Another Eleven Foot Poll came to a close while I was on holidays. A good proportion of you are sworn enemies of those damn showboating NPCs, but in the end result the consensus was that DMs who don't provide enough information are what really get our goat up.
What does it mean as a DM to provide not enough information? Does it mean we haven't educated our players in sufficient length on the history of our campaign world? Does it imply we've been stingy handing out our background notes, and anything less than a fully realised novel gets a firm thumbs down in this information-rich epoch?
I think in large part it's a question of meaningful choices, and for anyone who hasn't read my post on that, go check it out now - it's a good'n.
As players we need enough information to take actions that have forseeable consequences. We need to know what's risky, what's valuable, what's friendly and what's suspicious. We need the requisite clues to distinguish a party-eating level 28 Death Slime from a trivial first level Delicious Jelly. We need to know when "treasure" means an epic horde as described in legend, and when it means a pitiful scattering of coins barely worth crossing the room for. When a villain laughs at our pitiful attacks, does the DM intend to spur us on to greater efforts, or is he warning us we've picked a fight we can't win and our survival depends on an instant retreat?
As a DM there are no points to be won for being coy. Acquiring information should not always be a challenge. Sometimes you need to tell it like it is.
When should you make information easy to get? When acquiring the information is a necessary precondition of engaging with the intended content. In Keep on the Shadowfell, getting the players to the keep, or for that matter the kobolds, is fairly dependant on having the Winterhaven villagers natter on about those major quest destinations. Villagers who are distrustful and sullen around strangers may be realistic and gritty, but in practice it leaves your players in a holding pattern wondering what's happened to their adventure.
It's called gating content. You're conditioning access to content B upon successful completion of content A. You can see the problem with it in the maths - 100% of players will see content A, but only those who complete it will see content B. You want your best content to be your most visible content, so if A is a half-baked dialogue challenge and B is the meat of your adventure you're deliberately shooting your own strengths in the foot.
As a player, how can you deal with an uncommunicative DM? One way is to be frank. Say, "My character needs some guidance," or, "I need some extra information on this topic in order to take meaningful action." If the information guessing-game is frustrating you, stop playing it and tell your DM it's not working. If you don't know whether you've gotten involved in a winnable epic encounter or a player-killing meatgrinder, say so. Tell your DM your character's hope is flagging and unless there's some kind of sign you can win you feel it's time for a desperate retreat. Your DM wants to show you his best encounters and you want to experience them, so be an active conspirator in allowing that to happen.
As a DM, look for players who don't seem to be enthusiastic about their decisions. They're probably players who don't have enough information. Similarly, groups who can't decide on a course of action could probably benefit from some clarity. Remember that players often regard danger as a challenge, so if something is well beyond their ability to survive be absolutely clear in saying so. Conversely, players can overrate the most trivial of difficulties, so if they're hesitating to tackle a pitifully weak trap or monster be sure to tell them that it's something a competent hero would have no trouble with.
As with any aspect of DMing, the best way to learn is to ask for feedback at the end of each play session. Ask your players what worked and what didn't, and try to adjust for next time around.