What does it mean to "Challenge the Character"? - Page 59
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  1. #581
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    Sorry if I mostly riff off your post for humor purposes....

    Quote Originally Posted by Chaosmancer View Post
    If they just tell you they know something, then that is what they know. The only check upon that is that they might be wrong out of the game because you as the DM changed something. In which case, why do we even bother to have an Intelligence stat and the skills for recalling various types of lore. It seems meaningless under this style.
    Any stat or skill could conceivably be rendered moot by the DM's style or choice of setting & challenges, I suppose.

    Except what counts as a "meaningful consequence"? Not knowing something obviously isn't meaningful enough
    I don't see why not knowing anything isn't a meaningful consequence. I mean, recalling something useful certainly is. Is the idea that you start off not knowing anything, so you might as well try?

    Ultimately, isn't the whole knowledge check/INT roll/trying-to-recall-lore-using-INT-with-a-trained-skill-possibly-applying-because-5e-is-rules-lite thing just gating exposition?
    If, as a DM, I want to provide some exposition, I can have a (suspiciously Gandalfy) NPC do it, or I can look at a player and say "your character knows /whah/" and that's that. I don't really need to call for a check, and if I do, failure, though it might have severe consequences for the party, is awfully blah.
    Even if a player actually wants to play a Gandalf/Prof.Zarchov type who's main purpose is to provide exposition, and take high INT and tons of useless skills to model it mechanically, it's still pretty meh for that player to make his checks, and have /you/ tell the whole table what he knows - and completely inefficient and annoying and no more satisfying to have you tell him privately so he can parrot it.

    The way I've seen some systems (none of them D&D) both make such a character fun to play, and give meaning the sorts of mechanics in question, is if the player making the successful knowledge check /gets to make stuff up/ to his party's advantage. "It's a Klick-Klick, if we all shout 'November!' it'll drop dead...*" on a failure, the consequence is the DM makes stuff up, or maybe that the made-up stuff is wrong... (depends on exactly how the mechanics are handled - FREX, the Expositionator could make a declaration like the above, make a plan around it, and it's only when the plan is executed that he makes the check to see if he was right about it.) But I couldn't see any ed of D&D playing nice with something like that, (OK, except, as always, 4e, which already has some Schrodinger's Mechanics like that). It'd certainly turn the whole 5e describe-declare-resolve-describe DM-PC-DM-DM cycle on it's ear...

    taking a lot of time is probably not meaningful enough especially if players don't take these checks while under a time pressure or in dangerous territory. You have to actively work to make things worse for the players in response to them attempting things, just to allow them to make checks, or they auto-succeed on trying anything.
    Sure, "the players just succeed" sounds really easy on paper, but it opens things to abuse that I don't want to deal with, and makes failing a roll dangerous enough that my players might not end up attempting interesting things. After all, who would try and woo a princess if failing the charisma check ends up with her ordering your execution. After all, her just not being interested isn't "meaningful" enough, you have to end up making things worse for you and your party.
    "Fail Forward" doesn't sound so bad, now.


    You are right, they didn't explicitly say "I try to remember what the vulnerabilities of earth elementals are." Instead, they just declared "I know that Earth Elementals are weak to Thunder damage."

    So... if they player just tells you they succeed and get the end result, they don't need to make a check? That is ludicrous. You would never allow a player to simply state "I walk off with the Queen's Crown" and just let them do so, why then do we allow them to state "I perfectly recalled the weaknesses of this monster"?
    Of course, that's true. In general, it seems, in pondering issues like this, drawing an analogy from knowledge/social check to a concrete ability/skill makes it obvious. But acceptance of such analogies is surprising hard to win.
    As we established before, I would likely ask them why a character who cannot use magic scrolls is going to go and buy magic scrolls. This would likely get their intent, which brings us back to the beginning of this discussion.
    Hmm... I guess this is another example of how establishing a goal & method can be like peeling an onion. The goal isn't really "buy magic scrolls" it's "defeat some earth elementals..."

    One DM I know is really sensitive to these kinds of player shenanigans, she's always cutting to "What are you /really/ trying to do?"

    I think some of the current we may be swimming against, here, flows from the classic game, when it was a tad bit more adversarial, and developing 'player skill' was an objective of play. In the absence of concrete systems, and within the dogma of DM omnipotence, players would learn to couch questions carefully and declare actions piecemeal, in a way that would box the DM into letting some harebrained scheme actually (maybe) work.

