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A monster may have similar stats to a PC, e.g., Armour Class 10, Spear as a ranged weapon, etc.

When an encounter occurs, what part does the GM actually tell to the players? I suppose something like "an orc", but what else?

  • Does a typical description describe the weapons of the orc?
  • Do PC need to make a knowledge skill check to see what weapons a monster is actually wielding?
  • Is the AC of an enemy known to players, or can it be obtained via a knowledge check?
  • If an enemy is magical, can an arcane knowledge check provide every bit of information about such a monster?
  • When a monster does not take damage from non magical weapons, does the GM inform the heroes about that or simply says "no damage" on an damage roll?

Would this be regarded as a free action then? I mean it might be good to obtain knowledge that the monster deals fire damage so a player is able to equip his hero with the appropriate armour, but it is also plausible that the player does not know such details until this attack is used for the first time.

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Knowledge Skill: Monster Lore

You can use this skill to identify monsters and their special powers or vulnerabilities.

Check: In general, the DC of such a check equals 10 + the monster’s CR. For common monsters, such as goblins, the DC of this check equals 5 + the monster’s CR. For particularly rare monsters, such as the tarrasque, the DC of this check equals 15 + the monster’s CR or more. A successful check allows you to remember a bit of useful information about that monster. For every 5 points by which your check result exceeds the DC, you recall another piece of useful information.

When the players's characters meet a creature, the GM (or the players) could ask for a Knowledge skill check. Normally, people will first roll the dice and then ask what skill they should use, as it varies from monster to monster. The higher the result, the more information they recall about the creature.

The GM either has to look up the monster's stats and consider what could be useful on that situation and worth recalling for the character. Or ask the player what he would probably remember about the creature. The later is prone to metagaming, and the player could ask for things the monster might not have (a tiger has no vulnerabilities).

The GM should be careful to not give out information that is already obvious to the characters. An orc wielding a two-handed heavy axe that you identify that it is certainly a battle-axe and not a handaxe is not an useful piece of information in any form or shape, as that hardly helps against that orc.

Equipment is usually descriptive when you describe the encounter or the actions taken by the enemies. If said orc seems like he is wearing a breast plate with leather scraps, then that's probably a given that is is wearing a breastplate as his armor and will probably have at least 16 AC.

What you shouldn't give out as information:

  • Any mechanical game stats;
  • The previous item covers attack bonus, AC, hit points, hit die, saving throws, DC for abilities, how their special abilities work, their prepared spells, their known spells (*), their equipment that is not obvious to see, the amount of gold they are carrying in their pockets.

Let me just add that nothing stops you from giving out a creature's stats, but you don't have to, there are no rules saying you should. I know that some GM's prefer to hand out stats, but that moves the game a bit from a roleplaying game and more towards a tabletop game.

"*" If the creature has a known spell that is at will or that the creature is known for using it often, then that might be ok. Such as a blinking dog teleporting around at will or an imp that is nearly always invisible outside of combat.

What is a good narrative information that you could give them:

  • The name of the creature. That should be the first thing identified.
  • Rarity of the monster. Is he normally seen around there? Is he from another place? Is it normally summoned? Normally, describing the Environment information from the bestiary is enough (this is a beast normally seen on cold mountains, what brings her to this forest, nobody knows...).
  • General information about the creature, this is usually the first few paragraphs of text about the creature, this might be even more informative to the characters than saying that the creature has this or that special ability.
  • Gnolls are a race of hulking, humanoids that resemble hyenas in more than mere appearance; they show a striking affinity with the scavenging animals, to the point of keeping them as pets, and reflect many of the lesser creatures' behaviors. Gnolls are capable hunters, but are far happier to scavenge or steal a kill than to go out and track down prey. This laziness impels them to acquire slaves of whatever type is available, whom they force to dig warrens, gather supplies and water, and even hunt for their gnoll masters

  • Make up a legend their heard about this creature before, and that's how they knew about it (The dreaded ghasts of the Moonscar River). If the character is a wizard or has invested a good amount of skill points on that knowledge skill, you could make up the name of the book their read it from (The Tale of the Green Manticore).

