2013-10-16 Knowledge Skill and Narration Rights

Recently I happened upon a discussion on Google+ regarding the introduction of facts by players. The example given involved an Indiana Jones character spontaneously identifying snakes. Does the referee determine the kind of snakes or does the player determine the kind of snakes?

Wilhelm Person suggested a skill check to get narration rights:

When you roll for knowledge skills. If you succeed you get to decide what the truth is.

If you fail the GM tells you what the truth is. Sometimes the GM lies.

Here’s what I wrote:

If you manage to foster the right atmosphere at the gaming table, it can be just a matter of using an ellipsis, a pause, a knowing look—and players will interject cool ideas by themselves. That’s how I try to have it work at my table. The obvious benefit to me is that we don’t need a skill. Another benefit is that it limits itself to situations where players actually have cool ideas. Otherwise—particularly if you’re not playing a story game—you might get a helpless shrug or an empty stare in response to a success on the knowledge skill check. Players are not always ready to spew forth the Apocalypse.

What seems to work best, in my game, is to combine it with a 1 in 6 chance. Most players will immediately suggest something very positive for them. I might make a doubtful face and say “OK, 1 in 6 chance that these cannibals fall for your ridiculous explanation. But what if it doesn’t work?” Usually the table is in brainstorming mode at that point and we all determine the rest before rolling the die. I find that accepting all suggestions at the table and have the dice decide works better than discussing it, looking for consensus—long talk disrupts flow, as far as I am concerned.



There are games that revolve around narrative rights; D&D is not one of them. The World-style skill checks that have been discussed on this blog before may seem like the player has narrative rights, but actually that is just abstracting what the character actually does and caring only about its result.

Ynas Midgard 2013-10-17 12:37 UTC

1-in-6 chances are the best (-:

– Harald Wagener 2013-10-17 13:00 UTC

Ynas, I’m not sure where to start. I think you’re trying to say two things: one, players should have no narrative rights in D&D, and two, skill checks as seen in Apocalypse World don’t really provide narrative rights?

I’ll just assume the above and write my reply. My apologies if it wasn’t what you intended to say. :)

I think that everything not covered by the rules and the Dungeon Master in D&D does involve narrative rights for players. Some examples from the top of my head: how are they hitting, how are they missing, how are they walking, how are they sneaking, how are they searching. These all involve the player character only. Fair enough. The rules don’t really prevent anybody from extending this: Thieves could explain how they disarm the trap and describe the trap details in the process. Fighters could explain how they break down the door and describe the door in the process. Bards could explain how they capture the attention of the audience and describe the audience in the process. Sure, sometimes my players are looking at me for confirmation, but I would consider it poor style to just say “no” to these embellishments. Sure, D&D doesn’t seem to revolve around narrative rights. That doesn’t mean there is no place for them. The original poster was wondering how to add narrative rights and commenting on the lackluster feelings at the table when the Dungeon Master hands out player knowledge. I don’t really like skill checks and still try to do without whenever possible. I think what I described in my post is a sort of social technique to solve the problem that doesn’t require a mechanical underpinning.

As for skill checks in Apocalypse World—I don’t know. You could be right. I don’t think it matters for my Old School D&D, however, and I don’t think Wilhelm wanted to say anything in particular about Apocalypse World.

AlexSchroeder 2013-10-17 13:21 UTC

The first part, I’d like to clarify. Players obviously control some part of the fiction; their characters and the fictional representation of actions initiated by them (and sometimes actions they were forced to take). However, players are generally not given control over facts of the world. For instance, the GM doesn’t ask one of the players “Is the door locked?”, “How many orcs are there?”, or “What dark secret does the Emperor keeps to himself?” (whereas this could happen in other games).

There is one counterexample I myself used to use: I let players decide things that are not really tied to the adventure, that is, flavour-related things. Nowadays I rarely do this kind of question, though.

As for the second part, I wasn’t referring to Apocalypse World but a post you made about how to implement AW-style checks into D&D. World games generally give much control to players through MC-questioning - but it is an entirely different discussion.

Ynas Midgard 2013-10-17 20:57 UTC

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