Using What You Know

If your DM decides not to use secondary skills or nonweapon proficiencies, situations will arise in which you'll have to determine whether your character has certain skills. For example, Delsenora the wizard slips at the edge of a steep riverbank and tumbles into the water. The current sweeps her into the middle of the river. To escape, she must swim to safety. But does Delsenora know how to swim?

One way to answer this is to pretend that your character knows most of the things that you know. Do you know how to swim? If you do, then your character can swim. If you know a little about mountain climbing, horseback riding, carpentry, or sewing, your character knows these things, too. This also applies to things your character might want to build. Perhaps your character decides he wants to build a catapult. If you can show your DM how to make such a device, then the DM may allow your character the same knowledge. Indeed, you might visit the local library just to gain this information.

There are real advantages to this method. You can learn something at the library or school and bring it into your game. Also, there are fewer rules to get in the way of your fun. Since there are fewer rules, your DM has a lot of flexibility and can play out all the drama inherent in a scene.

There are also problems with this method. First, you probably know a lot of things your character should not--basic electronics, the components of gunpowder, or calculus, for instance. You have a lot of knowledge that is just not available to someone in a medieval world (even a fantasy medieval world). Likewise, there are things that a typical person in a medieval world would know that you, as a modern person, have never needed to learn. Do you know how to make armor? Skin a deer? Salt meat away for the winter? Turn flax into linen? Thatch a roof? Read heraldry? You might, but there is no way you can consider these common skills any more. But in a medieval world they would be common.

Also, knowing something about a skill or trade doesn't mean you know a lot, and there is a big difference between the two. When Delsenora fell into the raging river, she had to swim out. But was she a strong enough swimmer to pull free of the current? The DM must make up a rule on the spot to handle the situation. Perhaps you can swim, but can you swim well enough to escape a raging torrent?

The biggest drawback to this method is that there are no rules to resolve tricky situations. The DM must make it up during play. Some players and DMs enjoy doing this. They think up good answers quickly. Many consider this to be a large part of the fun. This method is perfect for them, and they should use it.

Other players and DMs like to have clear rules to prevent arguments. If this is the case in your group, it is better to use secondary skills or nonweapon proficiencies.

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