And there are things you could say without any knowledge check, such as:

  • The header text on the bestiary, yeah, the one in italics, that is usually a good descriptive text for someone who has never seen this creature before.
  • This walking corpse wears only a few soiled rags, its flesh rotting off its bones as it stumbles forward, arms outstretched..

  • What weapon they are wielding, if it isn't an exotic weapon.
  • What seems to be their armor, if a player asks. You don't have to say what armor it is specifically, but a general idea is enough. Leather armor, leather scraps, leather armor with bits of metal on vital areas, a huge plate of metal covering their chest, etc.
  • Everything that you could tell simply by looking at an image on the creature (big teeth, long tail, green fur, glowy red eyes, four arms with claws, etc).

What is a special ability or vulnerability then?

This one is actually easy to answer. Look up a monster's stats. Read it thoroughly.

Now, what is the first thing that comes up when you think about it. That's the relevant information!

If the creature is a dragon, this is usually their dragon breath, their powerful spells, their high intelligence, or their frightening aura. If the creature is a ghoul, that should be their disease and paralyzing touch. If the creature is a succubus, that should be her charming and polymorphing powers. For a troll, that would be his regeneration that makes them immortal if fire is not used to burn the wounds, and so on.

Just keep in mind that this is an information that the character remembers. So he read or heard about this creature before, or a creature similar to the one he is looking at (or listening about). So, you have to think what about be something they would remember, what stands out most, what would make them scared of this creature.

Some facts about a medusa are completely irrelevant when you know that she can turn you into stone if you look into her eyes. Like, who cares if her bite is poisonous?, a lot of creatures are poisonous, but few of them can petrify you.

A vulnerability example is how trolls can be hurt by fire and acid.

Some creatures will have no special abilities, but their defenses or regenerative powers makes them strong. Knowing how to prevent their regeneration is something more useful to know than how much their bite hurts

Knowledge checks are not an action

This is exactly what the rules say. You don't have to waste an action to make a knowledge check, not even a free action. Which means you can make the check even when surprised and it's not your turn.

That doesn't mean you should tell the player everything about the creature before the combat even starts. Otherwise you might see some bad metagaming from the other players who just heard this information before the character that knows it even had the chance to speak.

Normally, it's good practice to wait for the character's turn before describing the result of his roll. So, after hearing what he knows about it, he can tell others on his turn using his free action to speak.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Is ability or vulnerability a knowledge check then? I did not understand that from your explanation. \$\endgroup\$ – Samuel Jan 11 '17 at 19:08
  • \$\begingroup\$ Sorry, I meant is this an information which is obtained by a knowledge check? \$\endgroup\$ – Samuel Jan 11 '17 at 19:15
  • \$\begingroup\$ Yes, could be. That depends if you think it's a relevant information. For a succubus for example, knowing that she can be hurt by cold iron may not be as important as knowing that she can control your mind and drain your very soul with a kiss. \$\endgroup\$ – ShadowKras Jan 11 '17 at 19:19
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Samuel Yes, you can obtain information about a creature with Knowledge checks. The higher you roll, more you know about it. \$\endgroup\$ – ShadowKras Jan 11 '17 at 19:27
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Upon them encountering an opponent, the DM should tell the players what their characters can perceive. It's a humanoid creature, tall, muscular, with a dirty mess of a hair and feral teeth, has this armor and these weapons, and sometimes other details like posture, other noticeable equipment, mood, expression.

If they never met an orc, you shouldn't tell them it's an orc unless they pass the relevant knowledge check (but for most common races it's an easy check) or unless they got told.

The knowledge check might tell them which weapons their race is famous for, but not what this guy here is carrying now. That's what spot checks are for, if they're someway hidden from sight.

While they might see and recoglnize the armor, don't tell them the numbers. Maybe it's clearly magical. Tell them if it shines or if it looks magical. Some enhancements can tell a lot about what the armor can do just by how they look.

