What does it mean to "Challenge the Character"?
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  1. #1
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    What does it mean to "Challenge the Character"?

    Is it even possible to challenge the character? Or does the phrase really mean "challenge the player's ability to build a character, and then use those abilities"?

    Thoughts?
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    What does it mean to "Challenge the Character"?

    Quote Originally Posted by Elfcrusher View Post
    Is it even possible to challenge the character? Or does the phrase really mean "challenge the player's ability to build a character, and then use those abilities"?

    Thoughts?
    Good question. I dont think it is even possible to challenge the character.

    D&D can only ever challenge the player. Even in heavy mechanical games with character powers, it is the player who chooses if and when to use those powers.

    I think your second phrase is the most accurate. There is no such thing as challenging the character. The character doesnt have any agency in the game, only the player.

    That being said, there are gradations on how much the mechanical aspects of the character matters to the game.

    Some people want high levels of mechanical/ character capabilities, others prefer a more interactive puzzle style.

    But there is always a player decision involved, so in all cases the player is the one who is challenged
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    It depends on what you mean by challenge I suppose. Mentally challenge? Well PCs don't have brains so you can only really challenge the players in that regard. Can't physically challenge them either too.

    You can present situations that require the PCs to invest some amount of resources beyond "a little" that makes the players feel like their characters had to "work for" their rewards.

    So I guess the answer is yes and no.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Elfcrusher View Post
    Is it even possible to challenge the character? Or does the phrase really mean "challenge the player's ability to build a character, and then use those abilities"?

    Thoughts?
    Another way to phrase your second paragraph would be to challenge the player through the character.

    If, for example, the challenge is a riddle or a puzzle that the player or players solve without the skills and abilities of their character(s) then you are challenging the player directly, the character used is irrelevant.

    If, on the other hand, the challenge presented requires the players to use the skills/abilities possessed by their characters and cannot be conquered, solved, without the use of those skills then you are challenging the players through their characters.

    Just a thought.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mort View Post
    Another way to phrase your second paragraph would be to challenge the player through the character.

    If, for example, the challenge is a riddle or a puzzle that the player or players solve without the skills and abilities of their character(s) then you are challenging the player directly, the character used is irrelevant.

    If, on the other hand, the challenge presented requires the players to use the skills/abilities possessed by their characters and cannot be conquered, solved, without the use of those skills then you are challenging the players through their characters.

    Just a thought.

    Take two possibilities:

    1. A room has a trap that can only be disarmed by solving a riddle or logic puzzle... say a sphinx or something. This is challenging the player, directly. The player has to figure out the answer. The challenge is framed as a fun 'meta-challenge' within the context of the D&D game.

    2. A room has a trap that has a DC 25 to discover and disarm. This is a challenge to the player, indirectly. Can a skill check be rolled that equals or exceeds 25 within the context of the mechanical abilities of the character.

    In these situations, both are based on player actions. In the case of 1, it is can the player figure out the puzzle? In the case of 2, did the player build their character to have a high enough skill bonus or can the player use an ability that can boost their roll high enough?

    Both cases challenge the player in some way. I call the second option an indirect challenge because even though it appears to be only based on mechanical outputs, it is still the player who built their character or chooses to use a mechanical ability that determines the success or failure.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Elfcrusher View Post
    Is it even possible to challenge the character? Or does the phrase really mean "challenge the player's ability to build a character, and then use those abilities"?

    Thoughts?
    Like a great mzny things it has meaning in contrast and context to other things.

    It is most often used not in isolation, as you present it here, but in contrast to "challenge the player" in the sense of differentiating between two types of challenges...

    The imp asks you a riddle "what starts with "tee" ends with "tee" and has "the in it?" "Tee" indicates a phonetic expression, not actual spelling. This challenges the players explicitly, has no tie to character or character ability and every character has equal chances st it cuz its dolelymplayer side - its even totally focused on english language spelling, real world to drive the totally player side basis.

    Another might be the 3 gallon jug 5 gallon jug or any number of other logic problems.

