Chad Perrin: SOB

31 August 2008

Knowledge(Local) as Roleplaying Reward

Filed under: RPG — Tags: , , — apotheon @ 10:08

This is part of my RPG series of entries here at SOB. See the inaugural entry in the series for more details.

The 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:

  1. The way the “Local” subskill for the Knowledge skill is presented in the Knowledge skill 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.

  2. 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.


  1. Awesome concept. I like your interpretation of the Know(local) skill; I’ve always been bothered by mechanics like that which were either general beyond suspension of belief or hopelessly inefficient.

    Comment by Ravyn — 1 September 2008 @ 01:59

  2. Thanks — and I’m glad you stopped by to read and comment.

    Comment by apotheon — 1 September 2008 @ 05:32

  3. Ravyn beat me to the obvious respond (Awesome concept), so I just want to say that I completely plan on stealing this idea from you and adding it to my campaign setting.

    Great article, I hope to see more like it.

    Comment by Ishmayl — 1 September 2008 @ 07:50

  4. Please, do use the idea. This is one of those rare house rule concepts that doesn’t even require any playtesting to know it’ll be awesome — though a little playtesting might be desirable with different tweaks to it, just to see which minor variation will be most awesome. I’m pretty pleased with it.

    It’s kind of obvious in some ways. My SigO and I have both been known to hand out skill points in various games outside of the usual experience system as bennies for good roleplaying and just because the characters have done so much of something that a bonus skill point seems like the obvious answer. I just haven’t ever taken it so far as to rip an entire skill out of the normal experience-based skill progression system before — and, by the time I’m done, I may do so with several other skills as well. Knowledge(Local) is just a skill for which this is a particularly good answer, since keeping Knowledge(Local) within the regular skill system perpetuates really crummy balance issues that have bothered me from Day 1 of D&D 3E.

    Thanks for commenting, Ishmayl. I hope to see both you and Ravyn reading and commenting more in the future, too.

    Comment by apotheon — 1 September 2008 @ 10:09

  5. This is an interesting idea. I already give PCs a few extra points to spend on Knowledge, Craft, or Profession skills at character creation, but this extra step is cool. I’d consider doing it for ALL knowledge skills. Spent a week in the library studying history? Have a rank in Knowledge (history). Basically, there seems to be little reason not to do it.

    I wouldn’t prevent people from spending points on knowledge skills, though.

    Comment by Monte Cook — 1 September 2008 @ 10:46

  6. Thanks for stopping by, Monte. (Is that really you?) I’m pleased as punch you decided to comment.

    I’m still on the fence about whether to allow players to spend points on Knowledge(Local), and I haven’t really settled definitively on whether to handle all Knowledge skills the same way I’ll handle Knowledge(Local). I think maybe I’ll “officially” disallow spending skill points on Knowledge(Local), but allow players to do so in my games if they make a reasonable case for it as a sort of relaxed house rule for my strict house rule. Part of what prompted me to consider disallowing skill point expenditures on Knowledge(Local) in the first place was the notion that PCs’ familiarity with localities really should be pretty much a strictly roleplaying related matter, based on having been there and sampled the local culture, economy, et cetera. Open access to spending skill points does a nice end-run around that.

    I dunno at this point, though. I’m undecided. I think I won’t have any need to have any kind of firm, decisive answer before my Thursday game, in any case, so I can go to bed tonight with this matter unresolved.

    Comment by apotheon — 1 September 2008 @ 10:28

  7. Really awesome way to work the knowledge, i think the way you used to run it was pretty nifty as well…… also fitted in really well with the classes that have that particular skill. The way you’re going to run it is pretty nifty as well, i really like it because it allows for role-playing from everyone and wipes-away the assumption that only certain types of classes are built to interact with other people.


    Comment by peasantbutcher — 7 September 2008 @ 11:41

  8. Thanks, peasantbutcher.

    Does that username say something about the kinds of characters you like to play? Enquiring minds want to know.

    Comment by apotheon — 7 September 2008 @ 01:36

  9. I shall explain all in a post soon. :)

    Comment by peasantbutcher — 8 September 2008 @ 12:22

  10. Here we go: :)

    Comment by peasantbutcher — 8 September 2008 @ 12:38

  11. I take it you mean a post at tenletter. I’ll watch for it.

    By the way . . . where’d you get the name “tenletter”?

    Comment by apotheon — 8 September 2008 @ 12:39

  12. Looks like you slipped in that post while I was composing my response to your comment. Quick work!

    Sounds like a fun game session.

    Comment by apotheon — 8 September 2008 @ 03:30

  13. […] <tangent>By popular and public demand, I am referring to a single comment on this post here. It’s a great post that introduces a new spin to the knowledge (local) skill and even has a […]

    Pingback by A brief history of ten letters v0.1 « tenletter — 10 September 2008 @ 09:56

  14. […] directly from Mike Mearls’ revised edition of the D20/OGL Iron Heroes game originally developed by Monte Cook — yes, that Monte Cook. I’m rethinking that, though, in favor of a point-buy system using an […]

    Pingback by Chad Perrin: SOB » Alternative attribute score system for D20/OGL/PRPG — 18 March 2009 @ 12:23

  15. Very nice. I highly approve of using skill points and even occasionally bonus feats as rewards.

    Indeed, one Knowledge skill in my campaign, Knowledge (Forbidden) covering lost and banned lore, is only available as a reward.

    Comment by Sean Holland — 2 September 2009 @ 03:24

  16. Ooh — I rather like your Knowledge(Forbidden) idea. I may use that.

    Comment by apotheon — 2 September 2009 @ 04:54

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.

All original content Copyright Chad Perrin: Distributed under the terms of the Open Works License