Backgrounds: when a character enters play he should choose a 1-2 word background description. For example: “hunter”, “sailor” or “merchant”. The DM then can allow the character to make an ability check in a specific situation that would be in the experience of the background. So, if the players find themselves on a ship, and the crew vanishes, a character with Sailor background might be able to make an INT check to guide the ship to shore.
Suggestions: alchemist, armorer, artist, baker, bandit, butcher, carpenter, clerk, cook, farmer, herdsman, hermit, hobo, hunter, jeweler, knight, lawyer, mason, mercenary, merchant, miner, minstrel, money changer, monk, priest, sailor, scholar, shoemaker, smith, soldier, stonecutter, tailor, teamster, thief, wanderer, weaver, woodcutter.
If character does not choose a background, then one is assigned by class: Fighter=soldier, Cleric=priest, Thief=thief, Magic-User=scholar.