Thursday, August 6, 2009

Player Knowledge vs. Character Knowledge

The last session of my Sunday night game got me thinking on the subject of player knowledge vs. character knowledge. I don't think I have anything new or groundbreaking to add here, however I would like to share my personal views on the subject and since this is my blog, well why not.

For me, separating what I know from what my character knows has always been a challenge, akin to playing a character with very low Intelligence, or a character with a high Charisma. Yes, I'm smart enough to know this is a trap, but Throgar only has an Intelligence of 5, so he probably doesn't. Should I walk into the trap, fully aware that I enter my doom? I've always had a hard time with such choices, and it lines up with player knowledge vs. character knowledge pretty cleanly I believe. Yes, I've played this adventure already, so I know Lord Count Crustypants is actually a demon, but Throgar really doesn't have any reason to think that, so I guess I should just go along with it. It's a tough situation to find yourself in, and being on the other side of the screen doesn't offer much more clarity to me.

Here's another example: say your players run against a monster that can only be hurt by certain weapons or magic of somesuch. One player knows this, but as his character has never run into this type of creature before, he believes he has no reason to know it and thus doesn't spread the knowledge or even use it himself, wasting attacks that he knows will fail. That just seems silly to me; at what point does player skill come into the equation? Isn't it the function of the DM to come up with new and interesting challenges, rather than the player's function to pretend like old tricks are new again?

Here's another take: Throgar find himself face to face with a voracious troll. Throgar has never battled trolls before, so he shouldn't know to use acid or fire, right? Well hell, Throgar had to have some training to get that 1st level, right? Don't you think that Old Man Throgar Senior would pass on such knowledge? How about Throgar's player, who knows of the weakness of trolls, just reasons it out that somehow he came upon this knowledge, burns the troll, and moves on? As long as it's halfway plausible I don't see a problem with it, and it invites player creativity which gives me warm fuzzies all over.

Take the counter-example, character knowledge vs. player knowledge. The player might not know who the king is, but as the character grew up here he should know, right? In Dungeons and Dragons 3 and 3.5 at least, you have various Knowledge skills that can be used to suss out such info. So if I can roll a 20 sider and figure out that kobolds hate sunlight, why then can't I use that knowledge if I learned it with a different character? To me, it's like asking players to roll to see if they can walk in a straight line.

Now, take my jabbering with a grain of salt; I've never ran for someone who memorized the Monster Manual front-to-back so I couldn't say if such knowledge could go too far, at least not from personal experience. Also, I can see situations where such restraint could serve a useful purpose, in the eductation of new players. Remember my write up of last week's game, where Tom and Lori held back the secret of the ghostly gelationous cube? I appreciated that, because it gave Dilly and Rachael a chance to figure it out for themselves and gain usefull player experience. Yes, in my games, players gain experience as well. Isn't that how it's supposed to be?

If you think its unfair that a player knows monster weaknesses when her character shouldn't, don't ask her to pretend that she doesn't. Instead throw out a monster she's never seen before. If you expect Joe's character with a 3 Intelligence to fall for a trap, don't make it obvious to Joe that it's a trap. If you know someone at the table has played the adventure already, mix it up, change some things to throw them off, keep them guessing! Challenge the players as much as you challenge the characters! I guarantee it'll be much more enjoyable than a lecture on why Throgar should have walked into an ambush or why Saralii shouldn't have known to cast Fireball on the statue to open the door.

Well, my two cents are spent. What about you? What is your take on player knowledge vs. character knowledge?

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