Revealing monster names/stats to PCs?

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Are there circumstances where you should/should not reveal monster names/stats to PCs? How are PCs supposed to discover special monster abilities/weaknesses?
If the character obviously know the name of a monster (Goblin, Dragon, Lizardman, Orc) then they should be able to figure it out even if their characters are new to adventureing.  At the very least, a level one character would hear stories about these monsters, especially if such monsters live by their home hown. (Goblins for example always raid local farms, Orcs the town itself, and Dragons demand praise and tribute from towns.)

If on player is able to roll a successful knowledge skill that relates to that monster (Arcana for Dragons, Nature/Dungeoneering for basically anything else natural and Knowledge Planes for anything planar) then the character is safe in assuming they at least know a little bit about that monster's particular stregnths and weaknesses and abilities.

Under no cercomstances should a character ever know the true name of something like a Deamon, Devil or god.  Something like that is beyond a character's knowledge and should be found out in some epic quest.

I never tell the party what a monster's stat line is.  Sometimes you get players that read the books front to back and can tell you every monster's exact stat line, but you should tell those players not to share such info in game.  The way I handle it is by explaing that a particular Orc os stronger or possibly smarter than an average orc, or maybe he's quite flexible/straight-up more dextrous than the other.  Use words that describe a particular stat, that way you never have to say an exact number and it leaves it up to the players to figure out how strong, exactly, a Minotaur is. (fyi, a Minotaur should be able to throw a normal sized human around some.)
Are there circumstances where you should/should not reveal monster names/stats to PCs? How are PCs supposed to discover special monster abilities/weaknesses?

I'd word that differently. Players and characters have different knowledge. It's generally appropriate for players to know as much as they want about the monsters, though it's generally not worth dumping a lot of that information on them. I give a quick rundown of defenses, and will keep them apprised of the creatures' HP. I don't usually tell them anything else directly, but I don't deliberately hide anything from them.

The characters may or may not know anything about the monsters. Obviously the characters don't know about numbers, but they can probably tell how hard it will be to affect the monster with various powers. The players think their character should know anything more about the monster, that's their decision, as is how the character knows what they know.

If I have to ask the GM for it, then I don't want it.

As Buddha said, there are monster knowledge checks for exactly this kind of thing.

Personally I always reveal a monster's defenses, current hit points and speed, even without any knowledge checks. It speeds up play a lot when the players can just say "Piercing Strike on the minotaur. 24, I hit. That's 32 damage. My turn is done."

The alternative is endless guessing games of "Does the minotaur look particularly agile?", "Does that harpy look badly enough hurt that a magic missile would knock her out?", etc.

I also heartily recommend for players to play around things like troll regeneration, basilisk gaze attack, succubus domination, etc. I think it's ridiculous to require that they don't act on knowledge that their characters "shouldn't have". Besides, how lazy is that? If I want to surprise the players with such abilities, I can just design a new monster that has them. Guess what, this mummy has mind control spells. Didn't see that coming, did ya?

Names of enemies I basically always reveal unless it's important to hide them. It helps when the players can refer to a specific monster without risk of confusion, avoiding descriptions like "I attack that four-legged thing to the left. No, not that, the other left."
The alternative is endless guessing games of "Does the minotaur look particularly agile?", "Does that harpy look badly enough hurt that a magic missile would knock her out?", etc.



So true. That is really annoying and reason enough to be transparent on this information. I like playing D&D, not 20 Questions. (This goes for out-of-combat stuff, too.)

For the OP, rules as written say Monster Knowledge checks which are outlined in the skills section. We don't follow those rules because "roll to do" is more interesting than "roll to know." As well, I prefer to have as many rolls as possible where you can gain or lose something. On a monster knowledge check, you can make it as a free action and if you fail, you're basically no worse off than when you didn't make the check at all. That's rather lame in my view. There should be an interesting downside, but then this tends to be the way of things with "roll to know" - it doesn't lend itself to interesting failure as easily as "roll to do." 

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Forgot to add, as for the names of monsters, yes, I share those, too. Not the "stat block name" though - I mean their actual names. This is part of my DM principles - "Name everything." Since I play online, all of those names are visible. Where a creature wouldn't necessarily have a name, I give them one-word adjectives to help the players reference them while remaining in the fiction. "I attack the pallid spirit" (where "pallid" is what I labeled it) is a lot more interesting than "I attack wraith figment #4."

I highly recommend naming everything and watching what the players do with that. It adds a lot of depth to the game. 

No amount of tips, tricks, or gimmicks will ever be better than simply talking directly to your fellow players to resolve your issues.
DMs: Don't Prep the Plot | Structure First, Story Last | Prep Tips | Spoilers Don't Spoil Anything | No Myth Roleplaying
Players: 11 Ways to Be a Better Roleplayer | You Are Not Your Character     Hilarious D&D Actual Play Podcast: Crit Juice!

FREE CONTENT: Encounters With Alternate Goals | Full-Contact Futbol  |  Pre-Gen D&D 5e PCs | Re-Imagining Phandelver | Three Pillars of Immersion | Seahorse Run

Follow me on Twitter: @is3rith

When I DM, I am a hybrid between Buddha and Centauri.

- First I will always share an image of the monster in question (most of my players are fairly new to the game and therefore ooh and aah over fantastic creatures). 

- Second, I use knowledge checks to see what the characters know about the monster(s) (although I am more lenient with the DCs than the books suggest).

- Third, within a round or two of combat the players have basically zeroed in on the target AC and therefore I simply give it out.  And within that same span even if knowledge checks fail the party has seen what the monster(s) can do and therefore I tend to spell it out.

