Monster-of-the-Week Clues and Research Lore | New Campaign Tools for GMs

This article is part of the Monster Hunters series that will appear in BroadSword Monthly. If you’d like a preview of additional content, be sure to check out the Monster Hunter material on my Patreon.

Running a Monster-of-the-Week Session

After you’ve outlined your format for your monster-of-the-week campaign and know what monster your players’ characters will be going up against, you will need to employ a few new mechanics to help your characters learn more about what they’re up against.

Finding Clues

Once the characters are at the scene of a crime or the location where a supernatural occurrence took place, they should start to perform an investigation. This helps the characters find clues about the type of creature they are up against. In addition to driving the story forward, clues also provide bonuses to monster research checks.

To find clues, characters make different skill and tool checks depending on what type of clues that they have discovered. Remember that a character is only given the clue with a successful check, but not what the clue actually means. Whatever the clue means is only apparent if a) the character already knows what he or she is dealing with or b) performs a successful monster research check using the clues on hand (see below).

Using Skill and Tool Proficiencies to Find Clues

The following examples are a list of skill and tool proficiencies that can help a character discover or understand clues. Typically, the characters must be at the scene of a crime or supernatural occurrence in order to interpret clues.

Intelligence (Arcana). If the creature was magical in nature (such as an aberration, fey, fiend) or used a magical ability, a character can make a successful Intelligence (Arcana) check to find a clue about the creature.

Intelligence (History). Maybe the location of the crime or supernatural occurrence is a place of historical significance. Or perhaps an object left at the crime scene is an artifact of note. In such cases, it’s possible that an Intelligence (History) could come up with a clue.

Intelligence (Investigation). Usually, finding hidden details at the scene requires a successful Intelligence (Investigation) check. This helps the character uncover items that have slipped between floorboards, an item shoved into the pocket of a victim’s shirt, something that’s missing, and so on.

Intelligence (Medicine). A character proficient with the Medicine skill can find clues on a victim by performing a successful Intelligence (Medicine) check. This lets the character find hidden ailments, determine the nature of an attack, or even estimate the victim’s time of death.

Intelligence (Nature). If the creature was a beast, plant, monstrosity, or some other naturally occurring creature, or the occurrence happened in a natural environment, a successful Intelligence (Nature) may uncover relevant clues. This check might also reveal the origin of organic material found at a crime scene like soil, chemicals, or peculiar smells.

Intelligence (Religion). Some creatures (fiends and celestials especially) leave behind religious signs and markings to denote their presence. A successful Intelligence (Religion) check helps a character identify the nature and origin of such clues.

Wisdom (Insight). The characters may interview others, requiring them to make Wisdom (Insight) checks contested by the interviewees’ Charisma (Deception) checks. Also, if a suspicious NPC is present, a passive Wisdom (Insight) check may pick up on their intentions.

Wisdom (Perception). While Intelligence (Investigation) helps find hidden clues, Perception helps a character identify other things out of the ordinary. This isn’t limited only to sight. Odd smells, sounds, feelings, and even changes in temperature (from cold spots, etc.) can lead towards clues.

Wisdom (Survival). Wisdom (Survival) allows a character to track creatures. For more details on tracking, see chapter 8 of the DMG. Survival checks might also help the monster hunters better prepare for the dangers they may face.

Charisma (Deception, Intimidation, Persuasion). Any of these checks can help the characters find clues gleaned from speaking with witnesses, authorities or other individuals related to the investigation. These checks work well in conjunction with Wisdom (Insight).

Tool Proficiencies. A character that has specialized proficiencies in tools may find clues if the situation is relevant to the proficiency. For example, damage to woodwork following a violent crime may be noticeable with a successful Wisdom (Carpenter’s tools) check. Or a character with proficiency in Alchemist’s tools might find something unusual in a victim’s blood with a successful Intelligence (Alchemist’s tools) check.

Forensics Kit Proficiency. Furthermore, a character can also use proficiency in a new type of tool called a forensic’s kit (see the sidebar). Typically, when a character wishes to find clues at a crime scene, they make an Intelligence check plus their proficiency in Forensic’s tools to do so.

