The Three Sages – Prepping and Providing Information to the PCs
What can the Sage tell you?
At the table, seeking out information can be simple or complex. Do you let the players make a skill roll and then just give them the information? Sometimes that is the most expedient way to move the game along and, especially if you are running a one-shot adventure, is perhaps the best way to provide the information with little fuss. But… most of the time at my table that method shortcuts out too much good stuff and a different tack can be taken. When I prep for a gaming session I prep what I call The Three Sages – these are 3 NPCs that are in the same relative area as the PCs and who can provide information to the party if they get stuck. Are they really sages? I mean, sages in the traditional sense?
Well, yes and no… Contrary to popular belief a sage is neither a one stop fountain of know-it-all information nor a quest-giving robot. The sage is a purveyor of information slanted to their own point of view, a spouter of lore occasionally accurate and less often precise, a knower of names and places with their own motivations, and sometimes an unwilling ally. Just as in real life, most people know a great deal about very little and very little about a great deal. In short, the sage is an NPC to be used by the DM to direct or misdirect, lead or mislead, taunt or tempt the PCs (and the players).
In other words, the sage is an integral part of the game and should be utilized as much as possible. The sage is often the keeper of secrets and holder of knowledge that is very specific. There is no one sage in all the world, there are many sages and they are found in every town, castle, province, bandit’s lair, and outpost. The sage might be a blacksmith, a tavernkeep, a guard, a talkative bandit, a local hermit, a hard working farmer, a reclusive governor, a boisterous bard, a humble cleric, or anyone in between. The sage is rarely called a sage, though sometimes they are.
So the sage is both traditional (a giver of information) and non-traditional (only has a small portion of required information to give). In other words… The sage is a living rumor table.
When presented that way it is easy to see how I might prep The Three Sages for my gaming session. The process has 3 steps:
1. List the information that the party might need during the session…
- [info about townsfolk] Old Man McCreary is the best hunter I have ever met. Once I saw him in the wee hours of the morn, stumbling into town, covered in blood and bile.
- [info about factions/protection] Spindle plays at being an idiot, but if you are in trouble and he’s around, the thugs won’t hassle you.
- [info about royal family/nobles] The governor keeps a pet manticore in the dungeons below – the poor thing has gone mad from being captive.
- [info about strange goings-on in the region] Crimpol used to fish on the lake every day. Two weeks ago he quit going out. He talks about it with no one, but several villagers say they hear him talking to something outside at night.
- [info about strangers from out of town] Every three weeks a bounty hunter comes to the village. His pale skin, avoidance of garlic, and penchant for only being seen at night has everyone convinced that he is a vampire.
- [info about monsters that may be encountered nearby] Trolls can only be killed if you apply fire to the body. Don’t ever forget to apply fire.
- [info about illegal activities] Drummel’s Guards will hassle you if you don’t “tip” them a copper piece. For a silver coin they’ll look the other way while investigate down by the docks.
- [info about clerics and adherents] Hofflin is as pious and loyal as they come.. too bad he’s loyal to the bottle and not Abbot Frescht. The acolyte Sulset has a good heart though, and it’s not pickled in ceremonial wine.
- [info about jobs] If ye be lookin’ fer a way to make some easy coin, talk to Tredla – she can pay you a bounty for each pig-faced greenskin you bring in.
- [quest specific information] I haven’t thought about the Onyx Decanter in years. Most folks think it was destroyed back when Prince Petrew swept through. Two years ago, though, a caravan came through and a wily shorthair told a tale of torture rituals and harrowing escape – he swore to seeing the Onyx Decanter used on the Altar of Torog. At the time I dismissed his obviously embellished story, but two weeks after the caravan departed a group of Oakheart Knights rode into town inquiring about the gnome. And now here you are asking about the Decanter… Could it be intact?
2. Split the information into three sets that are somewhat related…
- Set 1: [information about people] – info about townsfolk, info about royal family/nobles, and info about clerics/adherents all go together.
- Set 2: [information about creatures around town] – info about factions/protection, info about strangers from out of town, info about illegal activities, and info about monsters that may be encountered nearby all go together.
- Set 3: [information directly actionable, like quests and jobs] – info about strange goings-on in the region, info about jobs, and quest specific information all go together.
3. Describe the Sages and assign a set of information to each of them…
- Sage 1: Lukan the Barber – a male Human who knows everyone in town and hears all of the gossip related to people. He is friendly and has a broad smile. If you simply want information he won’t tell you anything as he considers it tattling. If you sit in the chair and have him cut your hair you can listen to him rattle on about the townsfolk who come to him for a shave and cut. He won’t knowingly tell you anything you need to know, but he loves to gossip. He knows information set 1.
- Sage 2: Regla Hammerguard – a female Dwarf who is also a lieutenant in the town militia. As such she is privy to information about bounties and dangers in the region. She loves to end the day with a pint of ale and if you find yourself sitting next to her, buy her another and she’ll be open to a drinking contest. If you can out-drink her, or at least hold your own, you’ll gain her respect and friendship. She tells her friends things they need to know. What you need to know is who really holds the power in town, who you shouldn’t cross, and what creatures have been seen in the area. She knows information set 2.
- Sage 3: Berlingian Crossgelt Fruntledreg – a male Halfling loner. Rumor has it that he is a retired adventurer, but he’ll never admit that. In times of dire need he has used a few well placed, well timed illusions to assist the town against enemies. It is due to this that the townsfolk put up with his gruff attitude and impatient demeanor. He lives on the outskirts of town and is most often found sitting on the banks of the lake with a fishing pole. He rarely speaks and folks say he trusts no one. Win his trust and he might open up. He knows information set 3.
How do you prep NPCs in your game? How do you distribute information to the PCs? Do you use the sage in your game?
Until Next Time, I Wish You Good Gaming!