Character Knowledge vs. Player Knowledge

Discussion in 'THREAD ARCHIVES' started by Edwin Felspar, Jan 4, 2014.

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  1. This is a topic which is mentioned briefly in many other articles here but not dealt with directly. Given that this is one of the first things we teach new members to my various roleplaying groups I thought I would post about it here.

    Put simply, this is a problem with immersion. One way to think about this problem is from the other side of it. Have you ever been watching a movie and thought, why the hell aren't you running away? Or don't go in that room, why would you go in that room? Those are instances of you using your viewer (read, player) knowledge to determine the best course of action. In each case, you have knowledge that the character you are watching does not. For instance, that he is in a horror movie.

    This seems like it would be easy to do, we are all here to play the role of our character after all. But there are subtle things you have to keep in mind. First and foremost is that, unless you're playing a mind reader, your character should never act on the thoughts of another character. The reverse of this is, if you want your character's thoughts to be apparent via non-verbal cues or what have you, one must say so. You have as much of a responsibility to be clear about what is visible to others as they have of respecting what is hidden.

    This goes along with the general rule against god-modding. For those who are not familiar with the term, it refers to both making a character that is overpowered and has no weaknesses, as well as the act of controlling another players character. It is the difference between writing "Dan punched Steve in the chest" and "Dan threw a punch at Steve's chest." In the former, the guy playing Dan just decided that the character Steve would not dodge this punch. This is not fair to the other player. In the second case, Steve's player can decide if he gets hit, dodges, or becomes a daisy for no reason at all.

    This is very similar to CK vs PK, here is an example.

    Player1: Sally thought Billy was rather cute. She was new in town and was hoping he would show her around. She walks up and says, "Hi... Billy, right?"
    Player2: "Hey Sally, you want me to show you around town?"

    Okay, I am not very clever with examples, but clearly Payer2 is using knowledge his character should not have in his post. How might he have said the same thing without being in gross violation of Sally's privacy?

    Ex, P2: Billy recognized the new girl in town as she walked up. He thought she was kinda cute. "Hey, yeah, that's me," he said, "good timing too... I was wondering if you wanted to go into town or something. C-cause you're new and all, I figured you might like a tour or something." he blushed as he spoke.

    Generally speaking, if you can explain your characters actions based on knowledge they should have or could reasonably guess it is fine. But a complete newbie to combat knowing complex formations and enemy weak points is silly. Honestly, what this really boils down to is learning to play a good character and see the world through their eyes. The more you know about your characters past and their present the better role player you will be.

    I am sure this is all very convoluted, and I'd be happy to edit this or move it to a more relevant topic if admins and such would like. But what I would like from you (if you're still reading) are your thoughts on this issue. Have you run into this before? What are some good or bad examples of this? How do you deal with players who break this rule? Are there right ways to go about breaking it? Whatever feedback you have is much appreciated.
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  2. This is a great topic! I have run into this a lot with tabletop gaming (Dungeons & Dragons or similar roleplaying games). The term I most often hear used for this is "meta-gaming". Nothing can kill the tension in a scene faster than using meta knowledge to your character's advantage.

    To be completely honest, this is one reason that I tend to keep as many things need-to-know as possible when I'm running a roleplay. :[ I wish I didn't have to, but years of experience have taught me that even well-meaning people sometimes accidentally meta-game.
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  3. And this problem is more relevant to tabletop games where combat is a heavy focus such as D&D where you don't know that this particular beast is weak to fire. What I like to consider is in a forum based roleplay with the opportunity for a lot of exposition and delving into the thoughts and emotions of characters, how much do you reveal?

    For instance, if you have a character with a secret such as a double agent, can you trust others not to be suspicious purely because they know his true nature? I have played this kind of character in a RP before and the DM facepalmed so many times when I slipped up in character. Thankfully everyone was so new they did not realize that the spell I said I had was NOT a paladin spell... not even good aligned. Beguilers are fun.

    For me, I think there are a couple ways to handle this. First is to, as you mentioned, not spill the beans to the players. In a tabletop, have meetings in another room, pass notes, etc. On a forum send private messages, if it is something to be made public later copy it over at the right time. The other way is to just be open and make sure everyone is paying attention to what their characters actually know.

    An advantage of the first is that there are very real surprises in the game or story. Cases of I never saw that coming.
    A disadvantage is that not everyone gets to participate in these secret parts of the RP, in a tabletop that means killing time while two characters talk to the DM in another room.

