5E "My Character Is Always..." and related topics.
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  1. #1

    "My Character Is Always..." and related topics.

    So, i have some questions to see how other Gms interpret things and such in their games. While RAW cites are fine for those who see them as important to the point, this is more akin to a question of how you manage this and I am not all that interested in whether you can provide six rule cites chapter in verse or not.

    The basic issue is one of "player" vs "character" competence and assumptions.

    EXAMPLE: The PCs are pursuing some bad guys, known bad guys, like say a posse tracking outlaws.

    In one such case in a published product the rules provide this pearl a ruling.

    "If players state that theyre watching for potential ambush spots, give them advantage when making these checks"

    Now, i make no attempt to hide my dislike for that kind of thing. The "character" is the skilled actor and the character should be much more determinant of success fail than if the player says the right words even when the **in character actions** are no different.

    If this rule was based on in-character actions/trade-offs, that would be fine - "if the characters move cautiously, checking for tracks, they will travel slower but gain advantage on checks for spotting ambushes. As a result of moving cautiously... bla blah" where the slower movement causes maybe more encounters/checks with wandering beasties, the "catch to be either closer to the enemy camp or even not able to catch the camp, etc or a chance that a storm wipes away the tracks etc. Also, certain features or proficiencies could also trigger the change in the odds of spotting - like say favored terrain/enemies. Focus is on whether the character is going to be exceptional at the spotting, whether the characters take a deliberate trade-offs to gain help at the spotting and not whether a player says the right phrase with no actual changes to in-game actions. Even if they added "but the character would suffer a disadvantage on other checks for perception due to being focused on the ambush sites" that would provide an actual differentiation between those "looking for ambushes" and those not.

    Do you get advantage normally for saying "i am looking for goblins?" or "i am looking for a river"?

    In past games, back in the day, this kind of "you didn't say that you were..." and "if the player says..." has at times led (for some) to the creation of "defensive write-ups" where characters are stated to "always be doing..." or "our standard door protocol is..." etc etc so as to make sure the "best statements" always get made by means of pre-written details. Not a fan myself but hey, if its encouraged by a lot of "if you say..." i will use it myself as a player.

    In past games, sometimes the Gm ruled that it was the characters who were presumed competent enough to not need explicit statement of the rather obvious - your character would be looking for ambushes if they were at all competent in the subject - letting character skill determine the discipline and eye for detail.

    So, where do you fall in play on any of these kinds of things?

    Have you seen "i always..." or written up "stabdard procedure for abc" kinds of things and if so, how did you manage it, how did it play out, did it make the game more fun, less fun, faster, slower etc?

    Do you normally find it useful or beneficial to have and use many/some of the "if the players state..." kinds of things where it is more like a statement of intent than a differentiation of character actions? (No, "but suffers disadvantage on other perception checks" and no "moves slower so..." etc to make it anything more than just a "player skill" check)? if so, how as it useful or beneficial or more fun or what?

    Do you normally allow "if the players state they are looking for ABC gain advantage on checks to spot ABC" for anything in your games? if so... what and how has that worked out for you, more fun, less fun, quicker, slower etc?

    OPINION - for myself, i fall in the "character competence" and "action trade-off" side of the coin and very much against the kind of things shown by that WotC published "if the players state..." example. i don't want my players getting concerned with out loud "covering all their bases" with a laundry list of "no reason not to..." declarations/disclaimers that make it feel more like the small print at the bottom of TV drug adds than a playtime of adventurers (to me.)

    just curious on views and how it is played across the Gms - no right or wrong answers whether i agree or disagree or not.

    Thanks.

  2. #2
    For a little additional clarity, a different sort of "My character always..." would be something like "My character is always looking for easy marks in a crowd whose purses look light where there aren't obvious guard about..." as say a description of active "downtime" activity or the like or even "my character is always looking for opportunities for "finding lost items" or "an extra bit of bling" as we go through our adventure and will "keep it safe" as a character deciding to try and increase their share of loot - with an obvious chance of consequence for such actions.

    Not (to me) the same as the "if they state that..." kind of thing described in the rule above and that got me to post the thread in the first place.

  3. #3
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    As I made pretty clear in the other thread, I'm very much in the opposite camp. I much prefer to reward an alert and attentive player who concentrates and actively engages with my descriptions, rather than simply reward a mechanically well designed character. I rarely bring any passive checks into play, unless something is specifically trying to hide from the PCs there and then. If the players come up with interesting ideas I might award advantage or even auto-success depending on how I perceive the action playing out. Good plans could also bring about lowering of DCs or give disadvantage to enemies - but these plans must come from the player, and not the character.

