The importance of knowledge skills


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Its funny cause I just had this exact conversation with a player. In my Sci Fi game, there were no direct knowledge skills, it was handled by computer or other technology skill rolls. In my Fantasy game of Iron Kingdoms (using my system) there are a ton of uses for lore. The character in IK has a ton of lore and uses it all the time, but sees the costs to get all that lore and the narrow use case a limiter. We talked and the differences of technology is there are safe gaurds that directly impact the characters attempt to find it, set by the GM. In fantasy and low tech modern its more finding where or who has that knowledge and finding it.
The thing I realized is there should be knowledge or lore skills in both, giving the player opportunities to find information where the GM has to create story around why they cannot or have not found the data.


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If your setting involves modern tech, where one can easily Google information that is unknown, then I'd say the big advantage of knowledge is time. As a non-plumber, I can tackle any plumbing problem, given access to the internet and sufficient time. A plumber would instinctually know than you turn off the water supply before attempting anything, but someone who only relies on internet may take hours of research to gain the confidence needed to take on a plumbing job.
This really depends on the information. Even knowing what question to ask can be specialist knowledge, and if there's misinformation to sort through? It gets significantly worse.


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So, basically, right now I am attempting to design my own tabletop system!
Hurrah! My thoughts go with you...;)
The issue I'm having is...depending on the setting and what abilities characters have, characters may have essentially infinite access to information that is known to society.
I'm not quite sure what you mean here:
- will the system be designed for multiple settings? So you need an approach that will cover every case?

- is it only in some of your prospective settings that 'characters may have essentially infinite access' is this an issue? e.g. high tech or psychic-type scenarios, but not contemporary or pre-modern ones

- or are you just talking about the fact that different settings will include different kinds of knowledge that society might have? So it's hard to come up with a universal list of Knowledge skills that will fit every conceivable setting?

This seems to somewhat negate the premise of what a knowledge skill normally does.
As someone else noted, knowledge skills do different things in different systems, so...

- what do you mean by a knowledge skill? You have said it is the ability to know something rather than to be able to do anything, but what kind of knowledge are you talking about? Is it the ability to remember biographical details about your life? The ability to accurately describe the scene around you? The ability to repeat a statement you have learned by rote about some conceptual topic? The ability to interpret a particular sequence of sound waves as carrying meaning? The ability to carry out certain kinds of cognitive tasks in which you have been trained, e.g. mental arithmetic, or conjugating a verb?

- what do you regard 'knowledge skills' as 'normally doing' in games? Answering questions players have about the world? (perception-type skills also do that) Enabling characters to answer questions put to them by other characters? Or put to themselves in the context of their situation? (you already said it doesn't let them take any action) To recognise inaccurate statements or claims made by other characters about things not present to their senses? (mystical awareness might also do this)

- is that what you need them to do in your system?
Should I not have knowledge skills, and leave character knowledge largely up to roleplay and simply what it makes sense for them to know?
I don't really think you should waste a lot of energy on them unless you actually NEED them for something in the game. A simple approach is to let players come up with freeform knowledge skills to fit the setting and character; the GM can generate a list of sample or common knowledge skills to go with each campaign; or you can provide a sample list for each setting. Then its commonsense and negotiation about what the skill covers.

If you want the game to set up puzzles or problems for the PLAYERS to solve, then 'knowledge skills' might be useful because they give the players information from which they can draw inferences to guide (and rationalise) the action choices they make for their characters. It makes most sense in a game where the characters work together as a team to solve problems.

If you want the game to be a series of tactical encounters, there's probably less use for them (but still might be, to grant insight into foes and their tactics, for example), since a lot of the special information the players need is immediate, dynamic and sensory, rather than static and recalled.

And so on.
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