Mystery, and the unsettling sensation of confronting things that are unknown and unexplained, has always been a major part of tabletop roleplay for me as a player. Meeting an adversary whose nature, motivations and capabilities are unknown and alien always increased my enjoyment of whatever game I was playing. And conversely, as a referee, a major part of my enjoyment of the game, almost a fundamental requirement for me to even want to bother being a GM, is to be able to confront my players with unknown and disturbing things that take them out of their comfort zone.

A disconcerting phenomenon I have observed in recent years - and I think this is maybe part of a wider psychological shift which is symptomatic of the hyper-connected age we live in - is that of players who cannot tolerate not knowing something. As soon as they encounter anything 'weird' - for instance, a creature the like of which they have never seen or heard of - they start firing off questions about it in a slightly agitated manner, to try to pin down what it is. This is not an isolated case confined to one player.

If that were all they did, I wouldn't mind so much. But it goes further. Despite my repeated requests that players should not go looking things up in 'off-limits' sourcebooks or trawling the 'net for 'forbidden info', it is clear that some of them just cannot curb their enthusiasm for Googling everything they meet. Players do have laptops, ipads etc at the game table (they would consider it a human rights violation to deny them access). But even if I slap a ban on them it won't stop them hitting Google as soon as they get home.

An example was a player who I observed googling every encounter while we adventured our way through a published module, reading blog posts by players who had already completed the module as we proceeded (I was a player on this one, not GM'ing, so I got to see what was happening firsthand - it was a shocking revelation - had he been doing this when I was GM'ing? It seems highly likely). After a while I couldn't stand it any longer and drew attention to his behaviour - yep, I snitched on him to the GM. He acted very embarrased and said he was only looking for pictures - he wasn't reading any of the text.

Now I am GM'ing, and running an adventure that is, though pre-published, at least moderately obscure, and contains a few specific unique monsters that never appeared in any Monster Manual.

Just the other day, I was emailed an artists impression of one of these monsters by one of my players, saying he 'came across' it and thought I might be interested to see it. I was thunderstruck. The likelihood that he would have just stumbled on this image no more than a week after encountering this creature seems remote. It seems rather more likely that, once again, the lure of Google had proved too much. It acually seems completely bizarre that this player, who knows my stance on inappropriate googling, imagined that I might be happy to see this image landing in my inbox.

The thing is, there seems to be no simple solution to the problem. I don't have time to write my own material from scratch so I have to rely on published sources as my basis (though I often modify things). I am tired of repeating myself; I do not want to turn into the nagging parent. Player expulsion is really not an option (these are people I have known for years). And they do have redeeming features; they are, generally speaking, not bad players. You have to accept some faults in people. But this one really spoils the game for me.

So....what experiences do other players and GM's have with this problem? Is it not even regarded as a problem by most people nowadays, and am I a lone holdout still fighting a war that was lost long ago?

Gamegrene, arise once more. Let's talk about this.

The hall is mostly dark, save for a lantern that Gherkin brought. A thick layer of dust rests on the tables...all but one. At the freshly-wiped table Gherkin sits expectantly. He has brought some travelling fare and rolled it out across the table; his cup is half-filled with wine.
From the back of the house a woody groan from the door and the shafts of light announce the arrival of another traveler drawn by the flicker of light at Gamegrene. The traveler does not immediately come into view, but bangs, scrapes, and pauses indicate that the traveler is shaking off the mud and dirt from the road and stowing their cloak.
As the traveler enters Gherkin looks up and observes"Gil you've gained weight."

I've had a few similar experiences myself. I think it relates, somehow, to the focus on character building over character playing -- to solving over experiencing. Players spend way to much time focused on their character out-of-game. They get used to playing the game away from the table. One of the worst shifts in the hobby is that characters go up levels and gain new abilities out-of-game. New abilities come from new rulebooks not from the narrative world. Stack the books for the DM up on one side and compare it to the player books and you will see the problem. The DM is not in control of the D&D world. A player is not taking much of a leap when they "cross the line" and research adventures online because they are in the habit of going around the DM on a myriad of other issues. Because D&D (etc) have such a deeply entrenched implied setting; the rules and setting are too deeply intertwined for any but the most ruthless and invested DM's to unravel in the least.

I don't think that we are the only two old grognards who are against trying to "solve" a game with out of character knowledge. I also wonder if those who build the adventures that are published are part of the problem. They place and script things out far too precisely to allow the GM to adapt and change the material.

'It seems I am in good company, though' Gil replied with a smile, noting Gherkin's own somewhat augmented waistline. He tactfully declined to comment on the multiplication of grey hairs in his old friend's mane and beard as he drew up a chair.


Some excellent insights, as always.

