Hi all. In the second of our three posts on the HD&D skills system, we’re going to turn out attention to Knowledge skills, as well as the skills that spellcasters use to weave their magic. Unlike the previous post, I’ll examine how each individual skill works in full.
Skills for Magic
HD&D will follow the same line as fourth edition. Spellcasters do not have to roll a dice to cast a spell. If the spell is only affecting the caster, or a willing target or an inanimate object then no roll is required. A roll is only required if you are targeting the spell on an unwilling opponent or, to put it another way: if a fighter in the same situation would have to roll to hit with his sword, then the wizard would have to roll to hit with his spell.
The attack roll for a spell in fourth edition defaulted to the designated ability score modifier + half the character’s level. That’s not good enough for HD&D, and so the act of attacking with a spell has become part of the skills system. Spellcasting is just a skill like Weapon Group (Axes). You put your ranks in it, add your ability score and any other modifiers, and then roll the dice.
The key skill for spellcasting is Spellcraft. I was originally going to call this skill “Arcana”, but Spellcraft seems more appropriate. However, this will mean that Spellcraft means something different in HD&D than in did in Third Edition. I’ve tried to steer clear of this. For example feats are still called feats because calling them something else would be confusing – not because “feats” is necessarily the most appropriate term.
In addition to Spellcraft, all spellcasters will need to have Arcana which helps them to identify and interpret magical effects. You will notice that Arcana is playing the role that “Spellcraft” did in Third Edition. Again, is this confusing? All spellcasters will probably want to max out their ranks in Arcana and Spellcraft. Finally, each spellcasting tradition is tied to a particular Knowledge skill.
For example, clerics will need Arcana, Spellcraft and Knowledge (Religion) in order to cast spells. Spellcasting uses a mechanic that I will return to frequently in the HD&D system. Clerical (divine) spellcasting is performed by making an Spellcraft check, using the number of ranks you have in Spellcraft or the number of ranks in have in Knowledge (Religion), whichever is less.
Let’s take a look at the descriptions for the skills:
Arcana (Int) [Trained Only]
Description: Where Spellcraft is your raw ability to control the weave, Arcana is your understanding of it. You use Arcana to identify spells and magical effects; to decipher written spells such as a scroll or spellbook; and (importantly) to learn new spells.
Identify a spell: If you see a spell being cast you can attempt to work out what it is by making an Arcana check against DC 15 + 2/spell level (e.g. DC 33 for a 9th level spell). Doing so does not count as an action. If you do see the spell cast, but the spell affects you (whether successfully or not) you can also make a roll to try and indentify the spell. However, add +5 to the DC in this case.
Detect Magic Auras: When using the detect magic spell, you use the Arcana skill to interpret the spell’s findings.
Decipher Written Spell: You can use Spellcraft to decipher written magical writings such as spells or another wizard’s spellbook. You must make a check for each spell, and the DC is 15 + 2/spell level. Once you have made the check once, you need never make the check again for that particular magical writing. If you fail, then you can try again after taking an extended rest.
Identify materials worked or shaped by Magic: You can tell the difference between a Wall of Stone and a stone wall. If something has been created by magic a successful check at DC 20 + 2/spell level will tell you.
Identify magic item: Arcana is used process of identifying magic items, however it cannot be used to do so in isolation. Normally a specific spell such as identify would need to be cast as well.
Learn a new spell: Most spellcasters know a set number of spells at level one, and then gain an automatic understanding of one new spell per level. If they want to learn any spells outside that, then they must learn the spell. The spell might be bought, found or gifted by another spellcaster (such an another priest in the same church). However, the mechanic is always the same.
You must succeed in a Spellcraft check of DC 15 + 2/Spell level. If you are working from a written source (e.g. you are a wizard) then this check represents your attempt to decipher the spell. If you are taught a new spell through an oral tradition (e.g. you are a druid) then the check represents your ability to absorb what you are being taught.
You spend one day learning the spell. If the spellcaster is a wizard, then this probably involves shutting himself in a room surrounded by dusty tomes. If the spellcaster is a druid then it probably involves sitting in the rain while contemplating the world around him. At the end of the day you make the check as indicated above. If you succeed then you have learned the spell. If you fail the check then you have not learned the spell. You can try again after an extended rest.
As a note, I am planning to do away with the read magic spell in HD&D, so there will be no shortcut for a wizard trying to decipher esoteric writings.
Wizards do not need to transcribe a spell into their own spellbook to learn it. They can happily carry stolen or purchased spellbooks and use them instead. Once a wizard has deciphered a written spell once, he never has to do so again. If the wizard chooses to transcribe a spell into his spell book then he must have special magical inks. The process takes one day (in addition to the day spent learning the spell). The spell takes up one page per level and costs 100gp (in inks) per page.
