“How does your character know that?”
Metagaming is one issue we encounter in tabletop RPGs. Players have their characters act on player knowledge that their character does not possess. A DM’s defense against this is to gently remind the player to act within the confines of character knowledge.
This can lead to an overcorrection where every time a single PC finds out information, the other players ask “do you tell us that?” Any time a strange routine like this becomes habitual, we should explore streamlining the process.
I’ve got a proposal for doing just that. It’s called Speak Your Secrets. Here’s how it works:
Speak Your Secrets
The Rule: When one player gets details from the DM, it’s assumed that they tell the other party members. If the player wants to keep some of that information secret, they have to tell the DM out loud.
This accomplishes a few things:
- Saves the DM from having to ask “how did your character know that?”
- Party members are keyed to not act on the secret knowledge because it’s expressed.
- DM and PC don’t have to leave the room to share secret information while the rest of the party is bored.
- You don’t lose details in a game of telephone between DM to PC to party.
- DM doesn’t have to re-explain things when the rest of the party encounters them.
Let’s run this through some examples:
The party is walking though the forest. Everyone make a perception check. Only the Ranger spots the indications of an ambush ahead.
Since the party is a team, the Ranger alerts them to indications of an ambush. This keeps the entire party from being unsurprised the first round of combat.
The Rogue sneaks ahead of the party to determine the layout of the dungeon. In the Rogue’s investigation, they discover a hidden egress that will allow for quick escape. When the party gets overwhelmed by the BBEG, they run for it.
Since the party is a team, we assume that the Rogue shared all the details of their scouting. The party is aware of the secret passage, even if they did not see it personally.
The bard examines intricate reliefs carved into the walls of the dungeon. Upon a successful history check, they learn information about the beast this dungeon was built to contain and how it was trapped.
When this information proves vital to defeating the BBEG, we assume all the party members can identify the weakness. After all, bards love to talk.
After a hard-fought battle, the cleric performs a medicine check on the bodies to determine whether there are any survivors to interrogate.
On a success, the cleric alerts the party that they have located a survivor and the questioning begins.
But, what if the cleric knows that the paladin gets a little enthusiastic with their interrogation? Or the cleric is merciful and knows the paladin will “double tap” any survivors?
We want to discourage players from not sharing information, since D&D is a team activity, and concealing information often leads to an adversarial posture.
When a player wants to withhold information their character has from the other players, you can call for a contested check. The deception, sleight of hand, and intimidation skills are excellent candidates for this.
If the PC is successful in concealing the information, the other players will remember not to act on it. We’ve established ludonarrative harmony by reinforcing the lack of knowledge mechanically. Here’s a classic example:
In scouring a wizard’s desk for treasure, one party member comes across an intriguing artifact. They want to conceal it from the rest of the party and keep it for themselves. Make them roll a sleight of hand check contested by the perception check of the other players searching in the same area.