New Tool: Forensics Kit

This set of tools includes magnifying glasses, pouches, powders, vials, tweezers, and other useful items for detectives. Proficiency with this kit lets you add your proficiency bonus to any ability checks you make to find clues at a crime scene. The forensic’s kit weighs 7 pounds and costs 50 gp.

New Downtime Activities

In Fifth Edition, characters can perform tasks that take at least one workweek (5 days) or longer to perform. The following monster research and interviewing options are available to characters in addition to those normally provided.

Monster Research

Using the clues learned at the scene of a crime or location of a supernatural occurrence, monster research allows a character to delve into lore concerning a monster.

For all intents and purposes, monster research works the same way as research described in XGtE, but we’ve included the mechanics of how it works below for your convenience.

Resources. Typically, a character needs access to a library or a sage to conduct monster research. Assuming such access is available, conducting research requires one workweek of effort and at least 50 gp spent on materials, bribes, gifts, and other expenses.

Resolution. The character declares the focus of the research–a specific monster. After one workweek, the character makes an Intelligence check. The character gains a +1 bonus for each clue uncovered during the investigation as well as a +1 bonus per 100 gp spent beyond the initial 50 gp, to a maximum of +6. In addition, a character who has access to a particularly well-stocked library or knowledgeable sages gains advantage on this check. Determine how much lore a character learns using the Monster Research outcomes table.

Monster Research Outcomes

Check Total Outcome
1-5 No effect.
6-10 You learn one piece of lore about the monster.
11-20 You learn two pieces of lore about the monster.
21+ You learn three pieces of lore about the monster.

Each piece of lore is the equivalent to one true statement about the monster. Examples include:

  • Name of the monster
  • Type (aberration, fiend, undead, etc.)
  • Vulnerabilities, resistance, and immunities.
  • Attacks and special traits

The lore should prove useful in helping the characters overcome the creature, especially if the creature is of a comparatively high challenge rating. Understand that some players may use “meta” information, especially if you give away a clue like its name.

As the GM, you are the final arbiter concerning exactly what a character learns about the monster.

Complications. Unfortunately, not all lore is accurate or useful. Furthermore, a rival can undermine your investigation by planting false information, blocking you from the resources you require, or may even work to beat you to the punch.

Furthermore, others may take notice or offense at your research into a monster or crime; especially, if you’re not a qualified detective. Every workweek spent in monster research brings a 10 percent chance of a complication, examples of which are on the Monster Research Complications table.

Monster Research Complications

d6 Complication
1
You draw unwanted attention to yourself from authority figures.*
2
You offend someone related to the investigation who tries to thwart any further attempts at discovering clues.*
3
The information you seek is cursed; the only problem is, you didn’t learn this until it was too late.
4
A conspiracy theorist takes interest in your investigation and follows you around, causing trouble.*
5
Your actions cause you to be banned from a library or other useful information source until you make reparations.*
6
The creature you are trying to learn about discovers that you are trying to learn more about it.*

*Might involve a rival.

Raymond Longfellow’s Journal

Wondrous item, rare

This leatherbound journal consists of notes, diagrams, and illustrations of–what seems like–an infinite number of supernatural creatures. As an action, you can speak the name of a creature you wish to learn more about, then open the journal. The journal magically opens to an entry detailing suggested creature. You learn one piece of lore about the creature as if you had spent a week performing research on it. In addition, you gain advantage on Wisdom (Survival) checks to track the creature for 8 hours. Once three pieces of lore have been offered by the book, the book can’t be used again until 7 days have passed.

Interviewing

A crime or supernatural occurrence often awards characters the opportunity to speak with three specific types of individuals: witnesses, leads, and suspects. Witnesses are those who may have actually seen the crime or supernatural occurrence. Leads are people that clues point towards, who may not obviously be involved. And suspects are people who the characters believe are directly responsible for the happening. With this downtime activity, characters speak directly with these important people using persuasion, deception, and even intimidation to learn more about the investigation.

As GM, you are the final arbiter concerning exactly what a character learns. Ultimately, the interview should result in additional clues which can help the characters with research or discovering the next location they should investigate.

