The Fun of Being Ignorant

Posted: May 1, 2012 by pointyman2000 in Advice, Articles, Roleplaying Games

Sometimes, it’s fun to be oblivious.

When I end up playing a game, I try very hard to achieve a certain level of knowledge in the campaign setting as to make the GM’s job easier. It’s difficult to convey the nuances of an entire campaign to people who haven’t read the book, so for my part, I feel that it is the duty of a good player to take some time and actually do some preliminary research in order to acquaint themselves with the things that should be “obvious” to everyone who actually inhabits the setting.

But sometimes, one has to draw a line between knowing the setting, and knowing too much.

And that’s what we’ll be talking about today. There’s a certain joy in being ignorant, but being too ignorant can be a hassle as well. So, without further ado, let’s get into the meat of this discussion by discussing why a player should make certain that they are still somewhat ignorant of some facets of the game.

The simple answer would be, “It’s all about the Mystery.” Almost every game I have ever played with uses the elements of the unknown to drive the plot forward. Who killed the king? What is causing this magical crisis? Who took my stuff?! These questions are all mysteries in their own right, and almost every story becomes interesting by how these questions are answered, and how they lead to further questions.

I find myself agreeing with J.J. Abrams on the topic of Spoilers, and I find that reading too deeply into things that you shouldn’t know of as a player sours your fun. When you read too deeply into restricted information, you hurt your own enjoyment.

So what do you do? What kind of knowledge is good, and what isn’t? Here’s a short list of items that are generally safe and can contribute positively to your enjoyment and ability to participate in a game:

  • Geography
  • History
  • Current Events
  • Significant Personalities of the Era
  • Cultural Notes and Taboos
  • Character / Racial / Cultural Stereotypes

If you’ll notice, a lot of this come from the setting chapters and character creation chapters of many RPG books. Now, onto things that could potentially end up spoiling you… these are pretty obvious, but let’s list them down anyway:

  • NPC Stats and backstories
  • Monster Stats
  • Campaign Secrets

I told you these would be obvious. Most of these fall under the GM section of most books, often under text that asks players to not read beyond a certain point lest they spoil their fun. Still it’s a good exercise for most players to avoid reading these sections by way of habit, just so they won’t end up spoiling their own fun

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Comments
  1. siskoid says:

    I like the Savage Worlds mechanic for this: the Common Knowledge roll. Instead of having the players read sourcebook material, you allow/require a Knowledge roll (or Intelligence or Wisdom or IQ or whatever if porting to another game) that feeds information the character might know but the player may or may not be aware of. One of my players took an ignorant disad that ensured he would frequently fail at Common Knowledge rolls, which was a lot of fun.

    Based on background, nationality, profession, etc., Common Knowlegde rolls gave up different information to any given player, and were modified accordingly.

    • Hikkikomori says:

      So how would you deal with Players having too much knowledge of a game? You stymie it with a Knowledge roll? Then if they fail it, they can’t use that knowledge, would that be it?

      • siskoid says:

        To tell you the truth, it hardly ever comes up. My players don’t tend to accumulate knowledge they shouldn’t. If information would NOT be Common Knowledge (like having some knowledge of a dungeon map or a superhero’s secret identity) then it falls outside the scope of this mechanic. The PC is prevented from acting on OOC information. If it IS common knowledge, there’s no real problem with a PC knowing it without the roll – the mechanic is there to better integrate PCs into the world anyway, which means allowing for background information a player may or may not know. If it’s rather specific common knowledge an outsider would not know, I would, yes, modify the roll to reflect the likelihood of the character somehow having heard about it over an ale sometime.

        At that point, the players’ willingness to roleplay ignorance and make errors comes into play. My players are rather good at that, actually. They love getting into more trouble because it leads to more epic escapes. Maybe I’m lucky.

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