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

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
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].
I usually set the DC at 8 + CR and then modify with advantage or disadvantage. The storied dragon of the Dark Forest might mean it's easier to recall useful information. For the strange aberration lurking in the bowels of a forgotten ruin less so.
 

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Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
In my games, every player is expected to describe a goal and approach for a task. Only then do I adjudicate.

I understand the process. I just feel that some goals are bloody obvious. "Know something relevant about he beast so I am not completley guessing what to do," for example.

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 think "give me a goal" and "prove to me that your skills actually do apply" are not synonymous. And I think skill points are rare enough that making the player have to come up with specific justifications for each application is not terribly fair.
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
I understand the process. I just feel that some goals are bloody obvious. "Know something relevant about he beast so I am not completley guessing what to do," for example.



I think "give me a goal" and "prove to me that your skills actually do apply" are not synonymous. And I think skill points are rare enough that making the player have to come up with specific justifications for each application is not terribly fair.
It's not about fairness. That's their role in the game - to describe what they want to do. In order for the DM to fairly adjudicate, it needs to be reasonably specific e.g. "I draw upon my experience reading books in the world's greatest libraries to recall the weaknesses of trolls." As well, part of the goals of play are that we're creating an exciting, memorable story together while playing. Thus, including details such as how a character might be able to recall certain information contributes to the creation of that story by saying something about the character. Further, in the doing, the player may even earn Inspiration by playing to a personality trait, ideal, bond, or flaw.

So here we see that the player's role, adjudication process, goals of play, and even an incentive in the form of a useful resource are all aligned to produce a particular experience at the table.
 

Sometimes these “recall lore” checks are not done in the heat of the moment when encountering a monster but occur either as part of the aftermath of an encounter with a strange creature or perhaps from hearing a curious rumor in town without having ever seen the rumored creature. In those cases, a player may want to express their PC’s desire to “recall lore” and, if that seems incomplete or impossible, they may wish to perform some specific active research at the local library or wizards’ guild or what have you. Resolution would then be similar to what others have indicated (personally, I’ve been trying to emulate @iserith’s techniques at our table).
 

SkidAce

Legend
I am generous with the DC (5+CR) if the monster is common, or relevant to the character's background.

Otherwise its usually 10+CR.
 

Considering that there are spells and abilities for learning monster information, I generally don't allow monster lore skill checks in my games. If they want to make a history check, they can learn about that time a manticore attacked Phandelver and challenged the adventurers to riddle contest. Arcana might tell you that a manual of golems is required to create one. But it won't necessarily reveal unknown weaknesses, or specific abilities.

That being said, I'm fairly lenient with things like people knowing that you need to use fire or acid on a troll, or that vampires need to be staked in the heart. I assume that some things are just common lore in the world, like how I, despite never having met a platypus, know that they have venomous spurs.
 

cbwjm

Hero
I just set a flat DC based on how common the target is, well known creatures might be 10, uncommon 15, rare 20, unique 25. Sometimes it isn't even a roll, rather if the player is proficient in the relevant skill the player knows. Some things everyone knows, trolls are hurt by fire and acid for example.
 

That being said, I'm fairly lenient with things like people knowing that you need to use fire or acid on a troll, or that vampires need to be staked in the heart. I assume that some things are just common lore in the world, like how I, despite never having met a platypus, know that they have venomous spurs.
Blasphemy! PCs need to discover that and anyone starting right off with fire is metagaming! (I kid)
 

There's a funny story there. I got back into gaming after a break when 4e came out, along with a bunch of friends that had likewise lapsed. I threw a band of trolls at the party and no one knew how to make them stay dead. For almost an hour, they'd kill the trolls, then the trolls would rise up and insult them while attacking, rinse repeat. Eventually the wizard just happened to use a fire-based power and they figured it out.

I thought that they were just trying to not metagame, but when I asked them, no, none of them remembered (or knew in the first place) how to properly kill a troll. Not even my twin brother, who I absolutely know fought trolls in the old days.

Blasphemy! PCs need to discover that and anyone starting right off with fire is metagaming! (I kid)
 

Li Shenron

Legend
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?"
To "recall" something, you need to know it in the first place.

I mostly just tell the players what their PCs have heard. There's no need for rolls. The info is narrative rather than mechanical (like "hobgoblins fight better when close to each other", without mechanical details). That's ok for common creatures.

I wouldn't be against telling actual abilities or stats, but only if the PC has actually studied those creatures. In that case, I'd go with some randomness so that its not entirely up to me. Knowledge Nature for animals would be fine, but I would not guarantee anything else for other creatures.
 

So my suggestion for solving the most common case of 'recall lore' ruining an encounter is - don't use trolls. Or at least don't use trolls with the expectation that figuring out how to get past regeneration will be difficult but not too difficult. Trolls are just a poorly designed monster if you think of them that way.

