Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Decision Signposts

Okay, if the idea is that players decide what level of risk to engage they need to have some idea of what the risk is. This is all pretty obvious but I want to write it down. Here are things that I as DM should make sure to think about in order to give players clues as to what lies ahead:

The Six Senses
  • The cries of beasts, war music or chanting of sentient creatures, the sound of rough water, of creaking wood about to give way, popping of fire, fizzing, moaning.
  • Tracks in sand/mud, blood spatter, monster scat, partially eaten corpses/prey, broken weapons, trail markings, hieroglyphs, messages scratched in stone, plants all bent one way, trails of stones.
  • Monster musk, water vapor, smoke, rotting flesh, mildew, burning hair, cooking meat, sweat, chemical smells.
  • Temperature gradually rising or falling, stones worn by constant passage, slick surfaces, sharp surfaces, crumbling ledges, cracking wooden supports, pressure waves.
  • Eeriness or oldness, feeling that things "aren't right," a feeling of great evil or of peace, of good, of ancient silence.

Architecture made by sentient beings is often symmetrical; if there was a small room on the East, there might be a similar one to the West. Similarly, if a spear trap killed a party member in the first small room, we should be cautious approaching the second. Guard posts may be in mirrored locations. If one of many small, acrid chambers has hatchlings nesting in it, the others might too.


People in town said there were flocks of things so we'll keep watch upwards. Everyone talks of the danger coming by darkness so we'll explore the lair by noon-light.

Common Sense and Logic

There is a small building on the island in the underground lake, the cultists must have a way to cross the lake whether it be magical or mundane. We saw dragon hatchlings, the mother is probably near. The salamanders like heat and this hallway is getting hotter so prepare for salamanders.

Am I missing any others?


  1. Interesting topic! Recently I've found myself using knowledgeable NPC traveling companions to occasionally hint at things that may lie ahead - either through their own personal knowledge or because they detect signs the players do not or can not. For some time I resisted this approach because I felt the players should figure everything out based on more subtle clues, but in practice "The Knowledgeable NPC" works well because it can be scaled up or down very easily depending on the situation. It can also make for excellent role-playing situations (eg. "Do we trust this guy or not...?")

  2. Thanks, experience of NPCs is a great addition.

    I think I would want to be clear for myself before hand on what the NPC knew, though, so I don't have to keep deciding on the spot how to answer player questions. And trustworthiness is interesting too. But in the spirit of the post should I give the players clues as to trustworthiness?

  3. This is a fine and well-thought-out list.

    One more thing may seem obvious, but how about the fruits of reconnaissance or accidental glimpses. You see a dragon flying over the distant mountains. Later you get there and find a big cave mouth ...

  4. Thanks Roger, that's a good addition. Now I'm thinking Research and Experience could be two whole new categories and experience could be subdivided into that of the players and that of the npcs they have to question and possibly trust, as above.

    Of course common sense is related to experience and reconnaissance would require the senses, but categorizing the world is like trying to go from analog to digital, right?

  5. Trusting NPC's, now there's the rub.

    Reminds of this very good argument against humint sources.