Player vs. Character Knowledge – Local Info

There’s this gap between what a player knows and what his character knows. It’s a fun kind of mini-game, pretending to not know things. We also pretend to know things – how to track an animal or tan hides into leather (or fight or cast spells!).

One problem is when the player needs information to make decisions, but the player doesn’t know the information, and the character does. This means the referee ought to tell the player the information so he can know what his character knows. One example might be how the priests of two different religions treat each other. In other cases, it’s not neccessary for the player to know how to make pottery or whatever.

This mirrors an author’s difficulty in giving information to the reader that the protagonist knows already. The typical writers’ advice is something like “show, don’t tell” which means you shouldn’t say the priests hate each other’s guts, you should describe what the priests say to each other and how they act, letting the reader draw his own conclusions.

The problem of giving a player information he should already have is eased a bit when the character doesn’t know either. If your character is a stranger in this land, having just journeyed there, then the referee doesn’t need to tell the player anything about it. He can just “show, not tell” how the game setting works. Overall this cuts down on exposition, which tends to make everyone’s eyes glaze over.

A second issue is giving only the information (whether showing or telling) that he needs right now. Don’t overload, again avoiding long exposition. You should be able to pimp out your game setting in a 1-minute elevator pitch (without talking super fast either). That should suffice for players starting out in the game, too. A second minute should get any new players up to date with what they need to play.

Yes this means I have a bias against games with convoluted alliances and enmities, lots of broad-stroke history and small events that totally matter, lots of important NPCs in general, etc. Maybe if everyone in your group really likes keeping NPC flowcharts and dossiers, that’s great, but there’s a point where most people just don’t care anymore. Stop telling me about X NPC who did Y thing with Z magic item in the ABC wars of 1335 in the Theocratic Republic of DEF. Start letting us play our characters, who after all are the most important characters to us no matter what.

Since that drifted away from decent information and into BLAH BLAH at the end, here’s the JOESKYTAX:

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