CRB is a repository of all the creative things that float through my mind about the RPG Pathfinder. Two major features are random character generation and building characters based on the god they worship. Anything that seems like it adds to the creative aspects of the game will pop up from time to time, including location descriptions, adventure ideas and even short stories. CRB won't just be my own creativity, it will open the floor to anyone who has an idea sparked by what I present to you.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Word of Mouth - Oral History in Your Game

Despite the fact that Pathfinder, and specifically Golarion, isn’t exactly a medieval analog it does have aspects of such. Although almost every PC has the ability to read and write, it stands to reason that at the very least, the peasantry and many of the less civilized tribes cannot. In truth, if we were being historically correct—which we’re not—a large portion of the nobility wouldn’t be literate. Literacy was left mostly to scribes and the clergy.

So how does information get passed along from generation to generation? Oral Tradition. Although many look upon the bard as weak (I am not one of those), storytellers were very important to local communities. Histories and morality plays were often couched in the form of fairy tales told around a communal hearth or bonfire of a nomadic tribe.

So if oral tradition is so important, what place can it play in your game? One of the easiest to make these stories seem larger-than-life at your table is to use lore rolls on knowledge checks. Oftentimes we just tell the players what the strengths and weakness of the creatures are as they make their rolls. That leaves the description a little flat. But if you tell the character what he remembers from a tale, then his rolls and skills will be much more entwined into your campaign world.
“Facing a shambling mound, the druid of the group pauses. She remembers the tales of Elder Garuth who spoke of such things. He told of Hekena the wind witch, master of storms and her battle against a great mound of moving moss. She called upon the skies to open up and strike the beast down, but when the bolt of lightning came from the sky the creature ate it up growing in size.

The ambulatory mound of vegetation kept coming, even through the fires that erupted where lightning strikes hit a tree. When the beast closed in, Hekena’s faithful bear companion moved in to defend her. What could pass for arms lashed out at the ursine warrior and when they smashed into it, the poor creature was pulled in and enveloped. Poor Hekena could hear her friend’s bones being crushed by the lightning charged behemoth.”

In a small story—something that brings actual lore and not just numbers to the table—you’ve explained many of the shambling mounds abilities: electricity immunity, fire resistance, a slam attack, its ability to constrict, and even its electrical fortitude. If you’re looking for a way to increase the immersion into your game world for your players, this in one tactic that might work.

Do you use oral tradition in your games? If so, how does it affect your players?


  1. Phreaking brilliant. I wish more GMs would do this. I've incorporated oral histories into my campaign world for more than 20 years. Thank you VERY much for posting this!!

  2. Thank you J. I'm glad the article resonated with you. There are lots of little things that can be done to add an immersive feel to your game, if of course that's what you're going for. And if my article has made one person consider oral history as a way to liven up their game then my work is done.