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Science in Dungeons and Dragons

Lord Zack

Explorer
I've been considering how to represent scientific knowledge in Dungeons and Dragons. I feel that characters aught to be able to be knowledgeable in scientific areas, since it would make sense for, say a wizard to have knowledge of mathematics, physics and the like. Further I have Tinker Gnomes, who must know of certain scientific principles so they can create technology that applies those principles. So how do I represent this?

The obvious choice is to create Knowledge skills to represent this. I've checked the d20 Modern SRD which has:

Behavioral Sciences
Earth and Life Sciences
Physical Sciences
Technology

The thing is some of these overlap with existing categories. Earth and Life Sciences probably would work as just an expansion of Nature. Physical Sciences has engineering as a category. I don't imagine a dwarven architect necessarily being knowledgeable about astronomy, or chemistry. Another thing is that astronomy doesn't work the same way in my campaign. Maybe physical sciences would be part of arcana?

So what do you think?
 

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Daniel D. Fox

Explorer
I'd redirect this back to the ideas behind philosophies and alchemy as a semi-religious institution, as opposed to outright science. The sciences were borne directly from philosophy, and had a very "occultish feel".

And in fact, a Dwarf may have a very solid understanding of proto-chemistry (alchemy), since atypically they are natural metallurgists. However, I don't know whether you're going for typical tropes in your game or not.
 

Simm

First Post
The problem with adding knowledge skills to the game is that it dilutes the value of each skill and makes it harder for a character to actually know a useful amount of information. You probably want to try to keep the number of knowledge skills the same (or even reduce them, who takes geography?),but expand or redefine the fields they cover.

I would take this in one of two directions. Either A, add no skills and just figure each field of knowledge you want to add into the current skill into which it fits best, or B, completely rework the knowledge skills keeping the total number of skills about the same.

Try compressing religion and the planes, geography and nature, local or nobility and history. Then fold engineering into a new technology skill, and scatter the functions of dungeoneering across other skills. That would give you about three extra knowledge skills you could add to the game.
 


Lord Zack

Explorer
I use Pathfinder.

Yeah, actually reducing the number of knowledge skills might be a good idea. Though I do want to have a knowledge (tactics) skill as well.

I use mostly traditional Dungeons and Dragons (pre-4e) tropes. I do want to have characters that can use the engineering skills of the gnomes, which will likely be similar to engineering in World of Warcraft, in fact i am considering using the system from World of Warcraft d20.
 

Jack7

First Post
I'd redirect this back to the ideas behind philosophies and alchemy as a semi-religious institution, as opposed to outright science. The sciences were borne directly from philosophy, and had a very "occultish feel".

And in fact, a Dwarf may have a very solid understanding of proto-chemistry (alchemy), since atypically they are natural metallurgists. However, I don't know whether you're going for typical tropes in your game or not.

Real Good advice. I think Simm also gave good advice.

The way I've addressed the problem LZ is that in my setting the Wizard, who is human, is actually a proto-scientist. The Mage is as well, just that they address different scientific interests.

For instance the Wizard is primarily a physical and natural proto-scientist, physics, botany, biology, etc. The Mage is primarily a psychologist, occultist, behaviorist, medical doctor, etc. Both classes can do illusions, one based on props and physics, the other based on mentalism, some psychic capabilities, and hypnotism. Both classes are good at alchemy and chemistry.

The non-humans in my setting have classes that are like the traditional Wizard class. And I've noticed interest in both magic and science mixing and being in opposition to one another for awhile now. Merlin and Mr. Wizard.
But you could easily adopt proto-science into your existing classes in a wide range of ways.

One of the supplements, I can't remember which one, had a class called the Factotum. He was a sort of Jack of All Trades but also good at collating and incorporating a wide range of knowledge skills and backgrounds. He was a Renaissance Man, which is how I envision a human Wizard anyways, the Wizard being a Wise Man and a "Whiz". I liked the Factotum so much that I incorporated many of the class elements, with some modifications, into both the human Wizard and the human Mage.

