settings that set out to give fine, non-magical items the same prominence as magic items. High-quality gear requires the corresponding proficiency rank in Crafting to Craft.

High-Quality Weapons and Armor

High-quality weapons and armor give the same benefits as weapon and armor potency runes (Tables 4–12 and 4–13). To remove magic from weapons and armor, you can use the devastating attacks and saving throw potency entries from the automatic bonus progression variant, or you can have quality also provide the effects of striking and resilient runes, using Table 4–14 and Table 4–15. If you choose to still have magic weapons and armor, the effects don’t stack with quality.

High-Quality Skill Items

Items with skill or Perception bonuses don’t have fundamental runes. If an existing skill bonus item costs less than the listed Price for a high-quality skill item or has a lower level, it likely has a feature such as a limitation, so adjust accordingly. A character in a game with this variant can Craft or buy a non-magical item to boost Perception or a skill using the table below.

Table 4–16: High-Quality Skill Item
Quality Item Bonus Item Level Price
Expert +1 3 40 gp
Master +2 9 550 gp
Legendary +3 17 11,000 gp
Table 4–12: High-Quality Weapons
Quality Item Bonus Property Rune Slots Item Level Price
Expert +1 1 2 35 gp
Master +2 2 10 935 gp
Legendary +3 3 16 8,935 gp
Table 4–13: High-Quality Armor
Quality Bonus Increase Property Rune Slots Item Level Price
Expert +1 1 5 160 gp
Master +2 2 11 1,060 gp
Legendary +3 3 18 20,560 gp
Table 4–14: Devastating Weapons
Quality Item Bonus Damage Dice Property Rune Slots Item Level Price
Expert +1 1 1 2 35 gp
Expert devastating +1 2 1 4 100 gp
Master +2 2 2 10 1,000 gp
Master devastating +2 3 2 12 2,000 gp
Legendary +3 3 3 16 10,000 gp
Legendary devastating +3 4 3 19 40,000 gp
Table 4–15: Resilient Armor
Quality Bonus Increase Save Bonus Property Rune Slots Item Level Price
Expert +1 1 5 160 gp
Expert resilient +1 +1 1 8 500 gp
Master +2 +1 2 11 1,400 gp
Master resilient +2 +2 2 14 4,500 gp
Legendary +3 +2 3 18 24,000 gp
Legendary resilient +3 +3 3 20 70,000 gp

The proficiency rank progression in the core rules is designed for heroic fantasy games where heroes rise from humble origins to world-shattering strength. For some games, this narrative arc doesn’t fit. Such games are about hedging bets in an uncertain and gritty world, in which even the world’s best fighter can’t guarantee a win against a large group of moderately skilled brigands. In games like these, your group might want to consider removing the character’s level from the proficiency bonus.

The initial implementation is fairly straightforward: the proficiency bonus just becomes +2 for trained, +4 for expert, +6 for master, and +8 for legendary. We recommend giving an untrained character a –2 proficiency modifier instead of a +0 proficiency bonus.

Additionally, for creatures, hazards, magic items, and so on, reduce each statistic that would include a proficiency bonus by the level of the creature or other rules element.

These statistics are typically modifiers and DCs for attacks, ACs, saving throws, Perception, skills, and spells.

Finally, decrease the skill DCs of most tasks to account for the level being removed.

You can just subtract the level from the DC tables of the core rules, or you can reference Table 4–17: Simple Skill DCs (No Level) for a set of DCs that’s easier to remember. The new DCs make it a little harder for high-level characters to succeed than it would be when using the default numbers from the core rules, in keeping with the theme mentioned earlier. Combat outcomes will tend to flatten out, with critical successes and critical failures being less likely across the game. This is particularly notable in spells, where you’re less likely to see the extreme effects of critical failures on saves.

