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D&D 5E How to keep "recall lore" checks from ruining monster mystique?

Fauchard1520

Explorer
I'm having trouble finding the right balance with "recall lore" checks for monster identification. I'm talking those Arcana, Nature, and Religion checks made to identify critters. It seems like there's a narrow middle ground between "give them the stat block" and "mechanically useless flavor text." I don't want to ruin the mystique of my monsters by explaining exactly what they are and what they do, but by the same token high-INT characters deserve some kind of reward for their skill expertise.

I therefore turn to the boards for guidance. When it comes to recalling monster lore, what kinds of info do you give to your players? How much is "too much?"

(Comic for illustrative purposes.)
 

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Esbee

Dungeon Master at large.
Take the 'mechanical' realities of the monsters and dress them up with flavour. So you're giving them information without revealing a statblock or abilities.

'There was once a tale of a woman by the sea... the fishermen always said to stay away, and plug your ears because she sang a song so beautiful that even the staunchest man would lose his mind with desire to possess her, and never be heard from again...'

Or something to that effect. Colour the real information, but don't be afraid to throw in some misleading info as well. The character is recalling lore, and lore can always vary.
 
Last edited:

Justice and Rule

Adventurer
I'm having trouble finding the right balance with "recall lore" checks for monster identification. I'm talking those Arcana, Nature, and Religion checks made to identify critters. It seems like there's a narrow middle ground between "give them the stat block" and "mechanically useless flavor text." I don't want to ruin the mystique of my monsters by explaining exactly what they are and what they do, but by the same token high-INT characters deserve some kind of reward for their skill expertise.

I therefore turn to the boards for guidance. When it comes to recalling monster lore, what kinds of info do you give to your players? How much is "too much?"

(Comic for illustrative purposes.)

Ask the players what they want to learn: a weakness ("Trolls are not intelligent creatures, though they have a low sense of cunning), a strength ("What a troll lacks in intelligence it makes up for with its nose, which it uses to hunt"), an attack ("A troll's claws can cleave a man like a greatsword"), and comparative stats ("A troll is certainly tough, maybe tougher than an ogre but close to a minotaur. What makes them so hard to take down is that regeneration"). Try to avoid direct stats and rely on stuff they may have already encountered as comparisons. Tactics and habits they might use are also good ("A Manticore prefers to stay in the air, using its spikes to strafe unlucky opponents caught in its sights") as well as hinting at things like morale ("Manticores are bullies, and if they put themselves at too much risk they are more likely to fly off and seek easier prey").
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
Generally I just ask the players what one thing they are trying to recall, specifically, about a monster (and the basis for which they might have encountered this knowledge in the past), and if they succeed (roll or not), I give them what they want, plus one other thing of my choosing that is of interest. If they fail (roll or not), I only give them one thing of my choosing that is of interest.

More specifically, in my current swamp hexcrawl game which includes a lot of unique monsters and rules for harvesting their parts, it matters if you can see the monster or not. If you try to recall lore about a monster without seeing it, then if we're rolling, it's an Intelligence (History) check. If you try to recall lore about a monster while seeing it, then if we're rolling, it's Intelligence (Arcana, Investigation, Nature, or Religion). On a success, the PC identifies the monster, its common instinct or agenda, and its valuable parts (if any). If they exceed the DC by 5 or more, they also recall the monster's resistances, vulnerabilities, and what it can do in general terms. On a failed check, they can recall the monster's common instinct or agenda or its valuable parts, but nothing else. If they fail the check by 5 or more and can see the monster, they are frightened until the end of their next turn.
 

Asisreo

Archdevil's Advocate
I'm having trouble finding the right balance with "recall lore" checks for monster identification. I'm talking those Arcana, Nature, and Religion checks made to identify critters. It seems like there's a narrow middle ground between "give them the stat block" and "mechanically useless flavor text." I don't want to ruin the mystique of my monsters by explaining exactly what they are and what they do, but by the same token high-INT characters deserve some kind of reward for their skill expertise.

I therefore turn to the boards for guidance. When it comes to recalling monster lore, what kinds of info do you give to your players? How much is "too much?"

(Comic for illustrative purposes.)
In my games, the players get what they ask for but only if its actually feasible they have this information.

If trolls have been researched vigorously, then a wizard may recall their lore from their studies some time ago. They'll know the Regeneration with fire and acid weakness. They'll know the Darkvision. They'll know their infamous hardiness and strength as well as their lack of intelligence and charm.