"solving over experiencing"

Yes, this cuts to the heart of the matter. The game increasingly becomes an exercise in strategy, problem solving and risk management. Much like the wargames that came before RPGs. Much like the video games that followed them.

Unknowns pose a risk, and must be quickly defined and quantified so that maximally efficient strategies for interaction may be formulated and applied.

This, combined with:

"The DM is not in control of the D&D world. A player is not taking much of a leap when they "cross the line" and research adventures online because they are in the habit of going around the DM on a myriad of other issues."

leads to a sense that the DM has no right to complain about players using all the means at their disposal to research the threats and opportunities that surround their characters.

"New abilities come from new rulebooks, not from the narrative world."

Indeed. And the way the rulebooks are marketed does nothing to counter that impression. The simple reason for this, is that players are a much larger market than DMs.

I try to encourage my players to find narrative reasons for acquisition of new abilities rather than just have them sprout from nowhere. But it is an uphill struggle sometimes. There is a very real sense of entitlement there with some players; that it is simply their right for their character to suddenly obtain any feat or spell that they want. I like to give these things out as a kind of treasure; something they might learn from an ancient dusty tome or the wandering martial artist who shares the road with them for a time. Or even something they take time out to research. Some of the players 'get it'. But others.....well, I have known people to spend weekends working out a detailed 20-level career plan for their character down to the last skill point and the last feat. When their character gains a level they just switch to the next tab on their spreadsheet. Their character is like an immovable, rigid 4-dimensional sculpture in space-time, their entire life already pre-defined, the only variable being at what moment they gain the necessary xp to move up a level. Quite horrible really.

Summon Monster is a good case in point. My own character who uses these spells makes a point of only summoning monsters they have prior familiarity with, or else they have spent some game-time researching. I don't utilise the full lists given in the spell descriptions. Other players have raised eyebrows at this. "Why would you do such a thing?"

Then, as a DM, I have had players who think that as soon as their character gets Planar Binding they can go looking through the Monster Manual to see what outer-planar beings they can summon. Because the spell just says "The kind of creature to be bound must be known and stated" so they think a Knowledge check is sufficient to summon anything they like within the HD limits. To me, it is so obvious that more than this should be required. And they can't understand why.

Anyway.....apropos my original theme of 'Why can't players curb their googling habits?' interesting piece I read this afternoon:

"Their character is like an immovable, rigid 4-dimensional sculpture in space-time, their entire life already pre-defined, the only variable being at what moment they gain the necessary xp to move up a level. Quite horrible really."

Yes, and completely disconnected from the world in which they are supposed to be playing. In first and second edition we would add special abilities to level gain, but they would have to role-play their training and acquire the special talents. 3rd Edition does a better job of balancing the abilities than I ever did ad-hoc. I would correct discrepancies and problems as we went, or if minor address it on subsequent levels. It was connected to the world though. I feel much less freedom in 3rd Edition because they get the abilities because of the rules, for free and without roleplay or connection to the narrative.

I avoided suggesting trying to trick the players by swapping the villain and hero in a published adventure; and reversing the weaknesses and abilities of monsters. If Gamegrene were the buzzing hub of cosmopolitan glory it used to be, someone would have already suggested that and I could disagree. So, I will disagree with the small part of me that was inclined to mention it. Hopefully it won't degenerate into me calling myself names and slandering myself.

If you take the time to build something or adapt a module, it is laudable. Deliberate adversarial actions though are entirely unhelpful. The problem is the separation of the player from the shared aspect of the game. Manipulating or punishing isn't going to be good in the long run.

My players googled "Epic Level Rise of the Runelords" and landed themselves in the garden of Gamgrene for a while to read up on how the adventure connected to the over-arching plot of their game. I know they have researched Sandpoint a bit; and maybe even looked ahead at how the adventure path plays out. Some parts will play out like the adventure path, but other sections are new or drastically altered. As these aren't published anywhere they can't really get to much. Their plot weaves the Incursion story of the Githyanki, with Rise of the Runelords, and one other plot custom to my world. So much of the work is done for me, but there is still a bit of work to get a session ready. I have to scale up the game to challenge level 25 characters (they are fighting their way up to the Jorgenfist right now past Rune Giants). When I customize encounters I find 3rd Edition is just too complex. I figure that if a bad guy can do four things that is plenty. Screw stats and building up levels... they don't add to the game. Pick how many HP; pick the AC; what are its three saves; give it some attacks; give it some specials, and you are done. Doing the math is a colossal waste of time. Move onto the description of it. Why is it there? What are its moviations?

