This is part of my RPG series of entries here at SOB. See the inaugural entry in the series for more details.
Knowledge(Local) skill in D&D 3.5 has always bothered me. There are basically two ways to interpret the skill as written in the PHB, and they both suck:
The way the “Local” subskill for the
Knowledgeskill is presented in the
Knowledgeskill entry, it’s a universally applicable skill. If you have
Knowledge(Local), you have specific local knowledge for every single locality you encounter unless that particular locality is covered by a different skill. Of course, that’s absurd. The skill essentially covers knowledge areas that one could only really know by having been in the area for a while, soaking up local cultural norms and learning about who and what the important people and places are.
The obvious way to play it, and the way it’s presented in all examples of its use where something like this may come up,
Knowledge(Local)must apply to a specific locality. The assumption, of course, is that you can purchase it anew for each locality where you want your character to feel at home. Unfortunately, playing the skill this way makes it almost entirely useless for a group that doesn’t spend all its time in one place. If your adventuring party is the sort that moves around a lot, you’re strongly discouraged from “wasting” any points on
Knowledge(Local)under these conditions.
The way I’ve been handling it in games I run, the
Knowledge(Local) skill represents a general skill at quickly getting familiar with a new locality. The character picks up local gossip, becomes quickly attuned to the rhythms of life in a new area, notices landmarks and other places that are central to people’s lives, and so on. This is a bit more difficult to adjudicate cleanly than the other two, but seems like the only appropriate way to handle it as a standard skill.
Well . . . screw all that. I’m not going to handle it as a standard skill any longer. Instead, I’m turning
Knowledge(Local) into the basis for part of a roleplaying reward system.
The way I’ll handle this now, all characters will get a set of bonus skill points to spend in
Knowledge(Local) at character creation. As things currently stand, I don’t know if I’ll even allow players to spend any points on
Knowledge(Local) other than these specifically set aside bonus points when initially creating a character.
Then, as the game progresses — I still won’t let them spend normal skill points on
Knowledge(Local). Whether I’ll hand out free points on a level advancement schedule is still to be decided (before Thursday, when I’ll spring this new rule on my players at the next game session) — but I will definitely be handing out
Knowledge(Local) points as roleplaying rewards.
At the end of every session in which characters behave in a manner that I think really warrants it, I’ll give such a character a rank in
Knowledge(Local) for the appropriate locality.
Previously, I handed out roleplaying experience rewards as part of a session’s standard experience reward totals. I had a set of fuzzy categories of roleplaying activities that might warrant a reward, and a sort of scale of “zero to good” for how much XP to grant in each category depending on performance. With this new idea in mind, I’ll be cutting back on the actual XP rewards in favor of new, direct stat increase rewards like this
Knowledge(Local) bonus system. Between now and Thursday, I’ll also be looking into the possibility of taking other skills out of the standard skill point system to turn into roleplaying rewards, and checking for other ways to grant benefits as rewards for good roleplaying that have a direct and deserved effect on play.
Reputation rewards and established relationships aren’t quite sufficient for this sort of thing, because often good roleplaying can actually damage a character’s reputations and relationships with NPCs. That’s why I never used such things as rewards, per se, and just played them out instead.
Thanks to this idea about how to adjudicate
Knowledge(Local) so that it not only doesn’t suck so badly you never end up with any points but also doesn’t break suspension of disbelief, I’ve also come up with a line on a way to improve roleplaying reward handling.