Wednesday, 31 August 2016

It was kind of like a dragon, but also kind of like a neogi

Yesterday was spent at the beach. One of the great things about living in the North East of England is that it's one of the few areas of the British Isles where you can genuinely get away from it all: this was the August Bank Holiday, probably the most hellishly busy day of the entire year, when the entire population of the country hits the roads (except the sane but boring ones who stay at home and congratulate themselves all day that they aren't currently stuck in traffic). And yet we had miles of white sand more or less to ourselves. Just us, some seals, some dolphins, and the pure blue sky. Between Newcastle and Edinburgh there is a vast swathe of coastline where almost nobody lives and which everybody bypasses on the way to somewhere else; I know of very few other places on this overcrowded and bustling island like it.

This makes it a great place for encountering wildlife. I am not quite ready to admit to myself yet that I am very attracted by the prospect of bird watching (except when out shopping, huh huh, etc.). But regular readers of the blog won't be surprised to learn that my idea of a good time is being in the middle of nowhere, smartphone safely left at home, not a human soul to be seen, and a decent pair of binoculars to try to find me some wild animals to look at.

Yesterday I saw something I'd never seen before. It was hanging around on the beach, had fairly long legs and a reasonably long bill, so it was definitely some sort of snipe or other wading bird. It had black eyes and a sort of ruddy almost rust-coloured body. I had no idea what it was. It was quite "confiding", as I think naturalists put it: it didn't seem massively bothered about our presence. I had no idea what it was.

I got home and after a fair amount of digging I eventually came to a tentative conclusion that it was a knot in its breeding plumage, which is brick red. But knots aren't supposed to be found in the area, and are only supposed to winter in the UK (I think). And the photos sort of look like what I saw, but also sort of don't. And now 24 hours or more have passed, to be honest my memory of it is getting sort of hazy.

Why is this relevant? Imagine you were living in a fantasy world which had orcs and hippogriffs and dragons and su-monsters and ankhegs and all the other many different kinds of monster which could conceivably exist. You see something you've never seen before. Maybe only briefly, or in the distance. Or maybe just fleetingly, because you are busy running away and shitting yourself. Or maybe in the near-pitch blackness of a dungeon, by torchlight. Two weeks later you arrive back in civilization, half-starved and filthy. You go to the local guild of sages or whatever to try to find out what it was: but all you can summon up is a vague and not massively accurate description.

A big problem with RPGs is that they don't model PC knowledge as distinct from player knowledge very well. Typically this just has to function on the honour system (the player knows that trolls can't regenerate fire damage, but to make things interesting he acts as though the PC doesn't). But let's try:

The "It was kind of like a dragon, but also kind of like a neogi...." Rule

If a group of PCs encounter a monster on a one-off and do not kill it, there is a chance they will be unable to give an accurate description when asking a sage, guide, or other knowledgeable person about it later. For every day after the encounter, roll a d10. If the result is a '1', the PCs' subsequent description is inaccurate and the knowledgeable person identifies it falsely. He or she tells the PCs it has a different set of abilities and habits to those that it actually has.


  1. Interesting. I could definitely use this in my own games.

  2. "Typically this just has to function on the honour system (the player knows that trolls can't regenerate fire damage, but to make things interesting he acts as though the PC doesn't)."

    Interesting. I think player knowledge and character knowledge are generally allowed to become one thing in the games I've played and observed. I like finding out how differently groups approach this hobby