That's for a few reasons: player are likely to know the weakness anyways, so if you force the pc's to not know you're forcing the player to metagame. And metagaming is bad. Trolls don't really give clues about what will work. They're not ice- or water- or plant-themed, so weakness to fire is either already known or would require a blind guess. It isn't obvious. Nor is it even something you could deduce from the description. Acid is just right out. The only clue you have is regeneration in general, and that obviously leads to fire, since it also works on hydras and most other things that regenerate.

So either the player gets to guess - in which case they'll get it immediately or not at all - or you call the player's out for metagaming and force them to metagame differently.

Now, trolls are decent bruisers if you use them as such (ie like you would ogres), so you can still include them, but just assume the players/pc's knowing how to deal with regeneration is factored in to the CR. Because it is.

The other creatures with specific weaknesses are all built this way as well. You wouldn't penalize player for thinking to use holy water against a vampire, would you? But vampires are built to assume the plc's will try to use at least of their weaknesses.
 

billd91

Hobbit on Quest (he/him)
I don't even make it an action - if they ask what they might have heard about Monster X, I have them roll. I'm not a fan of taking an action to dredge up memories about what a monster is or isn't. That seems a waste of time and effort for relatively limited benefit.
I'm also not keen on basing the DC on a creature's CR. I think that's one way D&D-esque games have veered wrongly since these kind of checks have been commonplace. If it's a relatively common and mundane creature like a bear or an ogre, the DC should be low. Same for creatures that might be a bit rarer but legendary. Then I move the DC up as the creature gets rarer and more obscure.
 

Nebulous

Legend
A fun alternative to the troll regeneration issue would be having to deal 10 (or more) points of damage in a single attack or a round to thwart the regeneration. That would be a good knowledge roll and it would eliminate decades worth of metagaming. In fact, having PCs coordinate attacks to inflict 20 points of damage to a troll just so it CAN'T regenerate would turn a ho-um encounter with jaded players into something wholly new.
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
If people want to know what their PCs know about a monster, I base the DC on how common the monster is, or how much I think people would talk about it. Dragons are actually fairly rare in my campaign, but they're extremely memorable so they'll know what breath weapon they use with a low DC (or automatic).

Then as the knowledge gets more obscure the DC goes up; truly obscure monsters that have only been whispered about may have a DC over 20.

When I describe monsters I describe them from the perspective of how someone would describe the creature, I think of how I would describe a grizzly bear, a crocodile or some other creature I know about. So it's never specific numbers, I might say a rhino has a thickly armored hide, is short tempered, has an excellent sense of smell but is extremely near sighted.

As far as how they ask ... I have no clue how anyone would state an approach other than "I try to remember something about that monster using my training in Arcana". Of course I also allow that short-hand "Does an arcana check tell me anything"? It's not like there's a process for remembering something, you either remember or you don't, mentioning a skill is just reminding the DM of your training and proficiency.

EDIT: Also knowledge checks to remember something is always free, you either remember or you don't.
 

DammitVictor

Druid of the Invisible Hand
Mechanically, I understand this kneecaps the value of lore skills... but generally speaking if there's more than a handful of this type of monster in multiple locations around the world, then anyone with a background (or Background) in operating where the monsters live is going to know pretty much everything a "lore check" would tell them. Adventurers who ask non-hostile locals what kind of threats are around the area are going to get this information for free-- the locals will be eager to tell them.

This is... a pet peeve on par with hardened soldiers in heavy armor being practically helpless against the grease spell because 2 skill points per level isn't enough to let them take Balance: it's the kind of thing that only makes sense when you view the game world strictly as the interaction of game objects as defined by the rules.

If the monster "isn't from around here", or is a one-of-a-kind monster, then lore checks might be called for.

If you want to preserve the mechanical utility of the various lore skills I would suggest-- and a friend only just suggested it to me-- that those lore skills provide interaction/exploration pillar information, like "trolls venerate the demon lord juiblex, and consider people/animals visibly infected with green slime to be sacred" or "rendering the fat from a troll's body produces fumes that make ghosts and other spirits irritable and combative".
 


Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
It's not about fairness. That's their role in the game - to describe what they want to do.

And if it works for your group, that's great. But "I wrack my brain to remember its vulnerabilities" and "I wrack my brain to remember something relevant about it" are both describing what the PC does - the question is about specificity. If there's a fighter, do you expect them to describe each strike, and what vulnerable place in armor they are aiming at, or is "I attack" sufficient for you?

As a general approach, there's a flaw asking for specificity in games like D&D, and it is encapsulated in the phrase, "We don't have enough intelligence to have plans!" You need to have information before you can ask meaningful questions.

When the character has time to play 20-questions with the GM, it works out. But when a large humanoid shape is charging at them, the question, "What are its vulnerabilities?" is great if it is a troll (because it has specific vulnerabilities to acid and fire), but irrelevant if it is a giant (where the meaningful question is more "How tough is it?" so the PCs know if they should just run). Ask the wrong question, and you get squished.