Table 4–17: Simple Skill DCs (No Level)
Proficiency Rank DC
Untrained 10
Trained 15
Expert 20
Master 25
Legendary 30

Adjusting Encounters

Telling stories where a large group of low-level monsters can still be a significant threat to a high-level PC (and conversely, a single higher-level monster is not much of a threat to a group of PCs) requires some significant shifts in encounter building, including shifts in the PCs’ rewards.

Two monsters of a certain level are roughly as challenging as a single monster 2 levels higher. However, with level removed from proficiency, this assumption is no longer true. The XP budget for creatures uses a different scale, as shown in Table 4–18: Creature XP (No Level). You’ll still use the same XP budget for a given threat level as shown on Table 10–1: Encounter Budget of the core rules (80 XP for a moderate-threat encounter, 120 for a severe-threat encounter, and so on).

Proficiency Without Level

This variant presents a change to the proficiency bonus system, scaling it differently for a style of game that’s outside the norm. This is a significant change to the system.

Table 4–18: Creature Xp (No Level)
Creature’s Level XP
Party level – 7 9
Party level – 6 12
Party level – 5 14
Party level – 4 18
Party level – 3 21
Party level – 2 26
Party level – 1 32
Party level 40
Party level + 1 48
Party level + 2 60
Party level + 3 72
Party level + 4 90
Party level + 5 108
Party level + 6 135
Party level + 7 160

While the XP values in Table 4–18 work well in most cases, sometimes they might not account for the effects of creatures’ special abilities when facing a party of a drastically different level. For instance, a ghost mage could prove too much for 5th-level PCs with its incorporeality, flight, and high-level spells, even though it’s outnumbered.

Adjusting Treasure

Treasure and the cost of items in the core rules are designed to make it as easy as possible for you to build encounters without worrying about awarding too much or too little treasure based on whether you use creatures who carry items. However, using this variant, the PCs might defeat a creature 5 levels higher than they are, or even more! Too many encounters with higher-level foes can wind up giving the PCs more treasure than you expected, or vice-versa if they’re fighting weaker foes that put up more of a fight but still have poor treasure.

You can nudge this in the right direction by making periodic adjustments if the PCs’ treasure drifts too far from expectations. Making it so they can’t easily sell or buy magic items will mean it’s harder for them to exploit treasure they gain. To sidestep the treasure economy entirely, you can use the automatic item bonus progression.

Assigning Skill Points

At 1st level, a character using the Skill Points variant gains their initial skill proficiencies as described in the core rules. However, at every level beyond 1st, instead of gaining skill increases, the character gains a number of Skill Points, as indicated on Table 4–19: Skill Points by Level. The character can spend these Skill Points to increase their proficiency rank in various skills, as shown on Table 4–20: Cost to Increase Rank. A character must meet the minimum level indicated on the table to increase their rank, primarily to avoid having a player becoming unrealistically good at one skill early in their adventuring career while neglecting everything else. Characters can save up Skill Points between levels for a more expensive increase later on.

Table 4–19: Skill Points By Level
Level Skill Points Gained
1 Initial proficiencies
2–5 1
6–13 2
14–20 4
Table 4–20: Cost To Increase Rank
Rank Minimum Level Skill Point Cost
Untrained to trained 1 1
Trained to expert 3 2
Expert to master 7 4
Master to legendary 15 8


Because rogues get skill increases at every level in the standard rules, they also get more Skill Points. Rogues gain double the number of Skill Points listed on Table 4–19.


A character can retrain the proficiency ranks they gained using Skill Points much as they would retrain a skill increase under the normal rules. With a week of downtime, a character can reduce their proficiency rank in one skill by one step to get back the number of Skill Points spent to gain that increase. For example, reducing a master proficiency rank to expert would grant a character 4 Skill Points. The character can then reassign those points as they see fit or save them for later. Reducing proficiency ranks for multiple skills or reducing a single proficiency rank by multiple steps takes additional weeks of downtime.