If they're fighting a Guardian Naga which is a reclusive once-in-a-lifetime creature, their lore will only go so far.


But I do let them try to intuit what they can about a monster physically. Mostly their physical stats (Str, Dex, Con), any features that are visibly apparent (Fire Form of Fire Elemental), logical resistances (poison immunity for Fiends) and features which can be guessed based off of context (lives in darkness means some form of special sight).

I NEVER give them anything resembling the stat block. They want to know HP and AC? They can keep track. But I'm not giving them extraneous knowledge.
 

A stat block is too much.

If you are not up for flavoring the stats, then just give them some of the info, not all, depending upon how well they role AND the questions they ask AND character background/relevance.

JoJo grew up in a fisherfolk family; therefore they are going to know lots of info about sahuaghin and sea elves, but not very much about storm giants and purple worms.

They are strong, they are dumb, they are ferocious fighting with their tridents. Some of them master divine spell craft...
 

I usually give them basic lore and 1-3 seemingly pertinent mechanical facts about immunities, resistances, vulnerabilities, and special abilities.

Occasionally when they have gotten a nat20 or an overall result in the high 20s and there's really nothing that strikes me as interesting I've just given them the stat-block. I wouldn't do it for a major set piece encounter, but in a random encounter with owlbears or something else that's just a big sack of hit points lacking non-obvious strengths and weaknesses it seems fair for a really high check to just mean "you were the kid who was totally obsessed with owlbears when you were 7. You know all the random facts about them.".
 

I use a multi-DC check to determine what they learn, based on the rarity of the monster. The base DC just gives the name and a general description (nothing useful in combat), with each increase of 5 adding something helpful to know (a trait, resistance, vulnerability, etc.). All of it is coached with in-world language, such as "trolls fear fire." Makes them useful without overpowering.
 



Hriston

Dungeon Master of Middle-earth
The way I see it, it’s not my job as DM to tell the player what their character remembers, so if the player describes their character attempting to recall information about a monster based on prior experience or research, etc., I ask the player (if they haven’t gone into sufficient detail already) what will be true about the monster if their character’s attempt is successful. If the outcome of this attempt at recall is in doubt and has a meaningful consequence of failure, then it’s resolved with an Intelligence check. On a success, the player’s assertion about the monster is correct. On a failure, it is revealed as incorrect in a way that is somehow disadvantageous to the players and their characters.

For example, in my current game, the party druid tracked some giant toads through a swamp to where he found them sleeping in burrows. He tried to remember from previous observation if the toads sleeping habits were such that they would remain asleep long enough for him to return to the rest of the party and bring them back before they woke up. I asked for an Intelligence (Nature) check which failed, the result of which was that his prior observations of the toads confirmed that they in fact would not remain asleep long enough but would have moved on by the time he returned.
 

aco175

Legend
I try to give the benefit to the PCs. They are the ones that would have grown up in this world and heard the stories and studied in the academies and war schools. Most common monsters have a bunch of lore that is collected and told by campfires and in training. Some is wildly false and other stories are true. It is also hard to separate common things from players who have been playing for a long time to not know certain things. I kind of handwave common things like trolls and fire to stop regeneration. Wizards may have learned about acid as well. Some problems may occur when a PC grew up in isolation in a remote island like the movie Castaway and somehow knows all these things about trolls, but I tend to not worry about PCs like this.

There is also times when I change monsters to make ice trolls or fire trolls or such. PCs know that trolls and fire do not mix, but in the encounter I may describe the trolls living in a cave with torches and a bonfire in the grand cave. Some players may suspect something like other monsters or question the deal with these trolls, but tend to shoot fire until I tell them that the troll appears to heal from the fire. That's cool once in a while where now they can return to their school and talk about the time in the Fire Hills they ran into specific trolls that were immune to fire. That should be the exception though and not every monster is an albino dragon that is actually a red dragon and you thought it was a white- gotcha.
 

Generally I just ask the players what one thing they are trying to recall, specifically, about a monster (and the basis for which they might have encountered this knowledge in the past), and if they succeed (roll or not), I give them what they want, plus one other thing of my choosing that is of interest. If they fail (roll or not), I only give them one thing of my choosing that is of interest.

