I have been running a solo game for a friend in a system I created several years ago.

I have encountered a GMing problem that I have not previously had to deal with, because real-life time constraints have rarely been as pressing on our longer campaigns as in this game. We play for ~2-3 hours every 2-3 weeks and the player is moving away in 6 months.


  • The PC is a human-ish recruit in the Templar, an international political / religious / military organization sprung from the fall of the organization of the modern Church Catholic, and to a lesser extant various other major religious organizations, alongside the rest of the world in the setting's founding apocalypse. He is undergoing his mandatory two years of formal training in Jerusalem, which is the world headquarters for said organization.
    • The PC uses Metalworking (especially swordsmithing and die-casting) and as a form of meditation, drawing from a background involving child labor in a non-industrial Foundry.

There are four factions relevant to the example situation:

  • The PCs extensive pen pal network in his hometown, a burgeoning, melting-pot-type metropolis in Southeast Asia;

  • the generally elderly contemplative, always strongly religious, cultually isolationist, highly theologically competent portion of the Templar who bear more likeness to the Orthodox Churches (especially the Coptic Orthodox Church and/or the Eastern Orthodox Church) then the Western ones;

  • the usually younger, strongly politically involved, social justice proponing, charismatic, always-chipper, intensely manipulative, liberation-theology leaning portion of the Templar, who bear more resemblance to Orders of the Western Church ( especially the Jesuits and/or the actual historical Poor Knights of Christ and the Temple of Solomon circa 1100-1200 AD) than those of the East;

  • and the Darkwings, a surprisingly insular extra-territorial nation of giant sentient crows who control a disproportionately vast share of the world economy.


The PC has been on friendly terms with a number of Darkwings for some time. Recently, one particular Darkwing which the PC is close friends with came out about converting to Christianity, and joined the Templar. This is very much unacceptable in Darkwing society, which has Rules about How We Treat Outsiders and Things We Don't Tell People Ever No Matter What.

As a result, said friend was lynched and left for dead, to the surprise of the PC but not the lynchee (nor the actual non-trainee Templars, who know about such things because they come up pretty regularly). The PC is now preparing to have dinner with the parents of this friend. The PC is friends with the partnes, but the parents were at least involved with (and perhaps solely responsible for) the lynching.

My Problem

The player wants the character to have info on "what to do" in terms of what is culturally appropriate, etc. Because of time constraints, the player doesn't really want to have this information themselves except inasmuch as is necessary for the game to progress. The PC is acquiring this information in 5 ways:

  • Talking to their lynchee friend in the hospital (who grew up in Darkwing Culture)
  • Talking to their other friends in what is effectively their dorm hall (who are other trainee Templar, with the young Templar culture, but less actual knowledge)
  • Talking to their Priest (who is in the older Templar group)
  • Talking to their teachers (who are mostly younger Templar culture, though there is one older Templar culture)
  • Complaining to one of their pen pals (who is super not equipped to answer this at all but will definitely give advice anyways)

The problem is that the player wants to know the answers to questions like "what gift would be culturally appropriate to give to your friend who just lynched your other friend who is also their child, which you disapprove of the lynching of, but, like, you're not being uncivil about it.",

I am unable to answer. Why? The answer is different for each of the four different factions, and ambiguous even within a faction.

We slowly resort via a multistep process to my normal method of resolving this, which is to explain what each and every NPC contacted thinks about the matter. This takes a very long time.

The Question

What can I do to ensure this, and other similar questions-- like "I found out John is cheating on Sarah! What should I do?" -- where different people in the same faction might parse the question differently and arrive at different results-- are answerable within a short amount of time?

  • 4
    \$\begingroup\$ But that's reality, isn't it? If I trust the first source I ask, I get a fast answer. If I go around asking every possible source to get it absolutely right, I get multiple answers and it takes a lot of time. \$\endgroup\$
    – nvoigt
    Commented Nov 2, 2015 at 7:42
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ I am also curious about the answers, and have no help to offer despite running a subtle-culture-clashes game right now. We play weekly and it's slow—engrossing, but slow and imperfect and messy and I've found no shortcuts. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Nov 2, 2015 at 8:44
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Can you explain how your situation differs from any other kind of information gathering a character does? Does it take the same amount of time when your players inquire about the equipment of the local orc raiders? If not, what would happen if you apply the same techniques? \$\endgroup\$
    – nvoigt
    Commented Nov 2, 2015 at 9:14
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Is there some reason that you cannot continue the campaign via on line means when the move away happens? It's a solo adventure, so ... I don't see the problem beyond your being the DM in a system you set up and you've created your own problem for you to solve as DM, since the DM is the fount of all information for players in most RPG systems. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Nov 2, 2015 at 19:34
  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ This question needs a significant edit to get out of the "steam of consciousness format" and into a concise statement of the background, the conflict, your problem, and the core question to answer. I have provided an edit that is an attempt to achieve that. Please either revert/revoke it, or improve that so that nothing I gleaned from your rambling discourse is apt to confuse a prospective answer. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Nov 2, 2015 at 19:44

