Monster Lore With A Twist

Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #1102

Here’s a radical idea, but hear me out.

I’ve done this before, and when done right it works well.

When a character makes a fantastic monster lore check, hand them the monster manual and let them read the monster entry out to the group.

There are pros and cons here.


  • No secrets, no surprises
  • Players will know the monster’s exact weaknesses
  • Players will know the creature’s MVP ability(s)

It’s strange thinking players will have all the specific details.

The mystery is indeed gone.


Might as well flip over your GM screen and let them read the whole adventure, right?

Not so fast.

There are some cool upsides to this:

  • Puzzle
  • There’s Still Mystery
  • Tweak
  • Monster Games

Let’s dig into each of these to see how we can use this approach to make games more fun.

The Puzzle

Our biggest boon. While mystery has fled, a whole new layer of gameplay opens up.

With players armed by intel on their foe, what’s their best approach?

What tactics should each character follow?

How will the party prep for the combat?

Should they try to roleplay their way to victory? No one said the monster had to scale to group power level, so you can serve up tough foes without worry or guilt.

Having details of an upcoming challenge will engage your players because they’have a lot of interesting things to think about.

Let us weigh the value of shock, awe, and surprise monster secrets deliver to the game. Once a creature uses their key ability, that mystery is over. Other surprises likewise vanish when revealed.

There’s value here, but it disappears after the reveals.

Weigh the fun of surprise versus the fun of players knowing the details and puzzling out their options and approaches.

For bonus points, ask players to plan and debate in-character to maintain good roleplay and characterization.

Another big win for you here — you’ve created a puzzle for your group without any effort on your part.

But There’s Still Mystery

While attacks, defenses, and special abilities no longer remain secret, mysteries still abound.

You don’t serve your monster up as waiting behind the door, ready for a simple toe-to-toe grind.

Deliver surprises through terrain. Put the creature in the most advantageous position as possible.

Reward offers another mystery. Players might learn or reason what kind of loot the monster might have, but they won’t know for sure.

You still have other tricks up your sleeve, as well:

  • Pile on waves of foes. The monster might have minions or handlers.
  • Tweak the environment. A thunder storm, poisonous air, strobe lighting from weird fungi.
  • Give the monster a Combat Mission so its behaviour seems unusual. “What’s it doing? Why is it doing that? What should we do now?”

Inject secrets and mysteries into your encounter for surprises to make up for players having access to the monster’s crunchy details.

Time To Tweak

Once players have the monster entry in their hands, they’re going to discuss.

Use this time to catch up on session log entries.

Use this time to tweak the upcoming encounter and add additional cool details.

And use this time to listen and let players tell you how to make the monster encounter more challenging as they speculate, express worries, and plan.

Monster Games

I mentioned a character should achieve high success to earn monster guide access.

For moderate successes, I handed over the monster entry and set a sand timer. Players scrambled to take notes before time ran out. They get a lot of detail this way, but not the complete picture to study at leisure. This worked well.

Another trick: give monsters different or changed abilities. Do this just once in a while or players will stop trying to use their lore skills.

Feel free to put certain monsters on a holdback list. Creatures so rare and mysterious no one knows about them, regardless of skill check.

As another monster game, turn lore check results into 5 Room Dungeons.

For example, let’s say Sandy rolls 18 on Knowledge(Dungeon) to learn more about a creature called the thressalisk.

That’s good enough to hand over the monster manual.

But what if we instead gave them a clear hook to acquire this knowledge? Their great check earned them a guaranteed path to the monster’s lore.

We tell them there’s a sage in a nearby town who has that knowledge. The PCs 1) have an encounter during the trek, 2) are mistaken as wanted criminals by the guard, 3) are told by the sage a retired mercenary encountered the creature, 4) find the mercenary in the slave pits, 5) rescue him and get their information.

If your group rolls this way, lore check results as 5RDs make great mini-quests.

So there you have it. Blasphemy and all. Let players read your monster books after skill checks. See if the resulting gameplay is more interesting than keeping critter details secret.