Ah, the good old Scry and Fry.

The term Scry and Fry was brought to my attention recently and it got me thinking about information gathering techniques in games. In most any type of game setting there is always some element of information gathering that the player characters engage in. Whether it is asking the village elder about the dragon’s cave, going into deep intel mode before attempting to take over the rival yakuza’s base, or the ever popular “I listen at the door, what do I hear?” method information gathering is fairly key to any kind of mission.

I had never thought of information gathering by the party as a problem until I was at a GMing seminar specifically aimed at GMing Shadowrun and multiple horror stories of excessive planning were tossed about. It brought up a few more thoughts in my head, and if you can make a Gather Info roll with a DC 5, then you can read them below: Ready. Roll!

Is information Gathering a problem for your game? Give me a perception roll with any effective skill modifiers or Danger Sense Advantage.

Well that is highly dependent on what type of game you are running. If you want the players to be surprised at every turn or to feel like they are being overwhelmed by tactically superior enemy forces, then yes it can be. Players can also engage in excessive recon and really slow down the game. Like almost any factor, info gathering only becomes an issue when it is done in excess or outside the proper venue.

Why do the players do it so much? Roll Perception and Streetwise and I’ll tell you.
I’ve been party to games where players tend to spend whole session over-preparing for minor challenges. I’ve been party to sessions where players kick down the door and find themselves under-prepared to face the huge challenge that is ahead of them. After one instance/royal butt kicking of an under-prepared situation there tend to be a lot of instances of over-preparedness. Players love to take on all challenges and come out on top, while GMs often like to surprise their players and make them feel the weight and danger of the challenge. Striking the right balance is key to preserving fun and it is also incredibly hard.

Psst, want to know a secret, I’ll tell you some creative ways to disseminate information and preserve game balance. Just make me a Perception and Knowledge roll. Required number of successes is 3.

Control the flow of information.
As the GM you get to control how much information flows. If you don’t want the secret entrance into the keep discovered before the party explores the keep then don’t make that information available. The informant they beat up doesn’t know about it. The guard they bribed wasn’t telling the truth. Don’t be afraid not to tell the players something that you REALLY don’t want them to know.

Don’t starve the players.
Players will get supremely annoyed (rightly so) if they are always under informed and don’t feel prepared for the challenges. If they are going on massive information gathering missions before real missions then give them something for their efforts. They may not find out the exact locations of each guard and their paths around the complex, but they might find out that there is a contingent of 35 guards stationed there. This helps them plan their strategy and feel like they accomplished something with their info gathering.

Make the info gathering simple.
The biggest problem I’ve found with info gathering is that it often takes forever. If you don’t play out the whole scenario of gathering info then it gets taken care of quickly and you get back to the game that you prepped for. One of my favorite techniques for keeping it simple is to give the players the information, then give them narrative control over how they got it. They get to explain how cool their character was in bribing the guard/seducing the countess/or hitting the streets detective style and they get the information they wanted.

Let the players roll or gather info off “screen” then give them the information as it becomes relevant.
For truly complex missions where information gathering is key I like to have my players make abstract rolls to determine their info gathering success, then I let them cash in those rolls at a later time. It goes something like this: I have the players make 5 Info gathering rolls and write down the results. Play continues until they get up to the entrance of the complex and they want to cash in one of the rolls. I look at the success of the roll they want to cash in and compare it to what is going on. I tell them: “You know that they are likely to have an ambush waiting for you and that there are 4 security cameras in the courtyard. You know their positions and get a +3 bonus if you try to sneak past them.” It keeps things moving fast and the players get the information when they need it most.

So those are some of my thoughts. What info gathering stories do you have? (I got a 17 on my gather info check.) What horror stories do you have about sessions which degenerated into info gathering nightmares? (I rolled 8 on my perception and my skills and perception added up to 17.) What techniques do you have for dealing with info gathering in your games? (My Perception and Knowledge roll gave me 5 successes. TELL ME YOUR SECRETS!)