How to keep knowledge skills from bogging combat down


Advice


Our group has tried several different methods for how to handle knowledge checks, and the big problem that keeps cropping up is the dump of information given after a successful knowledge check. This usually ends up going something like this:

GM: You see a towering, corpulent beast with the hideous head of a boar and arms ending in fatty, four-fingered hands.

Player: I'd like to roll a knowledge check. Which should I roll?

GM: Planes.

Player: (rolls d20). I got a 18 plus my modifier of 22 for a 40.

GM: This is a Nalfeshnee Demon. They can summon lights around them that, one round later, burst out and can daze anybody that views them. They also have true seeing constantly and an unholy aura that acts as the spell. Lastly, they're immune to poison.

Player: Got that everybody? (All other characters now know the information just given)

The dump of information breaks immersion and the flow of combat, as does the person who rolled the knowledge being able to pass the information on to all the other characters immediately. Now for the second problem, you can do something like allowing a character only disseminate X amount of information per round, but that completely relies on the other players not metagaming...which is really difficult to do when you've just heard everything.

The solution, as far as I can see, to the metagaming problem is to secretly pass the information to the player that rolled, but that takes even more time, which is unacceptable.

Our group is completely stumped on how to keep the knowledge checks from bogging combat down to a crawl. Any ideas?


I understand why this can be frustrating, but there's really no way around it.

The only problem I have with your description above is that only the successful knowledge check PC would have that information, not the whole party. You probably should write it down or take the player aside to fully conform to the rules. If the player wants their PC to share the info, that's their call.

To save time you can ask if the PC will share the knowledge and then give it to the whole group. I have had players refuse to share that sort of knowledge, even in fights.


If you drop a paragraph of into then it is not realistic. What about if the player gives the information out in shorthand, instead of a full sentence.

DR 10/good, fast healing (not even saying how much), poison con(to indicate what the poison attacks). <--That can be said in less than 6 seconds


I would do a couple of things.

First, I would talk to your players and let them know that you think this breaks immersion and makes the game less fun for you. It's possible they all strongly disagree... if so, you need to have this talk before making any changes... the best solution might be to suck it up for everyone elses fun. More likely they don't really care or agree with you though... so let's move on.

Next I would let them know that you will not answer the question to which knowledge roll they would make. Instead I would ask them which knowledge check they would like to try. Based on the description they can make a guess.

Next let them know that they can make one free knowledge check a round. The can use a move or standard action for additional checks that round if they would like or make another check with another knowledge skill the next round as a free action. (Sometimes you don't realize what something is right away... but are reminded by something it does that gives it away... this reflects that).

Finally I would give the info to just one person. The skill one useful piece of info if they succeed and one more per 5 points they exceed the check by... typically I wouldn't include the name as one of those pieces... just give them that if they succeed. If they fail and it is the right skill you might just give them info about the creature type... like typically they have high HP and low AC ("their giants of some kind, while you don't know which kind you know giants are very tough but tend to be easy to hit"). If the person succeeds by a very large amount just let them see the stat block for a minute while you keep the combat moving, then take it back... it's not a reference.

Let them know that this knowledge has to be given out in character. They can call out things on a limited and reasonable basis, "Seoni, hit is with fire, these things will burn!" "Amiri, hit them as hard as you can!" Whatever...

Basically use it as a tool to enhance role-play and make them feel that being knowledgeable helps... but don't give up everything or let it bog down play.

Sean


If you know the players' knowledge skill modifiers, why not pre-roll them and write the result down on a piece of paper? Then if the player wants to pass along that information, suggest that he do it in character. E.g. "Beware of the monster's flashing lights -- they spell DOOM!!"


Sean Mahoney wrote:


Next I would let them know that you will not answer the question to which knowledge roll they would make. Instead I would ask them which knowledge check they would like to try. Based on the description they can make a guess.

Next let them know that they can make one free knowledge check a round. The can use a move or standard action for additional checks that round if they would like or make another check with another knowledge skill the next round as a free action. (Sometimes you don't realize what something is right away... but are reminded by something it does that gives it away... this reflects that).

