Friday, August 14, 2015

Playing on Player Expectations II: Special Cases

This is a bit of a followup to Wednesday's post.

Special Cases

Wednesday I defined a split between player knowledge and character skills. But what about places where the player knows something the character genuinely can't know?

This is one of those cases where you do need to firewall. You know M's guy got knocked out behind the smokescreen, but your character can't see through the smokescreen. You know T rolled an 18 on his Survival check, and then he says, "I found some delicious red berries!"

Then what?

You firewall. You don't use your out-of-game knowledge. It'll become in-game knowledge soon enough (as the guy M was fighting charges through the smokescreen after you, or 1d6 damage later after those delicious berries tasted like burning.) It's generally short term, so it's not a big issue. You don't have to second guess yourself too much, and people generally get used to stating overall intentions ("I'm not eating anything he forages," say) pretty quickly.

We cover much of this by saying that people fill each other in when they meet back up. We make the consequences of things clear quickly so people don't have to pretend. Or I simply don't tell anyone what those consequences are, and leave them wondering. "I though I chose badly on those berries, but maybe that wasn't it . . . "

In any case, I find this temporary dearth of knowledge isn't a big issue with my "use what you know" approach.


What about using the rules? Knowing that X does Y and therefore Z?

Also not as much of an issue. It's like all other player knowledge - you are free to use it, but it can be risky to bet your character that it applies here. That this isn't a special case. That the NPC is following the rules as you understand them (generally true, but exceptions exist.) And so on. Meta-gaming mostly gets annoying when people make rules-based decisions instead of decisions that reflect the character in the imaginary space. But it's not a special problem for this approach to play.

Playing At Cross Purposes

This came up in the G+ stream about my previous post. Basically, I run my game on the assumption that players will use the knowledge they have about the setting and the game to help their characters. In other words, I'm using things they recognize because I want them recognized.

This becomes an issue if a player ignores those cues on purpose, because of concern that their character wouldn't know it, and begins to firewall off that information and not act on it. In that case, I'm deliberately using things you recognize because I want you to recognize them.

Now you can still roleplay a character who is ignorant. You should if you have disadvantages that would run counter to your player knowledge - you're still responsible for playing what's on your sheet. But it's a choice that the GM and players can be on board with - and work both directions if you're all okay with sidebar reveals ("My character is an idiot and doesn't know this, but yes, dragons all cast spells in this setting.")

Mixed Signals

What about when the signs in the game don't match the expectations of the players, but the characters should know?

"You see a black-robed man with crazy eyebrows and a skull-topped staff."
"Necromancer! Get him!"
"Actually, it's your friendly neighborhood priest of the death god, who is widely respected and sought out for funerals and Halloween."
"Oops, can we put his head back on?"

I think in these cases you need to tell people immediately, right out. "You see a black-robed man with crazy eyebrows and a skull-topped staff - marks of the well-respected priesthood of the death god." Tell them three times, if you have to.

This gives you four approaches:

- Use stuff they recognize, and can use player knowledge to deal with successfully.
- Use stuff they recognize, but changed so using player knowledge has unforseen consequences.
- Use stuff they recognize, but which means different things in this setting.
- Use stuff they don't recognize.

If you don't tell them about the changes, you end up with case 2 when you intended case 3.

Overall, though, allowing the players to use what they know about the setting and system, and what they recognize, to feed their actions - it's been a win-win situation for me. No worries about where to draw the line. No real issues with abuse. No strange results. It's been a net positive. And you're always, always, always better off trusting only what you've seen happen in actual play.

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