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I am currently DMing two D&D 5e campaigns.

I was wondering of some good ways to start off a campaign and explain to the players that their characters have, essentially, no knowledge of the in-game world. For example, if we took a look from their characters' perspectives, often times, their characters should know a significant amount of the world around them (especially if they are pretty old). Cities, towns, monsters, who lives where, etc. But how I have been managing it so far is I have to narrate everything to the players, and they have to learn the lore of the world on their own. Sometimes I can let them have Religion or History checks etc., but for the most part they don't know anything of the world and this seems like a fail in immersion in my opinion. If a player asked me how I would explain that their character didn't know about XXX or YYY in my game world, I would be pretty stumped. One of the only ways I thought of was to have all characters start off in some land, then at the beginning of the game, ship them to some other world/continent, but this can quickly get boring.

Any ideas to solve this problem, even if it isn't at the start of a campaign, would be appreciated as well. Thanks in advance.

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I've removed the [system-agnostic] tag and replaced it with [dnd-5e]. This kind of problem will come up in a number of RPGs (far from all), but this one's occurring in D&D, and the problem and its solution will have D&D 5e-specific stuff that has little to no connection to other games (especially those outside the 5e franchise). – doppelgreener Feb 8 at 5:47
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Also, is there some reason you are having your characters have no in-world knowledge? Is "don't do that, here's how to handle the characters knowing a lot while the players do not" a valid answer here? Do you want to stick with the characters themselves (as well as the players) knowing absolutely nothing? – doppelgreener Feb 8 at 5:50
    
actually, you're right, answering "how to handle characters knowing a lot while players don't" is valid as well, thanks for helping clarify. For example, when players enter a town (and the characters should know almost everything about the town), how should I handle telling ALL this information to the players? – Anopob Feb 8 at 5:55
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@Anopob That sounds like a different question from the one you originally posted, and might be worth posting a second question. – LegendaryDude Feb 8 at 13:30
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@Anopob If they ask you a question, you don't have to make them make a knowledge check to answer it. – Random832 Feb 8 at 19:44
up vote 27 down vote accepted

"Not from 'round here"

I've used "you were practicing in your master's keep, when there was a blue flash. When you woke up, the moon above was wrong... wrong color, wrong mare, wrong size, and wrong phase."

This works quite well for players who don't have history and religion skills... for the religion skill, finding that the local gods have the same myths and similar names, well, it solves that. History remains utterly borked, but one skill that can be "regained" by spending downtime in study... for the proficiency itself is as much in learning how to learn history as it is knowing the ins and outs of a specific world.

No History but what comes up in play.

I find it quite a bit easier in the long run, and a good bit richer, as well, to let players invent history and jot down whether their roll was "truth" or not... if it's "truth" (they made their History roll), it's true for the game world. If they fail, it may or may not be true, and I'll leave it for later.

Failure isn't always «No Truth»

Failure on a knowledge roll doesn't need to be «No Truth»...

It can also be:

  • «Some Truth» Give them parts of the truth, but leave out the most important bit.
  • «Too Many Truths» give them 2-3 different and incompatible «truths»...
  • «True... From a Certain Point of View» (also called "Obi-wan style deception"). It's a lie based upon wilful manipulation of the facts. "Duke Fred Murdered your Father!" (leaving out that your father had challenged him to that drunken duel...)
  • «Irrelevant Truth» - Sure, it's nice to know about the origin of the Castle... but I need to know who the prior duke's enemies were, not who the Building Baron's Friends were...
  • «Inconvenient Truth» Sometimes, you can give them information that's true and helpful, but making use of it implicates them or their employer in something else...

It's fine to occasionally have it be «No Truth»

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As an addition to "Not from 'round here". Perhaps the players grew up in the calm civilized part of the world, but -- being adventurers -- they have journeyed to the edge of civilization looking for the undiscovered. Maybe some new continent has been discovered (or rediscovered). – David Rouse Feb 8 at 23:59

Start from this basic assumption: the character's grew up in this world, therefore they know what a person who grew up in that world would know.

Next, follow this simple rule: the players are on a need to know basis. That is, if the knowledge is not necessary for them to make the decisions they need to make to achieve their goals then, unless they ask, you don't need to tell them.

Third, don't keep secrets just for the heck of it. Give them a map of the (known) world with countries, cities and significant things on it. Include notations like "here be dragons (or orcs, goblins etc.)". When it is relevant to their decision making process they can point to the map and say "What do I know about this?", and then you tell them. Even better, write this general knowledge stuff up and give it to the players, they can then investigate on their own time. You can even make a wiki on this so you (and they) can add more info as it develops.

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Your second paragraph is missing its converse: "On the other hand, if the players are discussing something and there's some detail of the world that they'd definitely know and would be relevant to their decision, just tell them. And you only need to make them roll if there's a chance they might not know." – GMJoe Feb 8 at 23:22

In my experience players don't read enough about the setting in advance even when material is available. Neither will giving them a 4 hour lecture in advance solve the problem. I'll give the players enough information in advance to allow them to make characters with in scope of the group template I usually decide.

I try to teach the players about the setting as we play by adding their knowledge of the setting into the descriptions I give. I would say that a certain man dressed in the old imperial uniform approaches. He salutes by placing his fist above his heart, and you all know that in the old empire that was the most sincere salute a warrior could give to a fellow warrior.

If players are about to do something stupid or something that their character would know not to do I try to warn them. You do know that by not using the honorific while addressing the lord you are giving him insult? Do you still want to address him without the honorific?

I have had good results in trickling out information this way. But sometimes I feel a short lecture is in place. Maybe I'll talk 5 minutes in advance of a session about a certain topic I feel they need to know.

Another good trick is to let them overhear bards or other adventures tell stories that highlight something about the setting. That way you can have your 5 minutes lecture as a in character moment instead of just lecturing.

And finally I love using the setting to make stories. So I'll design plots specifically to show of something about the setting. This can be either just a small side entry to the main plott of the session or can be the basis for the whole session. What does it take for a samurai to be able to give his lord critique? In my interpretation of L5R it takse ritual suicide. So I have a samurai approach his lord, deliver the critique of the lord, and then beg the lords permission to commit suicide because of the shameful action he just committed.

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It's not that they don't know, they just might not remember.

Throughout my educational career a staggering amount of information was supposed to be drilled into me. I probably remember not even half of it. We get bombarded with information on a daily basis, we can't be expected to have it all at the ready at any given time.

I like to flavour knowledge rolls as deciding not how much you know but how much you remember. This makes things pretty realistic for me, as IRL I am just as likely to remember a seemingly useless fact for years as I am to instantly forget about something important. I'm sure most people that don't have an eidetic memory know the feeling.

I also try to have my players ask me if they know something and their motivation for why, i.e. "As a wizard who trained at the wizards' academy, would I know something about these runes?". If I feel it's something that would be common knowledge for the character I'll tell them the information outright, otherwise I'll have them make a roll for it.

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Great thought about memory, not knowledge. Also, reasons for knowledge are very important. Some fighter may not know anything about magic, but historically his village/tribe had expirience with some magical forces and due to legends and tales this characters heard as a child he/she may really know something. Such things come from characters background and it may be very fun and interesting addition to game expirience. – RollingFeles Feb 9 at 3:44

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