28
\$\begingroup\$

You know, like how the Mouth of Sauron is just a mouthpiece and nothing more. Even his name was forgotten.

Mouth of Sauron as analogy for lore master being the mouth of the GM...

Many a time, I have see this type of exchange when dealing with a lore master character archetype, in a game style that places control over the facts of the world with the GM, and not with the players.

The GM describes something the players are not familiar with in the game world. For example, this can be a new Japanese corporation in Cyberpunk, a scroll written in a non-roman alphabet, or a reference to some as-yet unfamiliar past event. Let this be the mystery.

One of the character has a knowledge based skill that would fit perfectly to determine whether or not said characters knows something about the mystery established above. In fact, it is more than that: the player wanted to play a lore-master archetype, in other words someone who knows those things. Maybe they are gridlinked, maybe they have spend all their life inside a library, maybe they just read the right set of eldritch books. Whatever, the situation is that the character should know that information but the player does not.

Back to the mystery. Whether or not the dice roll to pass the skill test was successful or not, the GM is left with either:

  1. Tell all the players a the same time, speaking in the voice of the character. Thus making the lore master character a glorified NPC a la Mouth Of Sauron.

  2. Take the lore master out of the room, tell them the information. Then correct things they have either missed, or misremembered, or got confused when they tell the rest of the players. This is tedious and takes way too much time.

  3. Be omniscient and have given said lore master player all the information they need at the start of the game/session. (Yeah, right.)

None of those solutions appeal to me for the reasons given.


The way I handle the situation is that the player always gets some true information but the amount of false information increases based on the degree of failure of the roll. Never is there a point where no true information is ever passed. Edge cases are not covered here...

\$\endgroup\$
32
\$\begingroup\$

Let the loremaster improvise.

  1. Start with the premise that "loremaster" doesn't mean "omniscience" or "retrocognition." There are many things that are not written down, not on the grid, were never recorded in lore, or have simply been forgotten or altered with time.

  2. Make sure the player has a solid grasp of the themes of the game.

  3. When it comes time for these rolls, should the rolls succeed, give them the crucial bit of information or clue that only you know. Then, ask the player, "So what else do you know about this subject?"

  4. Let the player spin out the story of the corporation, the letter's sender, or the historical event, as per 2. Use those details to define and shape the campaign world.

  5. If they get the tone completely wrong, or introduce elements you completely can't countenance, fall back on 1: The lore the player has spouted was once true but is now outdated, or was based on an erroneous translation, or was misinformation promoted by the enemies of the people under discussion. But for the most part, let the loremaster's lore be correct.

What you get from this is the chance for the loremaster to seem authoritative and the opportunity for you yourself to be surprised and inspired by his or her creations.

\$\endgroup\$
  • 4
    \$\begingroup\$ Hm, sadly I don't think I can use that as a general rule, then. If the lore-speaking player says something that completely contradicts campaign details, I can't handle successes that way, let alone criticals. I can't always rely on them to improvise something that's mostly-right. If a player is angling to join the Seven Mothers without leaving Foundchild, and says "the Red Goddess was a friend to Foundchild in Godtime", then there's no way to salvage that statement as containing any truth. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Jun 17 '15 at 17:41
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ @SevenSidedDie Yes! The facts that the DM tell the player are true. Any embellishments are only true if the DM thinks they are good. If the DM decides the embellishments cannot reasonably be true, the DM first determines "could the player have obsolete information? (Ie, can I retcon "it was once true?") Or does the player have a bad source? The player's embellishments are a risk that they do. It is power (the ability to change reality with lore), at risk (if used poorly, your embellishments are in error). The success buys them (1) some facts, and (2) the right to try to embellish. \$\endgroup\$ – Yakk Jun 18 '15 at 15:12
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ I wish I knew that at our last round, where we had quite a few situations like these! \$\endgroup\$ – Jonas Schäfer Jul 14 '15 at 13:48
  • \$\begingroup\$ It's not only that, what if the player wants to lie to the others? I prefer notes and whispers (and even other rooms) and common sense for when they're not needed. \$\endgroup\$ – Simanos Jul 24 '15 at 11:13
22
\$\begingroup\$

I'm going to take a slightly different tack here, because it sounds like the question is about games where the GM doesn't want to cede the authority to the player to "just make stuff up." And even in games where the GM does, sometimes it's not appropriate.

