Thursday, January 22, 2015

Turning "What did we get?" Into "Here's What You Know."

Angry’s got a pretty good rant (or, rather, how-to) on exposition. Suffice it to say, your best world-showing probably happens in the game, rather than before (though I never fail to sneak in a little via character creation, and D&D 5’s backgrounds are a great opportunity for more of that).

There are some related thoughts on ars ludi about using treasure as a method for providing exposition:

There are lots of times during a game when players are half-listening, or thinking about other things, or maybe just wandering into the kitchen to get a soda. But in the magical post-combat pre-treasure window, everyone’s attention is high, their curiosity is piqued, and they are clamoring to hear what you will say next.

Couple this with the Three Clue Rule and you shouldn’t have much trouble filling out your treasures with interesting stuff. The treasure doesn’t just include a map to the ancient elven forge, but an elven silvered dagger worn by the scholar the map was stolen from bearing his family crest on the pommel, and an ornamental lapis-and-gold bowl engraved with runes commemorating a deal between the forge and a dwarven nation which agreed to supply the forge with mithril in exchange for an even weight of brandy.

Which answers the question Zak brought up when I was trying to find where I’d read the ars ludi quote above:

I just go "…aaaaaad 5200gp worth of random fancy junk". The thing I hate is when it's like "…and 37 copper and 2 tourmalines worht 6000 each and…" like: why are we doing math for no reason and hearing random jewel names?

I’ll admit the Gygaxian Naturalist in me knows exactly why the hobgoblins have a chest full of uncut rubies, but, as Zak points out, it’s really all the same to the players. (Most of the time. My college group was big on the types of gems they were getting and using them in jewelry they designed and commissioned for themselves. But they were an exceptional bunch in many ways.)

With treasure-as-exposition, you get to eat your cake and have it too. Just be sure the exposition gives them something actionable. That is, it’s not just, “Hearken ye back to the days of yore…” and is more, “Hey, I’ll bet these elves could tell us something about the lost forge,” or “Wait a minute… these are all tools for hunting vampires. Do you think these guys knew something we don’t?”


Jon Bupp said...
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Jon Bupp said...

I may have to switch to Zak's method somewhat. I list off the loot found, and unless it's something that (randomly) catches a player's attention that they say "Oooo! I want that in my share!", the player that keeps the loot list just converts it all into gold pieces on his sheet.

Of course, I could just put some interesting stuff in like you mentioned in as well.

trollsmyth said...

Jon Bupp: Yeah, unless there's a really good reason for the players to be interested in the difference between diamonds and star sapphires, I think Zak's got the right of it.

And, knowing what you know about your players, I'd be sure they knew the importance before they get the treasure. Don't make them roll, just tell them straight out. Otherwise, they'll miss it due to the habits they've already developed.

Jon Bupp said...

I don't have any type of rolls to appraise. I rule that if you have a dwarf or gnome, they know what gems and jewellery are worth. Elves know art objects. Character background play into this as well.

Overall I find it easier for me (I don't have to keep track of the value of stuff they roll poorly on). But I prefer a more heroic game than realistic one.

Lum said...

Treasure=Actionable Exposition. I'll have to remember that the next time I'm stocking.

Personally though, as a player and a DM I like knowing what the gems are, and having to decide things like who has to carry the gilded credenza.

trollsmyth said...

Lum: I think one of the reasons my college group cared about gems was because we paid more than a passing nod to encumbrance (until the group was well-outfitted with more than one bag of holding).

These days, when I'm using a Raggi-esque encumbrance system, I'll admit I tend to ignore coinage, so transforming some of it into easy-to-transport gems isn't such a big deal.