    Did 3.5 have a rule that explicitly said "Players are not expected to have all the information on a monster from the monsters statblock, if they wish to use this information, they should make a knowledge check"
    Something about that sounds familiar.

    So players can bring modern designs, knowledge of chemistry, gunpowder, ect to the game.
    One of the fun things about a setting that's /not/ scientific, at all:
    "I build a modern ship out of steel!"
    "It sinks"
    "What, but I'm a naval architect IRL, that design is sound!"
    "Sorry, on the Flat Earth of Nevereilli, the Element of Metal always sinks in the Element of Water - every 7-year-old Alchemist's Apprentice knows that..."











    * I did not make that up, it's a joke from an old Dragon mag.
    Last edited by Tony Vargas; Wednesday, 22nd May, 2019 at 08:51 PM.

  2. #582
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    Quote Originally Posted by iserith View Post
    The rules of the game don't seem to indicate I should care about this as DM. The only exception is to encourage players not to waste game time or their characters' lives on bad assumptions and I do that.

    It seems more likely to me that Intelligence is seen as a dump stat because there is only one class and a couple of sub-classes that use it regularly for attack rolls and DCs and very few spells or monsters that force Intelligence saves.

    Intelligence checks can also come up in exploration challenges involving traps and secret doors. They may also come up in social interaction challenges (e.g. recalling lore trying to prove a point or trying to communicate wordlessly). Intelligence might also be used to resolve tasks performed with certain tools. The section on ability checks has a number of other tasks that might be resolved with Intelligence checks. XGtE expands on this in some ways with its Tools & Skills section.

    At this point I'd like to retract my earlier statement that your game may have more Intelligence checks than mine. That doesn't seem like the case now if what I quoted of your statements above is something you believe to be true. Unless your players are asking to make Intelligence checks or asking a lot of "Do I know anything about..." questions during play.

    The DM determines whether there is a meaningful consequence for failure given the fictional context. So if you're the DM, it's up to you.

    There was no attempt to recall lore described by the players in that example. A player is simply stating what the character thinks which is under the player's control. The DM is overstepping his or her role by calling for a check without a corresponding action described by the player. The smart play for this player is, of course, to try to recall lore to verify that assumption, but that is not the DM's problem.

    "Walking off with the queen's crown" is (perhaps partially) describing what they want to do and as DM I get to say how that turns out in Step 3 of the play loop. "I know that earth elementals are weak to thunder damage" is just a statement of the character's thoughts and there's nothing I can do with that as DM.

    The DM determines whether there is a meaningful consequence for failure. So if you're the DM, it's up to you.

    However, the issue with this specific example is not that there is or isn't a meaningful consequence for failure. We don't even get to that point in the adjudication process since the player is only stating what the character is thinking and since the player is the one who determines what the character thinks, there is no uncertainty as to the outcome. If there is no uncertainty as to the outcome, then there can be no ability check. We don't have to imagine meaningful consequences for failure here.

    That's not how I would or did resolve it. The player was aware of the consequences of failure because I usually tell them what that is so they know the risks. You succeed, you figure out what it is. You fail, you figure out what it is but take damage in the process. Or you can skip that and throw the ice knife at the crates and hope you didn't just waste your last spell slot. Easy to understand the risks and trade-offs here.

    A player describes wanting to draw upon logic, education, memory, or deductive reasoning, often coupled with some elements of their background or adventuring experience to recall the specific lore they seek. Like any other action declaration, I decide if there's uncertainty as to the outcome and a meaningful consequence for failure. If both elements are present, I ask for a roll. If either element is absent, I decide if they succeed or fail and narrate accordingly.

    I don't see why that's any of the DM's business. But in any case, there are countless reasons that can be given. Some might even be worth Inspiration, if they play into the character's personality traits, ideal, bond, or flaw.

    I haven't stated that "the rules allow the player to know this stuff." I said what the rules say - that it's the player who determines what the character thinks, does, and says. You seem to be conflating "thinking" and "knowing" as I have mentioned before.

    That's for the players to work out among themselves in accordance with the shared goals of play as outlined by the rules.

