Information gained during non-combat encounters can lead D&D players along the safest route to a hoarded treasure or give them clues about the nature of an ancient artifact. It can help them avoid traps or reveal the powerful evil nature of an apparently innocent NPC.
Enter the informants, NPCs with information the PCs need plus personalities and goals of their own, Informants can be the center of rewarding non-combat encounters where the PCs get to use their skills and do a little roleplaying. Making an informant a recurring NPC can bring some continuity and realistic grit to a campaign.
Types of Informants
An Informant is any NPC who has knowledge the PCs need, Informants can be classified as follows, based on how they get their information.
A spy is a professional gatherer of information who uses skills in stealth, observation, and deception to be where he’s not supposed to be and hear what he’s not supposed to hear. These NPCs may be common street thieves, shrewd seductresses, or highly-paid military agents working undercover. They may use magic items like a ring of climbing, or a hat of disguise, and possibly spells like disguise self, discern lies, or invisibility. What sets them apart from PCs with similar abilities is their knowledge of a specific area or organization.
An insider is an NPC in a position that provides access to privileged information. A nobleman’s overworked maid might gossip about the fact that the bride-to-be is under the effects of charm person. A retired militiaman may know why there are always three guards posted where the river emerges from a mountain cave. And a stable boy might keep track of the comings and goings of some very important people.
The diviner uses magic to gather information from a distance, from the past, or even from the future. Diviners can be arcane spellcasters like wizards, sorcerers, or bards, using spells like clairaudience/clairvoyance, legend lore, scrying, and contact other plane. They may have a crystal ball or a familiar they send as a spy into places the diviner cannot go, Clerics also make effective diviners, with their access to spells like commune, divination, and speak with dead. A cleric with the Knowledge domain also gains access to divine versions of many arcane divination spells,
A broker is a merchant who deals in knowledge, He is the bridge between those who seek it and those who provide it. His assets are his reputation and his insider contacts. Each broker has a special place where he can be found, possibly a tavern, temple, or a shop that he runs. The tools of his trade are skills like Diplomacy, Knowledge (local), Speak Language, and Sense Motive. A broker may also have magic items at hand, like a cloak of charisma, ring of mind shielding, or a candle of truth,
You can make your campaign more interesting by using monsters as informants. This gives you a chance to use some of the neutral and good monsters in the Monster Manual. Has the couatl in the ancient temple discovered something interesting? Does the soldier’s ghost have important information about how he died? What has the gynosphinx in the pyramid found out using her divining spells? Did the old bronze dragon up in the hills actually fight in the ancient battle where the amulet was lost, and does she know what happened to it?
If the PCs are looking for sensitive information, making contact with the right sources requires a Gather Information check. If they succeed, reward them only with the contact and make them work for the information. DCs for finding informant contacts might be as follows:
Gather Information DC | Informant Contact
16 : Information Broker
20 : Spy
22 : Diviner
24 : Insider
Note that if the PCs fail the Gather Information check and the information or contact they are looking for is critical to the adventure, an informant could decide to make contact with them. This could be more interesting, as the meeting will be on the informant’s terms.
Always describe the setting where the PCs and informant meet. Is it a damp back alley or a raucous tavern? Is it a secret hollow below the docks, smelling of rotting fish and human waste? Does the informant have thugs nearby to keep intruders from disturbing the meeting (or jump to his aid if needed)?
When the PCs meet the informant, are they immediately on good terms? Do they need to make a Diplomacy check, or should they try to pass themselves off as someone else with a Bluff check? Do they trust the informant immediately or make Sense Motive checks? Is the informant telling the truth? Does he have false information but believes it to be true? Will the informant be a recurring NPC in the campaign?
What Do Informants Want?
An informant almost always wants something in exchange for information, but it is not always money.
The first thing an informant requires is secrecy and silence. They put themselves or their sources at risk and don’t want any unnecessary attention. They may want to meet with only one or two members of the party, and only at a certain location, They may set up a secret signal to let the PCs know when a meeting is needed—a piece of string tied around a tree branch, or a poker set a certain way in a blacksmith’s forge.
Some informants, especially insiders, may give the PCs information in exchange for help with a task. The poor serving maid reveals where her master hides his magic cloak at night if the PCs free her father from prison. The bugbear guard may sell out his commander for free passage and a promise not to attack his home tribe. The vampire noble’s bookkeeper may tell the PCs where his master sleeps because his master has discovered he has been stealing and is after him.
Most informants work for money – information is their livelihood, There is no typical fee, as it depends on the amount of time, effort, and risk involved. For hired spies, the Treasure Values per Encounter chart on page 51 of the Duncron Master’s Guide can be used as a starting point. If a spy faces a level 5 encounter to get information, he might expect a reward of 1,600 gp. Since a good spy probably avoids combat, pilfers some of his own reward along the way, and may sell the information multiple times, he might charge a quarter of the listed amount. Payment for diviners should be based on the NPC Spellcasting guidelines on page 107 of the Duncron Masrer’s Guide, but remember that divination spells may be riskier than casting other spells like heal or raise dead, For brokers, calculate the price their sources charge and add a 25% fee.
Sometimes the PCs may have information that an informant may accept in trade. This is especially true of brokers, who view interesting pieces of information as investments. Do the PCs know how the orc uprising in the south is going? Have they seen any sources of opals or pearls in their travels, or any abandoned keeps now cleared of dangerous creatures?
With these tips in mind, informants can become a vibrant part of your campaign, allowing you an in-game method of feeding the PCs exactly the information you want them to have.
By Russell Brown
Illustrations by Attila Adorjany