You might find it valuable as an idea source.
 

phloog

First Post
How I would handle it (and obviously this makes it the only correct way):

I would definitely avoid adding knowledge skills, and I would tend to break the fairly strict rule in 3e that says "NPCs/Monsters work like PCs".

For NPCs, other non-PC races, monsters, etc. I would just give them situational/circumstance bonuses in the areas of interest. So rather than add a skill called Kn:Botany, I would do something like:

Floral Elves have 5 ranks in Kn:Nature, with a +4 racial bonus to checks dealing with plants.

For PCs, if you really have someone who wants to be an expert on Botany, I would take this potentially two ways:

1) Variant of older Shadowrun specialization rule -- The character takes 5 ranks in Kn: Nature, but then elects to only effectively have 4 ranks in all Kn:Nature, but 6 ranks in rolls dealing with Botany. In this case, I would not charge any extra for this, unless the player specializes in something that is universally great. I would also allow them to break the Level + 3 rule in their one area of specialization. you could potentially allow them to take TWO off the general to add two to the specialization.

2) Add specialization feats. As a variant of Skill Focus: <<SKILL>>, have a category called Focused Study: <<KNOWLEDGE SKILL>>. The prerequisites might simply be ranks in the Knowledge under consideration. I'd have a hard time determining the bonus though...it would have to be far better than the general Skill Focus, and all the caveats above would apply.
 

phloog

First Post
Forgot to cover multiple specializations...I could see someone wanting to take bonuses in Insects, Echinoderms, and Gastropods...in those cases, since the sub-categories are soooo specific, I might be tempted to allow them to add 2 to each of these in return for a -2 to the general.

Okay...one last thought....this takes more paperwork...but why not allow each character to select one area of specialization for free for each rank in any Knowledge skill, granting a +1 to a single specific category? Allow them to put their +1 in the same category multiple times (perhaps limited to no more than half their ranks?).

So I take Knowledge: Nature with four ranks and have Int +2, I have +6 in general checks, and split my free points between Botany and Marine Biology, so for those two I get +8.

The biggest issue is going to be: what is too big/small to be an area of specialization? What if my character takes Zoology and you take Barn Owls?
 

Ydars

Explorer
Most of the sciences, at least as we think about them, did not really exist in the medieval world. The problem with all the above replies is that they are coming at science from a modern perspective. For example, talkig about different types of molluscs. Well until Linnaeus (1700s), we did not really have any kind of good classification of animals into real groups and the ideas about things like species were not understood at all well. Science, in the medieval world was so bound up with religion and mysticism as to be indistinguishable from magic.

Science in medieval times revolved around concepts that we would find very alien. They searched for things like;

Fluidium vivarum (or life substances) or forces that separate living material from that which was inorganic or had never lived. This was almost a search for God in materials via Alchemy.

Elixir vitae (potion of eternal life), bound up with the discovery of the life substance.

Philosophers stone; a vital principle that would allow transmutation of one material into another. This idea came from experiments with things like Cinnabar (mercury sulphide) which is a rusty brown powder because when you heat this substance it decays into mercury metal. Mercury was thought to be Dragon's semen according to the Chinese estoerics who discovered it and there were whole layers of superstition surrounding this.

Metallurgy was also hedged around with mystical symbolism; how metal was pulled out of ore via smelting. The word Kobold comes from the idea that mischevious underground spirits cursed miners by spoling their ore when in fact the ore actually contained another metal that was spoliing the smelting process; we now call it Cobalt, but you can see where its name came from.

An intrinsic part of medieval sciences was the belief that the past and the future and the nature of things was bound up and linked with their appearance. So we have things like the Doctrine of signatures in herbalism, where plants that look like certain parts of the human body have mystical powers to heal disorders of that organ.

This is also why doctors, even in the 1700s, would chart horoscopes before treating patients because they believed in astrology and the signs and portents that could be gleaned from a study of the stars.