Skill Points

The default progression of skill proficiency ranks is simple and doesn’t require many mathematical calculations as a player assigns skills. However, some players prefer a more granular system with a greater ability to diversify their skills. This variant allows characters to assign their skill increases more flexibly, potentially having fewer skills at the highest possible rank in exchange for more skills at a lower rank.

Skill Points In Play

Players using Skill Points have more flexibility to build characters with a broader range of skills in which they’re trained or better than normal, and this variant encourages that flexibility by increasing the cost of specializing. For instance, a 19th-level fighter could use Skill Points to be a master in seven different skills, or to be legendary in three skills. While this makes the variance in skills slightly less predictable, it shouldn’t have a big enough effect on a group’s capabilities that you need to make any significant adjustments when you run the game.


In some fantasy stories, the heroes are able to avoid any serious injury until the situation gets dire, getting by with a graze or a flesh wound and needing nothing more than a quick rest to get back on their feet. If your group wants to tell tales like those, you can use the stamina variant to help make that happen.

Stamina Points

Stamina Points represent a character’s energy and readiness. They’re reduced by damage just like Hit Points, but a character always loses their Stamina Points first, and loses Hit Points only if they’re out of Stamina Points. If a character takes damage exceeding their remaining Stamina Points, the excess damage reduces their Hit Points.

However, they lose any temporary Hit Points before losing Stamina Points.

Though Stamina Points and Hit Points function similarly when a character takes damage, a character recovers them differently. A heal spell restores Hit Points, not Stamina Points, and the actions described below (like Take a Breather) restore only Stamina Points, not Hit Points. A character regains all their Stamina Points after a full night’s rest. Hit Points still determine whether a character remains conscious—a character at 0 HP is unconscious, no matter how many Stamina Points they have.

In addition to their ancestry Hit Points, a PC gains the number of Stamina Points and Hit Points indicated in the second and third columns of Table 4–21 at 1st level.

Both values increase by the same amount at each level thereafter. This replaces the Hit Points a character gains from their class in a standard game.

Resolve Points

In this variant, each PC also has a pool of Resolve Points, representing their intrinsic grit and luck. A character’s maximum Resolve Points is equal to their key ability modifier, and a character regains all their Resolve Points with a full night’s rest. In addition to spending Resolve Points to regain Stamina Points (as described under Stamina Actions), characters can spend Resolve Points in the following way.


If a character is dying at the start of their turn, their player can spend 1 Resolve Point to stabilize at 0 HP, gaining or increasing the wounded condition as normal for stabilizing. At the start of the character’s next turn, they gain 1 HP and wake up (unless they started dying again). The character can act on that turn. Consider this an optional rule best suited for groups that have little access to healing. When using this rule, you might remove the ability for characters to use Hero Points to stabilize.

Stamina Actions

Take A Breather


Cost 1 Resolve Point

You rest for 10 minutes and recover your stamina. After you complete this activity, you regain all your Stamina Points.

Table 4–21: Stamina and Hit Points By Class
Normal Class HP Class Stamina Points Class Hit Points Classes
6 + Con modifier 3 + Con modifier 3 Sorcerer, wizard
8 + Con modifier 4 + Con modifier 4 Alchemist, bard, cleric, druid, rogue
10 + Con modifier 5 + Con modifier 5 Champion, fighter, monk, ranger
12 + Con modifier 6 + Con modifier 6 Barbarian

Stamina’s Impact

The main gameplay consequence of using these stamina rules is that a quick 10- or 20-minute rest can restore most groups to full or nearly full health via Taking a Breather and Treating Wounds as necessary, allowing more encounters with shorter breaks in between. Additionally, charismatic or otherwise diplomatic characters gain fun and useful ways to bolster their allies.

Because spells that heal Hit Points don’t restore Stamina Points, it’s a little harder to heal up completely in the middle of a fight.

This can mean that fights become deadly after characters have been beaten down, possibly causing retreats to be more frequent, but the retreats themselves are shorter.

