No, this is not a post about how terrible some old-school Dungeons and Dragons players are. In fact, TO A PERSON, old-school D&D players (and DMs) are a fine, intelligent, imaginative, pleasant, and humorous lot, who just want to enjoy an occasional evening of casual role-playing.
This post is about one of my assumed tenets of old-school play, one that has gotten short shrift in the blogoverse: players should be largely ignorant of the physics of the game world. That is to say, they should have only the information they need to properly interact with the world.
For example, Players do not need to know that a falling body accelerates at a speed of 9.81 m/s2. They don't even need to know that falling damage in my game world is a flat 1d6 for every 10' fallen. All they need to know is that if they fall a distance of 10' or more, they will be injured, and the farther they fall, the more damage they will take. If the players begin with first-level characters, I should tell them that a fall of even 10' is likely fatal.
I consider this tenet of old-school play to be applicable to magical physics as well: the effect and potency of new magic is best revealed "in play", rather than at the moment the player obtains a new magic item or spell. For example, the bonus of a +1 sword should be revealed only when the character first uses it in combat. Similarly, the full impact of a "new" magic spell should only be revealed the first time it is used.
Some old-school DMs like to provide information about their assumed physics to the players. This is particularly true when it comes to magic items and spells. That magic spells appear in every Players Manual makes it difficult to manage this particular tenet and avoid player knowledge of the effects of those spells. I also appreciate that there is a certain convenience in a more forthcoming approach, as you can then assign the players the responsibility to manage the in-game effects of those physics, rather than having those duties fall on the shoulders of the DM.
I titled this post "Ignorant Players." Part of the fun of being a player is in facing the unknown -- being ignorant of the larger world in which you adventure. Being ignorant is fun, because there is great satisfaction in ferreting-out the secret machinations of your antagonists, discovering the secret passage to the treasure trove, facing and defeating unfamiliar foes, and solving the riddle above the entrance to the Dwarven mine.
That which is freely given is often unappreciated.
I sign off with a little piece of wisdom from the 1983 Mentzer Dungeon Master's Rulebook.
"For now, if you only wish to play and not run games, then -- DO NOT READ THIS (DUNGEON MASTERS) BOOKLET. This booklet contains information for the Dungeon Master. You will have less fun playing if you learn the information ahead of time! A big part of the game is the mystery and excitement that comes from not knowing all the answers."