[5e] Newbie DM Questions about Information Given - Page 3
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  1. #21
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    In my experience, new DMs can really benefit from eschewing mysteries and investigations at first and just focus on fundamentals: the basic conversation of the game (DM and player roles), the core mechanic, and table/spotlight management. Once he or she gets those down pat, then he or she can branch out into trickier domains.

    The best way to do this in my view is with scenarios that focus on an adventure location rather than one that is plot- or event-based. A dungeon is the simplest way to handle this, static at first, then dynamic. I find that nowadays dungeons have fallen out of fashion because they tend to be more prep-intensive than just coming up with a series of scenes the players are expected to run through over the course of a 4-hour session. I can do that in abut 5 minutes - a properly designed and stocked dungeon takes time. Luckily, there a lot of resources online to help with this.

    So, my advice for what it's worth: Simply practice describing the environment, letting players describe what they want to do, calling for the mechanics to come into play when appropriate, and narrating the results of the adventurers' actions. Once that is internalized and second nature, the DM can start working on telegraphing secrets and information control which opens up other kinds of scenarios to him or her.

    I even know a lot of experienced DMs that could do with revisiting the fundamentals, especially as it relates to running the particular game in question instead of running the game like some other game or previous iteration of the same. Commonly reported bad outcomes are often a failure to focus on fundamentals. Going back to basics from time to time is a great exercise in my opinion.

  2. #22
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    Quote Originally Posted by Pauper View Post
    Let's! Caveat: My main exposure to GUMSHOE has been through Fall of Delta Green, so I'm no expert.
    I played one session of one GUMSHOE game - Night's Dark Agents - at a Game Day, like two years ago, so I know basically nothing about it. But, I did get a positive impression of how the investigative skills work, and a less positive one of combat...

    ...the base skill is always useful to get the baseline of required information, so exhausting one Investigation pool isn't likely to derail an adventure, but the pool is a resource, and part of the challenge of a GUMSHOE game is to manage that resource just as D&D players manage their characters' hit dice and spell slots.

    Unless you're talking about a very low-level PC in D&D 5E, though, characters have plenty of spell slots to spend on both utility/investigative magic as well as combat... But, if you do find this a possible source of conflict, then one solution seems obvious -- go ahead and use D&D's ritual casting mechanic as the 'you have the appropriate skill, here's the information you need', and casting the actual spell using a spell slot as the 'you spent points from your Investigation pool, here's the extra information you get' mechanics from GUMSHOE.

    You're right in that resource exhaustion making a character or party less prepared in combat is something to keep track of if you want to use spell slots as a GUMSHOE-like Investigation pool, but I don't see it as an insurmountable problem. If anything, it gives higher-level spellcasters something to do with their lower-level spell slots.
    Quote Originally Posted by Umbran View Post
    You have points you can spend, to get more information, if it exists. ...

    You could use spells or the like to mimic this skill spend from GUMSHOE, but be careful. In GUMSHOE, the General skills used in combat and the Investigative skills used for sleuthing do not overlap. In D&D, the spell slots you are using to investigate are spell slots you won't have if a combat starts. It is a much more difficult resource management problem than the GUMSHOE variety.
    OK, I find it interesting that this side-discussion immediately went to using SPELLS in D&D as the analog for SKILLS in another game.

    Gumshoe blythely treats a mundane ability as a limited resource that much be managed, and manages to fairly simply cover a type of challenge that D&D had, until the Skill Challenge, not even tried to address, and has never done well, even when poked, prodded, modded, and kludged (and "just RP it") every which way to try to make it work.

    And the first thing we do when trying to adapt that idea into D&D is throw it away and think about how to use spells, instead?

  3. #23
    Quote Originally Posted by Umbran View Post
    So... you're kind of strawmanning me, here. You say you're disagreeing with me, but you come to the same conclusion, which is a little odd.
    Well, I said I disagreed with you slightly. (I even put the italics in the original post.) To me, that means I agree with you on most stuff. But this...

    Which is why I said, "be careful." Not, "Don't do this." Not, "This is a horrible idea." I most certainly did not say, "This is an insurmountable problem." I said, "be careful."
    True -- I was the one who said it wasn't an insurmountable problem.

    But based on iserith's comment, it's reasonable that if you're saying "be careful" to a new DM, you're basically discouraging that DM from trying out the mechanic. To me, even a new DM should be able to work through any issues using the mechanic as we're describing, which is, again, why I say it's not an "insurmountable problem". Not to claim that you said it was, but simply to point out that it's not as thorny as, say, trying to incorporate a romantic sub-plot between a PC and NPC. *That's* something I'd never suggest a newbie DM try to pull off without a good deal of player buy-in, and particularly not in D&D, where the mechanics are entirely orthagonal to that sort of sub-plot. (Blue Rose, on the other hand...)