The focus of the game can stay consistently within encounters, with less managing of time and resources outside of battle.


Auditory Emotion Exploration Linguistic Mental

Prerequisite(s) trained in Diplomacy, Intimidation, or Performance

You spend 1 minute encouraging your ally. Though this action typically has the auditory and linguistic traits, if you’re using the Performance skill, the GM might adjust the traits for this action to match the traits for your type of performance.

Attempt a DC 15 skill check. The GM might adjust this DC based on the circumstances, such as attempting to Rally an ally who just suffered a humiliating defeat.

Critical Success The ally can spend 1 Resolve Point to regain all their Stamina Points.

Success You can continue encouraging your ally for a total of 10 minutes. If you do, they can spend 1 Resolve Point to regain all their Stamina Points.

Critical Failure The ally takes 1d8 mental damage, but this can reduce only Stamina Points, never Hit Points.

Stamina Feats

Encouraging Words

Encouraging Words [one-action] Feat 2

Auditory General Linguistic Mental Skill

Prerequisite(s) trained in Diplomacy Requirements The target ally lost Stamina Points within the last round.

You give an ally within 30 feet a quick pep talk, helping them recover. Attempt a Diplomacy check. The DC is usually 15, though the GM might adjust it based on the circumstances.

If you have expert proficiency in Diplomacy, you can instead attempt a DC 20 check to increase the Stamina Points recovered by 5; if you have master proficiency, you can attempt a DC 30 check to increase the Stamina Points by 15; if you have legendary proficiency, you can attempt a DC 40 check to increase the Stamina Points by 25. No matter the result, the ally is temporarily immune to Encouraging Words until they either Take a Breather or rest for the day.

Critical Success The ally recovers 2d8 Stamina Points.

Success The ally recovers 1d8 Stamina Points.

Critical Failure The ally takes 1d8 mental damage, but this can reduce only Stamina Points, never Hit Points.

Steel Your Resolve

Steel Your Resolve [one-action] Feat 3


Cost 1 Resolve Point

Regain Stamina Points equal to half your maximum.

Other Creatures

There’s no need to give Stamina Points to monsters that are expected to be encountered once and likely defeated. However, you might use Stamina Points for a recurring character, especially an NPC who fights alongside the PCs. Usually, it’s easiest to turn half the creature’s Hit Points into Stamina Points.

While enemy healers still work as they’re intended to, players might be upset about the enemies’ ability to heal their allies to full Hit Points, while the PCs are left not being able to heal their allies’ Stamina Points. In this case, give more enemies Stamina Points to compensate.

No-Limit Stamina

If you want a fast-paced, almost superheroic game, you can skip the Resolve Point component of this subsystem and simply make Taking a Breather and Rally free. This gives the characters a lot of staying power, meaning that the group will typically keep adventuring until they run out of spells for the day, rather than having the additional pressure of running out of Resolve Points. If you use this approach, omit the Steel Your Resolve feat, as it’s too powerful if there’s no cost to use it! Alternatively, if you want to keep it, you can require a character to Take a Breather before they can Steel their Resolve again.

Section 15: Copyright Notice
Pathfinder Gamemastery Guide © 2020, Paizo Inc.; Authors: Alexander Augunas, Jesse Benner, John Bennett, Logan Bonner, Clinton J. Boomer, Jason Bulmahn, James Case, Paris Crenshaw, Jesse Decker, Robert N. Emerson, Eleanor Ferron, Jaym Gates, Matthew Goetz, T.H. Gulliver, Kev Hamilton, Sasha Laranoa Harving, BJ Hensley, Vanessa Hoskins, Brian R. James, Jason LeMaitre, Lyz Liddell, Luis Loza, Colm Lundberg, Ron Lundeen, Stephen Radney-MacFarland, Jessica Redekop, Alistair Rigg, Mark Seifter, Owen K.C. Stephens, Amber Stewart, Christina Stiles, Landon Winkler, and Linda Zayas-Palmer.