This is the second blog of my Unbloodied Heroes series exploring alternatives to 4e’s noncombat mechanics. In this blog, I will describe proposed mechanics for Exposition. The blogs in this series are:
Unbloodied Heroes 1: An Introduction
Unbloodied Heroes 2: Exposition from Point of View
Unbloodied Heroes 3: Interludes: Backgrounds and Retraining
Unbloodied Heroes 4: Travel and Group Efforts
Unbloodied Heroes 5: Exploration and Individual Efforts
Unbloodied Heroes 6: Skills Reimagined
Related to this blog series are my prior series on Combat Investment, Social Challenges, and Protagonocentrism.
Exposition occurs any time the DM needs to convey information to the PCs. This involves giving characters background information, telling them what they can see, smell, taste, hear, and feel. (Sometimes, a Dm will tell them even what they intuit.) In 4e, this is often handled using a combination of passive skill checks and the Arcane, History, Insight, Nature, Perception, and Religion Skills. I propose that these skills be eliminated.
Rather, I will take a cue from OD&D and 1st edition. If the players need to know something for the adventure, the DM should just tell them. The DM should not need to roll to see if something is hidden. If he wants something to be hidden, he declares it to be hidden. If he wants something to think it’s hidden, he declares that it failed to hide.
Now, before you complain that I’ve eliminated half of the Skills from the game, let me assure you – active searching will remain, though in a different form. (That form will be described in the fifth blog of the series.)
POINT OF VIEW (POV)
I would replace these Skills with a new diceless mechanic called “Point of View”. If the DM wants to convey information, he can simply convey it. But how do you handle characters who seek to have expertise. Well, the DM can choose to convey information through a PC’s POV. I have divided all the information a DM might want to impart into 36 discrete categories of knowledge. When a DM seeks to convey information, he determines in what category the information most appropriately fits (and might in fact split the information across categories). He then conveys the information to the character or characters who possess this POV, and the can then share the information with the party (or not) through roleplaying.
The benefit of POVs is several. First, the DM no longer has to worry about the party failing to catch something because someone rolls a “1” on a knowledge-related Skill check. Second, the players no longer need to call for active Perception checks every five feet. If the DM wants them to notice something, he’ll tell them so. Third, the process of selecting POVs will help counter Combat Investment, requiring players to consider in which of the 36 categories their characters have an interest.
One thing to remember is that having a POV does not necessarily mean the character is an expert in that area (though it might). POV does not represent an objective level of knowledge. Rather, it represents a player character’s knowledge compared to the other characters of the party. It determines which character will receive information, not whether any character will receive information.
CATEGORIES OF KNOWLEDGE
The 36 categories, which I’ve grouped into three “schools”, are as follows:
Creatures: Aberrations, Beasts (including Dragons), Civilized Humanoids, Constructs, Demons, Elementals, Fey, Immortals, Plants, Savage Humanoids, Shadow, Undead
Fields: Alchemy, Appraisal, Arcane, Architecture, Empathy, History, Geography, Nature, Religions, Small details, Tells, Writings
Terrains: Aerial, Aquatic, Arctic, Astral Planes, Elemental Planes, Far Realms, Feywild, Shadowfell, Subterranean, Temperate, Tropics, Urban
A playing group should agree on one of the following methods of distributing the POVs amongst the PCs. These methods are ordered, not my preference, but from simplest to most complex:
METHOD I: Don’t Bother: Perhaps nobody cares who is given exposition. Then don’t bother with POVs. The DM should simply give the entire party all the exposition.
METHOD II: Overlapping Selection: Each PC chooses seven categories personal to their character. If you like, allow each player to select an additional number of categories equal to the character’s Intelligence bonus. If multiple characters take the same category then each should be given the appropriate exposition. (The DM may decide to break the information into pieces and give each character with this category one piece.) If nobody takes a category, then the entire party should be given this exposition, being presumed to be equally knowledgeable (or equally ignorant) in this category.
METHOD III: Even Distribution: Beginning with the character with the highest Intelligence score and continuing to the lowest (flip coins to break ties), each character selects a category. Once a category is taken no other character can take it. Continue until there are no categories left. Players should be encouraged to discuss their choices beforehand so people do not feel robbed of a category that really should be given to them.
METHOD IV: Competitive Distribution: Each category is given a numerical value. Characters begin with 2 points in each category. They then get 36 points to distribute amongst the categories. Every level, the character gets an additional point to add. At eleventh level and at twenty-first level, every category increases by two points. Characters may retrain 1 point per level per the retraining rules. The DM will need to track all of the PCs’ points. When exposition is to be disseminated, the DM will tally the points in that category, and randomly determine which character gets the information.
For example, let’s assume a party of four: Dorothy, Scarecrow, Lion, and Woodsman. They are confronting a wizard, and he wants to see which of them realizes the wizard is using chicanery to appear more powerful than he is. He decides this will depend on their knowledge of Architecture to see the pulleys and curtains where he hides his devices. Dorothy, Scarecrow, Lion, and Woodsman have 8, 2, 3, and 6 points respectively. This totals 19 points, so the DM rolls a d20. 1-8 means Dorothy, 9-10 means Scarecrow, 11-13 means Lion, 14-19 means Woodsman, and 20 means roll twice (a second 20 means roll twice more, and a third 20 means all the PCs are given the exposition). The DM rolls a 6, so Dorothy is given the information. The player decides her animal companion notes the curtain and tugs is open, revealing the wizard as a fraud.
Stay tuned for my next blog where I discuss rules for interludes.