Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Player Monster Knowledge

Peter over at his Dungeon Fantastic blog asked an interesting question in his post, Player Reading Monster Manuals.  Go give it a read, I'll wait.  And if you have a second answer his poll on the side.  I'll wait.

There is no way you can enforce the players not to read the monster manuals.  If you play, most people I know get the core books.  And in a game where monsters are a regular occurrence I believe players would have some knowledge of them through stories, trainers or whatever.  Most people who live in my campaign world know trolls regenerate.  I'm not going to deny my players that knowledge.  Some may argue the more unique monsters the players would have no knowledge.  Fair enough.

But this is when a GM needs to take advantage of the player's knowledge and turn it on them.  So for shits and giggles let's use a medusa as an example.  Stone gaze, and because of Clash of the Titans she may be kick ass with a bow, poison snake head, all of us can recite the list of fine qualities this lovely lady possesses.  So players are armed with what they think they will happen.  Ah oh, lookie here, this medusa doesn't turn anyone to stone.  This one turns them into water, trickle into the river next her layer and wash into the sea.  Those stone to flesh potions might as well be orc turds for as useful as they will be. Maybe her gaze is not the catalyst, maybe she breathes out a gas and those who are in the area of effect become nothing more than a puddle. 

GMs cannot be lazy.  They must put the effort into creating new monsters or at least variations of  a critter to build tension when a monster is encountered.  Tweaking old monsters, playing on expectations is a great way to startle the players out of their comfort zone. 

The other thing is just to make new monsters.  Blogs are dedicated to making monsters.  You can't swing a dead displacer beast without hitting a new one.  But the best monsters are the ones you make yourself.  In this case the players will only know them by their description and not their stats.  Like I said before, GMs cannot be lazy, they need to put that effort in.  Players know as much as the GMs and sometimes more. 

This ain't 1979 when only a couple of kids had the books.  This is 2012 and everyone has the books in print, PDF, on their phones and ipads and crap I probably haven't heard of. 

But I say go ahead and read your little monster manuals, I got stuff in my head that's gonna make you lose sleep. 


  1. When I started gaming I had a DMG and eventually a players handbook. After about two years I had a Monster Manual 2. But it was too late, almost every monster I ever had or ever will make is homebrew.

    I recycle them, players eventually figure things out, but I highly recommend the practice. Just remember, if you make the monster, the players end up naming them.

    Be wary that the monster you love and think is bad-ass and terror inspiring, may end up being renamed "Mag-babies" or "Fugglers".

  2. Nothing can really be done about players reading the books. Metagaming is hard to control. However you're right that some knowledge is known by the PCs because of their training, etc. The trick is deciding how much they actually know.

  3. Thanks for the shout out - and I'll be sure to link this when I finish typing up my followup post.

  4. Creating monsters that deviate from the norm actually makes a lot of sense. PCs don't come all in one flavor. There are different classes. And even within a class, there are variations. Not all magic-users have the same spells for example. So why not have monsters of the same type with at least some variation in capability? It makes a lot of sense.

  5. Like I said on Peter's blog, if you're using the monsters name from the MM, then you have to expect them to use what they know!

    If you don't use the name, and only describe what it is... Or give it the name the locals call it...

  6. More or less exactly what I was going to post over on Peter's page. But since you said it already, I'll save myself the effort and just say that I agree 100%. (Probably no surprise to anyone who reads my blog, since I'm currently in the midst of a weekly new monster feature.)

  7. I know back in the early 80s when we were playing as kids (pauses for some reflection.. good times) our DM wouldn't let us look at the book while we were at the table. Then he would never say 'You came across some trolls'. He would describe them and make us figure out what they were. It was almost like he wanted us to study outside our RP time, like a good adventurer should. The MM was equivalent to learning the local flora and fauna.

  8. David's point about changing name only is a good, simple starting point, just to throw players off, and as The Dave suggests, it's only very specific descriptions or particular effects that could have them work out what a creature actually is, assuming the characters don't recognise it in game. Then it can get those new names, which if done well can even add a lot of flavour to the world, by implication even.

    Re those particular effects, the petrify to liquefy type change is likely to be a lot of fun for everyone in the room, and wake the players up. Unless they signed up for something strictly by the old books, and even if they did in the sense that back in the day it was new, there's no harm in keeping things lively and fresh.

  9. "GMs cannot be lazy."

    Awww! ;)

    Seriously, though, I agree.

  10. "I got stuff in my head that's gonna make you lose sleep."

    I don't know if my players will lose sleep over the stuff in my brainmeats, but they certainly won't be feeling comfortable at the table.