Defining Who Knows What, or More Importantly, What They Don’t Know
The topic today is: Knowledge! And how to separate what a character knows from what their player knows. For many new players this is a completely alien concept. For many experienced players, it is something that they don’t do well. So what, exactly is it that I am going on about? Player Knowledge vs Character Knowledge (PK v CK). When all of your players are sitting at the table, but their characters are all separated (don’t split the party up and get Al killed!), what happens to each character, or each small group of characters is probably not as apparent as it is to the other characters as it is to the other players! Clear? No?! Let me get the big bag of examples then, and see what I can find!
Player A is playing Character A. Player B is playing, surprisingly, Character B. They are recovering after a long night of plunder and boozing, in their own rooms. However, Character B has been followed, and, in the middle of the night….ruffians break in, poison dart him to unconsciousness and kidnap him!!! Well, Player A sees his stalwart companions player fail saving throw after saving throw and decides to help, so he has Character A wake up and stagger into the hall, thereby interrupting the ruffians, and saves Character B from an unsavory situation! YAY!!!! Nope… Player A has used Player Knowledge that his Character would not know, therefore gaming outside of the scope or meta-gaming.
Why is this important? On occasion it is not, and even beneficial. Usually that is when someone “plays the PC card,” when gathering a group. My Lady Wife is quite adept at it, actually. This is when you are gathering a party together, but none of the characters know each other. How do you get them together? Well, You can use the “You all wake up with a hangover in a jail cell…” or the “Thanks for VOLUNTEERING for the kings navy. Since you are all ready VOLUNTEERS, and since we have been at sea for two hours, I’m sure none of you will want to swim with those shackles and that disorienting bump on your head…” approach. Nothing wrong with this, but a bit heavy-handed (but if it fits the story, all the better!) Another option is to trust to PK…”Player A, you have stepped out of the courthouse, squinting in the sunlight, when someone runs full tilt into you. Player B, you are running from a small gang of muggers, but on coming around a corner, you run square into someone! What do you do?” In this case, you are hoping that the players use a bit of PK (and maybe even break character a bit) and find a commonality in the chance meeting and begin to form a party! (By the way, I have a post in mind about ways to gather the party together!) But, this is one of the few times you want this…
When characters are separate, and you, as the ref, take some sort of action against one of the isolated groups, there is probably a story reason for it, so you don’t want the other players running out and screwing it up! Think about a horror game a moment. The characters are taken to their individual rooms, and each one has an encounter…that encounter is someone from their past…but the apparition says the same thing to each character. It is important,but if the players take what they have seen happen with their friend, they may jump in trying to short-circuit the story, you lose the in character reveal, that may be the whole point!
So…fairly clear about what it is, and why you usually don’t want PK to interfere with CK, right? Well, how do you deal with this? Once again, several ways, and you need to find the way that works for you and your players, and suits the game. If your players are mature and experienced with RPGs, you can simply inform (or remind) them that their characters only know what they experience. Usually, it is not to hard for these players to listen to what goes on and enjoy the gaming, without meta-gaming (or at least not obviously…you may allow a bit of it just for plot purposes…such as when the character just says “I tell them what just happened.” This way, the characters can be brought current without going through the whole scene again). If secrecy of the scene is important, then you have tools such as blue booking or interim game. (Don’t worry, I’ll talk about those next!) If you have inexperienced players, and they try to meta-game, you can take the opportunity to educate them! You might simply ask “Why are you doing that (going there, saying that, etc…)?” When they tell you they need to save their lifelong boon companion, ask them how they, in the persona of their character is aware of the issue? And then explain that what they are doing is noble, but the character has no reason to do it. Maybe they will come up with an excuse…”Um, well, after all that pillage and boozing, I need the jakes, so I’m going out…HO-HO! What do I see but a ne’er-do-well dragging a bag of person down the hall!!” In that case, you need to make another decision…do you reward them for creating a viable situation? Do you smile sadly and say “Nice try,” or do you give them a partial…”well, you don’t see a bag of person, but your stalwart companions door is open, and the room is a mess, his sword is on the bed post, but he is not there!”
Most of the time, I encourage players to use some PK. It is never important to the story, and they need to come up with a story suitable reason, AND…I have final say. If it was imperative that the isolated scene happen, because the next part of the story is finding the companion, then letting them rescue him before they get away kinda ruins the story. But…what if they get an earlier start than you had anticipated? Here is a little GM trick: What the players don’t know is that the Ref can shift timelines! In other words, when you tell Player B it is just before dawn when he is taken, maybe that was just his perception…when Character A gets up to avail themselves…it IS just before dawn, but Character B as been gone for hours…Remember you are the characters perceptions! Feel free to be a bit vague or even out-and-out give them bad info sometimes!
That’ll show those good for nothing meta-gamers!!!!