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Announcing DC checks without spoiling or metagaming?

Fellow Hyboreans!

I’ve got a question I ran into during my first session. From other systems I am aware that players either do not know the Difficulty Check (e.g. D&D5e) or the Dungeon Master makes a hidden check using the player’s skill, where the player can just announce whether to use a hero point to boost chances (Pathfinder2e), but ultimately the player does not know if whatever the DM tells is true or not. This keeps the players from Metagaming, in D&D they have to live with the outcome.

But in Conan, I must announce how difficult something is. This leads to the problem that players are AWARE of something very, very mysterious going on. For example I tell them something is odd about an object and if they want to figure it out using e.g. society or lore, it’s DC4. Wow, now they’ll use doom and stuff, but I am giving away - before they even succeed or fail - that something very important is hidden beneath a very high DC. I can’t make it a “DM check” because that obviously does not work in 2d20, I can’t just let them roll because they need to be aware of the high difficulty before making the decision how much momentum or doom they want to spend. I mean, you can’t go out and say “uh, that’s more difficult then a DC2, so you have to decide how much momentum or doom you would like to spend… but I am not going to tell you!”. Or is this how you handle these situations?

Set low Difficulty tests but gate additional information behind additional Momentum spends.

GM: Give me a D1 Society or Lore check
Player: Ok, rolls 2D20, gets two successes
GM: Cool, describes a normal looking room, and up the back there’s this object that looks out of place. It seems odd in a particular way.
Player: I walk over to it, and look at it more closely.
GM: OK, that’ll be a Momentum spend to improve the Success of your last test.
Player: Hmmm… Nah, I’ve only got 1 Momentum. That’s not worth it.

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I’ve found that the best way of dealing with metagaming isn’t hidden rolls or DC numbers, but rather sitting down with your players and talking about the separation of players knowledge and character knowledge. If they can pretend that they’re a barbarian or a sorcerer, they can pretend that their character doesn’t know they failed a test.

You can also encourage metagaming when done for the right reasons- sure, you know they’re walking into an ambush, the players know it, heck, even the person who lives there but doesn’t play knows it, but the players can use that knowledge to help portray their characters in more realistic fashion.

I had a player in this very situation (different game system) who did just that- they knew for a fact that “very bad things” were about to happen, but when their character failed their spot check, they owned it by narrating how they were lost in thought, distracted by the recent death of another PC and their struggle to cope, recounting memories of others they had lost and the impact it had on them. When another character suggested that they should take a different path, they said that their character wasn’t paying attention to what would be safer.

The player knowing what was about to happen helped to create a more visceral and cinematic experience for everyone.

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I love when players “play along” and still face a grim situation, despite knowing better as a player (but the character does not).

To my players defense, I think I have awesome players who do this too. Yet - and this might just be me as a Gamemaster - I find it odd saying “ok, you could observe this object, but maybe, if you spend 2 additional momentum, you will find out more”. It’s like saying “okay, it’s DC4 because there is something very important hidden which is very unlikely to be found with 2d20, BUT… if you give me more doom or use up your momentum… it might be easier.” I just feel like giving away information about plot elements before the players even realize it’s there, just because the DC is “oddly high”. Or maybe I am just playing this plain wrong :smiley:

I’m curious about the precise situation with which you are dealing, because my immediate reaction is that D4 is high. My own understanding is that D1 is the game’s baseline and unusual circumstances alter that. Therefore, I would referee your example as follows:

D1 Success: you know that the item is ancient and exotic.

+1 Momentum: it’s Acheronian.

+2 Momentum: it was used in Acheronian death rituals.

+3 Momentum: if you can figure out the magic, you can use it to curse someone—Death Himself will come for the character in 1 [CD] days.

+4 Momentum: if you coat this sigil with human blood and utter a certain Acheronian phrase, the spell is cast (but at Fear 2 to self, which need not be disclosed :smiling_imp:).

Meta gaming shouldn’t be an issue. Momentum spends should be available for any available Skill Test. It’s simply up to the player to spend them or not. The GM shouldn’t have to hint either way.

Situations in which the Difficulty goes up or down usually is obvious to everyone, given the narrative environment, or the rules make them explicit. Even so, I see Conan as a narrative game. Players have every opportunity to “meta game” it, but doing so doesn’t ensure victory. The GM always can counter with Doom, Complications can be rolled, or the test can be simply unsuccessful.