    Well, that's going to depend on how much you are challenging the players in combat, now isn't it?
    I can't speak for the original poster, but my experience is that, if I'm running a series of investigation scenes, there's not a whole lot of combat going on. And unless the investigation is "finding the entrance to the dungeon", there's not going to be a whole series of challenging combats immediately following the investigation -- there may be a big fight with the evil cult, but either that fight will end that part of the adventure, or the head cultist will escape and the party can rest up (recharging their abilities) before going after him. Your mileage may vary, of course, and the point is well taken.

    Quote Originally Posted by Tony Vargas
    OK, I find it interesting that this side-discussion immediately went to using SPELLS in D&D as the analog for SKILLS in another game.
    Well, the original example involved how much information to give based on the use of Detect Magic; I only pointed out the GUMSHOE connection because, though D&D doesn't use its skill system to create an 'investigative pool', you can get much the same effect from spell use -- spell slots are a limited resource that, applied in the right way and at the right moment can grant additional insight into investigation scenes.

    You could use the D&D skill proficiency system the same way GUMSHOE uses actually possessing an Investigation skill; if you're proficient, then you automatically get all the relevant information to the investigation you're pursuing. But D&D doesn't have the 'pool' aspect of GUMSHOE to help route around the problem of having information and not really knowing what to do with it. In your own game, you could kit-bash a skill pool system to graft onto the D&D skill system, but that doesn't help if you're running an Adventurers League game, for instance.

    I'm not saying DMs have to do this; it just seems worth exploring for DMs who find running investigation scenes challenging in the core D&D system.

    --
    Pauper
    Last edited by Pauper; Friday, 13th July, 2018 at 07:30 PM.

  4. #24
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    Quote Originally Posted by Pauper View Post
    Well, the original example involved how much information to give based on the use of Detect Magic; I only pointed out the GUMSHOE connection because, though D&D doesn't use its skill system to create an 'investigative pool', you can get much the same effect from spell use -- spell slots are a limited resource that, applied in the right way and at the right moment can grant additional insight into investigation scenes.
    OK, one of the three examples in the OP was a spell, and I didn't notice you were addressing that one, specifically (I actually noticed Umbran's post first). Sorry.
    Last edited by Tony Vargas; Friday, 13th July, 2018 at 08:17 PM.
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  5. #25
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    Quote Originally Posted by Quickleaf View Post
    "Knowledge checks" are a nebulous area of the game that DMs handle in a variety of ways. IME players often lean on them as a crutch to passively gain as much info as possible with minimal investment. It's up to the DM to help guide players away from that habit.

    In this case, I would have the dwarven merchant mention glimpsing a fearsome creature that reminded him a bit of the guttar (cave oxen) his brother used for an Underdark prospecting venture. Then, when a player says "I want to make a Nature check to learn more about this mystery monster", I'd respond with "ok, where/how/from whom did your PC pick up his/her knowledge of beasts?" or possibly "are you examining a particular part of the scene or trying to recall something specific?"
    I completely disagree. Knowledge checks are a way of separating player knowledge from character knowledge. I'm an experienced DM. I'm playing a 2nd level wizard with pirate background in a game with newb players. In today's game, the DM described monsters that were clearly ghouls. They didn't notice us so we moved away to plan what to do. Our warlock player wanted to know if her hex spell would be useful against them or are they immune to necrotic damage. So the DM called for an arcana check. She rolled poorly. So he said she didn't know anything specific about ghouls. So I made a check and got a 19. The DM gave me more info on them (which I, as the player, already knew). So I told her that my master had encountered such creatures in his travels and, like all undead, they are immune to poison but not necrotic magics.

    The knowledge check came first....then the backstory of how my PC would know that information. Asking your players to RP recalling knowledge means that PCs played by players with deep knowledge of the game and a knack for coming up with RP reasons for why they know something have a huge advantage over PCs played by less experienced or creative players.

    As for the OP's questions...let your players' PCs learn secrets about your world and the current adventure whenever possible. Don't keep things too close to your vest. Little bits of information should come out with each encounter. Holding back too much is the best way to leave your players feel like they don't have any agency.

