I didn’t need to know that.

Today we’re talking about explanations.

Many times, while you are running a game, players will demand to know the rational behind a certain choice. Why did the orc choose to stab the rogue instead of the fighter? Why did the designers of this warehouse decide it needed an acid pit in the center? Why did the quest-giver decide that the fate of the world/universe/kingdom was best left up to a team of murderous vagabonds? And no matter what explanation you give, they will endlessly question and debate your reasoning. As a rule, if you’re players are asking such a question, it is because they have come up with a separate, and in their minds far better, explanation for why whatever situation has just occurred should have been resolved differently. The orc clearly should have stabbed the more dangerous looking party member! That acid pit is a workplace hazard and OSHA would never have stood for it! Fighting the inescapable horror from beyond the universe threatening the world/kingdom/universe should really be someone else’s problem!

And you will want to argue with them! It’s only natural, they are impugning your ability to craft a believable universe, it’s only right that you feel the need to defend your handiwork. You might even start trying to explain things ahead of time, in an attempt to forestall argument. The orc realizes the rogue is an elf, and takes a swing at his hated racial enemy! Do not do this! Your players don’t need an explanation, it’s enough for them the things their characters see and hear. It’s perfectly fine to give them hints, along the lines of “The orc snarls as his eyes fall on your pointed ears and takes a swing”, and it definitely provides an enriching experience for the player, but refrain from telling them why YOU are doing anything. Maybe that rogue is getting stabbed because he’s tactically the most dangerous, or because the player is getting on your nerves, or because the fighter is completely untouchable. It doesn’t matter, because you’re not going to tell them. They are living in the world you establish, and it is up to you to make sure that world makes sense, not them. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use player input, which I will cover later, but it does mean you shouldn’t discuss the rational for game decisions with your players.

If you’re players ask within the confines of the game, though, that’s a different story. If they subdue the orc, kidnap the building designer, or make demands of the ruler, they deserve an answer. They may even do some research into their questions, searching the infoweb or ancient libraries for reasons. This is a good time to get in your backstory, give out the thought processes behind the NPC’s decisions, and put a bit for realism into your world. That being said, I’m not in any way suggesting you have to tell them the truth, just that they deserve to know something. Remember that NPC’s are allowed to be just as untrustworthy as your average player.

Remember, don’t explain yourself, don’t have your NPC’s explain themselves unless someone asks, and don’t forget to lie to the player when appropriate.

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One thought on “I didn’t need to know that.

  1. I would expect that my campaigns would have an element of mystery, and should my players questions the facts presented to them my response is likely to often be, “Why don’t you try to find out why?” I would do my best to not do anything irrational and unexplainable.

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