When building a campaign setting or starting a new campaign one of the things that you must decide as a GM is what skills are important, what skills exist, and what skills don’t exist. For campaigns with magic, psionics, and other “paranormal powers” one of the key jobs a GM has is to decide what powers there are and how they impact the game world. But more importantly, the GM needs to decide how the players can know about such abilities from within the game itself. I’ve made some mistakes in the past regarding this sort of thing and I’ve come up with a few guidelines to make it easier on me when I create new settings.
The Rule of 12
If you can help it – never have more than 12 Hidden Lore skills (at most 14). Why 12? Because that’s the equivalent of buying a Wildcard skill at IQ-1 – the same as twelve Hidden Lore skills with one point in them. Also, at some point your players are to be annoyed at the massive amount of buy-ins to know the inner workings of a campaign.
Where You Can Lump, Lump
From a game-mechanical perspective “zombies” and “ghouls” are not that different. Both are undead, both eat flesh, both are affected by true faith, and so on. No matter how different in game they are, it’s the out of game context that you want to follow. This is for two reasons – 1) players will naturally assume that it’s out of game contextual vs. in game and 2) it’ll help you as the GM in the long run.
Where You Can’t, Don’t
If you’ve got something zany or weird in your campaign and it defies being put in the corner (“Nobody puts the GM’s babies in a corner!”) then don’t. If they are that weird then give them their own skill and be done with it.
Picking Over the Bones
I know this seems like a bit of obvious advice – but for many (including myself a decade ago) it wasn’t. I’d have Hidden Lores for all sorts of things that didn’t need them and that led to skill bloat in a game engine that already has that problem as is. I hope this helps some poor GM out there struggling with the same issues.
So what standby rules do you have for Hidden Lore?