For magical enemies... well, it depends. Every monster has a type, and which knowledge you need to roll depends on it. Dragons, Magical Beasts and some other types are magical enough to need an arcana check. Aberrations, while usually being very magical in nature, require a different check.

Lastly, when you fail to deal damage you don't tell them why, except if this why is something all members of that race have, in which case it is among the informations you can give out with their knowlege rolls.

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You didn't specifically request a RAW answer, so I'm going to focus on recommendations of things that've worked well for me in the past in a point by point manner. In general, my goal, regardless of whether I'm a DM or a player is to project or perceive the same world, respectively.

  • A brief description of what's before the players is reasonable. If an enemy is wearing light armor and wielding a crossbow, this information is readily apparent to the characters and thus should be readily apparent to the players. A lot of times horde creatures like orcs are equipped with the same gear, so it's not normally necessary to list every last thing. The characters are unlikely to notice every minute detail on every monster, so it's not unreasonable for the players to be unaware of those details. If a player asks, a lot of times you'll have to wing it, especially if it wasn't something you were planning; i.e. "What color is his belt." If a macguffin is floating about, though, it's not unreasonable for players to be searching for it on enemies if they expect it to be carried by them.
  • Depends how obvious it is. I would say no if it's an orc as a great axe held by the team's barbarian is probably pretty similar in unspoken intent as when wielded by an orc. Conversely, if they were facing a Solar, they'd know it had a big ass longbow, but what it could do with it would require a knowledge check. In general, I defer to assuming the player characters have a certain level of base knowledge about the world they live in. They know a wolf can bite you and with a simple DC knowledge check they know it can trip you with it's bite.
  • It's less a knowledge check and falls into a common knowledge thing when it comes to obvious things. The guy in full plate has an AC somewhere around 18 or 19 is obvious. What's not obvious is whether that is enchanted and could be making it higher, though, the players and characters will likely infer it via trial and error. Monster ACs, if not inferred, could certainly be divulged via a knowledge check.
  • I like knowledge skills to matter and if they don't provide a comparable in-game benefit to someone having a high stealth score then there's not a lot of reason for them. Divulging information let's knowledge monkeys feel validated for spending those skill points, which could've been spent elsewhere. Personally, I give out info on a sliding scale so there can be varying degrees of success. If they roll a 20, I give them pretty much everything and they can use that info to plan their attack as they see fit. If at all possible, it's preferable to me to do this before combat as opposed to during as it's more believable that the party as a whole is using that info.
  • I personally prefer an in-game statement and an out of game clarification. Too often have I been told that my weapon 'wasn't very effective' and took it to mean that I was dealing half damage when what was meant was, 'it didn't work at all'. Both cases are things that should be obvious to the character so they need to be obvious to the player as well. Others might be of a different school of thought on this, but that's my personal preference.
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  • \$\begingroup\$ Normally i tell right alway that their weapons did aparently nothing against it. Or describe it in a way that makes them re-think if that weapon is actually hurting the creature (your dagger goes right through the chest, but it waves away from it like nothing happened). But certain mechanical benefits are described differently from creature to creature, Damage Reduction for instance has been described as wounds close instantly and also as the creature has rock-solid skin. \$\endgroup\$ – ShadowKras Jan 11 '17 at 19:30
  • \$\begingroup\$ @ShadowKras it's the fact that things like DR can have varied descriptions that regularly cause me issues. 'rock solid skin' might mean to mean that they have a really high natural armor and I was lucky to hit, 'wounds close instantly' I might misread as regeneration. This is why I prefer the OOG clarification. \$\endgroup\$ – Pyrotechnical Jan 11 '17 at 19:33
  • \$\begingroup\$ Yeah but both mechanics have the same result, the creature is tough to bring down. The knowledge check is useful exactly for that, to separate one thing from the other. Even if a creature with DR closes wounds instantly, it is not immortal unless hurt by fire/acid. How would the character know this difference simply by attacking the creature? Well, they will certainly find out once the creature goes down, and comes back up a few seconds later... \$\endgroup\$ – ShadowKras Jan 11 '17 at 19:37

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