    I'm hands off where it comes to the player determining what the character thinks, does, and says. That is what the rules tell me to do.

    Players and DM are all individually responsible via the shared goals of play to create a fun experience and an exciting, memorable story as a result of play.

    Perhaps you forget that it's the DM who narrates the result of an adventurers' actions.
    I was off for a few days because holidays lead to crazy schedules, and looking back over this... I'm just not sure if there is a point in continuing this conversation. I mean, looking at this part here

    There was no attempt to recall lore described by the players in that example. A player is simply stating what the character thinks which is under the player's control. The DM is overstepping his or her role by calling for a check without a corresponding action described by the player. The smart play for this player is, of course, to try to recall lore to verify that assumption, but that is not the DM's problem.
    The smart play is to recall lore... on the lore they already decided? Again, sure, you might have changed earth elementals, but the player stating "Earth Elementals are vulnerable to Thunder Damage" has read the monster manual. They know this is true for standard earth elementals, and they also know that if the ones they face are not standard, then you will telegraph that, so they will just ask to roll arcana then. Wait, no, you don't allow that. They will say they try and deduce the nature of these strange earth elementals calling upon their knowledge of the arcane arts, so they can make an Arcana check. And even then, these elementals are still likely weak to thunder or ambivalent to thunder, so it isn't like the scrolls are a waste. There is just no good reason.

    I also love how you describe the action of recalling lore.

    A player describes wanting to draw upon logic, education, memory, or deductive reasoning, often coupled with some elements of their background or adventuring experience to recall the specific lore they seek. Like any other action declaration, I decide if there's uncertainty as to the outcome and a meaningful consequence for failure. If both elements are present, I ask for a roll. If either element is absent, I decide if they succeed or fail and narrate accordingly.
    And then somehow don't seem to understand that my claims about why they shouldn't just be able to declare "Earth Elemental are weak to Thunder Damage" as a fact. After all, to recall knowledge they need to draw upon their memories (which the player controls as well, but let us not get back down that Francis-shaped rabbit hole) or their education (which... seems like that part would help determine what things they could declare as things they know, like a barbarian that has never studied the arcane knowing all the lore of the various planes of the multiverse) and coupling that with their experience (like how low-level new adventures probably don't know the secrets of the multiverse that the player discovered three years ago in a previous game). These are the things that I am talking about why players can't just know these things.

    And, of course, the difference between "Thinking" and "knowing". Problem with that is, the player does know what the Monster Manual said. And they may rightfully assume that since it is an objective source, they are right. Yes, the DM can change things, but the rules of the game state that Earth Elementals are weak to Thunder Damage and are siege monsters that deal double damage to structures. They know this, so they declare that their character knows this. You, however, are stating "well, they think it. If they want to know it they need to make a check" which will.... what? The player has been playing their character as knowing it, but now that they stop and think they remember they are wrong? I mean, confirmation bias is a thing, people will think they are right unless given evidence they are wrong. And even then they will likely keep thinking they were right.


    Quote Originally Posted by Tony Vargas View Post
    I don't see why not knowing anything isn't a meaningful consequence. I mean, recalling something useful certainly is. Is the idea that you start off not knowing anything, so you might as well try?
    I'm just going off what iserith has said. There seems to be no meaningful consequence (by their definition) so even if I was allowed to ask a player to make a check to declare their out of character knowledge as in character, then they would auto-pass.

    The character might know a lot about the world. But, how much? To give an IRL example, I know poison ivy is dangerous to touch. Didn't know what a fully adult vine of poison ivy looks like if it doesn't have leaves on it. (Turns out is looks like a slightly hairy wooden vine) so I didn't take proper precautions a few years ago when pulling some off an apple tree.

    So, I don't like players just telling me things they know because it was in the Monster Manual and they read it, and assuming their character has the same knowledge (despite Iserith trying to distinguish between thinking and knowing in this scenario). I feel like there should be a check. Because while it might be something your character knows, it might not be.

