When Setting Knowledge Is OOC

I’ve always been the kind of player whose greatest weapon is her and her character’s setting knowledge. No fewer than three languages if I can help it, maxed informational skills if at all possible—in short, trying to ensure that anything I know, the character knows too. But then I ran into an interesting sort of situation with certain roleplaying games: where there’s something that’s enough of an assumption of the setting that the player practically needs to know it, but at the same time the game also does everything short of forcing the player’s character to have no idea whatsoever, possibly even on the assumption that this would make a major plot-turning (or at least, character-turning) revelation later.

Well. This was a new experience.

It’s a fun style, but it comes equipped with quite a few of its own problems. For someone who wants to play it realistically, it’s a perpetual balancing act trying to remember what sorts of knowledge and logic it’s reasonable for the character to draw on and what isn’t. I know I found it highly tempting just to attack the problem with my standard mental processes, but the thing was, I knew too much.

After all, the thing about that style is that putting that kind of logic together is a game unto itself. There’s a sense in which it’s rather like taking one of those mathematics classes that centers around deriving the proofs for yourself: you know perfectly well that in a right triangle, the square of the hypotenuse is equal to the sums of the squares of the other two sides, but you still have to get there without using anything that you haven’t already proven. In short, unless you’re willing to derive Ptolemy’s Theorem first, you can’t use it to prove Pythagoras’ Theorem (now if only someone had told me that before I did that assignment for high school calculus!). So the character’s logic turns into one part the game of proofs and one part “Mother May I”; “Is this inference legal, or do you think it’s a little too OOC?”, or “Do you think this step would occur to this character?”

The other fun thing about that style is when you’re willing to play someone who for whatever reason is trying not to come to the correct conclusion. Maybe something about the possibility of the hidden information being accurate is threatening to them. Or perhaps it just wouldn’t occur to them, or nobody would believe any conclusions made with it as a foundation, so they’re trying to come up with alternate and more reasonable explanations. At this point, it becomes an exercise in logical gymnastics, trying to come up with conclusions that use the information the character has (including her view of the Rules of the Universe, which may or may not be mutually exclusive with the Thing She Doesn’t Know Yet), avoid any logic based on what the character hasn’t actually figured out yet, and still make coherent sense when viewed in context.

Hey, just because it can be fun doesn’t mean it’s easy.

The other advantage, of course, is for writers in need of perspective practice. I see a lot of complaints about characters who for some reason are able to figure out things that none of their contemporaries can, with the only reasonable explanation being that they have the advantage of sharing brainspace with the creator of the world. Playing characters who pose the same issue gives the writer a chance to experiment with this under the eye of a referee, being warned both when they’re trying too hard (and thus playing the character stupid) and when they’re not separating knowledge enough (and playing the character suspension-breakingly canny).

It’s a tricky game style, but rewarding in its own right.


  1. Michael says:

    Surely, not a completely new experience — how about Kiriko and her history lesson? ;) Isn’t that the same sort of thing?

  2. Ravyn says:

    Same concept, yes, but different seats. With the GM’s perspective, as I’ve had with Kiriko, it’s a lot easier–after all, the GM’s got fewer things to puzzle out with knowledge that the character may or may not actually have, having usually been the one to set the puzzle in the first place.

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