More specifically, in my current swamp hexcrawl game which includes a lot of unique monsters and rules for harvesting their parts, it matters if you can see the monster or not. If you try to recall lore about a monster without seeing it, then if we're rolling, it's an Intelligence (History) check. If you try to recall lore about a monster while seeing it, then if we're rolling, it's Intelligence (Arcana, Investigation, Nature, or Religion). On a success, the PC identifies the monster, its common instinct or agenda, and its valuable parts (if any). If they exceed the DC by 5 or more, they also recall the monster's resistances, vulnerabilities, and what it can do in general terms. On a failed check, they can recall the monster's common instinct or agenda or its valuable parts, but nothing else. If they fail the check by 5 or more and can see the monster, they are frightened until the end of their next turn.
If a roll is called for by the DM, do you use the Group Check mechanic here or have each player roll for their PC?
 



iserith

Magic Wordsmith
And, if a roll fails, how do you handle the other players now describing that their PCs want to try, too? (The old cascading roll or dog-piling dilemma)
Much like any other task, they have to make the case that they could recall the lore before I decide if they succeed, fail, or roll. They don't just get a roll. That means players will tend to self-select as someone who wouldn't be able to recall it and not make the attempt. In the specific example of my hexcrawl, they also risk becoming frightened in some situations which might be undesirable.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
And, if a roll fails, how do you handle the other players now describing that their PCs want to try, too? (The old cascading roll or dog-piling dilemma)

I let them roll, and if the first person doesn't get useful information, then maybe someone else will. If they want to use an action racking their brains, that's their choice.

Narratively, the first person to try got half a memory, and mention of it reminds whoever succeeds of the full fact they're looking for.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Much like any other task, they have to make the case that they could recall the lore before I decide if they succeed, fail, or roll. They don't just get a roll.

I generally hold that if they are proficient in the relevant skill, whatever gave them proficiency was enough exposure that they may well recall a useful bit of information. If you're looking at a Big Plant Monster, and you are proficient in Nature, you can try. If you want to try using Arcana instead, then you may have to justify how your Arcana might apply to BPMs.
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
I generally hold that if they are proficient in the relevant skill, whatever gave them proficiency was enough exposure that they may well recall a useful bit of information. If you're looking at a Big Plant Monster, and you are proficient in Nature, you can try. If you want to try using Arcana instead, then you may have to justify how your Arcana might apply to BPMs.
In my games, every player is expected to describe a goal and approach for a task. Only then do I adjudicate. It's likely that it's easier to make the case while having relevant skill proficiencies. But it's not enough to just say they have the proficiency.
 

I considered using CR as 15+DC. Problem is, with the way ability checks work, it's CR 25 to start getting information on CR 10 creatures, a roll that is very difficult for a guy who's trained in the relevant skill at the appropriate level for the encounter, and it goes downhill from there. The luck of the dice makes it decreasingly possible to have lore on it as players advance in level and meet equivalent opposition. Arguably, they meet rarer and more obscure monsters, but they also approach the pinnacle of their skill and should be able to recall equally obscure bits of knowledge.

Also, I prefer to say that what is known isn't necessarily what is the more useful knowledge for the players (saving throws, damage resistance and immunity, HP, special attacks). "Being from the plane of fire, XYZ is naturally immune to it" is something that could reasonably be self-apparent, while "he's trained in wisdom saves..." less.

I usually set the DC as 10+2*tier to have a base DC of 12-18 to determine if the creature is known, and appreciate the margin of success to determine what type of information is known. Encounter-breaking properties like damage immunity or resistance comes first, extrordinary abilities second, then the weakest saving throw. Success by 10ish gives access to the stat block.

I also rule that some informations are "common knowledge". If a player casts fireball at the fire elemental, I'd say that his... passive insight is enough to realize it won't work. Fire immunity of a fiend wouldn't be as "blatant".

If the PCs have time to discuss the monster an pool their knowledge and think, I ask for the most competent character to make the roll for everyone. If they are stumbling upon a monster, everyone rolls and they have to wait for the more competent ones to act and share their knowledge. One piece at a time (it's OK in my opinion within a round to say "don't use fire" or "don't stay near it, it can swallow you whole" but not pass the stat block. Since I don't allow Help action to remember something, I however allow to roll with advantage should one take an action to actively try to recollect knowledge. [I am sure I can tell you what the segment addition postulate is, from high school but it will take more than 6 seconds... ] [ok, more probably 6 hours but the PCs are heroes].
 

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