We talked about Knowledge and Perception in my homemade Red Ink Adventures before. I still hold the opinion that both Knowledge and Perception Checks/Rolls are terrible in adventure games.
Players must be given information constantly. The GM is their window into the world, their eyes, their ears, and all other senses. Without being told what they can perceive, the players are blind and cannot make informed decisions. The game’s difficulty doesn’t need to be increased by players who are confused and frustrated about what is going on.
In Red Ink Adventures, there are no “knowledge” or “perception” rolls. If something is hidden, they cannot see it. They have to look for it. Have players specify how they search a room and look for what’s important. There is a greater need for sleuth-detective work in this game than in other games. If something is unknown, they do not know it. They have to find out for themselves. Go to library. Ask someone who would know. Leverage your background and contacts to help out.
If your adventure relies on a good knowledge or perception roll to figure out what is going on, you’re running a bad adventure. Playing without knowledge and perception checks is game-changing if you haven’t tried it.
There’s a great paragraph in Ben Milton’s Maze Knights (still in development, support it here) that relates directly to what I said above, but put in terms that are genius. I put it here in terms that apply directly to Red Ink Adventures:
When a player asks if their PC knows something, consider the following:
- Is it common knowledge? If so, the PC knows it, unless there is a compelling reason why they shouldn’t.
- Is it specialist knowledge? If so, the PC knows it if their background or past experiences cover it.
- Is it esoteric knowledge? If so, the PC only knows it if their background or past experiences cover it and they succeed at a Fortune Roll. This roll may be modified by just how obscure the information is.
(The “Fortune Roll” listed above is a simple X-in-6 roll. I always keep it to a d6 here.)
These are rules that function as a framework or a guide. They are separate from things like Danger Rolls or Attack Rolls by not using dice, but they are still rules. These rules are used to govern something that requires more arbitration (AKA direct GM involvement and input) than a hitting a target or dodging a boulder.
So then, I took the same rule (that functions like a Powered by the Apocalypse move in some ways) and applied it to Perception. Here is the result:
When telling players what their PCs see, consider the following:
- What here is easily seen? The PCs see it, unless there is a compelling reason why they shouldn’t.
- What here is difficult to see? The PCs can only partially see it. Give vague impressions of what they can perceive.
- What here is hidden? The PCs only see it if they further investigate that area or object.
These questions apply to other sensory information, like sound and smell, although sight is the most common.
And there you have it. Rules that could apply to any game. They’re intuitive and some GMs will argue that they’ve already BEEN using these rules, which is fine. Many GMs have been “asking questions and using the answers” before Apocalypse World made it explicit. This is for GMs who have never gone without the Perception/Knowledge crutch before.
Try going a whole game without leaving information directly to the whim of the dice.
EDIT: There’s been some complaint that rolling for esoteric knowledge with a d6 Fortune Roll is a worse version of a standard skill-modified roll (like a d20 for instance). Here’s where they are different: Character in systems with skill-modified rolls are able to roll for any type of knowledge. Backgrounds and past experiences don’t factor in, except to get a bonus or advantage. With this system I suggest, background or past experiences are a prerequisite. For skill-modified systems, everyone gets a chance to know the information, regardless of class or background or anything else. So if one person fails, the next person says “can I roll?” There’s nothing in most rules to stop that.
Again, you start with the character to see if they are even allowed to make a roll based on their background and past experiences. Other systems just let you roll whenever.