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I usually like to give little bits and pieces of information to the group to get them excited about the upcoming session, but nothing that could be considered spoilers, something like:

I had a bunch of time to work on a couple of new NPCs, I think you'll like them

That has been working very well, the group looks forward to the next session and I can usually deliver on the content I promised, but there is a problem.

Problem

There is a player in my game who keeps asking questions about the next sessions and secret lore in general, things like:

  • So, what god will I be able to meet soon?
  • Can I have the rulebook for a second? I have to check out the creatures and gods sections.
  • I sure hope I get to meet a powerful mage in the next session.

I like to keep an air of mystery about the adventure, so the fact that he keeps reading the GM section of the rulebook (which contains monsters and gods, and all their rules and stats) and pointing out things like "oh, finally I know what that encounter was!" bothers me.

I tried telling him that he can't see the rulebook and that I can't tell him anything that would spoil the adventure, so that he would enjoy it more. But he insists on talking about the adventure outside of the sessions, and it doesn't help that I have a hard time telling people "No", and the fact that I'd like to accommodate everyone.

I also considered the option of telling him fake information about the adventure so that he won't spoil any surprises, but that still won't help with his obsession about the rulebook.

The Question

How can I (politely possibly) tell him that his behaviour is not helping the "natural" flow of the adventure?

The other players already know that and usually keep quiet about the adventure in between sessions, so they aren't a problem.
I would also like to keep him in the group as it is very small and there aren't many RPG enthusiasts in my area.

The player in question has been playing tabletops RPGs for about 2 years, so he's experienced. He also GMs some campaigns; he tends to give out a lot of information about his campaigns too, if that helps.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Reminder: comments are for clarifying content, not posting small or incomplete answers. Please use answer posts to submit answers instead. Prior comments containing answers have been removed. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Jul 20 '16 at 18:14
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    \$\begingroup\$ How do we handle a desire to challenge the frame of a question is recommended reading for all who would answer "how do I?" with "don't." \$\endgroup\$ – nitsua60 Jul 21 '16 at 13:33

11 Answers 11

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So, your problem is that you have an enthusiastic player... This is a good problem to have.

First and foremost: talk to your player in a candid and friendly manner about your concerns and stress that you want to find a solution where the both of you are happy. This is just normal social interactions and not really within the scope of this site.

Having said that: How about redirecting said player's effort into something that serves your purpose? Many games settings and systems actively encourage players taking part in world creation. The trick is to understand that this is a collaborative effort but your (as GM) judgement is final.

So, if your player wants to meet a "powerful mage", let said player create the mage as an NPC with stats (if you use a system), history (rumours only, some maybe true, some false, some partially true), and relationships to other NPCs that are around.

So, if your player want to meet a God. How about he wrote up a temple (with NPCs, locations, problems, and adventures seeds) for one of your Gods. Event better if he misunderstands some of the tenets of the god's religion: he just created a new sect, or heretics, or whatever.

This will make your world much richer and hopefully more enjoyable to the player. There is nothing stopping you from including the other players in the world building — in fact, I would recommend offering them the opportunity. As for the sense of mystery, this actually enhances it as you get more world to explore regardless of whether one persons knows some rumours about something and the GM knows the truth.

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First of all, player communication is vital. If your player feels ignored, he will only start to pester more, especially the eager typew you have there. However, there is information players should not gain, and some of the questions you told are that case.

Let's go through those examples you gave:

  1. So, what god will I be able to meet soon?
  2. Can I have the rulebook for a second? I have to check out the creatures and gods sections
  3. I sure hope I get to meet a powerful mage in the next session

1 & 3 are questions about the adventure or adventure path you are on at the moment. I would answer those pretty much with the following sentence: "I will see if I can include something like this in the future adventures, but I can't tell you when because I want to keep the suspense." I really would not give him the info that you actually took that sort of input for your planning until he sees the magic.

Also, he asked to meet them - meeting is a very wide array of things: you could witness the god or mage in action but not have a chance to talk to them because it is a large public event, or it could actually be the enemy or Big Bad Evil Guy (Players, be careful what you wish for!).

The question 2 however is pretty much ok in my eyes. He would like some information from the book, and he seems not to have it yet. So why not give him the book with a friendly smile and the note "Here you are, but don't count on me using the regular stats of monsters all the time and the more you do look into these chapters, the more I will have to make up new monsters" - even if you might not use different stats or just reskin the monsters.