1 Answer 1


Here's a similar situation I had to resolve a few months ago. An illusionist wizard was being menaced by a bear, and he wanted to create an illusion of a monster that the bear would be afraid of. What's a bear afraid of? I, as DM, have never studied bears, and have no idea.

Me: "Okay, roll Knowledge:Nature to know what a bear is afraid of."
Him: (rolls) "23."
Me: "Okay, you know exactly what animal would be most terrifying to a bear.
What is it? You can name any animal and that's the terrifying one."
Him: "It's, um, a honeybadger."
Me: "Of course! Honeybadgers, the bear's one true predator!
The bear takes one look at your honeybadger and runs off."

Essentially I told the player his skill check was good enough to let him just narrate reality.

You can use something similar here:

You: "Okay, roll a Diplomacy check. Add a +2 modifier for each of the sources
you've consulted that helped you prepare for this check."
Player: (rolls) "23."
You: "Your preparation allows you to choose a very appropriate present.
You get to describe the present you chose, and then describe how it makes
the recipient feel."

If you're feeling creative, you could do something like Apocalypse World does, and offer a list of benefits the player could get.

Describe your gift, then roll Diplomacy; add +2 for each person that helped
you select it. If you get 10 or more, choose one thing from the following
list. 15 or more lets you choose 2; 20 or more lets you choose 3; 25 or more
lets you choose 4:

  • Your gift doesn't offend the recipient.
  • Your gift makes the recipient like you more.
  • Your gift makes the recipient feel like attacking your friend was wrong, and makes them want to not do it again.
  • Your gift makes the recipient feel like they're in your debt.
  • Your gift wasn't expensive for you in terms of time to find or make.
  • Your gift wasn't expensive for you in terms of money and resources to buy.

Whatever resolution mechanic you go with, try to make sure your player succeeds. :) He's putting a great deal of effort into this; he'll be frustrated with your game if it fails, but pleased if it succeeds.

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ +1, this is a good suggestion. Its main drawback is that, if the OP has already developed the relevant aspects of their setting in detail, introducing such an unpredictable element might suddenly invalidate a whole bunch of worldbuilding. But if they're not that heavily invested in that particular aspect of the setting yet (or are willing to "kill their darlings"), this is a very useful technique, not to mention an excellent way to add depth and complexity to a setting. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Nov 2, 2015 at 22:42
  • \$\begingroup\$ +1, Holy crap a good answer to all that. I was not expecting this. \$\endgroup\$
    – DCShannon
    Commented Nov 3, 2015 at 2:36
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Good answer, but this conflicts irreconcilably with the simulationist playstyle we're using for this game, and so will unfortunately not be helpful. It also conflicts irreconcilably with character-focused fiction, which the game in this case is. In a game without a focus on verisimilitude or characterization this seems like a good solution, though. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Nov 3, 2015 at 9:11
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ @thedarkwanderer Would it help if the resolution ended with "you choose a very appropriate present" without then asking them to describe it in detail? I mean, not being specific doesn't conflict with verisimilitude. The only conflict is when you're specific and that specific thing is inconsistent. The example from Apocalypse World seems sufficiently non-specific regarding the exact nature of the present, while focusing on what's important, which is how it's received. \$\endgroup\$
    – DCShannon
    Commented Nov 3, 2015 at 19:28
  • \$\begingroup\$ @DCShannon Well, the problem then becomes that we have to figure out what the present is anyways. Can it be broken? When the recipient places it in the appropriate place in the house, is it closer to the bedroom or the door? Can it be eaten? Is it flamable? etc. Either we are super vague about everything it interacts with, or I have to figure out what the PC is giving anyways. Regardless, though, the player isn't after the effect of knowing the answer so much as the answer itself, which is the real problem. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Nov 4, 2015 at 1:09

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