26
\$\begingroup\$

A recent WotC published adventure gives PCs the opportunity to meet Volo and even buy his self-proclaimed “famous” Volo’s Guide to Monsters book in-game. Spoiler below:

Tomb of Annihilation. If I recall correctly, Volo’s Guide is 50 g.p.

This raises a few questions. How detailed is Volo’s Guide in-game? Is Volo’s Guide in-game as detailed as the out-of-game guide (excepting obvious meta-game details like CR, hitpoints, stats etc.)? Could a PC that owns Volo’s Guide use it in-game to look up a creature’s abilities? Could Volo’s Guide be used to estimate the power of opponents as per this question: How can PCs estimate the power of opponents? - and if so, to what detail?

In sum, what advantage does owning and reading Volo’s Guide to Monsters in-game give a PC over those that do not?

To clarify, we are particularly interested in the difference between in-game and out-of-game content differences in Volo’s Guide. For example, if a party knew there was a Bodak or a Mind Flayer Lich in the area and read about it in Volo’s Guide - what could they learn about its powers? Would they learn every power listed?

\$\endgroup\$
  • \$\begingroup\$ I haven't played that particular adventure, but why would it give you a price for an item and not rules on how it works? \$\endgroup\$ – Jason_c_o Apr 4 '18 at 6:23
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ I suddenly see a tourist (think twoflower, colors of magic) pausing midway in battle for a minute to look up the monster they are facing, priceless \$\endgroup\$ – Garret Gang Apr 12 '18 at 20:57
15
\$\begingroup\$

The specific entry in Tomb of Annihilation in regards to purchasing a copy of Volo's guide says:

Any time they (the characters) want to know lore about a particular monster described in the book, give them useful tidbits from Volo's Guide to Monsters. Do not impart game statistics, since such information would not be available in-world.

Read them the lore. Don't read them the numbers.

\$\endgroup\$
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Does lore include special abilities, lair actions, and spells? \$\endgroup\$ – Praxiteles Apr 3 '18 at 14:35
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ I would count all of those under "game statistics" \$\endgroup\$ – Tommy Apr 3 '18 at 14:36
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ In thinking about this I would ask "Is it in the 'stat block' for the monster? Then those would be game statistics. \$\endgroup\$ – Tommy Apr 3 '18 at 16:49
  • 5
    \$\begingroup\$ I think this is essentially the correct answer, but it would be good to flesh it out with an example. Take the Froghemoth. A "useful tidbit" could be "Volo's Guide mentions a story of a particularly hardy adventurer who was swallowed whole by this monster but managed to cut her way out!" This information is technically in the "stat block" (under Actions) but it tells the characters that they could be swallowed and that they can get out of it (useful) without mentioning attack rolls and damage dice and such (game statistics). \$\endgroup\$ – J. Foster Apr 3 '18 at 17:03
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ +1 This is the better answer - clean, efficient, quotes the actual publication where this issue arises. No disrespect to the other answers, but it really is this simple. \$\endgroup\$ – Kevin Apr 5 '18 at 19:20
14
\$\begingroup\$

Having something and knowing everything are two different things.

The problem here is that there is a mix of metagaming with actual table play. While an adventurer may remember something, they might not remember it at the right time or even remember it correctly.

The one feat that would assist in this task directly is the Keen Mind (PHB, 167).

You can accurately recall anything you have seen or heard within the past month.

Ultimately, what you have is a guide book. When travelling with a guide book, no one has memorized the contents - but the contents are there for searching if one has the time and knowledge to try and find it.

Skill Checks

What you may be able to do is offer an Intelligence check to see if they 'remember' the contents. This brings dice to the table (YAY!) and a chance for the characters and players to learn something they wouldn't have had access to before.

If they have time to 'review' the book and knowledge of what they're looking for (Here there by dragons!), then you can simply provide the information that the book provides.

Action to research

You may also allow an Action to Use an Object for in-combat research. What they learn in 6 seconds would be up to the DM and could possibly be another Intelligence Check.

What did they learn?

This one will be up to the DM and I'd suggest having a DC check system to determine what was learned. I would not recommend letting them use the Player's Volos completely as there may be things in there that you don't want to share (for whatever reason.) As a DM, you'll have to 'generalize' some of the information as things like ability scores, HP, etc. aren't in-game terms.

In addition, players should be aware that your monsters in your world may not be exactly what's in the book and they shouldn't get upset.

The preface to the Guide contains some great reviews, one of which by Elminster Aumar states:

Let me be fair. The lad means well and has done well. Better than I expected. Some of what’s in this book is true, and can even be trusted.

\$\endgroup\$
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ And if the PCs did recall the creature section completely - or read the section - what powers of the creature would they learn? Are the in-game and out-of-game versions essentially identical (apart from the meta-game stat-block statistics)? \$\endgroup\$ – Praxiteles Apr 2 '18 at 19:54
  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ @Praxiteles Ideally, you would translate those to in-game stuff. 500 hitpoints become "The creature is hardy, very difficult to kill", a poison-breath weapon that deals 1d6 damage over 6 turns would "Its breath can corrode stone and melt a man under a minute", etc. I would go with the idea that the players know the stat block, but the characters can do as much about it as they can about their own stats. No warrior would say they have 18 STR, for example, just that they can "lift a small horse with one arm". Use the same idea for the book. \$\endgroup\$ – T. Sar Apr 2 '18 at 20:01
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ For your last sentence, you might end with a quote from Elminster's preface to the Guide to Monsters: “The lad means well and has done well. Better than I expected. Some of what's in this book is true, and can even be trusted.” \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Apr 2 '18 at 20:18
3
\$\begingroup\$

In sum, what advantage does owning and reading Volo’s Guide to Monsters in-game give a PC over those that do not?