The method I've used, with reasonable success, goes something like this:

  1. Keep the information per question somewhat limited. Try to avoid "roll to know everything about X" and instead opt for "Roll to know X about Y." This facilitates the later points.
  2. Take a moment to jot down the answer on an index card or scrap of paper and hand it to the player. Keep it as terse and 'just the facts' as you can. Don't even use sentences. This shouldn't take more than thirty seconds, tops. And if you know there are things the PCs are probably going to ask about, you can prep this in advance. Handing the player a written reference (especially one written in quick shorthand like you should be doing for this, since you're trying to keep it fast) means that A) The player doesn't need to be 'corrected' because all his facts are right there and B) The player is pretty much forced to present it to the party in their own way, since reading the card would result in a pretty disjointed presentation and C) The player can re-reference the card later if he forgets.
  3. If there are additional details/subquestions that should have been included in the roll (especially those asked by other players), then you can supply answers, tersely for the loremaster to 'interpret'.
  4. If there any additional details that JUST DON'T MATTER, then yes, just let the player make them up. Give him a "go on" sort of gesture or otherwise indicate that this isn't an important detail.

I think this works without too much overhead (avoiding the issues in ii) without giving the player full creative sway.

\$\endgroup\$
8
\$\begingroup\$

If the information is solely limited to things the GM has decided - then yes, you are stuck with the mouthpiece issue, as tabletop RPGs are played through conversation, and if only one person can declare facts, then that is what you end up with.

However, allowing players to make input can vary greatly in scope, and maybe one of these will work better for you?

Free Narration

Free Narration is the broadest scope of this - "I made the roll, therefore, I declare the head financial officer of EvilCorp has a gambling addiction..." I find this works well in some games, mostly games which have different sets of conflicts than "can I win?" and other sorts of restraints.

Ask a Question

The player's skill allows them to ask questions which will be answered truthfully. These questions have to be things they COULD know, or COULD learn with in the constraints of the fiction: "What is his history?" not so much "What did he do alone in that locked room?" Successful roll gives you more questions.

You may choose to limit the questions in some way - yes/no questions, things that happened in the last week, or whatever makes sense. Games like Apocalypse World simply get a short list of questions and let you pick a few from the list based on the success you rolled.

Loaded Questions the player answers

The player can declare the answers, but you, the GM determine the questions.

"You dig into his records and you find they tried to purge a criminal case from his adolescence... looks like he killed a family member! Who was it, and what seems like the cause?"

By loading the question, you get to define some boundaries around it, but by giving the player some control, they definitely get to feel like an insider. You will need to be able to improvise to meet what they add, but it's not as wild as free narration.

Additional Consideration

Related but not direct to the question, the other thing I usually do is just start handing some free info to lore characters anyway. "The man clearly works for the Inaz Clan, you can tell by the trademark scar on the back of his hand - they train in knife fighting and you see it all the time."

I actually hand free info to different characters overall, based on their focus of expertise. In the classic D&D setup, I tell the fighter about which enemies look tough, how well the opponent's team work is, I tell the rogue about ambush spots and potential hiding places, the cleric has rumors about the history of undead, etc.

I assume characters are proficient or experts, and paint the world accordingly.

The other thing I usually do is just start handing some free info to lore characters anyway. "The man clearly works for the Inaz Clan, you can tell by the trademark scar on the back of his hand - they train in knife fighting and you see it all the time." (I actually hand free info to different characters overall, based on their focus of expertise.)

\$\endgroup\$
  • \$\begingroup\$ "Ask a question" remind me of how information skills work in my friend's homebrew system: number of successes = number of yes/no questions the GM must answer truthfully. \$\endgroup\$ – Pavel Aug 7 '15 at 12:09
7
\$\begingroup\$

Option 3, All the Way!

You act like option 3 is a joke, but it doesn't have to be. In my campaigns, most of my players write 2-3 page backstories (of their own volition), and I try to help each of them determine how their background fits into the current campaign. I also end up writing 1-2 paragraphs about each important location, event and NPC for my own reference.

