Today’s RPGaDay 2021 prompt is “Memory”.
Memories have a curious place in an RPG, because the characters portrayed in the narrative will quite naturally have a whole host of memories of the world that the players themselves do not have. On the one hand, the players around the table may have a wonderful experience exploring an unknown realm, but for the characters involved much of the world may be fairly commonplace. The other interesting issue is that at times, for story purposes, a character may need to remember something that the player wouldn’t know. Traditionally, this is an easy way for the host of the game to manipulate the story in a certain direction. “Oh, well, you remember that it would be impossible to fight them head-on because they’re too powerful” is a great excuse to make sure the players stay on a set of rails. It’s also quite boring, however.
The improvisational nature of some RPGs have shown me a much more interesting means to handle this, however. If a character remembers something (through whatever mechanic the game offers), then the player just gets to make up what they remember. It’s easy, it’s powerful, and it promotes buy-in on the player’s side. They remember that there’s actually a wise man who knows the answer to the unknowable riddle? Sure, that exists now. I’ll put that wise man in a hermit’s hut at the top of a treacherous mountain, though. At some point, he got really tired of everybody always asking him for the answer to the unknowable riddle, so he made it a little harder to bother him. Does a character remember where there’s a nearby village with a healer to patch the group up? Okay, sure; give me the name of the village and the healer (saves me time to think of it myself!).
Using character memories like that have become my favorite way of world-building. It saves on prep, it promotes player agency, and it makes sure the story goes in fun and interesting new ways.