Spellcraft (Int, Wis or Cha) [Trained Only]
Description: Spellcraft is, quite simply, the ability to cast magic. It is the skill you use to focus the weave and create magical effects. Without Spellcraft spellcasting is impossible. All spell-casters must have ranks in this skill, and would be advised to max out those ranks.
There are various different forms and traditions of magic. The Spellcraft skill is used by all characters of all classes and is the raw ability to capture and cast magic. The traditions themselves are represented by a related knowledge skill:
Draconic (for wizards and sorcerers), Fey (for sonorists and bards), Aberrant (for warlocks), Religion (for clerics and paladins) and Nature (for druids and rangers).
In order to cast magic you must meet three criteria. Firstly, you must have the appropriate spellcasting talent. Secondly you must have ranks in Spellcraft. Thirdly you must have ranks in the related knowledge skill. For example, wizards must have ranks in the Spellcraft skill and the Knowledge (Draconic) skill.
When you make a Spellcraft check to cast a spell, you use your ranks in Spellcraft or your ranks in the related knowledge skill, whichever is less.
Casting Spells: There are expanded rules for spellcasting beyond the remit of a skill description. The finished HD&D rules will refer players to the appropriate reference for magic and the spell lists. However, it is ture that most spells require an Spellcraft vs. Defence roll to affect a target. The DC of the test is therefore the enemy’s Reflex, Fortitude or Will defence.
Retry: Most spells need time to recharge after they are cast, so if you miss you may not be able to try again. At least, not right away.
Special: The ability score modifier than applies to Spellcraft varies depending on your magical tradition. For example: wizards and swordmages use Intelligence, clerics and druids use Wisdom, warlocks and bards use Charisma. The description of each spellcasting class will indicate which ability score modifier to use.
Why not more magic skills?
During the campaign of ’99 I used a system of own invention that wasn’t entirely dissimilar to HD&D. Under NURPS spellcasting was broken down into eight very familiar skills: Abjuration, Conjuration, Divination, Enchantment Evocation, Illusion, Necromancy and Transmutation. In light of how may weapon skills there are compared to the magic skills, why don’t we go down this road?
This might seem like a good idea, but I don’t think that it is. Dividing spellcasting into eight skills only makes sense for wizards. It’s meaningless for clerics or druids. What do we do for them? Do clerics have a skill for each of their spheres? Do druids have skills based on effect? Suddenly we have far too many skills.
The important thing for Iourn is that the magical traditionals are properly differentiated. This is why I’ve decided to go for two skills for spellcasting (all spellcasting) and then introduce the need to tie that spellcasting to an appropriate knowledge skill. A multiclass wizard/cleric would then need both Knowledge (Draconic) and Knowledge (Religion) but would work off the same Spellcraft and Arcana checks.
If you think this makes spellcasters too powerful in relation to martial classes you may have a point. If you think that it’s enough of a problem that we should address it, then I seriously believe that we should look at empowering martial characters (by reducing the size of the weapon skill list) rather than expanding the skills that spellcasters need to do fulfill their role.
Right, so that is the game’s two magic-related skills. However, it is how they interact with the Knowledge skills that allows spells to be cast. Of course, the knowledge skills do far more than permit spell casting. Let’s start with a general look at Knowledge, and then I’ll spend more time on the twelve named Knowledge skills in the game.
Like Craft, Perform and Profession, Knowledge encompasses a number of unrelated skills. Knowledge represents a study of some body of lore, possibly an academic or even scientific discipline.
Twelve areas of Knowledge are highlighted as being particularly relevent to characters, but players are welcome to choose any knowledge they desire. Characters delving into bizarre or esoteric areas of study are choosing to invest resources into skills that may not come up all that often. It is the GM’s responsibility to make sure such an investment is not wasted. The twelve ‘core’ knowledge skills are as follows: Aberrant, Ancients, Architecture & Engineering, Draconic, Elemental, Fey, Geography, History, Nobility, Religion and Undead.
Knowledge Checks: Making a knowledge check to recall information does not require an action; you either know the information or you don’t. When you make a Knowledge check to recall a piece of information then refer to the following table:
Level of Knowledge
Lost to History
To put this in context, knowledge of the Hobbyist level (DC 15) should be a moderate skill check for a first level character. DC 20 is a moderate check for a 10th level character, DC 25 is a moderate check for a 20th level character, DC 30 is a moderate check for a 25th level character. A 30th level character who had maxed out his ranks in knowledge, started with an Intelligence of 18, increased his intelligence at every opporunity and took the Skill Focus feat would still have to roll 16 on 1d20 in order to reach DC 45.
