Monday, 25 August 2014

Research & Rumours

This post was originally going to be entitled 'Intelligence, rumours and research', but I decided that maybe 'Research & Rumours' is a good analogue for 'Dungeons & Dragons' in the context of what's bothering me at the moment. This is partly I think due to my own work situation - as an archaeologist, I'm a researcher myself: 'it's not about the treasure, it's about the knowledge' archaeologists tell people. I wonder if there are treasure-hunting characters in D&D who are similarly self-deluded about what they're doing? I've recently gone back to university to begin a Masters, and that has also given me some fresh perspectives on the relationships between knowledge and data, research, speculation, and great big libraries (and of course the internet which is where we have a significant advantage over D&D characters).

Hence, 'Research & Rumours; or, How does Intelligence work in relation to knowledge of the game-world?'

I've been working on a re-keyed Quasketon for starting with a new group - my son and his mates who are teenagers and know little of OD&D. There is a rumour table in there - the mechanic for it is to roll a d4 for each player. On a roll of 1-3, that is how many rumours the character knows. On a 4, no rumours are known.

I think this mechanic is fairly unsatisfying. Intuitively, I think the number of rumours should have some relationship to the amount of research that the characters do. I was considering making the mechanic dependent on Intelligence - or rather on the modifiers derived from the Intelligence stat. -3 to 0 modifier = 0 rumours known. +1 modifier = 1 rumour, etc.

On the other hand, I understand that Rogahn and Zelligar were famous in their day. Now, if they're famous like Albert Einstein and Muhammad Ali, it may be that knowledge of R&Z's activities comes not from consulting old tomes but from having conversations about these 'celebrities' in the pub. Sure, Magic-Users might know about the point of some of Zelligar's research, but details of his exploits and living arrangements might be much more 'common knowledge'. This then is the basis of the 'Players' Background Sheet' - that which is generally known about Quasketon and its inhabitants.

But saying Rogahn & Zelligar were famous in their day raised another question - when was their floruit (or is that floruerunt?) anyway? The module claims it was decades ago: it says 'some years ago', twice, and then claims that they marched out of Quasketon 'perhaps in the decade before you [the characters] were born' - so, maybe 20-30 years ago, assuming the PCs are young humans around 18-25. But some of the systems they had in place still seem to be functioning as if it were months at most when they disappeared. If it was decades ago, why then are the guards still there and still (relatively) recently attacking intruders? Aren't they all pretty old now, as well as unpaid and underfed? How come everything hasn't been completely looted? Is it likely that any of the food won't be completely spoilt? If there are still guards then all the monsters - Trogs, Orcs etc - must have either been there from the beginning, or sneaked past the guards, or come in the few months - maybe - since the adventurers attempted their break-in. Or, if the bodies have been around for longer than a few weeks or months - 'the stench of decaying bodies is disgusting' according to the text so they can't have been there so long that they've completely decomposed, not that I know how long that would be anyway - then why hasn't anyone moved them? If, as seems to be the case from the lack of any other berserker-fighter guards about the place except for the 2 wanderers, the guards have been getting more and more attenuated in the 20-30 years since R&Z left, why did the last 4 even bother attacking the adventurers? I'm at a loss to make any sense of the time-frame in a way that allows the evidence to work even relatively sensibly. Perhaps, the last dozen or so guards attacked the intruders, 2 were killed, 1-2 have remained behind and the surviving 8 or 9 fled the complex as it was finally impossible to defend it? It doesn't explain why they stayed for 25 years with no masters (or booze, women, imports of food or anything else one might consider a luxury), but it might be a clue as to why rumours have started surfacing now - drunken old beserkers letting slip that they might have been guards at Quasketon.

Anyway: if rumours are scraps of information relating to an adventure hook, then working at finding them must be a way of getting more. Even if they are 'common knowledge' it should be possible to research them further. But what does this mean?

I find this a difficult topic to deal with - not just in terms of the Quasketon rumours but generally in terms of the relationship between what the player knows of the world and what the characters know (and can be expected to know) of the world. It's too easy to present the players with a set of rumours about something and for them to think 'right this is the hook, obviously we have to go and find the Orb of Ploon as that's what we've suddenly heard about'. On the other hand, the notion of presenting the players right at the beginning of the game with a world-history of a thousand years mentioning a bunch of plot hooks alongside a load of stuff that won't turn out to be relevant and saying 'this is what you know by the time you start adventuring' seems like a terrible idea. Does the 'Player's Background Sheet' get it more-or-less right, with its mix of 'common knowledge' and its specifics of additional rumours? It's still all about 'this is the data about the adventure, just accept it'.

