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I've read a lot of articles on player vs. character knowledge, where the crux of the article is always that players know more than their characters, and metagaming is an issue. For good or for bad, I have the opposite problem. My players don't study the source material, and are effectively blank slates. This means that even if their characters would have a piece of knowledge, the players certainly don't.

We're playing Rifts, so there's a lot going on. Tons of skills, magic, psionics, tech - a lot for a player to know, even if they're only concerned about what their particular character can do.

Generally speaking, how do I impart knowledge to the players that their character would know, without "giving it away". Ex. the party was prepping for a delivery into hostile territory. The Shifter (mage) in the group should have gone to the magic store and bought some scrolls that might be useful. But the player of the Shifter isn't really aware that scrolls are a thing, and doesn't have all the spells memorized so wouldn't even know what spell scrolls to buy. As the GM, I know both of these things. How do I give that knowledge to the player without saying "You should go buy some scrolls of x, y, and z spells"?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Welcome to RPG.SE! Take the tour if you haven't already, and check out the help center for more guidance. \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Aug 8 at 16:16
  • \$\begingroup\$ What game experience do the players have? Is it their first game at all? How the game choice was made? \$\endgroup\$ – enkryptor Aug 8 at 16:34
  • \$\begingroup\$ One player is experienced with RPGs, but not Rifts. One player has a little RPG experience, but not much. And one player this is their first RPG experience outside of video games. We chose Rifts because everyone really liked the idea of the setting, and because I have experience/familiarity with it from back in the day. \$\endgroup\$ – ggutenberg Aug 8 at 16:39
  • \$\begingroup\$ "Shifter-dude, while preparing would you like to buy any spell scrolls?" \$\endgroup\$ – Doc Aug 10 at 3:30
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Give them information and options within the context of the game

While there's nothing wrong with just telling the players the information, it can feel less clunky if you deliver them this information through the game world, rather than telling them in your "GM voice". Here are some ways I might go about doing this:

  • Have an NPC (often a quest-giver) give them specific information about the dangers they will be facing, and prompt them to think about preparing. In your example, the quest-giver could say "I need you to deliver this package to [location]. I've heard rumours of banditry up in that part of the world, so you should make sure you're well-prepared. Out there, you won't have the city watch to protect you."
  • Arrange events to give the players the opportunity to acquire what they need. This can be as simple as saying "Your ship to the frozen north leaves in a few hours, so you have some time to buy anything you need for the journey. Is there anything you would like to buy before you set off?" Or in your case, you could have them stumble upon a magic emporium or street seller selling scrolls specifically marketed at adventurers. This tells them that scrolls are a thing in the game world, and gives them the opportunity to stock up.
  • When the players do try to prepare, make sure that good options are very visible to the players. In the above scroll-seller example, don't have her just sitting around waiting for the PCs to ask her for specific scrolls. Have her recognise them as adventurers, and actively try to sell them the most relevant kinds of scrolls. Something like "Let me guess, you're heading out east to the bandit-infested badlands? You'll have come here for our Burning Hands scrolls, very popular with adventuring types, they are." You don't have to explain exactly what the scrolls do, just give enough to prompt the player to ask more, either in-character or out-of-character.

I think you can get away with a lot this way that would be more objectionable if told to the PCs directly. Think how you'd feel as a player being told "Your character would know that you should stock up on a few scrolls, like Burning Hands, before you leave," vs being told "You see a shop just off the main road, under a dusty sign saying 'Adventurer's Emporium'. Outside the door is a newly-painted sign saying 'Special Offer, today only: Burning Hands scrolls. Perfect for getting you out of trouble!'." The latter doesn't tell the player how to play their character, and by fitting into the setting, gives them something they can use again the next time they are sent on a quest.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I would add that working out exactly how much of a nudge to give is more of an art than a science. Different groups respond differently, so it may take several sessions to learn how your particular players respond to hints dropped in their direction. \$\endgroup\$ – Alexander Betts Aug 10 at 13:32
  • \$\begingroup\$ I really love this answer. I think it's the right answer, but not necessarily attainable by all GMs, all the time (especially me). Creativity is hard. \$\endgroup\$ – ggutenberg Aug 14 at 6:18
  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks! I totally agree that that creativity is hard, especially on the fly, and it takes a lot of practice. One book I found particularly helpful is "Return of the Lazy Dungeon Master", which describes a minimalist approach to session planning. One great piece of advice there is to make a short list of pieces of important information the PCs might learn, without tying it to particular NPCs or places. I can look at this list mid-session and, if I've forgotten to give the party some important information, I can then think about how best to work that into the game. \$\endgroup\$ – Alexander Betts Aug 14 at 9:26
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A bit of a frame challenge:

It's actually not that bad to just give away knowledge that the character would have but the player doesn't, especially due to lack of experience with the system or with the world. The characters are immersed in the world, the players are not. The DM should absolutely note things that the characters would know and just give that information, especially when there's no time pressure.

For new players especially, I'd give more guidance than you think is necessary. If they ask "what things should we buy" or "what is there we need to prepare?" I'd just say "your character knows that scrolls of X, Y, or Z might be useful." I wouldn't give them info that their characters wouldn't have[1], but the basic stuff? Absolutely.

If you feel like you really need some form of mechanical backing/chance of failure, have them roll whatever the system calls for for a basic "knowledge check." Set the difficulty (if that's adjustable in Rifts) pretty easy. Like remembering the name of your mother in law. Not trivial, but shouldn't be that difficult either.

