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Uncertain Identity/Memory Loss Scenario

I'm going to run a one-off adventure where the players are given nearly blank character sheets and must investigate my small sandbox to discover who their characters are. For example, they'd need to do ability checks to find out their ability scores, listen to NPC reactions ("not very often I see people travelling with a tiefling" without indicating who the tiefling is) and such indirect means of revealing who they are.

The end goal is for the players to figure out what their race and class is, to win a small prize at the end of the session.

Set up

  1. The players will know their level, sex, current equipment and items, as well as their proficiency modifier and speed. I will not tell them their ability scores, proficiencies, appearance (see my comment) or health (instead I will describe damage like I would a monster).

  2. I will describe that they appear blurred to each other, even if they look in a mirror. I'll have them all roll an easy Arcana check to determine that it must be some kind of illusion curse. A hidden aspect of the curse is that any NPC asked to specifically describe them will be struck by fear. NPCs can only give info about their appearance of their volition, not at the behest of a PC.

My Problem

How should I educate my players when they have an ability that might be usable in a situation, due to their class or race, without totally giving away the class or race? How do I tell them that casting a certain spell or using an ability might be a good idea?

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    \$\begingroup\$ The situation reminds me of Roll for Shoes, though there the characters are not only discovered, but made during play. Is it important that you decide their race/class beforehand? \$\endgroup\$ – Szega Jun 14 '17 at 12:55
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    \$\begingroup\$ Yeah, I'm randomly rolling their race and class, as the end goal is for the players to guess what they are at the end of the session for a prize \$\endgroup\$ – Chris Boucher Jun 14 '17 at 12:56
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    \$\begingroup\$ How do you plan to handle equipment that won't be a give away? For example, if your player has a holy symbol, they are almost certainly a cleric or a paladin, and the specific god is frequently a telltale sign for race. \$\endgroup\$ – Barker Jun 14 '17 at 18:59
  • \$\begingroup\$ Reminds me of an idea I had for a (Shadowrun) game where one player (cough,me,cough) was making liberal use of Alter Memory on the party in order to just mess with their (the players') heads (the game would be run under the changes imposed by the spell). I only know one person who could GM the game and he officially doesn't exist any more (half truth: last I knew he was working for a branch of the gov't translating Arabic). \$\endgroup\$ – Draco18s Jun 15 '17 at 17:05
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Barker Anyone can walk around with a holy symbol. They aren't even particularly valuable, most of the time. A spellbook full of wizard spells of precisely the level the player can cast and lower, and which the player can prep spells from without penalty, would be a bit more of a giveaway. \$\endgroup\$ – the dark wanderer Jun 22 '17 at 6:38
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When a player describes an action and during that action it would make sense to use one of their class-features, describe that class feature in a vague manner and ask them if they want to use it. For example, if a player who doesn't know they are playing a barbarian says:

Player: I attack the bandits

GM: The moment you grab the hilt of your weapon, you feel an unnatural anger in your hearth. You feel you could crush these bandits if you give in to that anger, but you wonder if there is someone else who would be even more deserving of it. Would you like to embrace the anger or suppress it?

Player: I embrace the anger.

[... combat which is easier for the player than expected...]

GM: After the combat you feel tired, but your need for violence is satisfied. You don't think you will be capable of a violent outburst like that again until tomorrow.

Player: Ah, that was Barbarian Rage. Thanks!

Any spellcasters who need to prepare spells are difficult, because in order to use their spells they need to prepare them and in order to prepare them they need to know which spells they have. So they would be incredibly weak until they discovered their spells.

This doesn't affect Wizards, though, because Wizards need spellbooks to cast spells. So they would just need to look into it to learn what spells they know.

Divine spellcasters might start the game with a holy scripture to give them a hint what their religion is. That should give them a pretty good idea what spells they can use. If they try a spell they don't know, it should just fizzle.

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Providing the players knew their look, spells, items, and max hp, and probably stats as well, it shouldn't be extremely difficult.

Class

The highest stat a character has should tell you enough about your class to narrow it down to 3 or 4 classes. The secondary stat should then narrow it down to which class you are. (Strength and Charisma for a Paladin or Charisma and Constitution for a sorcerer etc)

If that doesn't do it, the spells and weapons one carries will tell the players their class, providing the characters that they play have logical weapons and items.

Race

Its possible that one can judge their race from what they look like. A few races have telltale signs of that race, so a very small player would be a gnome, or a dwarf or a halfling. It is possible to distinguish between them by knowing how fat they are, and how fast they can move. Distinguishing between elves and humans is pretty easy as all they have to do is feel the shape of their ears, etc etc.