    An advantage of the latter is that you get to take part in the whole story. At least for me, in movies or books one of my favorite parts is the flashback to how the double agent did everything. I played a game of paranoia with some friends once (highly recommend it) and it turned out that one of the characters missions was to blow my character up as many times as he could. It was fun hearing him tell us all the secret things he did during the game.
    The disadvantage being that surprises are predictable and somewhat less exciting, and it makes it harder for even veteran RPers to keep from meta-gaming.
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  4. This really is a good thing for all players to remember while roleplaying. It's actually one of my big pet peeves and happens just as bad in written roleplay too. D:

    I once had two characters getting in to a fight. One of those big plot pow-wows. And then another player transported their character from the other side of the world to jump in because they knew there was a fight. Somehow. There was no communication, no signals, nothing that the character could have been tipped off by. The player knew there was a fight and they wanted to get in on that, with no regard to what actually made sense.

    When replying to posts, a player should always read carefully and make sure they file the information right. Did my CHARACTER actually see/hear/etc or was it just ME.
  5. I've faced this before and if I'm being honest I'm also guilty of it as well. Of course I don't meta-game anymore, but I do catch myself from time to time falling into the trap while I'm editing my posts so I have to nearly retype the whole thing. I honestly think even the best of us will fall into it at some point so keeping things on a need-to-know basis works really well.

    A personal example would be of an RP I was in when I was still with RPG where the GM kept nearly everything hidden from all of us and during the middle of the RP he dropped a major plot twist that shocked all of us so much that we found ourselves questioning what was really going on and it made the RP that much better; had he revealed it before and every other surprise after that, I honestly can't say if it would have turned out like it did.
  6. That's a great point/example Torack, and possibly illustrates the difference between the GM's role and that of the Player Characters. That is not to say that PC's can't have their secrets from each other too, but unless the forum is set up with a lot of private threads or a significant amount of RPing is done in private messages these kinds of twists can be hard to pull off. Also, something to point out, it is often the GM's role to creatively meta-game in order to keep things interesting. Keep track of the players, their habits, their weaknesses, and then exploit them. The GM should still be careful not to, say, simply sabotage plans to assassinate the king just because he knows that's what they want to do. At the same time, he should not make it easy for them.
  7. Ugh, I know what ya mean. Back in rpg, during some of the many rpgs I GMmed, If I revealed things so that the players would have a better grasp of what was happening, they'd use it to their advantage even when their character shouldn't know certain things. Its also why I try to edge away from things close to a fandom's actual plot and such when I do something related to a fandom. Once, I Co-Gmmed one of my friend's rps while she was absent, and the guy who was running the "badguys" used knowledge he shouldn't have to make unstoppable villains, basically pulling things from thin air that had nothing to do with the topic at hand. And when the others used their knowledge of the villain's tools to up the ante, it just got crazy and everyone ended up arguing. >> I find that rper's that are older, and/or have had more experience with rps do such things less often. But, in the end, that can't influence who decides to join your rp. You just gotta see what happens.
  8. I think rpers need to also keep in mind that they are playing a role, not a game. There are a few players I've run into that treat it like a game, and therefore treat every event like it's a puzzle to be solved. This isn't always a good thing, especially in day-to-day conversation. This happens to be the worst one I experienced:

    Me - Playing a very very effeminate male with a fraternal twin sister (but they look identical). His voice is high enough that it can be mistaken for a girl's, and he happened to be wearing a mini-skirt that day (don't ask)

    Girl - Met my character for the first time. Kept mentioning my character was a boy IC

    Me - Kindly PMed girl to inform her that my boy looked female and there was no way to tell he was a boy visually

    Girl - Suddenly pulled out that she could smell my character (because she had developing wolf powers now which was not in her character bio before beginning this interaction)

    Me - Okay...really random, but sure. How would my character react? My character realized the girl character was sniffing the air around him, and mentioned that he was wearing his fraternal twin's clothes, (which was true, he didn't own his own mini-skirt), and that they probably smelled horrible because they probably weren't washed. This meant that she should have deduced that he was a girl

    Girl - Nope, sorry, already know you're a boy. I decided I want your character for my own plot reasons and it wouldn't work if my character thought you were a girl (was the vibe I was getting from her post insisting that her character couldn't be fooled)​

    I literally gave up. Sometimes, certain people just need to take a moment and realize that they are forming their characters instead of letting their characters form through interactions. I think that's a type of PK that is the hardest for a person to see themselves doing.

    (sorry if this veered a little away from your original idea)
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  9. Actually, this is exactly what I wanted to get at in my OP. Roleplaying is the process of collective storytelling, it is not a game to be won. It also sounds like your partner for this one had their own idea of what should happen and decided to god-mod it into existence. This kind of behavior is just no fun for everyone else playing. A better way for them to have approached this would be to reveal their idea, or that they had one and work out a way for things to happen amicably. Thanks for sharing this example!
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