If the player does not have information to make a reasoned choice on what questions to ask, this is really asking the player to make two checks - one to randomly pick the right question, and then one to see if they know the answer.

When the knowledge skill is basically a gateway to use of player knowledge, then this is a test of "skilled play" I suppose, which some folks like. I prefer to put that kind of testing into player ingenuity after they have a bit of information, not while they are ignorant.
 

dave2008

Legend
I usually set the DC at 8 + CR and then modify with advantage or disadvantage. The storied dragon of the Dark Forest might mean it's easier to recall useful information. For the strange aberration lurking in the bowels of a forgotten ruin less so.
How do you handle dragons, or any creature with multiple CR versions? If you going against a ancient red (DC 32 lore check, I think) and don't succeed, but you are high enough to get information on a DC 25 lore check for an adult red, wouldn't that still get you some useful information?
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
It's not about fairness. That's their role in the game - to describe what they want to do. In order for the DM to fairly adjudicate, it needs to be reasonably specific e.g. "I draw upon my experience reading books in the world's greatest libraries to recall the weaknesses of trolls." As well, part of the goals of play are that we're creating an exciting, memorable story together while playing. Thus, including details such as how a character might be able to recall certain information contributes to the creation of that story by saying something about the character. Further, in the doing, the player may even earn Inspiration by playing to a personality trait, ideal, bond, or flaw.

So here we see that the player's role, adjudication process, goals of play, and even an incentive in the form of a useful resource are all aligned to produce a particular experience at the table.

First, this assumes they know the creature is a troll. Second, it assumes a whole lot of extra verbiage ""I draw upon my experience reading books in the world's greatest libraries to recall the weaknesses of trolls." That may work for some people, and for them it's great.

It's also expecting a level of improv and creativity that will be very frustrating for some people; it may be my preference that people speak in character but I learned long ago that forcing my preference on players isn't a good idea. I think "Do I know what this is?" is fine. Maybe throw in a reminder for the DM what you're trained in. If they want to throw in fluff, great. If a guy running a wizard wants to say how they're pulling out a pinch of bat guano and some smelly yellow powder that they form into a small ball that they throw at the enemy and it explodes in a ball of fire, cool. They can also just say "I cast fireball".

There's plenty of time and space for a player to fill in details if they want, I don't see why every check need to be included unless the player wants to do so.
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
And if it works for your group, that's great. But "I wrack my brain to remember its vulnerabilities" and "I wrack my brain to remember something relevant about it" are both describing what the PC does - the question is about specificity. If there's a fighter, do you expect them to describe each strike, and what vulnerable place in armor they are aiming at, or is "I attack" sufficient for you?

As a general approach, there's a flaw asking for specificity in games like D&D, and it is encapsulated in the phrase, "We don't have enough intelligence to have plans!" You need to have information before you can ask meaningful questions.

When the character has time to play 20-questions with the GM, it works out. But when a large humanoid shape is charging at them, the question, "What are its vulnerabilities?" is great if it is a troll (because it has specific vulnerabilities to acid and fire), but irrelevant if it is a giant (where the meaningful question is more "How tough is it?" so the PCs know if they should just run). Ask the wrong question, and you get squished.

If the player does not have information to make a reasoned choice on what questions to ask, this is really asking the player to make two checks - one to randomly pick the right question, and then one to see if they know the answer.

When the knowledge skill is basically a gateway to use of player knowledge, then this is a test of "skilled play" I suppose, which some folks like. I prefer to put that kind of testing into player ingenuity after they have a bit of information, not while they are ignorant.
The threshold for reasonable specificity looks different for the task of attacking and the task of recalling lore. "I attack the orc to the left with my sword..." is sufficient because it spells out the target and the means of attack. That is all that is needed to adjudicate. If the orc has a means of defense, then the outcome is uncertain and there's a meaningful consequence for failure, so the player must make an attack roll. "I try to recall the weaknesses of trolls based on my time living in Moonstair, near the Trollhaunt Warrens..." is sufficient because it establishes the necessary information for the DM to decide if the outcome is uncertain and there's a meaningful consequence for failure. Here the DM might just give them the knowledge without a roll because the information happens to coincide with the character's history. Being reasonably specific here benefits everyone: The player stands to get the information without a roll. The DM has an easier time adjudicating. And the group gets to enjoy a little extra detail about one of the characters.

As for "asking the right question," my experience with D&D 5e is that it is unnecessary. Gaining inside knowledge of a monster isn't typically required for defeating it. It's a nice-to-have, not a must-have. You can also imagine that a DM like myself who advocates for telegraphing is providing clues as to the monster's threat level and weaknesses while describing the environment. The troll, for example, is avoiding the brazier or campfire like the plague during the fight. Players who are paying attention can use this information to their advantage without successfully recalling lore.
 
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