    Quote Originally Posted by Tony Vargas View Post
    Ultimately, isn't the whole knowledge check/INT roll/trying-to-recall-lore-using-INT-with-a-trained-skill-possibly-applying-because-5e-is-rules-lite thing just gating exposition?
    If, as a DM, I want to provide some exposition, I can have a (suspiciously Gandalfy) NPC do it, or I can look at a player and say "your character knows /whah/" and that's that. I don't really need to call for a check, and if I do, failure, though it might have severe consequences for the party, is awfully blah.
    Even if a player actually wants to play a Gandalf/Prof.Zarchov type who's main purpose is to provide exposition, and take high INT and tons of useless skills to model it mechanically, it's still pretty meh for that player to make his checks, and have /you/ tell the whole table what he knows - and completely inefficient and annoying and no more satisfying to have you tell him privately so he can parrot it.

    The way I've seen some systems (none of them D&D) both make such a character fun to play, and give meaning the sorts of mechanics in question, is if the player making the successful knowledge check /gets to make stuff up/ to his party's advantage. "It's a Klick-Klick, if we all shout 'November!' it'll drop dead...*" on a failure, the consequence is the DM makes stuff up, or maybe that the made-up stuff is wrong... (depends on exactly how the mechanics are handled - FREX, the Expositionator could make a declaration like the above, make a plan around it, and it's only when the plan is executed that he makes the check to see if he was right about it.) But I couldn't see any ed of D&D playing nice with something like that, (OK, except, as always, 4e, which already has some Schrodinger's Mechanics like that). It'd certainly turn the whole 5e describe-declare-resolve-describe DM-PC-DM-DM cycle on it's ear...
    I'm not sure what exposition has to do with it.

    Yeah, if it something I want the players to know, I'll just tell them. Like, for example, I've told my groups that there are no such things as metallic and chromatic dragons in my world, because color-coded alignment is boring as heck. I don't even tell them through an NPC. I just tell them, because they grew up in a world with stories of dragons, but they never heard of a "green" dragon or a "blue" dragon. They might have heard of a storm dragon able to breathe lighting and possessing the primal force of a thunderstorm that terrorized a kingdom from the mountains. Or one born of stone and flame whose breath could melt the very stones of the castle and kidnapped a princess. So, I'm telling the players "don't go forward with this assumption, it is a bad assumption."

    And yeah, I've noticed players who figure out lore or discover a clue often aren't super excited about relaying what I've let them in on. I like using notecards, so I'm not vocalizing only for them to parrot, other times I'll just relay the information they've learned and the player will say "I tell them that" and we move on, but none of that has any bearing on what me and iserith are discussing, so I'm really not sure what the point is.



    Quote Originally Posted by Tony Vargas View Post
    One of the fun things about a setting that's /not/ scientific, at all:
    "I build a modern ship out of steel!"
    "It sinks"
    "What, but I'm a naval architect IRL, that design is sound!"
    "Sorry, on the Flat Earth of Nevereilli, the Element of Metal always sinks in the Element of Water - every 7-year-old Alchemist's Apprentice knows that..."
    * I did not make that up, it's a joke from an old Dragon mag.
    Yeah, I can sometimes pull on that. But, I'm the type of person who then try and figure out how that effects how the world works. Or I'd be worried about opening a new avenue of shenanigans.

    Easier if players just don't try and bring modern knowledge into a distinctly non-modern world.

  3. #583
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    Quote Originally Posted by Chaosmancer View Post
    I'm not sure what exposition has to do with it.
    Exposition is what happens in a narrative that is analogous to what happens in an RPG when there's a knowledge check.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Chaosmancer View Post
    I was off for a few days because holidays lead to crazy schedules, and looking back over this... I'm just not sure if there is a point in continuing this conversation. I mean, looking at this part here
    "I'm just not sure if there's a point in continuing this conversation... allow me to continue it."

    Quote Originally Posted by Chaosmancer View Post
    The smart play is to recall lore... on the lore they already decided? Again, sure, you might have changed earth elementals, but the player stating "Earth Elementals are vulnerable to Thunder Damage" has read the monster manual. They know this is true for standard earth elementals, and they also know that if the ones they face are not standard, then you will telegraph that, so they will just ask to roll arcana then. Wait, no, you don't allow that. They will say they try and deduce the nature of these strange earth elementals calling upon their knowledge of the arcane arts, so they can make an Arcana check. And even then, these elementals are still likely weak to thunder or ambivalent to thunder, so it isn't like the scrolls are a waste. There is just no good reason.
    The reason would be to verify the player's assumption that the earth elementals they are about to face are vulnerable to thunder. This will in part determine their resource allocation and tactics in the upcoming battle.