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This is how it’s done! Love this - and Eigemlaer’s - explanation. This is why the “gather information” momentum spend exists.

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The advantage of this is you can allow multiple attempts (treating it a bit like a Complex test, or indeed as a Complex test) with changes to the context.

First test vs D1 and +1 Momentum it’s Acheronian.

“OK, I take it to Second Character and ask him, he knows more about Acheronian stuff than I do”

Second test vs D1.
Success: it was used in Acheronian death rituals
+1 Momentum: if you can figure out the magic, you can use it to curse someone
+2 Momentum: if you curse someone Death Himself will come for the character in 1 [CD] days.
+3 Momentum: if you coat this sigil with human blood and utter a certain Acheronian phrase, the spell is cast (but at Fear 2 to self, which need not be disclosed :smiling_imp:).

You could also take it to an NPC, where these would be the result of a Persuade test to convince them to tell details about the object.

The way I do this is remind my players after almost every information test “hey you can spend more Momentum to get more information”. Eventually they’ll learn.

Sometimes the information they receive will be negative, ie it let’s them know that it’s a dead end they’re investigating.

Success: you know that the item is ancient and exotic.
+1 Momentum: it’s effectively ancient kitsch, but it’s clear that the owner has a distinct interest in ancient goods and societies.

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Its always worth bearing how much your players really ‘know’ but don’t say out loud. If they’re experienced, they know a heck of a lot about what’s going on, really.

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Oh man, I feel very bad for not replying quicker. Thank you all very, very much for your great answers! I personally have learned that I should insist on pointing out that additional momentum can be spend to learn additional information - that’s a great idea to deplete the player’s momentum pool and still giving them something in return.

@cthulhuka - I actually haven’t found the “gather information” in the “Momentum Spend” list - is it included somewhere in the Core rule book or was @inane.imp 's answer what you meant?

Again, thank you all from the bottom of my acheronian, dark heart. The Modiphius Forum is a great place to hang out because of friendly folks like you!

In Conan it’s a standard Momentum spend (Improve Speed of Success, Improve Scope of Success, Improve Degree of Success and Create Obstacle, are how I think of the standard spends, or - for the Daft Punk fans - Faster, Wider, Better, Harder):

Core book pp. 103-104

Obtain Information (Repeatable)
Momentum allows a character to learn more about a situation. Each point of Momentum spent can be used to ask the gamemaster a single question about the current situation, item, object, structure, creature, or character present in or relevant to) the scene at hand. The gamemaster must answer this question truthfully, but the gamemaster does not have to give complete information. A partial or brief answer that leaves room for further questions is a common tactic here. The information provided must be relevant to the skill test attempted, and it must be the kind of information that a character using that skill would be able to determine.

Quite often the question is a generic “Can you tell me more about that object?” or “Can you tell me more about the scene?”, when I’m prepping a scene I note down ‘planned’ additional Momentum spends. I also give my players gimmies (ie. answer their question for free) when I just explained the situation badly, the information should be obvious to their characters or I need to get the information across for narrative reasons.

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@DM_SJ82 This is what I meant. You can find a little chart in the corebook p. 420 titled “Example uses of Momentum”.

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I don’t announce DC for some rolls. I just tell people it may be hard and they should know by now that extra momentum will give them more information. I just try to build up tension about a roll now so they know it may be more important than throwing just the basic 2d20 and hoping for the best.

“Like searching for this map quickly will be hard as you look at the the stacks of scrolls lying on top of one another covering a six by three foot merchants desk in no particular order at all.”

“Water is scarce here in the savanna of Kush during a drought & finding it would even test the skills of the native Kushite bushmen.”

Its not always easy to come up with something on the fly but I try. They can see my combat rolls so there is no subterfuge there at all.

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That actually sounds better than talking about DCs. The less meta-game talk the better IMHO

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You can just use the key words “Simple”, “Average”, “Challenging”, “Daunting”, “Dire” and “Epic” if you want to cut out the meta talk but still keep it mechanically clear.

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@inane.imp I like that method, you give the DC effectively but it’s not talking mechanics directly to the players. Same thing in the end but keeps the meta feel low.

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