Player vs. Character Knowledge: Where's the Line?
Yes, I know this is a popular subject that's discussed all too often in the RPG world, but I plan to take a slightly different spin on things. Come share your thoughts!
What I would like to contribute here is not a rant about how terrible and game-breaking metagaming can be, but rather an open forum on how to solve these problems.
We are thinking creatures. It is really hard to dismiss facts that we know are relevant and try to come to the conclusion that our characters would have had they not known this information. What sort of strategies do you use as a GM to prevent this conpromising state, what do you do as players to decide how much your character actually knows, and how do you as players keep your player knowledge from influencing your character actions. The obvious solution is to let the players only know what their characters know, but that doesn't always happen.
I was once in a situation (detailed in a previous article here on Gamegrene) that, through no fault of my own, I ended up playing a lawful good character (a paladin) while knowing as a player that one of the other PC's (a cleric) was of the evil sort.
There's a dilemma here. Do I as a player use every opportunity presented to my character for him to discover this knowledge, and then let him act accordingly? I tried this for a while, attempting a Knowledge (religion) check on the cleric's holy symbol while she was casting a spell. I botched the roll, and so that decision was diverted until later.
I have another option: do I blatently ignore every opportunity presented for my character and so preserve the life of the campaign. It's very hard to make decisions based upon "what would my character do if he didn't know what the end result of his action would be? What would my character do if he didn't know what I know?" How often as players do we feel we have to push our characters towards destruction simply because they don't know what we do? Is it ok to try to preserve our character's lives based on knowledge that they don't actually have?
Sometimes our "metagaming" actually leads us to perform the same actions that our characters would, but that we as players tend to forget, as we are not our characters. I realized later that there could have had a rational explanation for investigating the holy symbol. As a fellow religionist, my paladin would simply have been interested in what order the cleric followed.
Is there a time when not enough player knowledge is used for fear of metagaming? What if a party enters a room full of sarcophagi, and they realize that they know that the skeletons inside will come alive simply because the players have seen too many movies. For fear of utilizing their player knowledge, they go ahead and steal the magic orb and awaken the doom sealed within when, had the players thought about it a little more deeply, they would have remembered that they were invading the evil necromancer's castle and that such defenses were pretty likely.
PC's also tend to be more foolhardy and risky than actual people, as we fall into the mentality of "this is a game, and, as such, this is beatable." Similarly, there is usually minimal penalty for total party kills, unless one counts the new creation of characters as such. Sometimes our player knowledge pushes us to betray our characters.
So, where do you draw the line?