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I recently started DMing for a group of friends that are new to pathfinder. Combat and group conversations went well, but after having the characters roll perception for what they see or after splitting up to search different places they got upset when I tried explaining that their character didn't know the information another knows. Eventually they accepted it but listening to them relay information from me to the others is noticeably awkward and basically ends up being them saying "what he said".

How can I make the exchange less awkward, preferably without getting rid of it completely?

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The traditional answer to this is, "Write it down and pass a note." In the 21st century, I might change that to, "Send a text." Of course, nothing prevents your players from passing the note around amongst themselves, or reading it aloud. In some circumstances, "Take one player aside and talk to him or her."

However, I think you might be asking two or more related questions at once; even if not, it's worth thinking about the cases where this sort of explicit information relay is necessary or useful.

  1. Friendly, cooperative characters, all in the same place, relaying fairly mundane information. (I think of this as a default case in dungeon-crawly games, but it need not be.)

    In this case, is there anything to be gained by this added layer of "realism"?

  2. Circumstances where communication is possible, but either difficult, error-prone or dangerous. For instance, if the characters are planning a sneak attack.

    In this case, there is clearly something to be gained—a sense of tension, an additional degree of difficulty or challenge, etc. But the situation itself presents a solution: Simply point out that for every act of communication, you're going to roll perception checks as appropriate for the targets. Then, actually do it.

    If they're still meta-gaming inappropriately, pass notes or send texts or make the perception checks for the implied communication that the players aren't role-playing.

  3. Circumstances where communication is just impossible, due to separation.

    If simply telling them not to meta-game is impossible, you might take one player (or the separated group) aside for a few minutes and handle them, then let them rejoin the main group.

    I personally find this cumbersome, and probably your players will, too. It is possible that after a few instances, you can ease up and say, "Okay, let's assume I'm taking these two aside..." after you've gotten them in the right mindset with stricter methods.

  4. Circumstances where players have legitimate cross-purposes.

    This one can be tricky even for well-intentioned players. I occasionally have trouble with it myself, as a player rather than a GM. It is, in my opinion, something of a skill—it's mildly difficult to consistently act as though you do not know something for an extended period of time, but if these pieces of non-knowledge accumulate, it can be hard to keep track of it all.

    (This is in contrast to the other situations, which seem to me to be much shorter-term. I find that much easier.)

    After a few sessions with any given group of players, I like to think I have a sense for what their hot buttons and their potentially opposing agendas are. (After all, as the GM, I probably helped set them up!) And so I often use that insight to guess when a private note might be appropriate, and if it's necessary.

Ultimately, though, these are tools to regulate the information flow, and remind the players to take part in that regulation. These tools don't necessarily make the process less awkward if these techniques are used constantly.

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It sounds like you have a problem with players metagaming (acting on information the player has, but his character doesn't), and you're fixing that by having the players explicitly inform each other. This usually works fine as long as players don't have to do it too often – but if you're requiring them to relay the info to the group every time they make a perception check, then it's going to get tedious and the players will take shortcuts like the ones you're seeing now. This is especially true if the player can literally say "what he said" immediately after you tell the player something – it's going to feel like a pointless hurdle, rather than realism.

Only make players relay information when it potentially affects the story. If time isn't limited, if the characters are reasonably near each other, or if they aren't concerned about being overhead, don't enforce relaying information. When the characters split up to get information and then gather to share it, just tell them "you share the information you learned." Let them know that they can choose to not share information, and they can speak up afterward. It could go something like this:

Bob: I find my drinking buddies and see if they know anything about the missing MacGuffin.

Jim: I ask my underworld contacts about the missing MacGuffin, and also whether there are any gangs that need a safe-cracker.

(The party splits up and decides to rejoin that evening. Later...)

DM: Bob, you learn there's a big coliseum game coming up that's MacGuffin-themed. Jim, you learn that somebody's been trying to sell a MacGuffin, but none of the fences want to buy it. Oh, and the Slimetown Shivs Gang is going to rob the mayor's house tomorrow night, and they need someone who's good with locks. You guys swap info.

Jim: Hey, I'm not taking about the Slimetown job!

DM: Okay, you only mention the MacGuffin.

The game goes faster, and players don't need to mention every single time they share information.

But what if it does matter? Then you tell the players why it matters, and ask them what they'd like to do.

Jim: I listen at the door to see if there's anything on the other side. (roll)

DM: You hear a quiet argument between two goblins – it sounds like somebody cheated at gambling. Suddenly, you hear a knife being drawn, probably by one of the goblins, and the argument goes real quiet – you could hear a pin drop. Do you want to speak up to tell the party what's going on?

Only make the players jump through hoops with relaying information if the act of relaying the information is going to change something, or if there's some reason why they wouldn't relay the information.

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