I'm GMing for a group. One of my PCs is highly scholarly (scholarship 4), and the character is a doctor - all aspects point to this. I would assume the doctor's knowledge is more focused on medical things.

How should I handle a PC with this specialisation in the greater scheme of things? For instance, what if they want to use the same skill to interpret satellite imagery?

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    \$\begingroup\$ Hi @graeme, I've attempted to edit your question to make what I think you're asking about clearer. Please make sure it's still accurate and asking what you're trying to ask! \$\endgroup\$ Commented Nov 22, 2013 at 3:19

4 Answers 4


The best way to show specialty is with stunts:

keep in mind that stunts (Mortal Stunts, page 146) are the primary means that the game uses to add more trappings to skills. (YS318)

So this doctor should have stunts which make him good at doctory stuff. A +2 when using Scholarship to give medical attention (the trapping on YS141) would be simple and effective.

Instead of nerfing his ability to do other Scholarship things, just make him better at medical applications of the skill.

Here are some other methods the book suggests:

If a character has an aspect justifying specialized knowledge, often the GM will not call for a roll:

Often, there will be no need to roll, especially if the subject is within your specialty (as indicated by your background and aspects). (YS140)

Or the GM will increase the difficulty of a roll if the character's aspect implies that they would be less likely to have studied that particular area:

You could even have the player make his initial attempt at a difficulty of +2, reflecting the fact that the character isn’t accustomed to using his skill in such an unusual way. (YS318)

Scholarship is a broad skill because DFRPG doesn't consider it a major focus.

You could easily split Scholarship into multiple skills like Medicine, Technology, and History. But then you'd have to spend three times as many skill points to get the same ability, and that would put a much higher value on the effects of the Scholarship skill.

If you find the difference between kinds of scholarship is becoming more important in your game than stunts and the above guidelines can contain, then you should reflect this importance in the mechanics by splitting the skill up.

  • \$\begingroup\$ +1 for stunts; A stunt could potentially come with a downside to offset a greater effect, as well. For example, Dresden's Listen stunt give +4 instead of +2, but his Awareness is Terrible while doing it. I could see a stunt giving +4 to medical-related Scholarship rolls, but reducing the skill level to Fair or Mediocre for non-medical rolls. \$\endgroup\$
    – Brian S
    Commented Sep 5, 2014 at 14:14

If your Doctor is using their scholarship skill for something outside their expertise, they could still do that. They might not do as well, but your Doctor is pretty scholarly, and that comes with knowing a great number of things. It's not surprising for them to know stuff about satellite imagery - they probably read about it in a book somewhere, or picked it up in a youtube video they watched at one point.

As for the aspects: look to your Doctor's aspects, and what the group has understood they imply. Your player can invoke those aspects that are relevant to the task he's undertaking, even if it's not strictly related to medicine.

For instance:

  • Is your Doctor a Surgeon, or does he have an aspect describing his Keen Eyes? He's probably well trained to spot fine details, and this will benefit him when he tries to notice fine details in satellite imagery.
  • Would you say your Doctor Knows a library like the back of his hand? Your Doctor probably knows exactly the right books or resources to help guide him in studying satellite imagery.
  • Did your Doctor graduate from a prestigious University, or is he associated with a prestigious organisation full of experts on a variety of topics? Is he a member of MENSA? He might happen to have direct connections to an expert on satellite imagery who can help him out, or do the work for him.

This answer will be less Dresden files and more general, but this is a problem that comes up a lot in other games as well.

tl;dr - Doctors have to go to college, even if they gun right for it (which many doctors don't), they've done a lot of schoolin' before they specialize.

In the US anyway, many (if not most) doctors did a bacheor's degree - sometimes it's even pre-med, before going to med school. Some doctors go even farther, doing, for example, a master's degree in public health policy or whathaveyou, before they go to med school.

Stuff like this, in every system I've ever encountered, becomes a 'GM call.' For satellite imagery? I'd say it depends on the undergrad major - if they did a lot of GIS work, (ecology, or other spatially-oriented major) as an undergrad, I'd say go for it. If not, less so.


Non-system specific answer

I've always struggled with the rules for knowledge checks. This is mostly because the knowledge categories are ambiguous compared to the definite list of active skills. To compensate for this, I use active skills as a modifier to knowledge rolls. So while the player hasn't specifically stated they have additional knowledge in, say, Medicine, I assume it from the skills they use daily. The character is likely to spend downtime researching his favourite topics.

Using Savage Worlds rules, where every skill is a die type (d6 = average human), I use Smarts plus half the skill die. For example:

Smarts d4, Shooting d10 -> Knowledge (guns) d4+5

Smarts d6, Healing d6 -> Knowledge (medicine) d6+3

Smarts d12, Climbing d4-2 -> Knowledge (mountaineering) d12+0

On top of this, I give each knowledge check an appropriate target. In Savage Worlds:

4: General knowledge: Typical gun capabilities (single-shot, automatic, etc.)
6: Typical subject matter: Make and model of a gun.
8: Specific subject matter: Full capabilities and typical flaws of a gun.
10: Expert subject matter: Identifying a gun and ammunition type from a bullet wound.

In your case, yes I would assume a scholarly character with medical training has more knowledge of medical practices and affairs. Being scholarly, he is likely to have great attention to detail, so I'd give him the full benefits of being scholarly to satellite navigation, but nothing more unless he learns navigation skills.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Only a small portion of this is really relevant to Dresden Files. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Nov 22, 2013 at 3:26
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    \$\begingroup\$ Fair enough. I'm not familiar with the system. I've seen (and had) similar question about a number of systems, so I thought I'd share my resolutions. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Nov 22, 2013 at 4:43
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Hand-E-Food It's a good idea, and there's a FAE hack which mirrors it with approaches rather than skills, but while your concept isn't married to a particular system it does assume a divorce between knowledge skills and action skills which DFRPG does not have. There isn't a "smarts skill" and a "healing skill"--the Scholarship skill is the medical attention skill. \$\endgroup\$
    – BESW
    Commented Nov 22, 2013 at 8:16

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