I’m typing at a crooked table and I just rescued the first Praying Mantis I’ve seen in over a year from being stomped on — so we’ll see how this post comes out. It’s been rattling around in my head today.
Skills get a lot of attention in RPG discussion. What skills are necessary? How many? Player skill vs. Character skill? Monte Cook jumped in a recently, and many, many bloggers take shots at this all the time. As anyone who reads this blog realizes, I’m not really concerned with RPG theory so much as RPG practice. The practical “at the table” concern always get priority for me.
And here’s my thought. Practically speaking, Graedric the fighter knows exactly as much Knowledge (Demons) as Savris the Wizard.
Does that seem absurd? To put it more clearly, I hope, what I mean by this is — whenever Savris needs to roll Knowledge (Demons) during an adventure, whatever Savris “knows” is really whatever the results of the roll reveal. This knowledge is usually of immediate interest and is therefore shared with the party. So know Graedric the fighter (GtF) knows exactly the same information as Savris the Wizard (StW). Now, in the imaginary world that is our campaign, StW “knows more” than GtF — but from a practical, at-the-table standpoint, the “more” that StW knows never matters.
Now, expand this thought a little more. Over the course of several adventures, Savris and Graedric get into a bunch of wacky scrapes involving demons. Graedric learns which weapons to use when fighting which types, learns their strengths and weaknesses, learns about their politics, learns to identify them on sight, and learns (from Savris) a bunch of history of the Ancient Demonic Wars of Demon-kind. So when Graedric meets up with a fresh-faced young demon-hunter, he can impart this hard-won knowledge… but wait — Graedric doesn’t actually have Knowledge (Demons) despite the amount he’s learned about them. And most likely in many systems, he never will. Because acquiring Knowledge (Demons) would cost him a development choice better spent elsewhere to improve his role as a fighter — and why would he choose it anyway since everything he knows is already being learned when necessary from Savris?
Even when attempting to separate Player knowledge and Character knowledge, this becomes somewhat of a different animal — Graedric clearly knows these things, and so does the player. And what about those sessions where the players pull something like, Savris: “I sit around the fire and tell the party the story of the First War between Demons and Elves and it’s association with the Elven Fall from Grace”? Now, supposing Savris isn’t around in some encounter, how much do the other PCs actually know or how much are they allowed to know? If the Player didn’t actually sit and learn all of that campaign information, then how much should their Character be allowed to draw on an experience that was only partially role-played but clearly happened?
I see this as being a tough question — and it’s why I am in favor of experiential skill systems like Basic Roleplaying. I think this also gets handled somewhat better in a rules-light system where “player skill” is already more implicitly accepted and encouraged (though not all rules-light systems do this and not all rules-heavy ones quash it, I know). I’m thinking here of a game like Barbarians of Lemuria with it’s careers system.
All of this said, I wonder if there is a better way to model this in game than we currently have? I suppose in some games this could get filed under “spend a drama/fate/style point” and we’ll move on. That could work. You temporarily (by which I mean, during the time frame when it practically matters) call upon knowledge gleaned in a narrative manner but don’t actually invest in a permanent way in that knowledge… I can live with that. The other answer is GM Fiat — you remember as much as your GM says you can, based on things like, your mental ability scores (which could even involve INT rolls, right?) but still feels lacking.
Ultimately, I suppose you do whatever your group feels best about — because your game is your game and every table is different — but I really wonder if there’s a better answer.