One notion I had was to regard information as being essentially an opponent; in this case, any given bit of information is to be regarded as having a 'Knowledge Class' analogous to Armour Class. Commonly-known facts (including untrue ones?) would have a low (= high) Knowledge Class. To learn about a piece of data, the researcher would have to make a d20 roll similar to an attack roll. THAC0 would be replaced by TLKC0. INT modifiers would apply like STR or DEX modifiers. A successful 'attack' would imply - what? That the researcher had located the fact? Would he or she then, perhaps, roll to 'learn' or possibly synthesise the fact, thus seeing if it were true or false? A hit but no kill might imply that the rumour is rejected as untrue. But is it? What about given rumours that are untrue - is there any way a player can separate the true from the untrue?

But of course, the idea is unworkable. Why, with an 'attack knowledge' roll, should a Dwarf from Grurt have the same chance of knowing about the Orb of Ploon, as a tribesman of Ploon does? On the other hand, with random generation (as per the Quasketon rumours) it's possible that the Dwarf of Grurt could know 3 rumours of the Orb of Ploon but the tribesman of Ploon know none. But then, with an INT-based system, there's no intrinsic reason why a Magic-User from Terencia should know about the Orb of Ploon, just because he has a higher INT stat , than the tribesman of Ploon. Consider that the culture of Ploon is entirely oral, and no Sages of Terencia have ever written the stories of the Ploonic nomads; on the other hand, the tribesman grew up with stories around the campfire of the hero Vangel who stole the Orb and brought it to Ploon where it was a mighty artifact of good magic and was passed on to his sons until it was stolen by Gargrax the Betrayer, bringing about the Time of Troubles. Should there be a 'cultural' dimension to this knowledge-base?

Getting back to Quasketon, the questions must be, who knows what, why and how? Some Magic-Users might know a little of Zelligar's work - maybe, if he wasn't so very secretive - but everyone in the Grand Duchy knows that Rogahn and Zelligar lived in Quasketon and disappeared years ago fighting barbarians. It might be possible to find some detail such as that the complex had two levels by researching accounts written by visitors to the complex in years gone by, for which an INT check in a library might be necessary. But other things must just be common knowledge that can be found out by the liberal spending of a small bag of SPs in any tavern between Threshold and Specularum.

One way of approaching it would be to divide the rumours (true and untrue ones) into 'legends' and 'information'. 'Legends' would be the tavern-talk stuff - rumours about the treasures Rogahn has amassed, or some of the more lurid rumours of curses etc. Surely, most people know that Rogahn's mistress was Melissa, he rescued her heroically, and she lived at Quasketon too. If no-one in the party does, then there are numerous people who'd surely tell them, for the price of a drink? It's a big part of Rogahn's personal story. Is it not part of his legend too?

Other rumours should require more effort on behalf of the party - essentially, the result of a roll - either, for INT to find a detail in a library (a single account by some visitor to the complex 30 years ago, let's say, that the PC must find having navigated access to to some sage's library), or against CHA (plus heavy bribe in money or drinks or both) to charm someone into spilling their story (of how they were a guard and left when the Troglodytes invaded, or whatever). Listening to old men in pubs talk about their 'war stories' may be just as rewarding as consulting old tomes. Either way, they at least have the benefit of involving 'role-playing'.

A compromise: how I think I shall structure the table -

Character makes a roll against time spent in the Grand Duchy (1-20 years, I presume, and the PC has to explain some character background to justify this time): +1 rumour
Character roleplays a situation of visiting a library or temple or sage, and makes roll against INT: +1 rumour
Character roleplays a situation of going to an inn trying to find someone with a story, and makes roll against CHA: +1 rumour

If a character has done none of these things they will have no additional information. Any other result will replicate the results of the original table (1-3 additional rumours) but they will at least relate to the character's background, activities and personality. And provide some opportunity for a little 'role-play' along with the 'roll-play'.


  1. That's a useful approach. I could see something along these lines becoming a new standard for published material - as well as the possible marking of rumours as true or false, they could also be labelled for familiarity, even just to two or three tiers.

  2. Thanks for the encouragement Porky. As you can probably tell, I've been thinking a lot about how to make the gaining of more information a bit more 'believable'. Having randomly-generated rumours that may or may not be true relating to both general and specific things seems a bit arbitrary.

    I think later versions of D&D treat rumours and knowledge quite differently, there seems to be some sort of numeric system of rating information. But I don't really know the mechanics of skills in later editions, so I can't just pinch the mechanism.

    This at least gives me two 'levels' of information - the general stuff that anyone living in the Grand Duchy for some years is likely to have heard (perhaps second or third hand from those who dealt with Rogahn, Zelligar, Melissa and Erig supplying weapons, potion-ingredients, jewellery, foodstuffs or whatever, or even from those present at Rogahn and Zelligar's famous battles), and rumours that require specialist knowledge (such as an account of a visit by some dignitary, only accessible in one copy of their diary lodged in the archive of a temple in Specularum; or the reminiscences of one of the former guards, now an old man in Kelvin, etc).