Similarly, medicine was centered around the idea of 4 humours; blood, phlegm, black bile and yellow bile. They believed that an imbalance in the humours could cause disease, as could poisonous miasmas (clouds of toxin or disease). This is why they used to bleed people, to rebalance the humours.

So if I were making up a way of introducing science into D&D, I would try and use this perspective. I do not think any of the sciences were well developed enough to be studied in isolation. Instead, the knowledges should be grouped into the way they were studied at the time during the study for a degree (the examples below are from Oxford);

The Trivium; logic, grammar and rhetoric

The Quadrivium; maths, astrology, music, science.

That way you would need only two skills to understand the nature of the physical world. What you could do with them would be quite limited because most of the theories of the time were only descriptive (they seemed to explain why things were the way they were) not predictive (modern theories allow us to make predictions about the future behaviour of any system at study and hence are useful).
 
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Jack7

First Post
I agree that in a medieval fantasy setting you're not really gonna have science Ydars, but then again that's why I mentioned proto-scientists, rather than scientists.

And I think what you said mostly reflects what Moniker said.

I think the Trivium would be a good way to approach looking at certain matters like this. I've incorporated rhetorical skill and musical skill into the Bard class in a much more classical way.

Then again I think you also have to consider the atypical genius type throughout history, like Archimedes and Heron and Hippocrates and Pythagoras and Leonardo, who while not scientists of today (modern science really requires a worldview, a technological base, and a sort of societal popularization of itself to be considered a "separate thing") were certainly ancient scientists and could easily have been called Wizards.

People like that have always been proto-scientists if not outright scientists, even if they were "out of their time." And most were Renaissance men as well.
 

Ydars

Explorer
Hi Jack7!

I wasn't really thinking of the total genius when I wrote the above; just the way that science was taught in that time as a model for one way of introducing science into the skills system.

That isn't to say that this is the only way to use science in D&D, I just wanted to put some meat on the bones so that those less familiar with ancient ideas have some keywords to plug into wikipedia to stimulate their own imaginations to think about how to approach this subject.

Myself, I like my games as science free as possible; I prefer magic to science in D&D mostly or else I fuse the two to amuse myself when I am DMing. I guess if I wanted some hard science, I would play Sci-Fi and oddly I rarely do even though I love reading it :p
 

Jack7

First Post
Myself, I like my games as science free as possible; I prefer magic to science in D&D mostly or else I fuse the two to amuse myself when I am DMing. I guess if I wanted some hard science, I would play Sci-Fi and oddly I rarely do even though I love reading it

Me too. I don't mind, even like proto-science in fantasy games, just not modern science, cause that way of looking at the world didn't really exist. Science back then and in fantasy games should to me be more the sport and interest of a few select individuals way ahead of their time, maybe a class like the Wizard, and of the individual genius. People back then just weren't geared towards the worldview of wholesale technological and scientific infiltration of life, like our modern societies. If anything many considered it scary, supernatural, or dangerous. (Of course particular settings might alter that approach, but generally speaking fantasy is not science. It's a different world view.)

I'm also not a real big fan of fantasy games adopting scientific terms for things in-game. Like psionic for psychic powers. Language consistency matters to me.

If you have scientific knowledge or ability then that kind of thing in-game should be called Lore, or Craft, rather than data or manufacturing capability.
 

howandwhy99

Adventurer
The key thing about role playing is, it's the actual "acting out" of the role, not the abstracted elements. By definition, if you abstract something in the game, you aren't role playing it. If someone swings a sword and hits you, they acted it out. If they just say they did, then they didn't role play it. In traditional "role playing" games very little, if anything, is acted out. They are all simulation. But within the simulation the elements that are not abstracted are addressed and this addressing is what is historically termed "role playing" within the hobby (ignoring character characterization role playing, which most games don't have rules for).

All of which is to say, if you want Behavioral Sciences, Earth and Life Sciences, Physical Sciences, and Technology in the your role playing game - define them within the simulation. Address them by giving them absolute definitions. And when you define other things in the game, make sure you include definitions of all 4 in relation to those other things (i.e. people, places, things, etc.).