I don't think Knowledge skills really work like that. It's just a reflection of what you know, you're not looking stuff up in your Arcane monsters book, then your nature monsters book etc.

Besides that just brings the metagame back in. If the player recognizes it, he'll know what skill he should use and then have to go through the double think of trying to figure out which one his character would think applies.


Sean - our group is discussing it right now on our forums. As I said, we're kind of stumped about the bogging down combat. Much of your suggestions break immersion to me - a knowledge check is specifically called in the CRB as "action: usually none." Making people guess which knowledge to roll doesn't seem to make sense...either you know what the creature is or you don't.

The biggest problem we're having is the dump of info. Sure, for some things it's quick - DR/silver, immune to fire, has poison, etc. But when you get into unique special abilities like the Nalfeshnee's Unholy Nimbus, it takes time to describe the effect. Combining that with a knowledge check good enough to get 4-5 bits of information ends up taking time. And giving the information to just one player takes even more time, as either you have to lean over and whisper to them, or write stuff down and pass a note, or ask players to plug their ears, or other ridiculous situations that bog play down even more.


hogarth wrote:
If you know the players' knowledge skill modifiers, why not pre-roll them and write the result down on a piece of paper? Then if the player wants to pass along that information, suggest that he do it in character. E.g. "Beware of the monster's flashing lights -- they spell DOOM!!"

This is probably the best way to get around the problem. The only thing that really sucks about it is that it places even more of a burden on the GM during his preparation.


Alien, the only way to avoid this "breaking of immersion" is to have your players memorize the bestiary beforehand and religiously avoid metagaming so that when they pass their knowledge check they pass the player's knowledge on to the character.

Otherwise, unless you can master the Vulcan Mind Meld, you've got to get the information to them somehow, or else just forget about knowledge checks.


Pathfinder Companion, Maps Subscriber; Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Superscriber; Starfinder Charter Superscriber
alientude wrote:
The solution, as far as I can see, to the metagaming problem is to secretly pass the information to the player that rolled, but that takes even more time, which is unacceptable.

I must be missing something here - why does it take more time?

In the past, I have prepared a knowledge page, where I list the DCs for creatures. When a PC rolls, I tear off the note where their roll falls, pass them the note and keep going with the PC who's turn it is.

Example

Tricky monster
DC 25: DR/Magic
DC 30: Fast healing
DC 35: several spell like abilities - including disintegrate
Etc...


Mistwalker wrote:

I must be missing something here - why does it take more time?

In the past, I have prepared a knowledge page [..]

Unless you're Doctor Who, preparing the knowledge page must have taken some time. :-)


Pathfinder Companion, Maps Subscriber; Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Superscriber; Starfinder Charter Superscriber
hogarth wrote:
Mistwalker wrote:

I must be missing something here - why does it take more time?

In the past, I have prepared a knowledge page [..]

Unless you're Doctor Who, preparing the knowledge page must have taken some time. :-)

Part of my prep. And once I have it once for a creature, I don't have to recreate it, it's in the text document where I keep all of my monster and NPC stats.


You could have preprinted sheets or notecards listing each creature. Bullet-point each creature's power/vulnerability. 10 + CR gives one line of info, 15 + CR gives another line, and so forth. Have one card ready for each player. When one of them rolls a knowledge for a particular creature, find the line that most closely corresponds to their result, tear off anything exceeding their roll, and hand the sheet to the player. The player can share the info as she sees fit (if she's not sharing on her turn, she'll most likely talk during someone else's).

This creates more prep work for you but should speed up combat.

edit: ninja'd by Mistwalker


You could reveal the bits of knowledge the check qualifies for as they become relevenat, over the course of a few rounds.


thejeff wrote:
I don't think Knowledge skills really work like that. It's just a reflection of what you know, you're not looking stuff up in your Arcane monsters book, then your nature monsters book etc.

By RAW they don't. By Raw the GM would simply ask at the beginning of the combat that anyone who has ranks in the appropriate knowledge check make a roll and then would give them that info.