Depends what's in it, depends how accurate what's in it is and depends on how much the PC can recall. Further, there is how you deal with any distinction between the knowledge of the PCs and the players.

What's in it

Volo's Guide to Monsters is (obviously) two different books - the real one published by WotC and the in-universe one written by the titular Volo.

As the DM, you need to decide if they cover the same or different subject matter - it doesn't necessarily follow that what is covered in the real book is what is covered in the imaginary book.

How accurate is it

Volo "was a legendary traveler and storyteller" - it may come as a surprise to you, but not everything written down by "storytellers" (or, as they are known in our world, journalists) is factually accurate in every respect.

Sources of error include:

  • Errors in primary research: rigorous scientific research of "monsters" is naturally hazardous and some fudging may have occurred.
  • Secondary source: Partly for the above reason, much of the work is unlikely to be based on first-hand experience. So you have Volo imperfectly reporting what someone imperfectly remembered from an encounter where they were probably in an emotional state that did not allow for unbiased, objective observation and analysis. This is why Pliny's Natural History contains such gems as the Cynocephalus, the Monopod and the Catoblepas.
  • Conflict between ethical and commercial imperatives: Volo's primary objective is to sell books. His secondary objective is to maintain a reputation for accuracy and honesty in order to sell more books. It is only his tertiary objective to actually be accurate and honest.
  • Typos: As exemplified by Douglas Adams in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy:

This was the gist of the notice. It said "The Guide is definitive. Reality is frequently inaccurate."

This has led to some interesting consequences. For instance, when the Editors of the Guide were sued by the families of those who had died as a result of taking the entry on the planet Tralal literally (it said "Ravenous Bugblatter Beasts often make a very good meal for visiting tourists" instead of "Ravenous Bugblatter Beasts often make a very good meal of visiting tourists"), they claimed that the first version of the sentence was the more aesthetically pleasing, summoned a qualified poet to testify under oath that beauty was truth, truth beauty and hoped thereby to prove that the guilty party in this case was Life itself for failing to be either beautiful or true. The judges concurred, and in a moving speech held that Life itself was in contempt of court, and duly confiscated it from all those there present before going off to enjoy a pleasant evening's ultragolf.

Notwithstanding, the PCs have spent good money on this and it should be more useful than not as a result.

Recall

Circumstances will dictate if they need to remember what they have read (assuming they have read it) or if they have the leisure to look it up.

If they have to remember it, I follow a very simple rule: player skill trumps character skill - if the player remembers then their PC remembers if the player wants (they may not want for role-playing reasons but that's up to the player). If the player doesn't remember then the PC might remember based on a feat like Keen Mind or an ability check.

Meta-game Details

Tell your players the stats: there's no harm in it.

The stats are the player's way of understanding the threat the monsters represent in-game. They know their own stats and that allows them to understand what their PC can do - knowing the monster's stats is no different. In any case, they would know this stuff after their first combat encounter anyway.

\$\endgroup\$
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ I definitely agree with most of your post and a definite +1 for the Hitchhiker's guide reference... But I have to disagree with the idea of telling PCs the stats of a monster. They might know its attacks... But no book I've ever read about bears has conveyed to me how many slashes with my longsword it would take to slay the beast. That is, there's no real reason to share specific statistics other than to empower PCs far beyond what they should know. Consider the Power Word spells - knowing the exact hp of an enemy makes these spells far more powerful than they are supposed to be... \$\endgroup\$ – Joshu's Mu Apr 3 '18 at 12:15
  • \$\begingroup\$ @joshusmu Does knowing hit points really make the Power Word spells more powerful than they are supposed to be? A wizard/fighter with the Battle Master feat can know the exact hit points of an enemy (or other stats). \$\endgroup\$ – Praxiteles Apr 3 '18 at 23:05
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ @Praxiteles That Wizard/Fighter had to spend 7 precious levels on fighter to get to that point, and is unable to reach the more impressive of these spells due to only being Wizard 13... Additionally, the Battle Master feat you mention only requires the DM tell you how much HP the target has in relation to -you-. In other words, the DM is to say, "more", "less", or "the same", or something similar. Knowing the exact HP does make Power Word Kill an extremely powerful finisher, and yes, more powerful than intended. \$\endgroup\$ – Joshu's Mu Apr 4 '18 at 12:16
  • \$\begingroup\$ @joshusmu It is a good point you bring up that knowing exact hit points is actually made difficult in the game if not impossible. Having a 50 gp book exceed the power of a 7th level skill is probably not what the game designers would intend. \$\endgroup\$ – Praxiteles Apr 7 '18 at 1:49

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.