A critical part of many adventures is when an NPC gives the PCs the quest, a summary of the situation, or critical information about upcoming events. There are a couple of ways to present this information: in boxed text, in bullet-point lists, in likely-questions-and-answers format, or just in text informing the GM to convey how she sees fit. This week, I’ll break down a few of these and how and when to use each in your adventure prep or adventure writing.

Today I'm looking at the question-and-answer format. This is a useful presentation to transmit a lot of information in a more conversational way. It's also increasingly common in organized play events. As one of my friends noted, the risk is that the PCs don’t ask the right questions and leave the encounter underinformed. That’s best addressed by the GM looking over the questions the PCs skipped before they leave the encounter and fill in any missing information that’s vital to their task. 

The Example:

The earl answers questions the PCs have about the upcoming dinner party. Some likely questions and their responses are as follows.

How do we prepare for the party? “You’ll need appropriate clothes for the occasion, and accoutrements such as jewelry as well. Armor will seem out of place unless polished and decorated. If you don’t have a tailor in mind, I can make recommendations.”

Do you have tips on how we should behave? “Like at any nice party. Mingle. Talk to people. Try to look like you belong.”

Where should we go for the party? “The castle’s west entrance leads to the Jubilee Hall, where the dinner will take place.” In addition to these directions, the earl reminds the PCs to dress the part and behave appropriately (see the prior two questions).

What do we need to acquire? “You need to get both the vault key from Countess Elena Mariposa and the passphrase from General Archibald Sulder.”

How do we get the vault key? or Tell us about Countess Mariposa. “The countess is suspicious by nature, and she fears Cardinal Happ’s increasing authority. She’ll want to give you the key, but she is unlikely to be willing to do so where Cardinal Happ might see her do it. She doesn’t want to end up in the cathedral’s dungeons, like her brother.”

How do we get the passphrase? or Tell us about General Sulder. “The general doesn’t like these types of dinner parties; he’s a blunt man by nature and he’ll want to give you the phrase and retire for the night. This could expose the heist. Instead, look for a way for him to impart the passphrase in what seems like idle conversation.

Is there anyone we should watch out for? “Cardinal Happ’s informants have already alerted him to the possibility of a heist. He’ll be watching everyone else at the party, you included, looking for anyone showing too much interest in the vaults. He’s canny. Be very careful around him, and don’t give anything away or we’ll all be in trouble.”

When to use question-and-answer text to convey information:

To make the conversation feel more natural. Players actively seeking information are more engaged and are more likely to be interested in the answers. Many players derive some satisfaction from asking the “right” questions: that is, ones that the text predicts they’ll ask and has an answer ready for them.

If the PCs already have some information. The PCs might not need to know all the information that boxed text or bullet point answers give them; in these examples I’ve been using, the PCs might all be scions of noble families who already have closets full of nice clothes and who know just how to act at a fancy dinner party. For those PCs, the implication of the first two methods that they don’t know what their doing can seem jarring. In a question-and-answer structure, they just don’t trigger the irrelevant questions. Along the same lines, the PCs might already know Cardinal Happ is a villain and know to watch out for him—they just wouldn’t ask that question.

If the PCs don’t need all the information. Some PCs prefer to wing their interactions; if that’s acceptable—that is, if the general blurting out the passphrase isn’t a deal-breaker—then they don’t need all the information from boxed text or a bullet-point list. They can get however much information they feel like they need to know and move on. In this case, though, the GM needs to ensure that the PCs don’t leave the encounter without receiving information that’s crucial.

If you can be open-minded about questions. The players usually won’t ask the questions verbatim, so the GM needs to be familiar with the questions and answers, and adapt them to convey the same information. If the PCs ask, “What about this Cardinal Happ fellow? He seems like a jerk,” the GM should probably adapt the last question above to give the PCs a response. Flexibility like this is key in making the question-and-answer format work.