But that was the problem that the OP was having. So I suggested what I do in my game that seems to work pretty well for me.

thejeff wrote:
Besides that just brings the metagame back in. If the player recognizes it, he'll know what skill he should use and then have to go through the double think of trying to figure out which one his character would think applies.

It doesn't bring it back in, but it isn't eliminating it either. Instead it is reducing the amount of time that the check takes up each round in combat so the focus stays on keeping things moving rather than a big info dump.

I do personally think that it is a better way of reflecting real memory of obscure things though. You don't always remember all you are capable of remembering in the first six seconds you see something. Sometimes the way the monster moves or getting a better look sparks or jobs a memory... that is how I see using the wrong skill for a couple of rounds then hitting the right one.

It's all in how you describe it I guess.

Sean Mahoney


Pathfinder Adventure Path, Companion, Lost Omens, Rulebook, Starfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber

Just keep going with it, eventually you'll hit your stride and either it will stop bothering you or people will roleplay around it.

I've always found that there is absolutely nothing you can do to stop the real world, and even the game itself at times like this, from breaking your immersion in the game. Eventually you just learn to roll with it. Bear in mind that immersion in the game world is, by necessity, all in your head. I've played with people that could be on fire and still roleplay constantly, and I've played with people that break character if someone so much as farts (and worse, people who, no matter how much advice you give them, no matter how much you try to get them to build up the characters personality, could NEVER get into character for so much as a second at the table).

If you learn to roll with these things, they can actually end up becoming a great skill building exercise for your players. Start gently reminding them that, if the skill monkey didn't actually communicate that information in character, they don't know it. Start thinking up ways to describe the abilities that the character would know (regeneration may be an "in world" term, but things like spell resistance and damage reduction certainly aren't) and communicate to the players that way. Then, when the PC who got the skill check is up, remind them again that game terms are completely foreign to their character, and encourage them to communicate in a way that their character would.


I've changed by descriptions of monster abilites. DR 10/- is "Very hard to hurt" and fire resist 10 is 'strongly resistant to fire'. Fast healing is, well, er...they heal fast?

I don't have to give them the actual numbers, though. I can do math just as well as they can. If they PC rolls high enough, then they'll know that it has X or Y ability or spell-like ability.

Also, it seems the problem is with the players at the table, too. My group strives very had to not metagame. So I could announce the stat block outloud and it wouldn't really change their actions. It sounds like the OP's group is metagaming rather blatantly.

Maybe have them roll knowledge based on the monster's appearance, only to discover it is an entirely different creature that was magically disguised? For example:

Players: What do you mean the centaur leaps into the air, hovers, and breathes fire on us all? Centaurs can't fly! It wasn't in my knowledge check!

GM: Oh, right almost forgot. The red dragon drops the illusion he used to sucker you into combat. Knowledge (You're all gonna die) checks, anyone? <insert evil grin here>


Sean Mahoney wrote:


Next I would let them know that you will not answer the question to which knowledge roll they would make. Instead I would ask them which knowledge check they would like to try. Based on the description they can make a guess.

Finally I would give the info to just one person.

Let them know that this knowledge has to be given out in character. They can call out things on a limited and reasonable basis, "Seoni, hit is with fire, these things will burn!" "Amiri, hit them as hard as you can!" Whatever...

..

These all make things "I roll Ks Arcana" "Nope". "Ks Dungeoneering?" No. "Ks Local?" and so forth. Those are free actions. And even if he restricts each PC to one of these, each one will try a different skill each round, taking up even more time.

Giving it to one person, knowing that person will just have to repeat it, doubles the time taken for this.

If you do it this way it seriously nerfs the Knowledge skills and also drags the whole thing out.

But what is true is that beating the DC gets you just so many facts. So DM, do up a card for each monster. Figure out what beating the DC gets them, then beating the DC by 5, then 10 and so on up to the best Ks guy in the party getting a 20.

As Mistwalker sez, this won;t be a knowledge dump. At most they will get 3-6 facts. But make them useful. After they have seen a monster fly in, dont give them "it flies" (this is actually in some of the modules, where even rolling a 20 on a super maxed out skill gives the players nothing actually "useful".

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