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?