Now, back to the enthusiasm of the player. I just saw that Sardathrion suggested to channel his enthusiasm into useful ways - and I pretty much like that idea, especially since I want to try to get my groups to creatively design the world together with me often. However, instead of having them design the full NPCs or places, I ask them to make some sort of short characteristic, and I have prepared a 'city/empire record sheet' that holds some basic information about places, which the players can fill out for one of the several dozen (free or not so free) city-states in the current campaign. Handing out such a standard form that they just need to fill out makes it possible both for the player to do some creative work they want to see in the game, and for you as a GM looking up what it is because you can look over the notes easily.

I don't guarantee my players that I will use said notes or will not alter them, but they all have their part in creating the world somewhat, and it is an equal opportunity to all the players.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks, i'll try the form idea and see how it goes, but i doubt it will stop the very involved player from pestering me, i'll also start telling him that what is written in the rulebook might not be what will be in the future sessions, as i modified heavily the rules \$\endgroup\$ – user30267 Jul 20 '16 at 8:36
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With my long-standing group, we've got an "in-joke" to handle situations like this. When a player starts asking too many questions (or questions that are too pointed, or I just want to change the subject), I'll simply answer with "fnord." (This can be written or verbal, depending on whether we're chatting or e-mailing.)

Although it's not the real definition of the word, we use this as shorthand for "you're not cleared for that": a sign to the player that I'm not going to continue down this avenue of conversation. Since it's an in-joke, nobody takes offense. (And it definitely doesn't stop interest or enthusiasm in the game - it just blunts certain avenues of conversation.)

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  • \$\begingroup\$ That's a nice idea, i'll probably make something like this to set up some barriers on the more "secret" subjects, thanks! \$\endgroup\$ – user30267 Jul 20 '16 at 14:06
  • \$\begingroup\$ @RandomGuy13421 You're welcome. It's worked well for us (and this gaming group has been going strong since the late '90s). My most inquisitive player sometimes starts conversations with, "I'm expecting 'fnord,' but..." \$\endgroup\$ – Ghotir Jul 20 '16 at 14:07
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Different Players enjoy different styles

It seems you try to decide what is more fun for your player. If he is an experienced grown up player, you don't have to decide what is good and bad for him. I know a girl who reads a lot of books, but always reads the last pages first so she knows how it ends. I think spoiling herself this way is crazy, but she enjoys the book a lot more if she knows where it is going and if her favoured characters survive.

If your player enjoys the game a lot more, when he knows all the background and what will happen next time, why shouldn't you tell him ?

The only problem I see is if the player spoilers the other players and tells them something, which they don't want to know, because they like the suspense. Or if he cannot separate player/character knowledge and uses information his character could not have to act differently in certain situations.

But if your player can keep these two points, I see no reason to keep the details and rules from him. Each player should enjoy the game how he likes it best, as long as it doesn't interfere with the fun of other players. - So if the only reason for not telling him is that you know better what is fun for him, please stop and just tell him :-)

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    \$\begingroup\$ Thanks for the response, i guess it's going to be about finding a balance between my style of mastering and his fun, i decided to follow Sardathrion and Trish suggestions and try to involve the players more into building the world, im just waiting a bit to select a definitive answer to see if anyone has any other opinion on the subject. \$\endgroup\$ – user30267 Jul 20 '16 at 14:05
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I may not be of much help here as I do all my session's on the fly, and it sounds like you are big into planning. But I have had people like this in the past, and I agree with a lot of what Sardathrion said about incorporating their ideas in ways they might not be thinking about.

To me it sounds like this player is invested in the game, but not nessisarily the story, and is trying to tell you what they actually want to be doing (meeting mage/god). This is a good thing, as everyone else has pointed out.

I would challenge that player to make choices in game that they believe might lead them to meet that mage/god. You're role as GM is not to make the story and share it with the players, but to assist in the group making the story. If that player really wants to go meet a high level mage, then he should be making decisions in game that will lead to that. As a GM however, you need to also worry about everything else that is happening in the world. If the group decides to go off on a side quest to meet a mage for this player, you need to remind them (through in game events) that the world hasn't stopped because of it. (Note this shouldn't be a "get-back-on-track" reminder, but more of a "this-information-about-the-happenings-of-the-world-might-be-important")

I find that this style of GMing allows for a great deal of player control over the story, while still allowing the GM to add a story arc and overall plot (even if the players become only secondary characters).

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I like to keep an air of mystery about the adventure, so the fact that he keeps reading the GM section of the rulebook (which contains monsters and gods, and all their rules and stats) and pointing out things like "oh, finally I know what that encounter was!" bothers me.

