Misinformation: Lies, Mistakes, False Confidence and Your Campaign

Rick Stump has written a fantastic post about using misinformation in your campaign at Don’t Split The Party, and how it can bring in some freshness and make games much more interesting. He also describes a particular situation that occurred during one of his games, and the fallout:

As players in my Seaward game now know, very well, rakshasa are not harmed by crossbow bolts that have been Blessed. Crossbow bolts that have been Consecrated, however, are instant death to the horrible creatures.

Yes, my players were horrified. Yes, at least one was indignant (‘but the Monster Manual says!’)…

The power of providing misinformation is that players often tend to play towards player knowledge rather than character knowledge. The dichotomy of old school gaming is that we encourage player skill at the table, but how do you separate skill from knowledge?

Players create expectations based on previous knowledge of play and reading books. In the cognitive sciences this is well understood and is the basis of such things as stereotypes, which themselves often create biased interactions with others (and not just in the racial sense as we know it in the real world). In the case above, prejudiced knowledge was used to deal with an enemy, and that knowledge was actually false. This can actually be a boon to a GM as you can tweak things in the game setting so that players are always kept on their toes by them realizing that they can’t rely on thinking that they know exactly what “the truth” really is. Just like the characters they are playing, their “truth” changes as they receive more information about the world and fit that new knowledge into it.

This type of learning is called constructivist learning and is based on the learner’s experience, and is actually the basis of much game-based learning theory put forward in the real world today. It’s emergent, it works, and it’s just pure fun. It’s also the way that RPGs are actually best experienced for learning how to play both rule systems and to experience a game setting. So, perhaps it’s time to spread some misinformation in your own games…

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