My players are playing a warlock, a ranger, a rogue/fighter, and an adept (tier 4 campaign). The adept is a knowledge-based adept, and is trying to research a way to stop an ancient evil. Three of the four characters can be doing other things (gathering material components needed for the ritual, etc.). So, the question becomes, how do I make the session interesting for everyone? The obvious option is to have NPCs do the research, but that invalidates the character who is putting forth effort to know how to do research himself. But, if I have everyone else sit around while the one character is researching, that will not be fun for anyone else.

Are there any sources that describe how to handle research to make it enjoyable for everyone? Does the researcher take the heavy book with him, and as the party is fighting, he is rolling into initiative to battle tough passages? That seems contrived. I have seen the research feat in the Eberron Campaign Setting, but the character has not taken the feat yet. So, without it, the character is looking at weeks of downtime to gain the knowledge he seeks? He gets a feat next level (he is a few hundred experience away). Would it make sense to give him the feat a bit early, just so that research can go faster and not distract from the rest of the game?

Any articles or sources that might help me figure out how to make this fun would be extremely appreciated.

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    \$\begingroup\$ It sounds like the adept will or must succeed in this research. Does something prevent you from saying to the adept You're shocked to find the answer in the first place you looked or whatever and advancing the story? \$\endgroup\$ Commented Mar 9, 2020 at 13:52
  • \$\begingroup\$ The only thing preventing me from doing that is my desire to give the character a sense of accomplishment. Like, the task would have been impossible for someone who did not specialize in knowledge, but just giving away the prize is rarely satisfying, and it does not represent the amount of work that actual research would require. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Mar 9, 2020 at 13:54
  • \$\begingroup\$ So acquiring the knowledge of how to stop the ancient evil is never really in doubt on your side of the screen, but the adept's player doesn't know that, and you want to encourage this impression by making the player feel as if this is a challenge? (Please don't think I'm down on you if this is the case! I'm really just trying to see if the character can fail as I think that issue is central to this question.) \$\endgroup\$ Commented Mar 9, 2020 at 14:05
  • \$\begingroup\$ The characters can gain the information in other ways. The party is currently aligning themselves with powers they could choose to fight. If they fought, they would gain the knowledge another way. The research is not the only method to attain the knowledge. But, the knowledge they gain this way could be more comprehensive than through violence. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Mar 9, 2020 at 14:14
  • \$\begingroup\$ Maybe I can convince them all to try researching... Kinda like the Scooby gang from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Xander had no idea what he was looking for, but with the right guidance, he could look for specific wording that might be useful. Maybe I can have the whole party engage in research to make it go faster, and the adept is the main source of knowledge, and gets bonuses for his check by having friends helping out? \$\endgroup\$ Commented Mar 9, 2020 at 14:28

3 Answers 3


When we in the present day do research, it often involves just sitting in one place and reading a bunch of papers published by other researchers. It sounds like you're imagining your character doing this style of research.

I propose that instead your character does field research: get out and do things and try to see what works.

  • We need to capture some essence of this ancient evil, to experiment and see what bindings will hold it. Go find a creature that holds this essence. Defeat its minions, foil its plan, subdue it, and bring it back alive for experimentation.
  • The essence is proving difficult to bind. We need a book, The Hundred Bindings of Bilarro, to create an arcane binding that will hold it. The book was last held by the warlock Munxip the Unwise, who died twenty years ago when pain devils overran his tower. Fight your way into his tower, retrieve the lost book, and incidentally maybe you could use that book to seal the portal to the Nine Hells and get rid of the pain devils.
  • We have the arcane formula for a binding to hold this ancient evil, but we need to inscribe it on the skull of a dragon -- the bigger the better. Here's a list of three dragons in the area, with descriptions of their lair and history of their actions. Kill one of them and retrieve its skull.
  • We've crafted a binding that should hold this ancient evil, but we need to test it out. Confront the evil and use the binding against it in combat, and see how well it works. (Each turn the warlock can make an arcana check while holding the dragon skull with the binding inscribed. High rolls have good effects.)

After each subquest, your warlock character can make arcana checks for how well the research is going. Make up a minor benefit if the check reaches 15+, and assign a minor drawback if the check is ten or less.

(Source: a few years ago I improvised a similar adventure to seal a portal to the Shadowfell. The group seemed happy.)

  • \$\begingroup\$ I typically enjoy this style of research. This is the first campaign I've had where a player wanted to take the Research feat to be able to sit around and read musty old tomes. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Mar 9, 2020 at 14:29
  • \$\begingroup\$ If the evil is an ancient one, various civilizations may have folklore that is based around the evil, each with a different kernel of truth buried in it. Having to travel around, learn the myths, and test them out would be a great experience. \$\endgroup\$
    – JRodge01
    Commented Mar 9, 2020 at 14:36
  • \$\begingroup\$ Hey, that sitting in a chair reading a bunch of papers written by other researchers can be really challenging ;) \$\endgroup\$ Commented Mar 9, 2020 at 16:23
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    \$\begingroup\$ @TimothyAWiseman lol, I've worked in academia. Research is very challenging. Typically, if you are researching a subject that others have written about specifically, it is easy to find information. But, when you are researching a subject that is only written about tangentially, it is significantly harder. Authors often add their own beliefs to their writing, and separating fact from belief can be challenging. Real research is quite difficult, and requires specific know-how. I am terrible at it, but I know others who are great at it. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Mar 9, 2020 at 18:25

If a character does research in books or libraries etc. don't resolve it with the roll of a die. Make the player do the research. Usually I start with giving them a few hints. Then the researching player has to anounce which hints he wants to follow and where he wants to look for more information. In this way I reveal more and more information to the player. But I only give them disconnectet pieces. So the player has to collect as much pieces and den connect them to get the final result. My players enjoy this kind of investigation, since it's not just about getting information but also about thinking about what the gathered information means within the world they are playing in.


Make up a "custom move" aka love-letter to the character.

My suggestion would be to steal the idea of Love Letters from Powered by the Apocalypse games (not actually an official rule there). Basically come up with a custom move with a spectrum of success/setbacks on it that are appropriate to the research. For example I might do something like:

{Start with a paragraph or 3 explaining the research they've been doing.} Roll 2d6 plus Intelligence Modifier:

10+: You've made leaps and bounds in the research. Pick 3 options that don't apply.

7-9: There are complications. Pick 2 options that don't apply.

6-: Things aren't going well. Pick one option that doesn't apply.

  • You need rare components, and acquiring them is dangerous enough you'll need the party's help to acquire them.
  • A relevant text requires extensive translation from an expert. This will cost time and money.
  • The ritual will need to be performed at a specific location. You'll probably need the party's help to find and make it safe to set up the ritual.
  • Devotees of the evil have found out you're trying to stop it and are stepping up efforts to stop you.

Alternatively if you want you could use a d20+modifier instead of 2d6 for a more traditional D&D feel... in which case the ranges should be approximately 13+/9-12/6-

If you're feeling particularly generous you might allow them to pick 4 on a 12+ (16+ if you're using a d20 instead of 2d6).

All of that said, I'd definitely discuss this with the player rather than just forcing them to use it. This kind of thing can be a great way to elide action that takes place over the course of a large amount of time. This can also be a great opportunity to allow the player to do some narrative RP telling you and the party about what they've been doing for the research.


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