Knowledge is power, and canny adventurers learn all they can about their foes and where they live. However, sometimes it’s not that simple…
In my Borderland of Adventure campaign we’ve recently started running the Shattered Star adventure path. We’ve been having a blast. Part 1—Shards of Sin by Greg A. Vaughan—is very well written, and the various mini-dungeons and encounters are inventive, atmospheric and engaging.
However, we’ve run into a problem.
During character generation, I encouraged my players to create characters dedicated to saving Ratik from a growing, ancient evil. They took to this with gusto and the party ended up looking like this:
- Aq Quyonlu (LG male human paladin [Aq] 1)
- Grooble Fizzlebottom III (LG male gnome cleric [Baravan Wildwanderer] 1)
- Kara Quyonlu (N female human sorcerer [undead] 1)
- Narfu Shalmstaff (LN male half-orc monk 1)
- Nylond Axeheart (NG male dwarf cleric [Muamman Duathal] 1)
- Tristham Spicer (LG male human paladin [Heironeous] 1)
As quickly became evident during game play, we’ve run into a bit of a problem—with the exception of Knowledge (religion) and Knowledge (arcana) the party have no knowledge skills! While this might be resolved somewhat as our heroes gain levels (and possibly multi-class) at the moment they’re struggling. I thought I’d never say it, but man do they need a bard!
Knowledge is power, after all, and in several encounters they’ve failed to get useful—or even vital—information. For example, a few weeks ago, Aq (one of the paladins) was bitten by a wererat. Putting aside the party don’t know what a wererats is, they also don’t know that at the next full moon, they could suddenly have a rather pressing problem on their hands! On one level, this doesn’t matter; if Aq has indeed been infected with lycanthropy (Hi Alec!) it’s sure to generate some fantastic roleplaying moments and be jolly memorable. On the other hand, Aq’s potential infection could derail the campaign and possibly even lead to the paladin’s death.
This has led me to ponder exactly what information someone without any ranks in a given Knowledge skill knows.
Although Knowledge is a trained skill, characters can make Knowledge checks as long as the DC is 10 or lower. This means, a character with no ranks in a given Knowledge skill can:
- Answer really easy questions on a given subject (DC 10).
- Identify common monsters such as goblins (DC 5 + CR) but not their special powers or vulnerabilities.
Example Really Easy Questions
The core rulebook provides some sample DCs for various Knowledge checks. The following questions all have a DC of 10:
- Identify mineral, stone or metal (dungeoneering).
- Identify dangerous construction (engineering).
- Identify a creature’s ethnicity or accent (geography).
- Know recent or historically significant event (history).
- Know local laws, rulers and popular locations (local).
- Identify a common plant or animal (nature).
- Know current rulers and their symbols (nobility).
- Know the names of the planes (planes).
- Recognise a common deity’s symbol or clergy (religion).
A character taking 10 (assuming an Intelligence score of 10 or more) automatically knows all the above information. Of course, the character can only do this when not in danger or distracted so while he may not recognise the holy symbol of an enemy priest in battle, he should be able to work it out afterwards. Similarly, while the character may not know the ins and outs of a local area, he should know enough to get around.
Furthermore, if a character has access to an extensive library that covers a specific subject, the DC 10 check limit is removed, meaning that with enough time a character can theoretically learn almost anything. That’s rather handy, when time is not critical.
A Final Word—Common Sense Strikes!
Some characters must know more that what can be revealed with a DC 10 check because of their background, race or even class. Sometimes a GM needs to override the rules above, and apply some common sense.
For example, a dwarf fighter was once a miner and has ranks in Profession (miner). Even though he might not have ranks in Knowledge (dungeoneering) he’ll know more than normal about mines and their perils. In this example, a GM could simply rule the PC knows the relevant information or perhaps allow him (within reason) to use Profession (miner) in place of Knowledge (dungeoneering) when in a mine.
Similarly, the same dwarf should be able to identify his racial enemies (orcs, goblins and giants) with a fair degree of accuracy. Given he either hates them with a passion (goblinoids and orcs) or has trained specifically to fight them (giant subclass creatures) he should probably recognise them when they face him across the battlefield.
Applying this kind of common sense to Knowledge checks rewards a character for taking the time to write a background or for choosing to sink skill ranks into Profession and Craft skills. Given these kinds of decisions tend to build more organic, believable characters and often lead to more roleplaying I think it makes sense to rewards such choices.
What do you think?