Thursday, May 8, 2014

"How Did Your Character Know That?!", or, the Wondrously Informative Lectures and how to explain player knowledge affecting character knowledge

  Once upon a time I played in and helped DM for a rather large, sprawling campaign that used Jazz Band Adventuring. By its nature the campaign had a large number of PCs and NPCs of a variety of levels - this week might be 7 5th level characters assaulting the Black Chapel in the ruined quarter of the city, next week might be 6 9th level characters following that up with an attack on the Cathedral of Death in the Northlands, the week after might be 8 2nd level characters in street battles with the Thieves' Guild. 
  But this led to troubles - player knowledge versus character knowledge was a huge issue. Let's look at experienced player John to see why. John has a 2nd level thief, a 2/2 fighter/magic-user, a 5th level cleric, a 7th level paladin, and a 9th level fighter. On a long delve deep beneath Mount Doom John's 7th level paladin rescues a svirfneblin from a group of gnolls. The svirfneblin, named Sven, agrees to guide them to the tunnels that lead to the Temple of the Unholy Flame. On the way an executioner's hood drops onto the thief and almost kills her before Sven ships out a flask of brandy, douses the foul creature, and saves the life of the thief. Sven explains to the party that executioner's hoods are stunned by brandy and fall off almost immediately when drenched in the liquid.
  Nine months later John's 5th level cleric is part of a group scouting Skystone Castle when - an executioner's hood drops on the fighter! John calls out,
  "Quick! Drench it in brandy!"
  ... Of course, John's cleric wouldn't know that, would he? After all, it was the paladin who learned that, not the cleric.
  Yes, that was (in broad strokes) something that really happened. I played both adventures and got to thinking about it.I spoke to a fellow player or two and then we kicked off The Wondrously Informative Lectures and Seminars for the Education and Gratification of Travellers, Adventurers, and Naturalists. Basically, we started keeping track of what monsters we encountered, what we learned from them, and then in character our characters started charging other characters to teach them what we knew.
  Yes, we did keep track of campaign time. Don't you?
  Here is how it worked. The characters Aurelius (5th level cleric), Jonas (5th level magic-user), Eric (4th/4th fighter.magic-user) and Firewalker (6th level fighter) had a Roman villa-style home in the campaign city. Each week they would announce what monster, item, etc. they would be discussing the next week. Other characters would pay the 50 g.p. fee to attend and then note that they had attended. The money was split between the host characters.
  After the first 2 times this was done the players of the lecturers would actually write up little cards of what the lecturing characters taught in the classes and handed those out to the players of the characters who attended. Since many of the monsters were unique, renamed, misidentified, etc.,  they even passed on their own mistakes and errors - many characters (and players) thought that one monster took extra damage from fire when it didn't, for example.
  After about a yer they also started having 'guest speakers' - other PCs and even NPCs who would come in, lecture, take a cut of the fees, and move on. 
  This soon became much more than just a justification for character knowledge or even background color, it became a campaign point. The Wondrous Seminars (as they were called) drove exploration and adventures (to learn more about monsters) and even prompted some characters to collect feathers, hides, even capture creatures alive to use as props in lectures (you made more with props). It was also a factor in jazz band adventuring, as in,
  "You might bring your 6th level wizard, has he fought the huntsmen before?"
  "No, but he went to the seminar"
  "Good enough"

  Adding such a group to a campaign is pretty simple, too. It could be a university, a magic academy, a scholars group, even a lone NPC with a gypsy wagon. With just a little prompting you can have the lecturers handing out not just notes but hiring the party to learn more about (and bring back a specimen) of rare or unique monsters all while vacuuming money our of characters' pouches.

  So think about adding a class or two to you campaign!