[1] Like, for instance, if there was a particular enemy with a particular vulnerability that they didn't know about, I wouldn't telegraph it ahead of time. So no "you should probably buy silvered weapons" if there are werewolves around and the characters don't know that. If they do know that there are werewolves, and the setting is such that werewolves and their vulnerabilities are reasonably common knowledge, I certainly would remind them that having silver might be a good thing.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Thanks. This is good advice. \$\endgroup\$ – ggutenberg Aug 8 at 16:41
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    \$\begingroup\$ This is really great advice. One of the often overlooked jobs of the GM is to help deal with the gap in knowledge resulting from the players not having lived in the game world. This is also one of the reasons that a session zero is so important, it helps get everybody up to speed with how the world works and what's 'common knowledge'. \$\endgroup\$ – Austin Hemmelgarn Aug 9 at 0:45
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    \$\begingroup\$ To add to this, saying "your character would know [relevant information]" is essentially a form of world-building. It's establishing that certain information is common knowledge in your game world. \$\endgroup\$ – Ryan C. Thompson Aug 10 at 13:56
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My preferred way around this situation is to have my players tell me what they want to accomplish rather than actual actions when they're unsure about world information, and then I can provide whatever knowledge their character have about how to get from here to there (which may or may not involve skill rolls).

For example, in my current game, the PCs are residents of a large city in a homebrew setting, so they don't really know anything about it aside from what I've told them. One of the players decided he'd like his character to learn some minor magic and asked me how he would go about doing that. His character doesn't have any kind of arcane background, but he does have contacts at the local university, so I told him about the Darian Academy of Sorcery, which is dedicated to making magic accessible to the general public and usually has introductory courses running. With this information, he was then able to enroll in classes and obtain a working background in petty magics. (He's still working on learning his first spell, though.)

In your case, I would want my players to tell me "Before we leave on this delivery run, we want to be ready to handle threats such as X, or maybe Y. Is there anything we can do to prepare for that?", to which I could then answer "The Shifter knows a couple good magic shops where you could pick up scrolls of A, B, or C to deal with X. Y is more of a 'big gun' problem, but the Glitterboy knows someone who should have just the thing to handle it."

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Preserve players' agency and let them learn by doing

Player agency can be defined as an ability to make meaningful decisions. It's a good thing to have in any TRPG. Lack of information can definitely hurt agency, so it's good for your players that you do care.

Unfortunately, you can make things worse by telegraphing any particular course of actions. There is no big difference if there will be straight advice "you should go buy some scrolls of x, y, and z spells" or indirect ones like "your character knows that x, y, and z spells can be useful". Both ways you will be playing PCs instead of the players.

As far as I understand, you've provided access to the source books. Therefore, as a GM, you've already gave all the essential information to the players. They decided not to read these books, or read them selectively, it was their choice. Maybe they prefer to learn the game by actually playing it.

Your players have acquired some knowledge, now just start and play the game. Yes, they don't know many things for now, but it is okay. The point of playing games is to have fun, there is no TRPG police that arrests you for playing "wrong".

They will do things and get outcomes, good or bad, but that's how many people prefer to learn. If there will be questions asked in the process, provide information and answer these questions. But trying to make this proactively and explain all they characters need to know beforehand doesn't look like a good idea for me.

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My challenge is usually communicating in-universe lore and setting details without sitting there for an hour talking, but my players are very good at finding creative solutions and work-arounds once they know something their characters would reasonably know.

My solution has been to write up information sheets with Homebrewery to make them look decent, so players have them for reference when needed, and can read them in advance when they feel like it. The first page covers things that the characters (or most NPCs) would know or have heard, and the page is marked as "rumor" because some of it may be downright false, but the characters wouldn't know that. Every player gets a copy of this page ASAP, and I encourage them to read it. I do 2-3 more pages after that, documenting ground truth of things (information key NPCs are hiding, secret curses on items, etc.) because I plan interesting twists and traps and like players to know I don't just make things up on the fly to be cruel.

Players get the rest of the info sheet as they uncover the truth themselves. I'd give it to them on a good Knowledge check or similar, but none of them have asked yet.

Example: Unique Item

I've got a homebrew campaign set in Middle-Earth, and the plot revolves around one of the lost rings of power. At the start of the campaign I give the Rumor sheet about the ring and a couple important NPCs. The Rumor sheet describes how the ring came to be in the area, how it ended up in the tomb it's said to be in, and the benefits the ring was supposed to provide. If someone's foolish enough to put on the ring once they obtain it from the dungeon boss (and so far everyone's been keen to put it on ASAP, the turkeys), I immediately hand them the other page which explains the ring's curse. They were informed and with a Knowledge check or even just asking they could have learned enough to realize this ring was probably bad news.

Example: Homebrew Class

A player requested a shapeshifting power with specific abilities and limitations inspired by Game of Thrones. I obliged with the warning that there are vulnerabilities and limitations the player won't know in advance. She agreed, so I wrote up a 2-page info sheet. The first page described how the power works, when it can and cannot be used, and a bit of lore explaining why it's important that she keep her ability a secret even from other players. (It's fair, every player in this group has a secret ability, but they all think they're the only one!)

What this player hasn't seen is the second page, where the long-term costs of using her powers are detailed, her true origins (character has no memory of life before gaining powers), and true potential that won't be revealed until the character dies and cannot be revived by normal means.

The Shifter (mage) in the group should have gone to the magic store and bought some scrolls that might be useful. But the player of the Shifter isn't really aware that scrolls are a thing, and doesn't have all the spells memorized so wouldn't even know what spell scrolls to buy. As the GM, I know both of these things. How do I give that knowledge to the player without saying "You should go buy some scrolls of x, y, and z spells"?

With my approach, I'd prepare a simple info sheet describing the region and some common threats, casually including in-universe notes and quotes that suggest adventurers should have specific spell scrolls. Then I'd pressure the players, especially the Shifter, to read that info sheet before the session, and again at the start if they haven't.

If they don't, or still fail to prepare, that's on them. They know what their characters know.

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