Knowledge skills are the cinderella of the skill set. Nobody really puts grades in Knowledge (local), Knowledge (Nature) or Knowledge (Royalty). If you have a bard in the group, all these knowledge are made useless by any bardic lore, otherwise you can always roleplay them out of NPC conversation. Grades in knowledge are wasted, and players know it.

This is the reason why, as far as I understand, grades in knowledge are prerequisite for prestige classes. Nobody would pick them otherwise.

The question stands. How can I increase, either as a player or a GM, the importance of grades in knowledge skills without appearing insanely pedantic ? Should I force the players to dedicate at least one grade per level in knowledge ? Is it a viable strategy ?


Knowledge (royalty) I'll give you. It's dumb and should get stuck into Kno(history) or (local) unless you are running an all courtly intrigue all the time game. But Knowledge (nature) is used for "monster ID" of animals, fey, giants, monstrous humanoids, plants, and vermin - it's one of the better ones! And Knowledge (local) has been invaluable in my games, especially city-based ones. (And it's used for humanoid ID.)

Knowledge skills should let you get an advantage if used right. If you are wandering around and find a cave with a scratched up tree outside it, Knowledge (nature) should tell you that's probably a bear's cave and since it's December it's probably hibernating. Of course this requires the PCs to not just happily run from random encounter to random encounter like they're grinding in WoW. Think "Man vs. Wild" or most of the other shows on those channels for this skill. There is overlap with Survival, but that skill is just tracking and eating and avoiding natural hazards and that's it. If it's plant or animal or whatnot it's Kno(nature).

Similarly, knowledge (local) tells you that guy in the bar flirting with the waitress is a local enforcer for a crime boss and he's killed guys a lot more skilled than you - so you probably don't want to mess with him. Or even that he has a weakness for dwarven stout, if you want to chat him up. Heck, this is the one skill most people in my game have, because they get sick of waking up in bathtubs full of ice in inn rooms with a note about how they need to get to the local temple since they're out of kidneys now.

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    \$\begingroup\$ …they get sick of waking up in bathtubs full of ice in inn rooms with a note about how they need to get to the local temple since they're out of kidneys now. → That's evil and awesome. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Sep 18 '10 at 3:18
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    \$\begingroup\$ And without knowledge(local) they can't find the right temple in time either! \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk - SE stop being evil Sep 18 '10 at 17:01
  • \$\begingroup\$ Hey, don't underestimate Knowledge(Nobility and Royalty). Remember, it can be used to identify heraldry - and since full plate covers up pretty much everything, a shield may be the only way to tell if the knight charging towards you is friend or foe... \$\endgroup\$ – GMJoe Jan 24 '12 at 9:45
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    \$\begingroup\$ Yeah, and I've had that come up exactly zero times in my life... It can be good if you're running a chivalric type campaign but otherwise not, and it's a picky subset of history and local that should be subsumed. Knowledge (fungi) could come in useful once in a blue moon too but it is safely ensconced in Knowledge (nature), a more useful skill. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk - SE stop being evil Jan 24 '12 at 13:30

Players take the stuff that is useful for them. So if a skill has use it will get used.

I recommend taking a page from Gumshoes and building clues around those skills. If I have Knowledge (Royalty) and we're in the sewers beneath the city and I come to a strange glyph I should get a clue that might say "that is the private symbol of Prince Ralph the Pleasured, given the stories around him there is probably a secret way" follow that up with a bonus for finding it (or just give it) and players will quickly see the value.


Short Answer

Condense your Knowledge Skills into as few as possible. Then start using Knowledge Skills as an excuse to give players bonuses between +1 to +4 for just about everything they do. Limit this to a number of times per game session decided by you.

Longer Answer

Condense your Knowledge Skills as much as possible to about no more than 5. As an example, the Knowledge Skills 'History, Local, & Nobility' could be condensed into a single 'Knowledge Historical' type skill.

Next, improve the value of Knowledge Skills by allowing them to grant players 'Favorable Condition' bonuses to anything they do, whether it's making a different Skill Check, Attacking, Improving their AC or making a Saving Throw. Any time the PCs do anything, get yourself used to asking, "How would a certain Knowledge Skill help this PC gain a bonus on her attempt?" As an example, if a PC Wizard casts Charm Person on an Orc, a successful Knowledge Arcana check might improve the difficulty of her Saving Throw by a +2 Favorable Condition bonus. Flavor it any way you can. You'll soon realize that you can come up with a reason for almost any Knowledge Skill to give PCs a Favorable Condition bonus.

When you do, be careful not to overdo it. On average, give each PC a bonus like this the same number of times as his Knowledge Skill per game session. For example, a Cleric with 5 ranks in Knowledge Religion might gain a bonus to anything he does that can be affected by that skill 5 times each game session. Depending on your campaign, that frequency might not be suitable. If it isn't, simply reduce the number of times you do this per game session without making Knowledge skills useless again. For example, you might give your PC's this bonus once for every 2 ranks they have in a Knowledge Skill or even once for every 5 ranks. If a player has ranks in three separate Knowledge skills, he'd be gaining more of these bonuses with each game session than a player who doesn't.

Also make sure these bonuses stay isolated and help only that specific PC. It should never branch out to another PC.


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