    In my current game, the PCs are trying to find a missing scouting party that includes a young family. They had uncovered info that something is looking to capture human infants (hags...but they don't know that yet). The scouting party was hunted by orcs, driven to a ruined fortified hilltop and attacked in the night. 3 scouts escaped. The rest were slaughtered. The only other survivor was the family's infant girl that was captured and delivered to a hag.

    The party is now being hunted by the same orcs. I allowed some survival checks for the party to learn this. They rolled well so they could hear the orcs communicating with each other but staying well out of sight as they shadowed the party. The party decided to press on and then camp but set up an ambush (anticipating an attack in the night). To test the party's strength, the orcs lured a pack of goblins and wolves into the party's camp. The party was able to kill the wolves and most of the goblins. They used non-lethal damage to bring down one and interrogated him and rolled very well on an intimidation check. So I had to decide what the goblins know...

    I decided they know that the scouts were driven to the fortified hill, there was a battle and the humans were defeated but afterwards, they could hear wailing trailing off into the forest and that some humans fled just before the attack and escaped. The goblin gave up all this information. This gives the players lots of choices. Double back on the orcs? Proceed to where the scouts were attacked? Try to find the ones that escaped? What was the wailing going off into the woods? My players feel like beating the goblins was more than just another fight. It advanced and even changed the story.
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  6. #26
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    Quote Originally Posted by iserith View Post
    In my experience, new DMs can really benefit from eschewing mysteries and investigations at first and just focus on fundamentals: the basic conversation of the game (DM and player roles), the core mechanic, and table/spotlight management. Once he or she gets those down pat, then he or she can branch out into trickier domains.
    In the OP, we are given the situation where the players are more investigative than the GM is used to. While the GM can avoid building adventures that are outright mysteries, if the players ask probing questions, what do you do? Just say, "That's not important, please don't ask questions"?

  7. #27
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    Quote Originally Posted by Uller View Post
    The knowledge check came first....then the backstory of how my PC would know that information. Asking your players to RP recalling knowledge means that PCs played by players with deep knowledge of the game and a knack for coming up with RP reasons for why they know something have a huge advantage over PCs played by less experienced or creative players.
    As a player, I'd be pleased to have such a skilled teammate, especially one that offered the reason for the character's knowledge. Each time he or she does that, we learn a little more about that character which adds to the unfolding story and to me that's awesome. As a DM, I take no position on what a player establishes his or her character thinks about ghouls. (He or she may even be completely wrong if I've change the ghoul's stat block or lore in some way.) I can only adjudicate a result when the player wants the character to try to recall lore on, say, the ghoul (a goal) by some means (the approach). That's my role as DM in the basic conversation of the game, in addition to describing the environment.

  8. #28
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    Quote Originally Posted by Umbran View Post
    , if the players ask probing questions, what do you do? Just say, "That's not important, please don't ask questions"?
    Asking questions of the DM in 5e is slightly off. The PC does not have a hot line to an omniscient being (well unless he has access to powerful divinations). Rather, the player needs to declare an action - as simple as trying to remember or put together anything he might already know, or searching, seeking out experts, questioning witnesses or whatever.

    Once a player has an action the DM is obliged to narrate the results, which can be simple failure: you have no knowledge or insight into the question, there are no experts or witnesses available, you find nothing.

    The DM is as empowered to shut down investigation as any other player objective.
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  9. #29
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    THanks for all of the advice, everyone! Just to answer a couple of things people said, both #1 and #2 weren't directly relevant to my party's current main quest (they are escorting a different NPC through the forest and came across the first two along the way - I'm definitely not trying to gate the main story behind investigations!) Also, in #2 it was a Detect Magic ritual rather than using a spell slot. In that scenario, my party had made camp for the night in the woods, and one of the players heard sounds during the night, and decided to investigate in the morning since the sounds weren't approaching them, which is how they came across the clearing without it being directly relevant to their current quest.

    As for #3, it's not absolutely vital that they see right away whether some of the bodies were undead or not, but I'm definitely going to make it reasonably clear assuming they start poking around the scene before continuing onto their destination.

    Lots of really cool ideas and feedback in here, I appreciate it!

  10. #30
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    Quote Originally Posted by theelkspeaks View Post
    In that scenario, my party had made camp for the night in the woods, and one of the players heard sounds during the night, and decided to investigate in the morning since the sounds weren't approaching them, which is how they came across the clearing without it being directly relevant to their current quest.
    I can imagine the use of the ritual and the reveal of the (say) illusory magic in the area gives it a spooky, Blair witch kind of feel. Something was near our camp last night. And it was weird.

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