Anyhow, I am side-tracked. The only suggestion I have is to give an advantage to the narrative. Give the Celestial Lion that they summon a role in the game. Give it a name, and even some magical equipment that it uses. Allow it to be healed by a player-specific diety and have it know things about the players. The more advantages that you add that aren't in the book, the better. They won't look in the book to try and figure out what to summon -- they will go back to the story and get Aslan the Ass-kicking Lion. Even if the by-the-book numbers for a Celestial Lion don't look right. Now, you have to toughen up the encounters a bit if you are giving away some advantages... but that comes naturally. Offer some prestige classes that aren't in the books. Try to werestle back some control from the "Wizards of the Coast". It is your game, not theirs.

"that it is simply their right for their character to suddenly obtain any feat or spell that they want"

A very real difficiency created by D&D. Note how in 4th Edition they put Magic Items in the players book. Smirk.

What a remarkable piece of synchronicity. I am currently running a reboot of the GDQ1-7 series but with some expansion and divested of its original linear nature - it's more of a sandbox setting now with the PCs roaming around Sterich and the surrounding mountains dealing with incursions and gathering intelligence. At present they do not know the locations of the various giant strongholds.

I have inserted 'Fortress of the Stone Giants' into this setting. Jorgenfist is situated in The Jotens. The current protagonists are a party of around 7th level who are scouting in the vicinity. I have entwined the intro to 'Fortress' with another sub-plot involving a (deceased) wizard's stronghold that has been invaded by a small party of stone giant raiders and their bugbear allies. There is a three-way fight for control of the place between the giants and the deceased wizard's two feuding brothers (plus a few escaped monsters from the wizard's menagerie). Into this hotbed of intrigue stumble the PCs.

Having captured one of the stone giants the PCs have learned of the imminent attack being prepared by Mokmurian and his gathering of the stone giant tribes. They have not yet learned the location of Jorgenfist, but will probably do so soon. They will need to use their judgement at some point as to whether to press onwards or fall back and call for assistance; the fact is, they are unlikely to fare well if they try to penetrate Jorgenfist.

There are a number of higher-level characters who can be called in; but there are availability issues. If they wait for the most powerful characters (level 18-22) to become available (who could probably handle this adventure with ease) it may be too late to avert the giant attack. There are other, lesser characters who could be called for who are more immediately available, but who would not have such an easy time of it. The players will have to make decisions on how to respond to the threat.

GDQ1-7: That is some classic gaming goodness -- that and the Slave Lords. :) Rise of the Runelords has a lot going for it for many of the same reasons.

Oddly enough, I have never refereed the entire series. And I never even played the complete series either in one continuous stretch - my first sortie with the school gaming group lasted up until the end of G3 when, for various reasons, I dropped out of the campaign. Later I played with another gaming group, with a different character, who came into the GDQ campaign more or less where I'd left off playing with the school group, and finally saw it through to its conclusion.

A little later I did find myself running adventures in the D1-D3 setting for a while for a small group of players sometime back in the early 80's. I also set some other adventures in various locations of the Under-Oerth map. But basically, I hadn't touched them in the 30 years since then.

Recently, I found myself re-reading them and was struck by how brilliant they were. Not without their flaws, certainly; but also shot through with streaks of unselfconscious creativity that seem almost like a lost art in today's gaming world. There was so much in them that I had somehow failed to pick up on in my youth. The thing is, Gygax was in his mid-to-late 30's when he wrote his classic adventures, and we had played them as a bunch of teenagers. Like pearls before swine. I realised that there was so much potential in them that had gone unrealised in our immature gameplay. Thus, I resolved to give them another airing. Several players in my group have never experienced them before. Others are blessed with a poor memory of them. And there will be a few side adventures and unexpected twists thrown in, though I am taking care to try to remain true to the spirit of the original.

Anyway....I digress once more. Steering back to the OT:

" Note how in 4th Edition they put Magic Items in the players book. Smirk."

I felt that 3rd edition had done well to introduce a system with detailed costs and requirements for magic item creation, but there was a major, essential ingredient missing (which I added in my houserules). That missing component was the following sentence:

"Each non-mundane [i.e. +3 or greater potency or producing 'wondrous' effects] magical item shall require, in addition to the stated spells, monetary and xp costs, a special component that cannot be sourced through everyday commercial transaction. This must be determined by the DM. The player must research this component and then set out to obtain it in the course of gameplay."

There's also some other stuff about needing to make Spellcraft checks, which favours the construction of rituals and the elaboration of the item creation process by the player. But the Special Component stipulation is the main brake on magic item creation.

One player got very upset over this. He wanted to make a Bag of Holding, using a spell from a scroll as he didn't have the required caster level himself. (Actually at first he just wanted me to give him one in a treasure haul; he kept hinting at how useful it would be if he found one.). When I told him he would have to make it out of the skin of a creature that could plane shift at will, and no they didn't sell these in the local shops he was quite annoyed. "My character has loads of stuff to haul around with him. He really needs a Bag of Holding."