If you have a very information/lore-based campaign, you can turn your notes into a couple pages of information for your loremaster. It won't be completely comprehensive, but it should be enough for them to know what questions to ask you when they need additional information. In other words, it should at the very least contain a list of all concepts that might be relevant during the campaign (as well as a few red herrings). If you don't want to spoil too much from the start, you can, for example, have a separate page to hand them when a new organization enters the stage.

TL;DR If you're taking notes before your campaign, take the time to tidy them up and give them to your loremaster.

\$\endgroup\$
  • \$\begingroup\$ Sadly, I do not have the time to do this. Most of my world is card board cut outs that only get fleshed when the players interact with it. However, if one had the time this would be a good solution. \$\endgroup\$ – Sardathrion - Reinstate Monica Jun 18 '15 at 14:25
6
\$\begingroup\$

There's not a lot to be done here in the general case.

The three options you listed are pretty much definitive. You need to push information from the GM to a player, and it's unlikely that you'll know what information needs to be pushed in advance.

You could do something crazy, like write up a comprehensive wiki of your campaign world and give the loremaster access to it. But that's unlikely to be cost-effective and will seriously limit the GM as the campaign develops.

One thing that will help is to understand that the purpose of a loremaster is to provide the table with more information than they would otherwise receive, sooner than they would normally receive it. If you're just using the Loremaster as a conduit for the bits of information you would distribute normally, you need to rethink your strategy.

Think of them like a fighter. Instead of killing goblins, they hit the world with their knowledge skills until exposition comes out.

A good example of this is the D&D Fourth Edition Monster Manual, which has various bits of information about the monsters next to knowledge roll DCs. If you have the skills, you get extra information either at the start of the fight, or when the players first learn what kind of monster they're tracking.

As to providing a voice to the character... You do it the same way you provide a voice to a fighter. The player gives them a personality and something to say when they aren't spouting lore. Embellish with player commentary when lore is delivered. The DM can then play into this by delivering the lore in terms that match the personality of the character.

Of course, some specific systems will provide little bits and pieces that help or hinder this. Games which share authorship with the players will offer the loremaster a chance to write their own backstories, for example. Think Dungeon World and its tendency to ask the player questions to add to the backstory ("where did you learn this?" being a good one).

\$\endgroup\$
4
\$\begingroup\$

I prefer (iv), give the loremaster an overview and then make them ask for more details.

For example:

GM: "You know this and that about <some corporation>, you also have more details, feel free to ask."

Player: "Do I know who is the head of that corporation?"

GM: "Yes, you do, it is <that guy>"

Player: "And do I also know the combination of the safe in his office?"

GM: "You think for a while but no, it seems you don't."

The difference is between having the knowledge and having access to it. The player doesn't really need all the knowledge about that corporation. But he has access to it through his character and GM.

\$\endgroup\$
4
\$\begingroup\$

If there is a loremaster type character in my group I focus more on lore as a central part of the game plot.

If the only lore in the game the group need to progress is for example some historic event you either know about or you don't there is no way to make a loremaster mechanic interesting no matter the method of knowledge transfer you use.

Instead I try to connect as many things as possible into the background lore of my gaming world. Like the reasons behind why a specific item was created, why it's wanted by person X and why person Y wants to destroy it.

Then I mainly use your option 3, sometimes 2 if needed. I always give the lore guy some starting info, usually via email before the game session even starts. This is motivated as stuff the character just knows or read about recently or something like that.

I also feed some info to other characters, but maybe more connected to their backgrounds or contacts and not as much of it as to the loremaster. One of their challenges in the game will be to connect useful hints together and sort out the decoy info I also put there.

But this is important - the players doesn't know this is one of the challenges, at least not right away. They think they just got some backstory fluff handed to them by the GM. Except maybe the loremaster who will have a few more clues. If you get him to start asking the other players about their backstories in his attempts to connect the dots you can get some great roleplaying going.

You can also give a player something they are a bit reluctant to reveal for backstory reasons, like a relative that went into hiding for reason and don't want to be contacted but who is the missing piece in the information you fed the loremaster. Enjoy the moral dilemma when they realize this is what the loremaster is looking for. Adjust according to desired complexity and how good roleplayers you have at your table.

