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I've been running a few officially published adventure books during the last few months, but I never know how to convey the possible actions the players can take and I feel they lose a lot of possibilities because I'm not giving them enough knowledge and just letting them decide whatever they want to do without previous feedback.

For example, during one of the adventures, the players find a desecrated altar, and the book states the players can either pray with a DC 15 (religion) check or splash three flasks of holy water on the altar to cleanse it.

Should I even tell them, or is it just for my eyes in case they try to do it? And, in case they should know they can do it, how should I let them know? Should I simply tell them?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ "running a few officially published adventure books during the last few months" - are you otherwise a new DM? If so, are the players equally new? The advice I would give a green table is wildly different from what I would say to a seasoned one. \$\endgroup\$ – Gramor Fale Feb 6 at 20:14
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They're for the players to work out on their own.

Adventure modules contain specially marked boxed sections of "read-aloud text", which you do tell the players. For example, Storm King's Thunder, p.13:

Text that appears in a box like this is meant to be read aloud or paraphrased for the players when their characters first arrive at a location or under a specific circumstance, as described in the text.

However, everything else is for the DM's eyes only. Location descriptions primarily exist to help you adjudicate what happens when the players interact with the scenario.

If the players find an altar which can be restored by praying or using holy water, it's up to the players to discover this on their own.

It's entirely possible that they'll try something else, in which case it's up to the DM whether that works or not. Dungeon Master's Guide, p.72, "Published Adventures", says:

A published adventure can't account for every action the characters might take.

It's also possible that they'll ignore it completely. That's a legitimate outcome.

Personally, I'll sometimes throw the players a bone if they're stuck and need to progress: e.g. ask the party cleric to roll Religion to see if he happens to remember something about desecrated altars. However, I think it's usually better if the players are pro-active to interact with the environment.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I would also note that (especially experienced) players will absolutely do stuff that isn't in the book at all. And I'd add that I ran that exact module, and one of my players was in the habit of dumping holy water on literally everything that looked evil...so, that ended up happening entirely by coincidence. \$\endgroup\$ – guildsbounty Jan 24 at 13:36
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    \$\begingroup\$ I was going to add my own answer just to mention giving players hints, but your addition covers that well. I would probably ask for a Religion check only if a player tried examining or investigating the altar or specifically asked if he knew anything about it. If all the PCs pass it by to focus on that suspicious-looking but perfectly ordinary chair...well, that's tough! \$\endgroup\$ – PJRZ Jan 24 at 13:49
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You should tell them

The DM is the players connection with the world, you know how the world works in a manner that the players simply cannot. It is your job to make sure the players have enough information to make sensible judgements about how they interact with the world.

The text in these guides gives you information as a person that you might not have through real life experience.

Example:

The players walk into a tavern.

They don't need you to tell them that it is ok to get a table, or order ale, but you might need to tell them if in your world they can order a companion for the night.

The reason is because the players (most likely) don't have any real life experience they can use to understand that is an option, so they might not think about it.

The players have options to cleanse an altar

This is not a situation that occurs in real life so your players have no frame of reference on how to proceed. As a DM this doesn't likely occur in your real life either, so the book gives you information on how it can be done.

It is your job to make sure the players know that these things are possible. I wouldn't say "you can pray here" but you should let your players know that the power of prayer in the game world is more powerful than in real life, and that things like holy water can have this effect. How are they supposed to know otherwise?

How I handle it

I build an environment (out of character) where the players know they can ask me a lot of questions, so I might not outright say 'you found an alter, roll a religion check to cleanse it', but the players know that I give them a chance to improvise, and if they can't think of anything they can ask.

Improvisation involves trust, so generally anything that sounds right I will allow to work, but otherwise they will say "what does my character know about cleansing altars" and I will give them options of prayer or holy water.

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    \$\begingroup\$ This answer focuses on real life experience, but would not experience with other media also be relevant? The idea that an unholy alter can be cleansed by priestlyness or holy water is not unheard of in other fiction (which players, DMs and adventure writer may, and often do, draw upon). \$\endgroup\$ – Someone_Evil Jan 24 at 14:05
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Someone_Evil I still wouldn't expect that to entirely correlate to what they can do in game, and maybe it is applicable in this situation, but not all of them, and the DM is still required to ensure the players know about the world as much as the characters. If the characters wouldn't know things then fair enough, but that is a separate case (that I would also argue against tbh). \$\endgroup\$ – SeriousBri Jan 24 at 20:22
  • \$\begingroup\$ Your answer seems to be from a perspective of "hint at the specific things the characters can do" (e.g. cleanse with holy water). Another way to approach it might be to ask the players what the characters want to accomplish (e.g. cleanse the altar), and then simply tell them what their characters would know about how to accomplish that goal. So in this case, the DM might describe the altar and ask the players what they do; then, if they say they want to purify it, the DM would tell them the methods to do so that the characters would presumably already know even if the players don't. \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Jan 24 at 21:59
  • \$\begingroup\$ (I'm not sure if that's really a different approach - maybe I've just misunderstood your suggestion. Your answer just seemed to focus on indicating the specific actions that can be taken rather than first understanding the players' intended goals.) \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Jan 24 at 21:59

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