Knowledge Is Power

by Wimwick (Neil Ellis) on May 26, 2009

I was looking over the pre-generated characters Wizards provided for Worldwide D&D Game Day on May 23. Something interesting about the Eldarin Wizard, Althaea caught my eye. This character is trained in four knowledge skills. This seemed unusual to me as I find there is a tendency to be one dimensional when training skills. Physical characters take physical skills, charismatic characters take social skills and everyone ignores the knowledge skills. But the more I thought about it the more I realized that ignoring the knowledge skills is often a fatal decision made during character creation.

Knowledge skills work differently than the other skill in the game. When making a check you either know the answer or you don’t. There is no in between. Yes or no, make your roll, no standard action required. If successful, you are now armed with the necessary information to move forward. This could range from knowing a monster’s most common attacks or tactics to knowing its resistances and vulnerabilities. The tactics employed by the PCs and the powers they choose to use will be directly related to the success or failure of this one very important roll.

While it may be fun to jump incredible distances, perform acrobatic feats or talk the King in circles, as your PC progresses you will start to see diminishing returns on other skills. The significant advantages of being trained in a skill starts to fall off sharply. The exception being the knowledge skills, where you either know the answer or you don’t. If you aren’t trained, you will never be able to make the check required. You will always rely on others to provide that critical information to you.

As the level of the monsters increase so do the DCs required for your knowledge check. After a few levels you need that +5 training provides in order to have a reasonable chance of making the check. It may even be worth taking a feat to bump the number even higher. The often overlooked utility powers that allow substantial bonuses to skill checks may also be something to seriously consider taking if it applies to a knowledge skill.

I can already hear some of you saying that you’ll just retrain when you get to a higher level, dropping a physical skill for a knowledge skill. First however, you need to live long enough to reach higher levels. If you know nothing about the foes you’re facing that might be a difficult thing to do.

So when you’re making your next PC take a look at the available skills and make note of the knowledge skills on your list. Don’t dismiss them on impulse just because you’re a fighting character. After all if a simple Dungeoneering check could inform you that the flaming sword you’re using is actually healing the monster, wouldn’t you want to know that?

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Dungeon May 26, 2009 at 10:08 am

That is a good point. Good article.

2 greywulf May 26, 2009 at 11:28 am

I’m a big fan of the Knowledge Skills. Take one, and you’ve got a ready-made reason why your character is in the party. Take the Skill Focus feat in a Knowledge Skill, and you’re the resident expert and probably the guy who put the entire party together in the first place.

3 Wimwick May 26, 2009 at 7:18 pm

@ Dungeon
Thanks, I thought so!

@ greywulf
Knowledge Skills are a great way to help define a character and I’ve always been a big fan of them. One of my favourite characters was a professor (bard 3.5), he had training in several knowledge skills and skill focus in two of them.

4 Rook May 26, 2009 at 8:46 pm

You are so right and many of us veteran gamers are all too aware of the importance of Knowledge skills. I hope this article can get some of the newer gamers to realize that these often ignored skills can be just as important, exciting and rewarding as the more physical skills. As a DM, I really try to emphasize using all skills and role-playing over just hack-n-slashing tactics. Good article all around. Keep’em coming.

Rook’s last blog post..The much dreaded Pre-game Cleaning Ritual

5 Chase Dagger May 27, 2009 at 5:53 pm

Great Article!

I’ve been doing this and the player’s certainly enjoy it. I just dispense various parts of monster stats based on dc checks (specifically: History, Nature, Arcana, Religion, Dungeoneering, Thievery (if it’s a trap) and others in special circumstances).

I’d like to come up with a formula, for now I’ve been just winging it (which isn’t hard or anything but a nice system would be cool to have.)

Also I have an idea to allow the PCs to study a book in an old library. I was thinking that if the PC were to read the book they could obtain a +1 to all history checks in the area. Another book may allow a +1 to all Nature checks in the area.

6 Questing GM May 31, 2009 at 6:10 am

Although I believe that it’s good for a player to take a Knowledge skill during character generation or progression but I think it’s bad form for a DM to create an adventure base on Knowledge checks. It has the potential to create plot roadblocks just because one of your players fail a measly Knowledge check.

In 3.x, I use to laugh and weep at the same time when one of my characters roll high to answer a very difficult question and can’t even answer a straightforward or simple question (but has to be trained) when he failed the check.

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