    I would add that the smart player in my view doesn't seek to "make an Arcana check." The smart play is to shoot for automatic success. The d20 is nobody's friend.

    Quote Originally Posted by Chaosmancer View Post
    I also love how you describe the action of recalling lore.
    It's really not my description. It's almost verbatim from the rules. Much of the stuff I say is.

    Quote Originally Posted by Chaosmancer View Post
    And then somehow don't seem to understand that my claims about why they shouldn't just be able to declare "Earth Elemental are weak to Thunder Damage" as a fact. After all, to recall knowledge they need to draw upon their memories (which the player controls as well, but let us not get back down that Francis-shaped rabbit hole) or their education (which... seems like that part would help determine what things they could declare as things they know, like a barbarian that has never studied the arcane knowing all the lore of the various planes of the multiverse) and coupling that with their experience (like how low-level new adventures probably don't know the secrets of the multiverse that the player discovered three years ago in a previous game). These are the things that I am talking about why players can't just know these things.
    Players can know whatever they want and establish that their characters think whatever they want. And to be clear, I do understand your claims. It's just that they are not derived from a reading of this game. There's simply no support in this game for your position. Which is not to say you shouldn't play that way. It's just a position that's better suited for a different game.

    Quote Originally Posted by Chaosmancer View Post
    And, of course, the difference between "Thinking" and "knowing". Problem with that is, the player does know what the Monster Manual said. And they may rightfully assume that since it is an objective source, they are right. Yes, the DM can change things, but the rules of the game state that Earth Elementals are weak to Thunder Damage and are siege monsters that deal double damage to structures. They know this, so they declare that their character knows this. You, however, are stating "well, they think it. If they want to know it they need to make a check" which will.... what? The player has been playing their character as knowing it, but now that they stop and think they remember they are wrong? I mean, confirmation bias is a thing, people will think they are right unless given evidence they are wrong. And even then they will likely keep thinking they were right.
    Regarding what I bolded above, NO, that is NOT what I am stating. Not only do you appear to conflate "thinking" and "knowing," but you seem to be conflating "action" with "check." I absolutely do not think that in order for the character to know something the player must make a check. Not even a little bit. In order to verify an assumption, the player describes what he or she wants to do to achieve that end. That may or may not involve a check. From the player's perspective, it is always better if it doesn't, provided they are shooting for automatic success.

    Quote Originally Posted by Chaosmancer View Post
    I'm just going off what iserith has said. There seems to be no meaningful consequence (by their definition) so even if I was allowed to ask a player to make a check to declare their out of character knowledge as in character, then they would auto-pass.
    No. If there is no uncertain outcome and/or meaningful consequence for failure, the character would either succeed OR fail. Just because there is no check doesn't mean you always succeed.

    Quote Originally Posted by Chaosmancer View Post
    So, I don't like players just telling me things they know because it was in the Monster Manual and they read it, and assuming their character has the same knowledge (despite Iserith trying to distinguish between thinking and knowing in this scenario). I feel like there should be a check. Because while it might be something your character knows, it might not be.
    The interesting thing to examine in my view is why you "feel like there should be a check." I submit it is because you learned this behavior from another game where that sort of thinking was more supported than in this game. Again, this isn't a problem on its own. Play how you want. But it's useful as I see it to understand why you choose to play that way so that you can perhaps understand the position of others who don't.

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    If I may, at this late juncture...

    This argument is about something that's entirely downstream of the real issue, which isn't being address clearly enough (although @iserith has touched on it repeatedly): what a character thinks is irrelevant to the game structure. The game let's players have the authority to declare actions for their characters. This is, really, the only authority players have outside of character build (creations and leveling). What a character thinks is just something the player establishes as color for the action declaration if they care to do so. So, of course the player has complete authority over what the character thinks, because the rule say that they player has complete authority over what the character tries to do. You cannot have the latter if you have restrictions on the former.

    So, in the case of the thunderwave scrolls, the player has the authority to declare this action for their character. What the character is thinking here is color -- it's not important at all; the game doesn't care at all. If, however, the player wants information from the setting, then they can establish an action declaration for how their character is attempting to gain this information, which, presumably, the player will then use for future action declarations. Again, though, what the character is thinking is not part of this except as a emergent phenomenon of play.