Later when you need to come up with more material for the campaign. Go back to some of that decoy info you put in earlier and make it important. Use it as inspiration and feed more info that connects to it into the group. The players will think you planned it all along ;)

I don't think it needs to be much different from how you normally build backstories that integrate with your plot. You just feed the loremaster character more info compared to the rest of the group. Instead of letting the group hear about an old castle at the tavern you let the loremaster read about it in a book between sessions. But you also let him read about the scary swamp and haunted forest so he won't know for sure which one is important without learning the groups fighter have a sister who once saw a unicorn in the forest. This he will connect to the other hint you gave him about unicorns in the previous session.

This way the loremaster becomes an important part of the group. And the work you spend on creating extra lore is not wasted. It will give you a richer background, more available plot hooks and hopefully you also enjoy creating/researching it. Just don't feed him everything, the other characters must also be able to be in on the discussions and occasionally contribute some important piece of info. Different characters can even be "loremasters" in different areas of expertise depending on your game world.

\$\endgroup\$
2
\$\begingroup\$

Disclaimer: Which tactic is best depends, as always, on the style/theme of your game, the scope of lore being discussed, and the players involved.

Empower the player to alter the setting: Defer to Jadasc's fuller answer: let the player improvise, and treat anything they say as fact unless it contradicts a previous fact/event of the campaign, or a major premise unknown to the player. (Remember- nothing about the setting is fact until the players learn it!)

Empower everyone to alter the setting: Have a group discussion, and decide what the lore is/should be. This is less immersive, but it allows you and the players to come together to decide facts of the setting, which can be very desirable depending on the type of game you're playing, and helps keep everybody engaged and interested.

Empower the player to remix the information: Simply write a note and pass it to the player. Obviously, this only works for short pieces of specific information, but it allows the player to roleplay the deliver however they wish- adding flair or emphasis, or even withholding information from the other players. They expanded version of this is what you mentioned- pulling them aside- which is itself viable, if it's been quite a long time since the last break in the session. Let everybody split up for 5 minutes to hit the restroom or whatever.

Redefine the "lore" skill: This may break some systems or change the flavor of some characters, but one possibility is to change "Your player knows X" to "Your player someone, that likely would know X". You can utilize the previous option to augment this, because your players can't always leave mid-fight to track down the local expert on space-goblin armor's weaknesses. Depending on the flavor of the campaign, you could have "fate" suddenly have the players run into an NPC who knows the answer by "coincidence", but obviously outside of any heavily fate/chance driven setting this will get stale fast (and might still, inside one.)

\$\endgroup\$
-2
\$\begingroup\$

There are many things you can do to give a loremaster archetype something to do that they choose. Others have already discussed the 'player as GM' and 'loremaster must choose specific questions to ask' solutions, so I will mention a 3rd.

Games can range anywhere from groups where you make an assumption that all the characters and players, will be working towards exactly the same goals, through to direct competition or conflict. There is a big middle ground where your characters might be working towards similar goals, but have different priorities. Many examples in fiction include characters vaguely working together but not completely. Game of Thrones is a popular one at the moment. If you encourage your players to go for their personal goals as well as group goals, the loremaster decides go from being a mouthpiece to being a manipulative source of half truths and occasional lies who has a huge impact on the direction the party goes.

I once had a semi-co-op campaign where one of the characters, through stealth, bluff, sense motive and illusion, completely sidetracked the rest of the group into doing his bidding.

Keep in mind, you will need some subtle way to pass information, most likely instant messaging on phones

\$\endgroup\$
  • \$\begingroup\$ My answer has not solved the problem as such, it has completely avoided it arising in the first place. If your players are acting in a semico-operative way, then there is justification for the GM to pass information to the loremaster, and the loremaster decides what information (and what lies) to pass on to the party. In such a case, asking how to stop the loremaster from being a mouthpiece for the GM is a meaningless question, as they AREN't just a mouthpiece to begin with. \$\endgroup\$ – Scott Jun 19 '15 at 7:03

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.