Me: "Well, hire some porters. Buy a wagon and horses. Paint it up in some crazy fashion with magical runes on and play the part of the travelling magician."

Would you believe, he actually thought that wagons and horses and porters were beneath his 5th level wizard. He wanted some kind of magical flying chariot.

Returning to the original theme of players' obsession with reducing the experienced game world to a set of known and defined entities - the neuroscientist Iain McGilchrist wrote a marvellous book a few years' back called 'The Master and his Emissary', which I cannot recommend highly enough:

McGilchrist is concerned with brain lateralisation - the difference between the functions of the brain hemishpheres. His principal thesis is that modern society favours the virtues of the left hemisphere too highly and that this is an accelerating trend as technological advances mainly give advantage to left-hemispheric modes of being.

I see a lot of evidence supporting McGilchrist's ideas in the way that RPGs have evolved, and in the way players act. (Not only there, but in many other strands of modern life also). The insatiable urge to categorise and quantify and make the unknown known that I see in some of my players strikes me as a very left-hemispheric favoured activity.

This video gives a brief overview of the argument of McGilchrist's splendid book although it in no way serves as a replacement.

Thanks for this. I will set up a kindle app on my android tablet and purchase that book (once it has re-charged).

I had a split-brain experience this year. I was talking with my wife on the phone at the same time as writing a Crystal Report for a client. A Crystal Report is similar to programming where you establish data tables and their relationships, add fields to the report canvas, add formulae for calculations, and group and sort results. I was happily engaged in both activities without worry; and the conversation was going along fine for about 15 minutes until my wife asked talked about re-arranging the living room. At which point I could see the data tables (which I tend to see visually) crash to the ground, the formulae were wiped from my brain, the shared variables that I was tracking disappeared, and the grouping and sorting of the report was lost to me. The image of the living room and the re-arrangement of furniture caused my entire mental project to crash. Somehow she called upon a side of the brain that was otherwise engaged. It reminded me of all the happy ramblings I have with clients while fixing some of the technical issues with their accounting software. I was struck by how easily this all happens ... how naturally effortless it was.

To me this was a very visceral moment. I really began seeing myself as two people after that. I took intro to Psychology 25 years ago and I knew about the structure of the brain; but in this moment I became aware of my two minds. Independently working at times, capable of an incredible level of co-operation, but still separate. This is our first key relationship -- with ourselves. This intrinsic duality is fascinating to me.
In Old English they had three grammatical numbers: Singular, Dual, and Plural. Some Arabic languages do too (according to Google). I googled to see if there was an alternate to "grammatical number" and stumbled on this extra bit of information. The elevation of duality seems very astute. Fighting, loving, and other interactions are made more intimate with a dual case in language. I thought it would be interesting to be able to write about those moments of self separation in a dual case, but alas we have lost that part of our language long ago.

It was the detail part of me that demanded that I go to Google to ensure that an incorrect usage of a word did not detract from my argument. So you seem very much on point LG bringing the brain science into the conversation. It seems appropriate for me to have a Google-assisted post; but I wouldn't want to have a Google-assisted game.

Part of the problem with D&D and similar games is the gulf between the rules and the narrative. There is often little correlation between how we describe the gaming action and the rules and statistics that surround it. "The giant swings his mighty club at Voss who recoils backwards, stepping mostly out of the way. The club -- the size of a tree -- clips him slightly, but enough to knock out most of his wind and break some ribs. Voss can't take much more of this punishment."
What happened in the rules? Did Voss take a lot of HP of damage? Did the giant roll well and hit for maximum damage, but because of Voss' high HP it didn't matter. Did he save against massive damage (this time)? If the giant rolled his best hit, why didn't he strike him flush? If he did strike him flush with a tree, wouldn't Voss be paste?

In this way we are running two games; one for the right brain; and one for the left. They cannot translate from one to the other. This is one of the long-running debates I have had on Gamegrene about the importance of the rules. I believe they have far more pernicious effect that most gamers realize. A good system should be able to translate well in both directions. If I give you the dice results and actions you should be able to come up with a description of the events that is very similar to everyone else's description. If I describe the action and skills, you should be able to tell what the dice results were with relative accuracy. The lack of symmetry in D&D has far-reaching implications on the lack of symmetry in the approach to the game, the events at the table, and the attitudes away from the table (Googlemania).

This is also why I am against any highly-abstract rules in RPG's. I see game designers going increasingly more in this direction; forsaking the right-brain more and more. Chess is a tightly organized game filled with strategy. It isn't a good wargame; and it is an awful RPG. Yet, every rule book I pick up seems to love their creative, new, and novel rule abstraction that has lots of flavour.