This is quite deliberate. There are areas of knowledge that are so obscure that a PC simply cannnot rattle off a string of facts on the roll of dice. Of course, a knowledge check of any DC can be circumvented by research into dusty tomes, or speaking to the insanely knowledgeable. Quests for such knowledge are often at the heart of an adventure. As an aside, this helps to answer Daniel’s observation that tying (e.g.) Knowledge Draconic to spellcasting wasn’t consistant for Iourn. After all, the PCs have met various wizards and they were not all experts on dragons. However, the sort of level of draconic knowledge that certain characters have gained (the Maw of Io, the Temples of Concordance) range from Highly Esoteric to Previously Unknown. All gained through first hand experience, of course. Even high level wizards wouldn’t know such things, and wouldn’t need to know them to be decent spellcasters.
You can opt to specialise in an extremely narrow area of knowledge at the expense of your wider understanding. First select a Knowledge and then narrow your focus. You receive a bonus on Knowledge check in your narrow field of expertise, and an equal penalty on all other checks with the Knowledge skill. The GM sets the penalty, in increments of 5. For example:
Knowledge (Ancients) gives you a broad understanding of demons, devils, angels and the like. If you were to specialise in Demons then the GM would give you +5 on checks related to demons, and -5 on all other checks. If you specialised in a particular breed of demon (e.g. balors) then the GM could give you a +10 on checks regarding balors, and a -10 on all other checks with this knowedge skill (including checks regarding other demons). If you devoted your life to the study of one particular balor, then you would get a +15 bonus for checks related to that individual, and a -15 penalty to all other checks.
You could spend ranks in both the narrow version of a knowledge skill and the standard version. A character could have five ranks in Knowledge (Ancients) and five ranks in Knowledge (Demons). He would get the +5 bonus for narrow knowledge in the Demons skill, but wouldn’t take the penalty on other Ancients checks because he had paid for the skill separately.
Let’s look at all twelve knowledge skills is slightly more detail:
Monster Lore, Planar Lore and Survival
In addition to magic, a number of knowlege skills are used to gain knowledge about monsters and the planes. Knowledge (The Planes) from third edition has effectively been folded into these other knowledge skills as follows:
Abberant: Planar lore on the Far Realm; Monster Lore on creatures classified as aberrations (aboleth, mind flayers, beholders etc). Characters with Survival as a class skill use their ranks in Knowledge (Aberrant) or their ranks in Survival – whichever is less – to endure and survive in the Far Realm. Also the key knowledge for Pact Magic (warlocks).
Ancient: Planar lore on the “outer planes” of Aduro and Barathrum as well as the Astral Sea. Monster Lore on the Ancient races: demons, devils, angels, rakshasha, genie, rilmani, eladrin, guardinal and so forth. Characters with Survival as a class skill use their ranks in Knowledge (Ancient) or their ranks in Survival – whichever is less – to endure and survive in the outer planes. Knowledge (Ancient) is not connected to a spellcasting tradition.
Draconic: Planar lore on realms connected with dragons such as the Maw of Io, Mausoleum of Chronepsis and the Walk Between Worlds. Monster Lore on dragons and draconic races. Characters with Survival as a class skill use their ranks in Knowledge (Draconic) or their ranks in Survival – whichever is less – to endure and survive in the planes indicated above. The key knowledge for Arcane magic (wizards, sorcerers).
Elemental: Planar lore on the elemental planes/elemental chaos. Monster Lore on creatures that hail from those planes. Characters with Survival as a class skill use their ranks in Knowledge (Elemental) or their ranks in Survival – whichever is less – to endure and survive in the planes indicated above. Note that Knowledge (Elemental) is not linked to any spellcasting tradition – at least, not at the moment.
Fey: Planar lore on the Feywild and other seelie and unseelie realms (like the Greymere). Monster Lore on the fey and related creatures such as fomorians. Characters with Survival as a class skill use their ranks in Knowledge (Fey) or their ranks in Survival – whichever is less – to endure and survive in the Feywild. At the GM’s discretion Knowledge (Nature) may substitute in the more mundane parts of the realm. The key knowledge for sonorists (phonomancers, bards).
Nature: Planar lore on the world of Iourn (i.e. the natural world). Monster Lore on natural creatures that inhabit Iourn even if those creatures are fanatastic and would never been found on Earth – e.g. horses and bears, but also pegasus and owlbears. Characters with Survival as a class skill use their ranks in Knowledge (Nature) or their ranks in Survival – whichever is less – to endure and survive in the natural world. Nature is the key knowledge for primal casters (druids, rangers, healers).
Undead: Planar lore on the Shadowfell and the Land of the Dead. Monster lore on all manner of undead creatures as well as the deathless. Characters with Survival as a class skill use their ranks in Knowledge (Undead) or their ranks in Survival – whichever is less – to endure and survive in the Shadowfell. Knowledge (undead) is not connected to a spellcasting tradition.