The idea that published setting content is a secret is very old-school. There's nothing stopping him from buying his own copy, after all, and (anymore) no real cultural pressure against doing so. So, as far as he knows, all he's doing is asking to borrow a book that you own a copy of, no different than any other book.

If you want to keep an "air of mystery", have you considered writing your own content? You're free to keep your own notes a secret, after all. Or maybe, to satisfy his desire to eventually find out everything, run shorter more "episodic" campaigns, so that there's an end in sight and he can wait until after it's over to look everything up.

If the real problem is benefiting from information his character has no justification for knowing (you haven't said this, but the "metagaming" tag implies it), then firmly ask him not to do it and apply in-game penalties if he does. For example, he could be wrong, even catastrophically so (that troll you thought had a weakness to fire, turns out fire actually makes trolls stronger in this world)... You could set things like this up in advance, or do it on the fly.

Though also make sure that there's a clear understanding of how obscure a given piece of knowledge is in-universe, if you do this and it turns out they just assumed their character knew it because they assumed it was common knowledge, it makes you look like the bad guy.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Note that there was nothing stopping players from buying GM-only books back in the “old school times” either. The way of playing and attitude around it wasn't created by inability to access the material, so it doesn't logically follow that it's obsolete because the material can be easily accessed by players. Your point about cultural change is more on-point. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Jul 20 '16 at 19:37
  • \$\begingroup\$ I was trying to give both aspects equal weight. (Though I am curious, what did people do in the old days when someone wanted to run their own game on a different day with a different group?) \$\endgroup\$ – Random832 Jul 20 '16 at 19:53
  • \$\begingroup\$ (They generally didn't; GMs were often always the GM. In the uncommon exceptions, it was expected to behave and not metagame, or bad things would happen to your character. Of course, this is a generalisation—the culture wasn't any more monolithic then than now, just a different dominant paradigm.) \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Jul 20 '16 at 22:51
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I'm not entirely sure about how you run things at your table. I think you need to understand there is a MAJOR difference between what a player character (eventually) can do, and what all other creatures in your world (that you control) can do.

Basic Assumptions

Rules about everything a player character can do should always be available to the player. He didn't choose a particular race/class/ability because he was curious, but because he could make some assumptions about the effect of that choice. He should not have to be relying on access to your book in order to select any spells that his character can already cast. The effects of these spells, should be available to him to.

For example: If a character can pick locks, he knows what a masterwork-lock looks like, and that it is harder to pick a masterwork lock than a regular lock is. He does NOT however, know exactly how hard it is to pick, he has to find out by trying.

Again, I'm not entirely sure here, but I would advice you to copy all in-game information from your RPG-rulebook he currently knows or can have access to (via a mentor, seen it happen or via an NPC for example), and keep the rest -strictly- to yourself.

Conclusion

Embrace the player and allow him to find out everything about HIS own player character can/could, but do not-never-ever-in-any-way allow that player to gain any knowledge about anything YOU control, at least not without your permission.

Note: Most RPG's I know of, have separate rule-books for players and GM's, and the GM has his own -strictly secret- supplement for the storyline besides the rule-books.

Optionally

As I thought and confirmed by the comment of SevenSidedDie below, you apparently have only just one source-book. In an effort avoiding chopping down a whole forest in order to make copies of half of the source-book, you also could use some paperclips to "lock" certain parts of that same book, allowing the player all info he/she needs, and still holding a certain amount of control over your world.

Hope it's of any use.

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    \$\begingroup\$ There is a world of difference between world and system information. \$\endgroup\$ – Sardathrion Jul 20 '16 at 9:18
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    \$\begingroup\$ FYI, the game in question is a very traditional RPG design (player info is for players, GM info is “Top Secret”), but because it's a vanity publishing project everything is in one book. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Jul 20 '16 at 18:27
  • \$\begingroup\$ @SevenSidedDie Thanks for clarifying. Modern RPG + all one book + fantasy RPG with some D&D vibes made it sort of uncertain one way or the other. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Jul 20 '16 at 22:38
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Metagaming isn't inherently bad.

My recommendation is to talk with this player about what their goal is with gaining the extra information.

When this player does get extra information, what do they do with it? If they use the information to put their character into interesting situations, make the plot more fun for the other players and in general advance the story then it's not really an issue for them to have some spoilers.