    In addition though, I am also pretty harsh on dump stats - if you dump intelligence, then sorry, I will expect you to intentionally come up with poor plans and attempt to convince other members of the party that they are worthwhile (or leave planning to others, depending on character personality). If you dump charisma then I will expect you to portray a character who is not likeable, annoy NPCs... and so on.

    None of my attitudes towards gaming will come as a shock to my players though... it is key to make all this clear during session 0 to allow the players to take it into consideration when creating their characters.
    Last edited by JonnyP71; Thursday, 21st December, 2017 at 03:04 PM.

  4. #4
    Quote Originally Posted by JonnyP71 View Post
    As I made pretty clear in the other thread, I'm very much in the opposite camp. I much prefer to reward an alert and attentive player who concentrates and actively engages with my descriptions, rather than simply reward a mechanically well designed character. I rarely bring any passive checks into play, unless something is specifically trying to hide from the PCs there and then. If the players come up with interesting ideas I might award advantage or even auto-success depending on how I perceive the action playing out. Good plans could also bring about lowering of DCs or give disadvantage to enemies - but these plans must come from the player, and not the character.

    In addition though, I am also pretty harsh on dump stats - if you dump intelligence, then sorry, I will expect you to intentionally come up with poor plans and attempt to convince other members of the party that they are worthwhile (or leave planning to others, depending on character personality). If you dump charisma then I will expect you to portray a character who is not likeable, annoy NPCs... and so on.

    None of my attitudes towards gaming will come as a shock to my players though... it is key to make all this clear during session 0 to allow the players to take it into consideration when creating their characters.
    great! thanks!

    Now if i may ask a more technical question, how frequent in your gameplay is it that a case like "if players atate they are watching for..." to enable advantage on checks that occur to spot the thing with no drawbacks to other tasks? Are there examples with other check types? Do you also use that kind of thing for other types of checks? can a pickpocket attempt get advantage if they say they are looking for belt pouches to cut and they do find folks with belt pouches?

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    I don't make assumptions and I don't play word games. I also try to minimize specific contingencies in my prep because contingencies by their nature are potentially wasted prep (at least in terms of whether it happens in play). "If players state that theyre watching for potential ambush spots, give them advantage when making these checks..." is not likely going to be in my prep.

    When the players decide to send their characters into the adventure site, I ask them to declare what they are doing in general as they explore. They might choose to keep watch for hidden dangers (monsters, traps, hazards), forage, navigate, make a map, track, search for secret doors, etc. These tasks get resolved with passive checks if the outcome is uncertain. The DC varies by pace as does the chance of random encounters. Some tasks are impossible at certain paces. The tasks are trade-offs against one another since you can only do one at a time (unless you're a ranger in favored terrain).

    These are the kinds of tasks the PCs perform as they are going about their business. The players may decide upon hearing the description of the environment to undertake another specific task that isn't ongoing such as quickly searching a pile of rubble for valuables. This means their general task ends in favor of the new task which is resolved as normal. The expectation is that they will be reasonably specific in their statement of goal and approach so that I can adjudicate fairly.

    Your objection appears to be rooted in "gotcha" DMs who are looking for any misstep to punish the characters and/or the players. While I have seen these kinds of DMs in the past, they are very few nowadays in my experience.
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    While we assume characters complete tasks they're well skilled in without rolls/checks, with regards to how they operate within an environment/respond to an encounter, each player needs to make the DM aware of any action/strategy their character has adopted.

    For example, tracing their hands over the walls while they perform search checks, using crushed chalk to help find trip wires, taking their time to wrap themselves within the rigging as the climb, using a fresh vegetable when attempting to befriend a horse and so on.

    Some more examples - while a certain amount of common sense is assumed (characters are doing their best to remain balanced whilst aboard a rocking ship), unless a player states that their character is lashing themselves to the deck then they'll not receive advantage against being knocked over by a violent wave. If they're going out 'a drinking' and don't state they're taking steps to protect their valuables (and communicate how) then they can expect a disadvantage on their perception checks to keep their purse safe from pickpockets as they get steadily drunk.

    It's pretty much the same deal if two characters work together - for example, pick pocketing has a long and fine tradition of teamwork. If a character wishes to distract the mark while the other attempts to lighten the mark of their purse, then the pickpocket receive advantage. Likewise, if a character is trying to determine the meaning of some ancient runes and another is helping them 'hit the books', the History check would receive advantage.

    Essentially, we reward players that engage with the scene through assisting with building/developing the experience via narration of their character's actions. Personally, I want to give advantage as to our players as much as possible - they just need to give me a reason to do it!