Skills

This is probably the hardest one, and unless they can see their rolls and know the DC, it will be almost impossible to guess at.

Other things

Alignment will be completely impossible unless you tell them every so often that they do not enjoy what they are doing. I hope you will give them their level, but if not they could guess it roughly based on their max hp and the class and the con modifier, and race too if they're a dwarf. Saving throws are easy since its in the very start of the class description.

Basically, all you need to do is answer their questions on what they look like, and give them all standard characters with enough information. The rest can be worked out by themselves. Every so often, the characters might suddenly have a remembering of what they are and decide that they can use a special ability (as you tell the players that they can do that). If you want to be able to tell them their ability without giving too much away, give them some sort of character panic button, and when they press it they instinctively create a random effect (and you only tell the players what visible effects or psychological effects are). Guessing spells is going to be extremely difficult, so at least give them their spell list.

I know the first part didn't directly answer the question, but it should help you to see what can be done with the information you give them, and help you decide what information you can release and when.

Note, darkvision is also a nice way to determine one's race, and if one can't see in the dark and they try to, one might instinctively use the light cantrip (because you decided that they did).

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    \$\begingroup\$ I won't give them their spell list, but maybe giving them a panic button linked to an insight check or something to use a relevant skill or spell... \$\endgroup\$ – Chris Boucher Jun 14 '17 at 12:43
  • \$\begingroup\$ Does the stat really determine the class? Couldn't you be e.g. a low-strength fighter (simply as a very non-optimal build)? \$\endgroup\$ – Paŭlo Ebermann Jun 14 '17 at 21:07
  • \$\begingroup\$ technically yes, but each class has a primary and a secondary stat which they are advised to max out first and second. If not, youre just a commoner with an aspiration of becoming an adventurer, but is clearly not cut out to handle that sword/spell/bow \$\endgroup\$ – Timi Jun 14 '17 at 21:27
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First things first:

Equipment. That would be a dead giveaway, so going to suggest that you have clothes and equipment in piles, or all mixed up in one grand pile. A holy symbol is a dead giveaway for any cleric, and it's not exactly fair to the others if you give them that--same deal with something like a lock pick set. This will make things easier or more difficult depending on what they have.

Stats. The toughest ones that I see here are Charisma and Intelligence. If they have a score lower on Intelligence or Charisma than the player actually has, how can you enforce if they will come up with something or not?

Your descriptions of HOW they are thinking will help.

I say that you give each of them a slip of paper with their initial thoughts and feelings, which you can ask them to open at an opportune moment--let them know that these are roleplaying cues to start with, and that they don't have to act on these thoughts.

Barbarian Warrior: This is stupid. These people are stupid. If I punch one of 'em, maybe they'll be less blurry.

Warlock/Sorcerer Some sort of spell is at work. What could it be? Perhaps if I take a moment to think this through, we can figure out who is whom.

Cleric/Paladin Good Some sorcery afoot here. But it seems all of us are in the same boat. We must work together.

Rogue Are those rubies in the hilt of that sword? Let's see, three rubies, market value 20 gold each...

Just to confuse them, they've got bits and pieces of memory--let's say the paladin was holding the lock pick set because the rogue couldn't be trusted with it. Either the paladin feels that they must have the set from the pile, or they already have it on them.

Also, describe how they see the world--it's all going to be different. Any fighter or paladin is going to do a threat assessment of any NPC they see.

Smart players/characters that get the tiefling clue will simply ask that the party take off shoes and then walk through dirt or mud. The foot prints might help with that-- this is the sort of thing a Ranger-type might come up with.

Things such as Strength and Dexterity can be tested for in mock combat, or actual combat.

Stamina will have a specific effect on things.

With spell casters, I might do this--they've already cast mage armor from before they can recall or some such, and may notice the effect when they are hit. Or they can look at a spell book and find that they can read it and memorize spells.

Races. For races, the players can't see themselves but they may have special abilities--if they tell the others, those others may have the requisite skill to figure that out--but there should be a difference between player knowledge of who has darkvision and character knowledge. The character might know they have darkvision, but might not have the knowledges to know what that might mean. It might be important for you as a DM to let the players know about that distinction. They will definitely be helping each other to understand who they are.

Philipp's example of dropping clues is an excellent template on how to handle each class--I would have notes ready beforehand with each of the classes for various situations.

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