- Last, I have a small whiteboard with the monster(s)' HP on it that all can see, if they choose (most choose not to), and when one is on his last legs I will tell the group as much, usually through description; I will say something to the effect of, "If you hit it is most likely dead," but not always; sometimes I will simply exclaim, "OOOH you took it down to 2HP! one more shot and it's done."

On the other hand, in the game I play in, that DM uses knowledge skills exclusively, and forces we players to learn things the hard way:  use electricity, it's immune; use cold iron, it's resistant ; etc etc etc.  This is either exciting and frustrating: exciting when all damage goes through because you have chosen the right combination, but frustrating when damage is reduced or ignored due to the wrong combination.

 

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I've taken to showing defenses/HP/resists/etc on a whiteboard as well; it's a lot faster and "the guessing game" just slows things down.

I think that if I was still inclined to use knowledge checks then doing so would actually give an ad hoc advantage or benefit of some sort during that encounter rather than just knowing what the thing can do. IE: "You get +4 to your defense vs (special ability)."
I've taken to showing defenses/HP/resists/etc on a whiteboard as well; it's a lot faster and "the guessing game" just slows things down.

Exactly. How exactly are you supposed to benefit from not telling them?

I think that if I was still inclined to use knowledge checks then doing so would actually give an ad hoc advantage or benefit of some sort during that encounter rather than just knowing what the thing can do. IE: "You get +4 to your defense vs (special ability)."

Now we're getting somewhere ;)

If the player isn't allowed to know something, then the roll becomes "do you know the thing or not"


  • Success: the DM warns you not to use effect A because the creature is immune

  • Failure: you have to waste a turn using effect A before you can find out the the creature is immune


vs.

If the player is allowed to know, then the roll becomes "does what you do about it work or not"


  • Success: The character recognizes the organ on the creature's (back? tail? neck?) that grants it the ability to recover from that type of damage, and the next time the character attacks and deals at least X amount of damage, the loss of the organ will make the creature more vulnerable to the effect rather than less vulnerable.


    • Even if the DM didn't know this about the creature, the dice say that the character did. 


  • Middling: The character recognizes the organ, but the creature gets an opportunity attack when the character does enough damage to destroy the organ [OOC, after the attack resolves so that the DM and player know when to apply the opportunity attack; IC, before the same attack resolves because the creature tried to defend itself when it noticed its weak point being threatened]

  • Failure: The character provokes an opportunity attack [OOC, after; IC, before] doing X amount of damage, and the organ is better protected than he thought, so creature regains immunity after the organ heals in 1d3 rounds.


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Why there should be the option to use alignment systems:
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If some people are heavily benefiting from the inclusion of alignment, then it would behoove those that AREN'T to listen up and pay attention to how those benefits are being created and enjoyed, no? -YagamiFire
But equally important would be for those who do enjoy those benefits to entertain the possibility that other people do not value those benefits equally or, possibly, do not see them as benefits in the first place. -wrecan (RIP)
That makes sense. However, it is not fair to continually attack those that benefit for being, somehow, deviant for deriving enjoyment from something that you cannot. Instead, alignment is continually attacked...it is demonized...and those that use it are lumped in with it.

 

I think there is more merit in a situation where someone says "This doesn't work! It's broken!" and the reply is "Actually it works fine for me. Have you considered your approach might be causing it?"

 

than a situation where someone says "I use this system and the way I use it works really well!" and the back and forth is "No! It is a broken bad system!" -YagamiFire

Making a check for bonuses is something I like, and can work in parallel with details that the characters know. In Dungeon World, it's worth knowing that something is vulnerable to fire, but if you Spout Lore about the creature, you can get an additional bonus or bonuses against it when you act on the fact you spouted about - which might be that self-same vulnerablity. Failure is interesting in Dungeon World's normal manner.

In Fate, you can roll to discover or establish Aspects, either permanently or temporarily. This is useful even if the Aspect is already known, because doing so provides one or two free invocations of the aspect to you or an ally. Those invocations are good for a bonus or a reroll on an action, with the caveat that the Aspect discovered must relate to the action being attempted. So, the academic who is staying out of the fight can used their strengths to discover or establish that the opponent "Has a soft spot," and someone can take advantage of that.

Failure can be interesting because if the discovery or establishment fails the target gets a free invocation on the Aspect. There might be some rewording required, such as changing "Has a soft spot" to "Well aware of its weaknesses."

It wouldn't be hard for D&D to do something like these. There's already a theme that improves on what knowledge checks can accomplish.

If I have to ask the GM for it, then I don't want it.

Ill tell the players whatever stat information they ask. If they want to know, I won't lie to them or refuse information. 


Generally they do a knowledge check at the start of the fight and learn some basic stuff which is enough to get them going. They attack with some fire weapons, and Ill say he seems to feed off the energy. They may or may not ask if he is immune, and Ill counter with no, just resistant and they can come back with "how resistant" if they want. 


Alternatively, if they decide they want to know its AC i will tell them. They rarely do. One thing I do have concerns with about AC, saves, and HP is that you occasionally get a player who tracks it. This can trap them in caring about that more than the actual encounter. It can cause some concern if they see a number that seems high (even if it isn't), leading to some long (honestly) off topic conversations about CR and how you aren't out to kill them, etc. If you find a player who is doing that, just say something like "I'd rather not give that info right now, I think its starting to distract from the actual encounter."


If a player seriously seriously cares, they should be able to find this info in a couple of rounds anyway. "A 26 hit, but a 22 missed. Its probably between 23 and 25." "We hit the one for 45 damage and it died, and this one has been hit for 30, don't worry about blasting with a big power, its probably dead soon". 

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