    However, my favourite bugbear is a player of ours who does his best to get the best of all worlds - for example, moving quick enough to reach an objective in good time but not so quick as to be a run, which would hinder their ability to observe their environment intently and thus leave them open to attacks/traps....
    Last edited by Gardens & Goblins; Thursday, 21st December, 2017 at 03:45 PM. Reason: with
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    I've borrowed from @iserith by having a codified set of 'jobs' you do while travelling for my current campaign. As exploration is a key feature (it's a hexcrawl), I wanted a stronger set of rules for travelling to help cement the themes.

    So, when travelling, you can:

    Trailblaze: by looking for the best paths you can reduce the terrain modifier for travel.
    Navigate: Getting lost may be something you want to avoid (DC based on availability of visible landmarks/having a map)
    Forage: not having to carry a lot of food when on a long trip can be handy!
    Be Alert for Danger: watching out for dangerous creatures is a key to survival -- anyone not alert for danger has disadvantage on passive perception)
    Be Alert for Hazards: watching out for dangerous terrain like crumbling cliffs or quicksand or pitfalls is a different thing than watching for bandits or goblins
    Make a Map: taking time to record landmarks and good trails helps the next time you (or someone else) comes through this area.
    Be sneaky: this takes a lot of effort, and means you're not doing the other things
    Other: sometimes something comes up that's a whole job by itself, like pulling a litter or carrying an oversized load. Those jobs go here.

    Speed of travel affects the effort needed to accomplish the above: pushing hard makes it more difficult to do the jobs (disadvantage), going slow makes it easier (advantage).

    If you note, not looking out for danger already give disadvantage on perception, so going slow means that you're normal (and those looking out are at advantage), but going fast doesn't double the disadvantage. It also means that unless you have a class/race/background/feat feature that allows your to be alert in more circumstances, looking out of dangers is challenging for everyone at a fast pace.

    I also give certain bonuses to some backgrounds that clearly tie into this system. The Outlander, for instance, can forage for free and gets advantage on navigation checks if they are Navigating.
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    It's never quite as simple as merely saying "I am looking out for Goblins" - that will not give an advantage on anything. If they are more inventive and put time and effort into 'anti-goblin' strategies though, then maybe - buy a guard dog, train it, make it familiar with goblin scent (as a very quick and crude example).

    As regards a possible pickpocketing event - if they are merely milling around a market square in a small village then they are unlikely to find anything work pinching. However in a busy tavern in a large town, a merchant might walk in after a good day's trading. Maybe talk to him? Offer him a drink? Put him at ease? Is he vain or arrogant - pander to those character weaknesses? Find out he has an eye for the ladies? Come up with a ruse involving alcohol and a 'lady of the night'? All of these plans could make it easier to rob him of his hard earned cash.

    This is what I mean by engaging with a game world. Not simply 'I try to sneak up using stealth and then make a sleight of hand check to take his purse' - YAWN! Play it out, take time, enjoy the atmosphere, engage, immerse yourself. I, as DM, will generally reward that.
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    Quote Originally Posted by JonnyP71 View Post
    It's never quite as simple as merely saying "I am looking out for Goblins" - that will not give an advantage on anything. If they are more inventive and put time and effort into 'anti-goblin' strategies though, then maybe - buy a guard dog, train it, make it familiar with goblin scent (as a very quick and crude example).

    As regards a possible pickpocketing event - if they are merely milling around a market square in a small village then they are unlikely to find anything work pinching. However in a busy tavern in a large town, a merchant might walk in after a good day's trading. Maybe talk to him? Offer him a drink? Put him at ease? Is he vain or arrogant - pander to those character weaknesses? Find out he has an eye for the ladies? Come up with a ruse involving alcohol and a 'lady of the night'? All of these plans could make it easier to rob him of his hard earned cash.

    This is what I mean by engaging with a game world. Not simply 'I try to sneak up using stealth and then make a sleight of hand check to take his purse' - YAWN! Play it out, take time, enjoy the atmosphere, engage, immerse yourself. I, as DM, will generally reward that.
    Just as an aside, if I'm picking pockets, the LAST thing I want to do is engage in a conversation where I might be remembered. I want to be a faceless person in a crowd, utterly unremarked, so that you have no idea where to go looking for your stolen purse.

    Now, if I want to start a long con, such a conversation is exactly what I want to do.
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  10. #10
    Iserith... Seem to mostly agree tho in this case its a "gotcha" for advantage - and neither of us it seems would do that.

    Gardens and Goblins If i may ask a question...

    Lashing down.. Check. Tied down has benfits and drawbacks.

    Team up... Check. Basic rules.

    Not saying they take steps tp protect and how... Well... Why would a player ever not want to say that or not give you a note about "when drinking i always..." written on their character sheet? Obviously a character might be a type who doesnt care about being robbed so "roleplaying", so there is that.


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