"Black Dougal gasps 'Poison!' and falls to the floor. He looks dead."

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Rulings Not Rules - You are being followed

A thread on Dragonsfoot about how to handle character perception pointed to an article by Thomas Ruddick in Dragon magazine issue #133 which posited the following example:
His Honor the Lord Mayor was naturally quite interested in the adventurers who took temporary residence in one of the finer inns of the town — especially when he learned that one of their aims was to find the local assassins’ guild and settle an old score with it. The guild had caused the Lord Mayor many problems in the past, and he welcomed the possibility that the guild might soon suffer problems of its own. The adventurers, however, were close-mouthed and were cool toward his offers of assistance. His course of action was to rely on the capable services of Ferd, his halfling informant. Ferd began to tail the adventurers whenever they ventured into the city reporting back to the Mayor on their activities.

At this point, the DM creating this scenario must pause. Obviously, the game is going to develop in different ways depending on whether or not the adventurers notice that a nondescript halfling is following them around. How should he determine if the characters notice or not?

So, using the B/X rules how would you handle the likelihood of the party spotting the halfling?


  1. From time to time I would rattle off a list of who's in the pub or market and include "...and a halfling" at some point.

    They'd be aware there were halflings around but it would be up to the players to ask whether it might be the same halfling.

  2. I would presume that Ferd is an accomplished spy, but is NOT invisible to detection. Therefore, I would consider it UNLIKELY that any individual PC in the party would discover Ferd. I would allow each PC an individual chance (d6 roll).

    Rolls would be made on consecutive days
    (game time, not real time)
    in descending order of Intelligence.

    The lone d6 rolled behind the screen is a convenient and rapid way for the GM to determine success or failure at a task not specifically outlined in the rules. This is accomplished by mentally accessing the LIKELYHOOD of success, then if the d6 result falls in the range listed (lower is better), the character achieves the desired goal.

    Re roll all ‘1s’ if character is a novice (1st level or less)
    Re roll all ‘6s’ if character is an accomplished adventurer (6th level or higher)

    ALWAYS (6 or less)
    USUALLY (5 or less)
    OFTEN (4 or less)
    FREQUENTLY (3 or less)
    SOMETIMES (2 or less)
    UNLIKELY (1 or less)
    RARELY (0 or less)
    PREPOSTEROUS (-1 or less)
    IMPOSSIBLE (-2 or less)


    +1…..Low Dexterity Score (< 9)
    -1……Exceptional Dexterity Score (17+)
    -1……Player gives detailed explanation of precautions and safeguards

  3. Coincidentally ,
    I just blogged about on this
    on my site at 16:42 CST.

  4. I'd occasionally request the people in the party with the highest INT and WIS scores to roll a d20. If they rolled under the stat, then I'd mention something similar to what Stuart said above, but I'd not necessarily add the halfling to the end all the time.

  5. > I would presume that Ferd is an accomplished spy

    This and I would presume the characters are not. I would not give a roll or mention anything unless players indicated they were "watching for tails", "examining the crowd", or the like.

  6. Valid points Norman; therefore,

    Re roll all ‘1s’ if character is a novice
    (1st level or less)
    Re roll all ‘6s’ if character is an accomplished adventurer (6th level or higher)


    -1 if Player gives detailed explanation of precautions and safeguards such as
    "watching for tails" and
    "examing the crowd"

  7. I'd roll a 1 in 6 chance, or 2 in 6 if the party has an elf in it. Generally speakign I agree with Norman, the 1 in 6 is just a way of surprising myself. I love Stuart's idea, but my party has never asked for lists of people, and thus I don't see an easy way of adding his solution to my games.

  8. I'd likely wait and see if the players ask about the crowd/who do they see/something similar. Once they do, I'd roll Ferd's hide chance (2 in 6 for non-wilderness areas, 9 in 10 for wilderness) for being a halfling. If Ferd succeeds, they don't notice him. If he fails, I mention that they see a halfling along with everything else.

    If the players never ask, they never have a chance to notice him.

    My second idea, giving the PCs more of a chance, would be to make random encounter rolls every now and then, then if an encounter is rolled, roll Ferd's hide to see if he avoids detection or not.

  9. 2 in 6 chance of detection per day tailed. This is the sort of thing that can be analyzed to death in hypotheticals but at an actual session I'd pick a die range without much thought and get on with the game.

  10. What Jeff said. If you feel there’s a chance the PCs might notice him by chance, pick a die roll that matches that chance. If circumstances come up that could give them clues, give them clues.

  11. Depends on the characters and the tone of the campaign. But, hey...if you include an NPC, that NPC generally exists to be found and confronted, right?

    After all, the scenario written by the DM could just as easily say "the Lord Mayor, interested in the characters, have spies that report upon their activities to him." No NPCs, no chance to resist, and the DM decides what the spies report to the Lord Mayor based on the reasonableness of their ability to report (for example, if the party hangs out in the town sewer or a local dungeon, the spies won't know of their activities).

    If you're going to bother creating and naming a character (like "Ferd the Halfling") I can only assume the PCs are EXPECTED to find him at some point. Decide when it will happen, and then allow it to happen:

    "Randolph, you notice a halfling has been tailing you for the better part of an hour."

    "Zeus and Ichibod, you see that a halfling in the corner of the tavern has been watching your table a lot more than his own drink."

    "Vanessa sees a shadowy shape furtively duck into a dark alley as you are heading back to your inn. Smaller than human size, you can see it ducked behind some crates, obviously attempting concealment."

    See how that works? The question is not whether or not the PCs find the halfling (don't generate the spy if you don't want it found)...the question is: what do they do with the information WHEN they discover it?

    Do they pursue the guy? Do they attack him? Do they turn him into a double agent? Do they harbor a grudge against the Lord Mayor and throw in with the assassins? The confrontation (and its results) are the thing that's of interest, not whether or not an NPC (controlled by the DM) successfully reports to another NPC (also controlled by the DM). The DM knows everything the PCs are doing, and has the NPCs act depending on the knowledge the NPCs would be reasonably expected to know.

    Just rolling for the sake of rolling dice is kind of...um...superfluous. IMO
    : )

  12. JB, your such a narrative gamer... it's all about your story. Next you're going to say to make sure your precious NPC always escapes. ;)

  13. @ Pat: Only if I was feeling particularly snarky that day!
    ; )

  14. I like the diversity of thought in all these answers. My humble analysis of these comments, in light of some insights I posted last week about RPG resolution mechanics, can be found here.

  15. The mechanic our DM uses which I really like is to roll Xd6 target below the relevant stat (easy tasks roll 2 or 3, hard tasks 4+). I'd say wisdom for this case.

    Similar to papajoes suggestion, but the probability mirrors the relative impact of high stats a bit better (and multi-die bell curve probability is just cool).

    I agree that the halfling's hide ability should contribute to the challenge, making this a 4-5d6 challenge.

  16. Here's what came to my mind right away: next time the party hires two or three retainers, they get Brule the Spear-slayer, Ferd the Halfling, and a guy who goes by "Dog-face."


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