What Surprises Lurk in Our Fog of War?
Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #0972
Let’s talk about the unknown for a minute. We instinctively fear the dark. Yet, we can’t help but wonder what’s there.
Use this tension between darkness and light to fuel curiosity, wonder, and excitement for your games.
We Sit in The Middle
What might not be obvious is there are different depths of shadow within our fog. Here’s how I see Fog of War at your game table:
The PCs have the most limited vision. They only know as much as the players about your adventure.
Technically, PCs should know more than players about the milieu. Yet, in practice, characters only ever understand as much as their next knowledge roll.
Players are aware of things characters can’t conceive. At the meta level, characters don’t understand themselves as game pieces, understand the game, or know who their puppet masters are.
What was most surprising to me as I thought through this was the GM position.
We as game masters should know more about the campaign than players and characters.
Yet, we’re not omniscient.
For example, we don’t know every NPC or location in our setting. We make a lot of stuff up as our campaigns unfold.
So I put us in the middle, giving us our own Fog of War. The people and world are not fully known to us, and we play the game along with our friends to peel back the umbra.
NPCs go next because, as residents, they know more about their world and its lore, discomforts, delights, and dangers than we ever will. We also create NPCs as needed during games. We don’t know for sure who we’ll need for our adventures until we play.
The leading edge of the fog goes to our setting and campaign regions. The infinite details of the shrouded world call for our torchlight.
Let’s also consider the boundary between what we know and what there is to know.
This line is not as fine and definite as we think.
There’s actually another layer in between that contains what we think we know.
Use this blurry zone between known and unknown to harvest assumptions, guesses, ideas, and hypotheses.
As we play we learn things. These we log in our session notes and they become canon. We learn the blacksmith’s name is Vernon. We learn he’s a spy. We learn she’s a dark dwarf in disguise.
Before we learn these things we have ideas and plans. But these are never certain until we play and discover. We can change our minds and tweak things to improve the story. We can tease out clues and hooks. We can create breadcrumbs of mysteries.
In fact, I believe the fuzzy edges are where we mostly exist during play.
And, this strange roiling grey region between light of play and milieu of darkness is where the most fun will be had.
Next time you GM, get a feeling about what your players don’t know and where their Fog of War starts.
Is it far away because they’ve learned so much? Or is it touching the tips of their shoes, dim shapes and muffled sounds giving them fright yet pulling them forward step-by-step into discovery?