Skill Focus: History

by Ameron (Derek Myers) on March 25, 2009

History is one of those skills that many PCs are trained in but don’t really know how or when to use it. Here are 10 new and creative ways to get more out of History.

The basic assumption is that History can only be used to remember things that happened in the past. Sure it can be used in this way, but this is certainly not the only way to use History.

Eleven of the seventeen core classes can take training in History. Three races have a +2 racial bonus in History. So there is a very strong likelihood that every party will have multiple PCs who count History as one of their best skills. If everyone’s so good in History why isn’t it being used more? Lack of imagination, that’s why.

There are fewer skills in 4e than there were in 3e, but that doesn’t mean you can do less. Offering fewer skills means that those remaining become a catch-all for more things. This is true for History more than any other skill.

10 New Ways to Use History

  1. Avoid social blunders

  2. Your familiarity with local laws and customs helps you direct the party’s behaviour in social situation and not attract the wrong kind of attention.

  3. Spot the forgery

  4. Your familiarity with a particular culture’s art, artists and artistic movements helps you determine if a painting is a forgery.

  5. Appraise antiquities

  6. When trying to determine the value of an item or artifact, you can make a History check to get a rough idea of its age, cultural origin, purpose, function and rarity.

  7. Knowing the trap-maker

  8. Your familiarity with the ancient culture who built this abandoned castle allows you to recall that they often used traps triggered by pressure plates to guard important rooms. +2 to Search checks made to locate traps or +2 to Thievery checks made to disable traps.

  9. Win over the crowd

  10. While trying to make friends among the locals, you tell stories of their greatest war heroes and revolutionary leaders, winning over the crowd. +2 to your next Diplomacy or Streetwise.

  11. Master of the game

    During a strategy game you:

    • remember an obscure rule that you can use to your advantage.
    • recall a particular strategy that has achieved success in the past.
    • recognize your opponent’s opening strategy and use the appropriate counter-move.
  12. Recognize something out of the ordinary

  13. Your familiarity with this architectural style allows you to notice a room that doesn’t confirm to it. +2 to Search checks made to locate secret passages.

  14. Identify the deceased

  15. While searching a monster’s lair the party discovers a number of bodies. You can identify the heraldic symbols on the armor allowing you to identify the nationality of these fallen heroes, and possibly even their lineage.

  16. Decipher the script

  17. Upon discovering engravings on a tomb wall or symbols on an old treasure map you recall similar uses of this written language and have a good starting point for deciphering it.

  18. Cut through red tape

  19. Your understanding of this city’s intricate political structure provides insight into bypassing the elaborate bureaucracy.

Let us know what you think of these suggested uses of History. If you’ve come up with new and creative ways to use History, please share them.

If you enjoyed this article, be sure to check out all of our Skill Aides, including other entries in the Skill Focus series.

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1 Dawn Raven March 25, 2009 at 7:43 am

I feel that the first and tenth might be better used as Streetwise. What do you think? Overall though, the others are great ideas. I’ve already had my players use history for 7, 8 and 3 along with allowing them to put pieces of the story’s puzzle together through various historical clues and relationships.

2 Ameron March 25, 2009 at 9:00 am

@Dawn Raven
I find that in many situations more than one skill can be used to achieve success. It all depends on how the PC role-plays the encounter. I agree that Streetwise could also yield similar results for 1 and 10. But keep in mind that History does cover laws, local customs and politics. I guess the PC would have to decide if they want to use Streetwise or History. I think they’ll end up using whichever skill provides a better bonus. Thanks for the feedback.

3 Daniel M. Perez, The Gamer Traveler March 25, 2009 at 11:46 am

Excellent post! This skill, in all its various edition incarnations, has always been one of my favorite to take precisely because of the versatility it brings. History helps me via game mechanics get glimpses of the living world beyond the adventuring party, and the uses you list above are perfect examples of how those glimpses add richness to the setting while helping out in-game.

4 Ameron April 2, 2009 at 7:29 am

@Daniel M. Perez, The Gamer Traveler
Thanks, Daniel. I too like the History skill because of its extreme versatility. As an art history buff myself, I find I know a lot about history because of my love for art. Applying this kind of relationship between History and art/culture in D&D always fascinated me. I think 4e really encourages a broad scope on skills which is only limited by the player’s imagination.

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