Strategic Primer: Stages of Knowledge

It’s long been a distinctive of Strategic Primer that (to simplify slightly) if you the player can describe a device or process in terms your people can understand, you discover the advance and can use it the next turn. And this is one of the few parts of the game that I am resolved not to change (in essentials) in any campaign. But this is a little too simplistic; in future campaigns, and perhaps even much later in this one, we need a somewhat more sophisticated model of knowledge.

At present, there are two kinds of knowledge: advances and skills. A player either has an advance, or doesn’t. (I’m glossing over the process of non-player-directed research here, as it’s basically a black box as far as the players are concerned.) Once the player passes the threshold from not having the advance to having it, he or she can make full use of the advance immediately, in whatever innovative way seems best to him or her, so long as that’s not sufficiently complex or novel to merit a new advance. Skills are a measure of worker knowledge and experience, and there’s little or no discovery involved. As I’ve talked about possible changes to the Skills framework and related mechanics elsewhere, and probably will again in the next couple of months, today I’ll focus more on advances.

Instead of this either/or proposition for advances, there should be several levels of knowledge, ranging from utter ignorance to complete mastery (or the equivalent) but with several steps in between—and possibly other axes entirely. I can best illustrate this with two examples. First, the case of domesticated animals. One way of dividing the stages of knowledge in that case is as follows: knowing that the animal exists; knowing something of its habits and habitat; possessing specimens; knowing how to tame individuals; possessing tame specimens; and having domesticated a breed. These shouldn’t all be lumped together on the two sides of the one line that’s defined as meaning “having the advance”. Similarly, for a piece of technology a group of people can move from utter ignorance, to knowledge of the technology (at which point they might even be able to simulate it well enough to train against it), knowing how to use it, knowing how to build it (i.e. exact copies, slavishly following blueprints), and knowing the technology and its principles well enough to adapt it. And we could create similar sequences for other kinds of advances.

My thoughts along these lines were sparked by playing a few games of C-Evo; in that game, if a player acquires an advance through trade, he or she still has to spend resources to finish researching it. Something somewhat more along those lines will make it into future campaigns of Strategic Primer (we’ll start tracking the time that players’ explanations to their subordinates would take), but a more expressive model of player knowledge, like I’ve outlined above, is more important and more urgent.

What do you think?


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