What Your Players Don’t Need to Know

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I’m taking a break from Meadowbrook for a few days; I don’t want this blog to become “all Meadowbrook all the time”. I’m considering starting another blog devoted to world-building that would chronicle my development of Meadowbrook and it’s surrounding world; if this is something that would interest you, please leave me a comment. Now, onto your regularly scheduled post. 😉

For years, I’ve used information as a commodity in my games. I generally run “limited information” campaigns, where I try not to give the players any more knowledge about the situation and/or world than their characters would know. This isn’t about “cheating”; I have excellent group of players who are well-skilled at separating character knowledge from player knowledge and playing accordingly. What I’ve found, though, is that when player knowledge matches character knowledge, the players can relax more. They don’t feel like they have to police themselves to stop and think Hey, would my character actually know this? before they take action.

An useful outcome of this is that information becomes its own reward. Especially when it comes to a PCs individual goals. For example: if the party does a favor for a prince, as a reward he may be able to tell them the location of the tower belonging to the evil wizard that killed their team member.  You don’t always have to give out money, treasure, spells, or what-not to your PCs. Information can be just as valuable and won’t ratchet up your PCs experience level or ability to obliterate your bad guys; this can help you keep the PCs from rising in power earlier than you’re ready for them to.

You can make choices about how secretive and hard to gain information is in your game. Do all party members know everything any other member knows? How closely do they guard their own backgrounds from the rest of their party? This can vary between one GM to the next. I’ve known many GMs who don’t like the PCs to keep secrets from one another; they feel it causes divisiveness among character who are supposed to work as a team. I err on the restrictive side: more often than not, I tightly control information in my games. I usually set up their character’s background with her player separately, then let the player decide how much information to give the others.

During the game itself, I generally give information out based on PC had access. If one or two of the PCs wander ahead and overhear a conversation between a vampire and her childe, for example, I usually take them aside or write a note (if it’s short) to describe what they hear. I then leave it up to the players to reveal the information as the characters see fit. If, on the other hand, I know that the scouting PC is going to go and immediately relate what he overheard, then I’ll go ahead and describe the conversation to the whole group, so neither the player nor the GM has to repeat themselves, particularly if the conversation is long or complicated. So it’s purely situational — think “Will the other PCs also hear this or will they know about it in the ten to fifteen minutes?” If so, it’s a lot easier to tell the whole group what transpires.

Sometimes even players will get into the limited information act. I once ran an Amber game where two of the PCs decided to marry and all of the players kept it secret for a couple of weeks, real time. They didn’t want me to find out about it beforehand so I wouldn’t have time to plan something to go wrong with the wedding. Other GMs might hate being in the dark about any aspect of their game, but I loved it.

Some games lead themselves to secrecy better than others. Amber and Vampire have secrecy as a core concept and I rigidly control the flow of information in those games. I tend to be more free with information in a D&D game, for example, but I still allow the players to determine how much of their character’s knowledge they share. It all depends on your style and preference.

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