    Now, this is entirely anathema to a number of playstyle conceptualizations, but it is how this system is written. Anything that the players or GM wish to layer on top of the 5e system is up to them @iserith has pounded this point home often), and more power to them. But, again, if you, as GM, are placing limits on what characters are allowed to think, the outcome is that you are declaring certain categories of action declaration as off-limits. Consider why you want to do this -- what does this gain you? I used to think that it was important to have such controls to encourage "roleplaying" in my players, but it turns out they're adult people that don't really need such external controls and I'm having much more fun not playing thought police with my players. It's also made me realize that if my game rests on the players pretending they don't know things, then I really need to step up my game. If I'm using Earth Elementals, for example, the players maybe knowing they're weak to thunder damage is the last thing I care about -- them knowing this will not, in any way, reduce any part of my game.
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    @Ovinomancer

    I agree with everything you just said. However, i do have a lingering issue with point buy 5e. INT is a dump stat for a lot of classes, but that doesn't stop whole parties of shortbus INT 8 characters from quoting chapter and verse from the MM or coming up with diabolically fiendish plans on a regular basis. No, the game doesn't care, and as a GM running actual games, neither do I, but conceptually, or perhaps even philosophically (ecumenically?) it sets my teeth on edge.

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    The DM describes the situation. Implicit in that is what got the characters to that situation - ultimately, the entire imagined world, it's past, and the PCs experience and knowledge of the world to that point.

    So, should DMs really decline to disabuse players of a misconception about all that scene-setting? Just on the grounds that it's interfering in what bailiwick the game leaves them?

    Now, sure, hypothetically, a player could willfully declare an action notwithstanding that description or any supplemental information the DM provides.
    "Count Nepherii descends the grand staircase, his malevolent gaze flickers over you without betraying a hint if recognition, but you're sure it's him."
    "I set my phaser on 'kill and shoot the Klingon!"
    "I catch butterflies!"
    "I invite everyone in the grand ballroom to play an RPG that doesn't suck!"
    "I apologize for my friend's aberrant behavior, and explain that their still recovering from a Mindflayer's psionic blast."
    "Roll diplomacy again..."

    Could be fun, actually. Players reading this thread should totally try it at their next session.

    ... or not.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Tony Vargas View Post
    The DM describes the situation. Implicit in that is what got the characters to that situation - ultimately, the entire imagined world, it's past, and the PCs experience and knowledge of the world to that point.

    So, should DMs really decline to disabuse players of a misconception about all that scene-setting? Just on the grounds that it's interfering in what bailiwick the game leaves them?

    Now, sure, hypothetically, a player could willfully declare an action notwithstanding that description or any supplemental information the DM provides.
    "Count Nepherii descends the grand staircase, his malevolent gaze flickers over you without betraying a hint if recognition, but you're sure it's him."
    "I set my phaser on 'kill and shoot the Klingon!"
    "I catch butterflies!"
    "I invite everyone in the grand ballroom to play an RPG that doesn't suck!"
    "I apologize for my friend's aberrant behavior, and explain that their still recovering from a Mindflayer's psionic blast."
    "Roll diplomacy again..."

    Could be fun, actually. Players reading this thread should totally try it at their next session.

    ... or not.
    I fail to see how this example wouldn't be equally bad in any approach, nor how you should expect to deal with this using an in-game approach. This problem seems much better dealt with out of game.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ovinomancer View Post
    I fail to see how this example wouldn't be equally bad in any approach, nor how you should expect to deal with this using an in-game approach. This problem seems much better dealt with out of game.
    It's not a problem, just an example illustrating the latitude given players in declaring actions under one interpretation.

    There's no need to deal with it out of game, the DM accepted their control of what their characters think/know and the actions they declared, determined one of those actions was uncertain, and called for a check, next he'll narrate the results....

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    Quote Originally Posted by Tony Vargas View Post
    It's not a problem, just an example illustrating the latitude given players in declaring actions under one interpretation.

    There's no need to deal with it out of game, the DM accepted their control of what their characters think/know and the actions they declared, determined one of those actions was uncertain, and called for a check, next he'll narrate the results....
    No, you're presenting degenerate play as a necessary outcome, if only on the edges, of the presented idea. This is only true if there are no other constraints on play like genre assumptions or shared play goals.
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