    On the other hand, challenge that character is one where in addition to player choices the actual PC traits are a necessary component needed for the solution. So, different characters might have very different chances or even no chance. Does the imp give clues instead of riddles, maybe verses of a song, but each is in a different language within the world so that the character with multiple languages get more verses with key clues that let them get closer to the solution and control of the outcome?

    Are clues hidden or in difficult to get to places or basically in some wsy going to require some PC trait chouces yo be important to the outcome?

    That's the context and contrast, like warm vs cold, that spotlights the two terms.

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    I think it's shorthand for "challenge the numbers written on the character sheet."

    Say, if I needed to challenge our 10th level Barbarian (half-orc berserker, melee build, low Int and Cha), I would set up an adventure specifically tailored to her strengths and weaknesses as they appear on the character sheet. The dungeon would have small rooms and tight quarters, it would feature at least one type of monster with an "aura" effect on adjacent foes, and I'd maybe sprinkle in a few spellcasters or fiends that can use mind-control or illusion magic. I'd mix it up with a magical trap that targets Intelligence, and maybe include a social encounter with an NPC or two.

    Then, after what would no doubt be frustrating couple of hours for our Barbarian, I'd make sure that the final boss monster is the perfect opponent for her: fun to fight in melee, all alone in a giant arena, with a variety of healing abilities to keep it upright and dangerous well into Round 10, when the rest of the party has tired out but the barbarian is still swinging. You know...give that 10th level barbarian a chance to shine while the rest of the party looks on in awe.

    There's a difference between "challenging the character" and "sabotage," though. The goal isn't to humiliate the barbarian for hours and then finally throw her a bone; that's just bad DMing. No, the goal is to frustrate the player just enough to goad them into a frenzy, make them crave action. Then when she finally gets to that boss battle, the player should be roaring with glee as she finally gets to take the spotlight and save the day.
    Last edited by CleverNickName; Thursday, 25th April, 2019 at 06:03 AM.
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    @CleverNickName and @5ekyu and @Mort get it. As was said, meaning is rarely in a vacuum. Challenge the character is simply shorthand for setting a challenge in the game that is addressed to the fictional abilities of the character and not directly addressed to the player.

    Combat is a perfect example really. Very few of us know how to use a halberd. None of us can cast a fireball. But, our characters can. How they do it? Dunno. Don't particularly care either. But, I do know that they can. So, when combat ensues, I'm not expected to tell the group how I hold my halberd or how I wave my hands and make a fireball shoot out.

    Sure, the decision to use a halberd or a fireball is a player decision, but, the solution to the problem of the orc standing between you and the pie is found with the character, not within your ability to figure out how to stab that orc.

    Once upon a time, adventures were designed to be very, very player facing. Tome of Horrors is probably the best example of this, but, there are others. Solving the Tomb of Horrors is a challenge to the player because, really, it doesn't matter terribly much what kind of character you bring in. None of the challenges, or at least very few, are character facing.

    Contrast that with, say, Caves of Chaos. The characters you bring will very, very much determine your ability to achieve goals within the caves as my very first group of characters, 5 1st level MU's, discovered to their folly, falling foul to a fiendish flock of stirges.
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  9. #9
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    "Challenge the character not the player," IIRC, was originally a guideline that a gaming magazine... I think it was Dungeon? ...used for their adventure submissions. The intent being that they wanted the difficulty in those adventures to come from the game mechanics, not from logic puzzles. i.e. Don't present the players with an actual riddle and ask them to solve it themselves, just set a high DC Intelligence check they have to pass to solve the riddle.

    The phrase as since grown to be a sort of tagline for that way of thinking. Ultimately it's just a way to present the idea that difficulty should be derived primarily from the game mechanics in a positive light, same as "theater of the mind" is a way to present the idea of playing without visual aid in a positive light and "the middle path" is a way to present the idea of only calling for rolls when there are meaningful costs or consequences for failure in a positive light.
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    Not sure I think that is at all relevant. How does your character know how to use a halberd?

    Because you, as a player, decided that to be the case. The player brings the character to the table. Even in heavy handed, pure roll skill checks for every thing game, the player determines what the character is good at.

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