Resources. First, the character will need access to the people involved. Assuming such access is available, conducting interviews requires on workweek of effort and at least 50 gp spent on bribes, fees, and other expenses.

Resolution. The character tries to find clues related to the investigation. After one workweek, the character makes three checks: Intelligence (Investigation), Wisdom (Insight), and Charisma (Deception, Intimidation, or Persuasion). The DC for each of the checks is 5 + 2d10; generate a separate DC for each one. Consult the Interviewing Results table to see how the character did.

Interviewing Results

Result Value
0 successes Learn nothing.
1 success Learn one clue.
2 successes Learn two clues.
3 successes Learn three clues.

Complications. Similar to monster research, interviewing people related to an investigation can draw unwanted attention. Every workweek spent interviewing brings a 10 percent chance of a complication, examples of which are on the Interviewing Complications table.

Interviewing Complications

d6 Complication
1
You draw unwanted attention to yourself from authority figures.*
2
You offend someone related to the investigation who tries to thwart any further attempts at discovering clues.*
3
Before you are able to interview an important suspect, that suspect turns up dead.*
4 You become a suspect yourself.
5
An important person in the investigation grows weary of your questioning and disappears.
6
The creature you are trying to learn about discovers that you are trying to learn more about it.*

*Might involve a rival.

Red Herrings

A red herring is a clue that is or is intended to be misleading or distracting. Red herrings are best used to slow down investigations or to thwart “overly confident” players. You can use red herrings as an alternative to research and interviewing complications. Or you can use them as a potential clue that leads to another clue. A lot of times, it’s a good idea to establish a red herring right from the start of the story to throw the investigators off the scent of the true culprit.

Twists

Sometimes, unexpected events can change the investigators’ ideas of what’s really happening in a case. Like red herrings, twists should be used with care. Too many twists and the characters will expect it. Also, whereas red herrings help slow down the investigators, twists often provide useful insights into the investigation working as a clue unto themselves.

Monster Hunting Investigation Scenarios

The following example scenarios can be used to outline a monster-of-the-week adventure for your characters using the rules presented in this issue. Feel free to modify the setting, clues, or even important persons to better suit your monster hunter campaign.

The Ghost Knight

Scenario for 1st level monster hunters

A nearby inn that was once an old country manor house reports that its patrons are being attacked by a mysterious knight. The knight pummels its victims to death with its fists then vanishes. The three owners of the inn believe it is the ghost of the previous lord of the manor.

Clues. Using their skill and tool proficiencies, the characters can find clues leading them to the identity of the attacker and its master.

Downtime: Interviewing. If the characters meet all the current patrons of the inn, they can spend the next workweek interviewing them using the downtime rules. Successfully interviewing the patrons reveals the following information:

  • “One of the victims was an investor who was interested in buying the manor from the current owners. The victim wished to turn the inn into a guild house.”
  • “The current owners were fighting for weeks about selling the inn. Two of the owners want to sell, while the third, wants to keep the inn. The third owner was pretty frustrated with his partners’ decision.”
  • “Local authorities wish to shut down the inn to prevent further troubles.

Intelligence (Arcana), DC 13. The last person beaten by the knight died in one of the inn’s rooms. The body has been removed by the family, but the crime scene remains intact. A successful Intelligence (Arcana) check reveals that there is no ectoplasmic residue, disputing the ghost lord theory.

Wisdom (Perception), DC 15. At the same crime scene, the characters may notice that there are odd metal scrapes on the floor. The scrapes lead to a secret passage in the wall of the room. An additional DC Intelligence (Investigation) check reveals the passage. The passage leads into a secret chamber in the inn with an old study filled with mysterious tomes. There is a full suit of armor, its fists covered in blood. The animated armor attacks when inspected. Finding the study gives advantage on Intelligence checks for research downtime related to this investigation.

Intelligence (Investigation), DC 10. Looking through the secret study reveals drawings of the previous victims. There are also drawings of two of the three owners of the inn: the only one missing is the third owner who wants to keep the inn. The drawings are placed on the wall directly in front of the animated armor. There is also a discarded scroll.