As traditional "role playing" games are incomplete manual simulations, you'll need to continually expand these definitions to new things as new things are addressed (new categories beyond your 4 too, but things and categories all add up to the same result: definitions in a simulation). This breaks down to how there is no difference between crunch and fluff in a traditional RPG, but for the sake of consistency just define whatever is important (folks want addressed in the game simulation) and stick with definitions already used.

To clarify with an example, Physical Sciences include rocks, wood, flesh, shell, etc. Hardness might be important to address separately from Combat Defense, so each element is given a definition. It can be numerical or it can be text, but it needs to define Hardness in each case in relation to the action addresssed. In the case of Hardness it's probably "breaking".
 

Mallus

Hero
So what do you think?
I think the best way to go about this is to start with the action-adventure game applications of certain scientific disciplines, rather than on representing the disciplines themselves, which, frankly, will probably never come up it play.

For instance, an engineer magic might fashion clockwork automata, a divine healer who's also a medical doctor would get bonuses healing, an arcanist MD might be Dr. Frankenstein.

Again, I'd focus on practical-yet-colorful character shticks and leave the question of how to represent certain systems of knowledge alone.
 

moritheil

First Post
Physical science is really, really weird in DnD. For example, fireballs explode with light, heat, and sound but cause no pressure changes. The fact that this is at all possible means the laws of thermodynamics are dramatically different. Chemistry is unrecognizable, as there are only the four classical elements rather than the 100+ of the periodic table. It might not be very different from the perspective of one who isn't accustomed to looking at physical laws very precisely, but it's different enough that systematic logic (which is what makes it science) might not really apply. Biology is weird because of the existence of all sorts of fantastic creatures that defy normal evolutionary principles. All the shapeshifters and alternate forms also really confound the "form follows function" principle of biology as well - and that's not even counting the undead.

Skill-wise, Chemistry has the problem that Craft (Alchemy) is what is used, not a Knowledge skill. Biology is split between Knowledge (nature/dungeoneering/planes/religion/arcana.) Physics is largely in knowledge (planes) but arcana is probably relevant.
 

Mallus

Hero
What you could do with them would be quite limited because most of the theories of the time were only descriptive (they seemed to explain why things were the way they were) not predictive (modern theories allow us to make predictions about the future behaviour of any system at study and hence are useful).
If you're going to put science (or proto-science) in the game, then the players should be able to do something meaningful with it. Otherwise, why include it in the skill/task/conflict resolution system? If it's essentially just colorful detail or plot device ("St. Leibnitz of the Order of the Calculus has been kidnapped! You must rescue him!") then you don't need mechanics/mechanical description of it.
 

Ed_Laprade

Adventurer
Me too. I don't mind, even like proto-science in fantasy games, just not modern science, cause that way of looking at the world didn't really exist. Science back then and in fantasy games should to me be more the sport and interest of a few select individuals way ahead of their time, maybe a class like the Wizard, and of the individual genius. People back then just weren't geared towards the worldview of wholesale technological and scientific infiltration of life, like our modern societies. If anything many considered it scary, supernatural, or dangerous. (Of course particular settings might alter that approach, but generally speaking fantasy is not science. It's a different world view.)

I'm also not a real big fan of fantasy games adopting scientific terms for things in-game. Like psionic for psychic powers. Language consistency matters to me.

If you have scientific knowledge or ability then that kind of thing in-game should be called Lore, or Craft, rather than data or manufacturing capability.
Just to add a bit more to this part of the discussion, which probably isn't relevant to the OP anyway, what the people who delt with certain 'specialities' (combat medics, guides, poachers, etc.) on a day-to-day basis knew was light years ahead of what the profs were teaching in the universities. In practical terms of the way things really worked. So if one were to go the medieval route, that should be kept in mind.
 

arscott

First Post
Not a perfect match, but:

Physics = knowledge (planes)
Chemistry = knowledge (arcana)
Geology = knowledge (dungeoneering)
zoology/botany = knowledge (nature)
microbiology = heal
psychology = sense motive
 

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