Other Knowledge Skills
Architecture & Engineering: The ability to design, build and manage complex structures and pseudo scientific machines. Architecture and Engineering will get a make-over in HD&D making it more relevent, and aligning it to classes such as the Artificer as well as all those wonderful gnomes from Walhoon.
Geography: The ability to navigate from A to B with or without a map. Teh arrangment of countries, trade routes and general understanding of your physical place in the world. Geography also tells you about modern cultures, demographics and social issues – but not necessarily about a country’s history.
Geography comes “pre-specialised”. You must choose a geographical locale as the focus of your knowledge. This might be a very tight focus (e.g. Uris), or a very broad focus (Iourn). The DC of checks is based on breadth of the subject. Geography checks to find something in Uris will be easier if you have Knowledge (Geography of Uris) than Knowledge (Geography of Norandor). However, it would be much harder to find your way around Timberlake. Normally selecting a continent would be appropriate (e.g. Urova, Hadrada).
History: Knowledge of stuff that happened. Like geography, the skill comes “pre-specialised”. You must choose a particular region, continent or time period in which to specialise. Like Geography, checks in your area have an easier DC, but beware of making your study too broad.
Nobility: This skill gives you an understanding of heraldry so you can recognise various standards and banners. You can recognise nobles, and know how the hereditary system works. This is also the skill you would use if you wanted to know the local laws and other conventions of society. Nobility should be specialised in a particular country. You can still roll on this Knowledge for other coutnries but the DC would be higher.
Religion: You have a understanding of the theology and practices of a single religion or pantheon (such as the Moon Faiths). You can make a Religion check to discover information about other religions, but at a higher DC. Religion is also the key knowledge for Divine spellcasters (clerics, paladins).
Any skill not covered by the skill list that is not obviously a craft (making something) or a profession (performing a service) is probably a Knowledge skill. There are, therefore, a near limitness number. However, the above twelve are the ones I intend to make firm use of in the game. Think carefully before taking Knowledge (Knitting Patterns).
One more skill to have a look at, that is vaguely connected to magic and to knowledge and that is Alchemy. In version 3.0 of the game, Alchemy was its own skill, and this will be revived in HD&D. Fourth edition handled alchemy very well in my opinion. Here are my thoughts on it:
Alchemists are the students of an ancient non-magical tradition. The most accomplished have mastered powerful archaic formulae; they create effects that most wizards would struggle to match.
Identification: You use this skill to identify poisons, chemicals or other strange agents and substances. If you have ranks in the Arcana skill, then you can also use Alchemy to identify magical potions, or other magical consumables.
Each attempt to identify a substance requires one hour and the use of the tools of your trade: beakers, burners, assorted chemicals and other laboratory implements. Although adventuring alchemists often carry such items with them, use of a large purpose-built laboratory is usually preferred.
The DC of the check to identify a substance varies depending on the substance and is set by the GM. Most substances would require an Alchemy check at DC 15, but the difficulty may be much higher for extremely rare or obscure items. Refer to the DC for Knowledge skills in this regard.
Because you expend resources when you identify a substance, each attempt – whether it is successful or not – will cost you 1 gp in alchemical supplies.
Creation: Anyone with ranks in Alchemy can use the skill to identify substances as described above. However, if you want to create your own alchemical items, then you must also possess one or more of the Alchemist series of talents: Alchemist (Basic), Alchemist (Expert) or Alchemist (Master). These are available at levels 1, 11 and 21 respectively.
Actually, at the moment I don’t know whether we need three talents for this or just one. It really depends on how we choose to hand the magical item creation rules in HD&D. This is a topic for a later debate, and has little bearing on the skill itself.
Armed with ranks in this skill, and the Alchemist talent(s) you gain access to a number of alchemical formulae that enable you to create a large variety of non-magical supplies such as tanglefoot bags, sunrods, alchemical fire and alchemical silver.
Alchemical formula work in a manner similar to creating magical items, which is why we are using the Talents system. I’ll use Talents for magic items as well. The fourth edition rules present alchemical items in the same manner as magical rituals and I think that they work rather well.
Retry: If you fail in an attempt to identify a substance you may try again as long as you still have some of the substance left to test. A second attempt will cost another 1 gp in materials. When using an alchemical formulae no result is truly a failure, but the effectiveness of the finished article is diminished by a poor check result. If you wish a better result then you would have to conduct the ritual again, paying all the necessary costs at each stage.
Special: A fully stocked alchemical laboratory grants a +2 circumstances bonus to all Alchemy checks. Tinker Gnomes gain a +2 racial bonus to Alchemy.
Right: that’s weapon skills, magic skills and knowledge skills covered. In the next post we’ll look at everything else.