Thursday, July 12, 2018

Knowing about Monsters

Sorrow in Haven has an setting where dungeons are all over the damn place. As such, it is implied, although not stated outright, that all characters have some knowledge of dungeons and their inhabitants. At the same time, discovering new things and having monsters be new and mysterious is part of the charm.

Everyone how plays D&D knows that kobold (dog-faced or dragon-babies - it doesn't matter) are little shit-stains that are not a threat to seasoned adventurers. Describe a kobold and other than Tucker's Kobolds, who are more of a "dungeon element challenge" than a "monster to deal with", and players get ready to knock the little bastards around so they can get on with the good part of the adventure.  They are trash mobs.

Not know what a monster is or does is fun, but if EVERYTHING is unknown, then each encounter is effectively a random battle as far as the players are concerned. I've decided to combat the "everything is unknown" and the "players read the monster manual" issues to create a sense of tension using the following

1. General Knowledge
If the players encounter a "common" monster, I'll use the name.  If anyone thinks to ask what they know about the critter, I'll give them one piece of info. The Explorer class has the "Dungeon Lore" advance and gets to ask about specific stuff, like what kind of dungeon they are in. If the dungeon type is known (and I don't hide it from players) they may have heard about the types of monsters that inhabit a type of dungeon. These are "common knowledge" things and while never outright falsehoods, they may be skewed versions of the truth.

Some examples
  • If the part encounters an Angel's Crown, I'll use that name.  A piece of information I'd offer is "they are known to be very aggressive in groups".
  • In a Tombs dungeon, players should watch out for Plague Rhinos (strange huge beasts that are infected with a rotting disease).
  • Blood Ogres are known to stomp around Gorhaven dungeons. They are easily swayed by music played on a silver flute.
2. The "Monster Lore" Advance
The character knows about monsters - in fact with an INT Action Roll the player gets to ask the GM a number of questions - any question. That is some direct meta-gaming stuff right there, but it does the trick. Critical and Legendary failures produce dubious results (or outright lies from me). At the same time, a Critical or Legendary will give the player more info as I wax on about whatever.

Some examples
  • Mike gets to ask 2 questions. He asks "Can a Succulent Jeff be trusted?" The short answer is "No", but a critical success might be "They seem like good allies until you go to sleep, then they disappear with your stuff"
  • His other question is "What special abilities do they have". They have a few, i'll answer with one of them on a normal roll "They have bursts of incredible speed" or on a better roll I'll add in "they are immune to non-magical damage".
3. The Phantasmagorica as Loot
In short, the players can find pages from the monster book I've written as loot. There is some in-game chatter about The Cornelius Papers, but in reality, they get all or some of the stats of the monster entry.  I'm also encouraging players to keep their own monster book for reference... which leads to #4

4. The Lore Keeper
Adventurers have limited access the the Guild of Defenestration's Lore Keeper. Depending on their reputation within the Guild, they can get some time with Ingref. She is the current Lore Keeper and a bit frazzled at the utter lack of organization the previous Lore Keepers had - also there was a fire and a lot of info has been lost.

In any case, there is a chance, depending on the type of information they are looking for, that Ingref can answer a few questions, find some rumors or legends, or generally give the adventurer's a leg up. The more the adventurer's do, the more time they get with her, which is another reward for successful play - more information.

Tangent Thoughts on Info as Loot
This goes back to my long-standing believe that information can be loot. Not that I'm keeping information hidden (the game is hard enough already), but special information, a little extra insight, clues to how things work, bits of history that tie to setting together, all work to create a complete setting with things happening outside of the narrative of actual play without anyone having to read reams of my poorly written backstories. Players won't give a flying fuck if Agroth VonKranakek left his noble wife of House Albon for the non-noble Theresa Bloch and the political implications of that action ... unless it directly affects the game, but why would they know that unless they happened to be scholars of nobility? That kind of thing.

Back to the Lore Keepers - Reputation
The adventuring crew's reputation is a simple number. The current average (MEAN average) adventurer level multiplied by the highest threat value of a dungeon level they have defeated ("they" being the ongoing guild chapter as long as there isn't a TPK, in which that value is reset) plus the number of dungeons the Players have explored.

Reputation: (average level x highest threat) + dungeons explored.

The current party has a Reputation of 6
  • average level: 2 (rounded 1.75)
  • highest threat: 2 (Gardens of Kesh)
  • dungeons explored: 2 (Gardens of Kesh plus the Tomb of Agaroth)]

The party's reputation is the NUMBER OF REAL LIFE MINUTES they can ask questions of Ingref. I tend to ramble on a bit, so if it goes over because I'm puttering and being poetic, I don't hold it against them. This isn't role playing time with Ingref, that is completely different - and can actually give the players a bit more info.  Jinxy was courting her with flowers and, if that character hadn't become forever lost in the Labyrinth of War, would get some extra time with Ingref beause he was nice to her.

Tangent Thoughts on Rewards for Role Playing
Sure I throw around some XP and Advantage from time to time as a reward for role playing, but I also give players more options - extra information, new paths, new types of currency (influence and favors as currency is an entirely other blog post). The more someone role plays, the more I get to role play and improv, which I love. Role playing that is on target (not that self indulgent shit where players won't do something obvious because they character wouldn't - which unless they have a better option is usually just garbage ... or those jerks who are clearly ignoring the group dynamic to bring out some aspect of their character's overworked past to dominate the game space as a replacement for therapy ... but I digress) can really get some of the best rewards out of the game.

Sure mace that cripples foes with each strike is bitchin, but so is getting a free lifestyle increase because you are known about town as having tea regularly with Kira Lightwater of House Doorn. She is well liked ... and if she likes you then you must be worthwhile as well (either as a good person or a potential contact to woo to gain her favor).

5. Monster Clues
Last, but not least, some of the "loot" are clues as to the types of inhabitants of a dungeon. If players pay attention to and ask questions about the clues, they'll get some insight into what is going on. This lets players plan a head a bit while continuing to explore. I'm a pretty big fan of this one as well. What the hell strips the flesh off bones and also chard the bones? Flame Beetles - those giant bugs are nothing but trouble, but good scavengers I hear.