Roleplayer #29, November 1992

Like the Back of My Hand

Further Definition for the Area Knowledge Skill

by S. John Ross

Player: "Do I know of any dealers of antique weapons in town?"
GM: "Do you have Area Knowledge for the city?"
Player: "No, but I have it for the county, at 16!"
GM: "Hmm. Yes, but you learned that in your native 1931, and this is 1986."
Player: "Do I even have a chance?"

The answer can be tricky. As GM, you want to be fair in allowing players to use the skills that they assign their characters. But too much kindness can upset realism and destroy the credibility of the scenario or GM.

When a character makes an Area Knowledge roll about an area not exactly covered by his skill, it's up to the GM whether there is any chance that the roll will succeed. If the GM feels it's ridiculous, he need not allow any roll at all. But if the GM thinks there's a chance that Area Knowledge might spill over to cover the new area, he may allow a roll, with three types of penalty. These are Distance, Time and Area Class.


Distance is already covered in the Basic Set. For an area far from the character's "stomping grounds," use the long-distance modifiers on p. B151.


Time will usually come into play only in a Time Travel campaign, or if someone has been away from home for a long time.

Use the long-distance modifiers once again, substituting years for miles. For each difference of tech level, double the time modifier (2 TLs difference would be ×4, etc.). This is because societies change drastically on all levels when technology increases. A town in the biblical era could go for a hundred years and change very little in layout or culture. But look at how much your own town has changed in the last 50 years alone!

Area Class

Area Class can become important in a campaign that involves a lot of world travel (or solar system travel, galaxy travel, and so on).

Area Class is a new phrase to describe something already in the book. These are the italic headings describing the size of the area covered (city, kingdom, planet, et al). We assume that one area is contained within the other; e.g., someone with knowledge of Kansas is asking about the United States, or vice versa.

When a character is familiar with a larger area and wants information about a smaller area within it, the penalty is -2 for one class of difference, -4 for two, -8 for three, and so on, doubling each time.

When a character is familiar with a smaller area and wants information about the larger area containing it, the most appropriate solution will usually be to use the long-distance penalties described above. However, questions having to do with the entire large area use a flat -2 per difference in levels. Thus, a character with Area Knowledge (Planet Earth) would be at a -8 – three classes of difference – to know the mayor of Los Angeles. However, someone with Area Knowledge (Los Angeles) would be at -4 to know the location of Mount Rushmore. The same person would be at -10 to know the location of the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.; the Library of Congress has more to do with Washington than with the United States as a whole, and it's more appropriate to resolve the question by considering distance.

Returning to the example in the first paragraph: yes, there's a chance to find that antique weapon shop, but the penalty is -12. The long-distance modifiers are insignificant. The modifier for years is -5, doubled for crossing tech levels (6 to 7). Added to this is the -2 modifier for class difference, for a total of -12. The average expert on the area might not have a chance, but the PC in question is very skilled, and can succeed on a critical success. "You remember a gunsmith who collected antiques. He had five sons, and one of them might have taken over his business. Do you want to give it a try?"

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