Intelligence (Arcana), DC 15. The discarded scroll was once a scroll of animate objects. It is what was used to bring the armor to life.

Downtime: Research. If the characters haven’t discovered the animated armor in the hidden chamber, through research, they can stumble upon information that points towards it being animated armor instead of a ghost. From there, they might realize that the armor must be somewhere in the inn. If the characters discovered the armor first, along with the hidden study, then research may reveal that it was created through an incantation which points to powerful magic.

Confronting the Villain. Once all the clues and research point to the third owner, the characters should confront him. Cornered, the owner attacks. The owner has the stats of a noble with limited magical powers, allowing him to the following spells (spell save DC 11, +3 to hit with spell attacks): at will (cantrips): firebolt, mage hand, prestidigitation; 1st level (2 slots): burning hands, sleep. He is also armed with a wand of magic missile, and assisted by two more suits of animated armor.

Fire in the Sky

Scenario for 4th-level monster hunters

Homesteads are being destroyed all over the province, burned to a crisp. So far, there have been no eyewitnesses to what is causing the destruction. Some believe it’s a demon. Others say it’s a dragon.

Clues. Using their skill and tool proficiencies, the characters can find clues leading them to the identity of the attacker.

Downtime: Interviewing. If the characters meet all the survivors, they can spend the next workweek interviewing them using the downtime rules. Successfully interviewing the survivors reveals the following information:

  • “The creature laughed and spoke as it destroyed the homesteads. I’m not sure what language it was, but it was harsh and terrifying.”
  • “The fires burned hotter than any fire we’ve ever seen. We couldn’t put it out with water.”
  • “One of the farms’ treelines was crushed and claws apart by the creature.”

Intelligence (Nature), DC 17. Investigating the scenes of the attack (especially the one with the damaged treeline) reveals claws and footprints of a young dragon.

Wisdom (Survival), DC 20. The characters can track the dragon from the locations of its attack, leading back to its lair.

Intelligence using Cartographer’s Tools, DC 15. A character proficient with cartography may notice a pattern to the dragon’s attacks, pinpointing its lair.

Downtime: Research. Many of the clues will point to the creature being a dragon. However, research can help figure out some of the dragon’s weaknesses. In addition to basic information like its AC and hit points, the characters may discover that red dragons tend to be arrogant. They can also learn that, on average, the red dragon can only use its breath weapon once every 3 rounds. Plus, their research may turn up magic items and spells that can protect them against fire, the dragon’s strongest method of attack.

Confronting the Villain. The mystery is fairly straight forward. A powerful young red dragon is attacking villagers and all signs point to it living in the area. With proper preparation, the characters can find and defeat the dragon without suffering too many casualties.

The Glittering Skull

Scenario for 7th-level monster hunters

Someone is kidnapping young women from their homes. The bodies are then turning up in the forest, withered, as if the life was drained from them.

Clues. Using their skill and tool proficiencies, the characters can find clues leading them to the identity of the attacker.

Downtime: Interviewing. If the characters can speak with the family members of the victims. The characters will quickly realize that all of the women share common features: black hair and green eyes, roughly 30 years of age.

Intelligence (Medicine), DC 12. A quick medical examination of each of the women reveals that each has the same markings of a skull with stars for eyes carved into them–the mark of the glittering skull. In addition, the women all have dark soil underneath their fingertips and a strong smell of sulfur surrounds them.

Intelligence (Nature), DC 15 or Intelligence with proficiency in Alchemist’s Tools, DC 12. the soil under the women’s fingers leads to a farm a few miles outside of town.

Intelligence (Religion), DC 10. The sulfur could be from undead or fiends. Either way, magic items are probably needed going further.

Intelligence (History), DC 15. The markings are probably those of a demilich, a powerful undead creature. There was once a woman who lived in the area who was obsessed with achieving undeath. Drawings of the woman reveal that she looked similar to her victims.

Confronting the Villain. Once the characters determine the location and the motive of the cult, they discover the cult at the farm outside of town. They must fight their way through 6 cultists lead by a cult fanatic, and then demilich herself. Ω

 

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