On the other hand, if they want to use the info to spoil things for the other players, or to mise out maximal effectiveness for their character, or subvert the story/plot then it is an issue.

In many gaming groups the assumption is that metagaming is inherently bad, but it's only bad when it's done solely for your own profit, at the expense of the the other players (the DM is a player too!). If the metagaming is done in service to the story and enjoyment of other other players it's perfectly fine.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Yup. I've handled it this way. Maybe boiled down to: Sure, I can lend you the book but it might spoil some things for you. Your choice. \$\endgroup\$ – Roflo Jul 21 '16 at 22:53
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I use two methods to keep players interested (but not disruptive) and prevent metagaming.

First, I absolutely talk to my friends about what is going on in the campaign and what I have planned. I will even use it as an opportunity to help build their character backgrounds by involving them in things they would know (e.g. one character is a soldier, so I let him know a few things he's heard about a local commander I just finished fleshing out before the session, and give him more in game if he wants to make a check). This makes the players feel more involved in the story, and more than once I've had a player suggest something that I've incorporated into the game (e.g. that soldier served under the commander or is good friends with someone who had).

To deal with metagaming, I will tweak things in the game world to disrupt metagaming attempts. I give general descriptions of creatures they've never encountered before, and only give direct names if it makes sense (e.g. everyone knows what a goblin is) or if they pass a knowledge-esque check. I also tweak stats and abilities slightly to disrupt metagaming attempts (for example, adding or subtracting a handful of hp. More than once a player flat out said "if we do x more damage to it, we will kill it" and, naturally, they fell 10hp short because the creature had 10 additional hp. I decided the hp thing prior to the encounter, but also tweak it down if the encounter looks to be going badly for the players). My worlds are also full of devious enemies, so very little is what it seems.

Remember, as a DM you have a large amount of control over the world, so you can tweak things as necessary. Let me give another example: Party was travelling through the woods, and was attacked by a hag pretending to be an elven woman and two elven druids. They kill the druids, but the hag turns ethereal and disappears. They find an elven woman that looks identical to the hag's glamoured appearance tied up behind a tree. The woman spins a story about how she was tricked by the hag, and her brothers were charmed into helping her, and is saddened by her brothers' deaths. She is convinced to go with the party and help them, and is later captured by a black dragon and used as a hostage.

Now, I have been very careful to ensure everything she's done while with the party is either druidy or can be explained by a magic item. I can very easily decide later whether she is the hag, biding her time to kill the party that almost overpowered her, or the druid, helping because they convinced her to. In my mind, she is now and always has been the hag, but if I catch wind that the players decided she is the hag and the characters have no reason to think so (they've given no in character indication she's the hag), I can change my mind easily. It gives a lot of versatility without having to plan out long arcs of evil machinations (which is also why I drop a lot of random things into my games that I can tie into later. e.g. the shop keeper that had a cough. It was a minor flair addition to make him seem more real. Sessions later, another shopkeeper has a cough....then another...and now there's a plague spreading across the country, driven by the Merchant's cartel to raise prices of certain goods. It all started with a minor flair addition).

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From my gaming days... Let your creativity move you away from a stock module.

1) Let the enthusiastic player help you. Can they design monsters, backstory, aspects of the world. Can they own part of the experience.

1) Use a story for inspiration. Diversify your sources.

2) Have the players help you create aspects of the world. In our case, we founded magical research facilities (we were all university students), became patrons of the church's. And even created new religions in far off lands that we set out to explore. In the end, the players felt empowered to explore and create the world.

3) Use the players min-max tricks against them. If they come up with a way to create fighter mages, use them as a police force. If they come up with portable Greek fire let the villains have it too. Your players will gain experience that is not shown in their characters level. Let them use it but also keep them on their toes. Used in moderation, it can really keep players engaged, creative and thinking.

4) As a plug for a good book. The "Art of game design" by Jesse Schelle. Really makes you stop and think about your players and how to draw them in.

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The way I did it was to create a Facebook Group that recaps the week's session. That way, it is a discussion about what everyone thinks about what happened and what will happen.

Like you, I had a player who would try to extract extra information. I told him, after trying to gently encourage him, to post it on the group page.

After he started posting there, everyone joined in to develop their thoughts.

Sometimes, I used those discussions to mold loose ends on our game. Allowing them to discuss lessened the questions directly at me.

As for the seeing the GM part of the rules, I just altered the creatures enough that the rulebook was not much use to them. Once they understood I use the rulebooks as guidance and not hard fast rules, they stopped asking.

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