Player Characters Doing The Dumb Things


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Reynard

Legend
I play PCs with more and more flaws.
Recently my wizard use his action during a fight to light up a cigar, claiming that he has seen enough action, and he would wait in the back for a while.
That is an interesting choice. What was the context? Is that a regular behavior for the character? How did the other PCs take it?
 


payn

He'll flip ya...Flip ya for real...
Folks play RPGs for different reasons. Some folks find they fail enough in real life to not want to do it in their RPG even if it would be interesting narratively. Though, mostly many games dont afford any failure state mechanics that lead to interesting play. In fact, many have character death as the result of a failed action. I think that leads to a hypersensitivity in many gamers because they want to succeed at the game not fail at it. Its really a matter of perspective.

Espionage is interesting. I'm sure many will think of Ian Fleming's man of international danger. This is a power fantasy about a suave agent going around stopping wars with style. They always have a gadget or backup plan to save their bacon at failure state. It's not about reenacting actual cloak and dagger tradecraft. A John Le Carre character on the other hand, is often matching wits under a fog of war. The stakes are not for the physical being of the character, but for their personal relationships, protection of assets, and defense of their country. Failure states here are story beats that lead up to more of a series of battles that lead up to the outcome of the war itself.

So, I dont think doing dumb things is a general expectation, nor do I think all RPGs are better if they allow for them. Though, I would like to see rulesets explore the notion better, which many modern games are doing as we speak.
 

UngainlyTitan

Legend
Supporter
One of the interesting things that you see when you look at historical events is that humans are dumb. Like, really, really dumb. They make choices based on all kinds of reasons except actual reason and logic. I am currently reading "The Main Enemy" by Bearden and Risen -- a history of the end of the cold war spy games between the CIA and the KGB -- and even the ostensibly smartest operators in the world just do the dumbest things. Sometimes ideology gets in the way, or pride, or greed or just plain thick headedness.

This almost never happens in tabletop RPGs. I don't mean that Players don't ever make bad decisions or dumb choices. hat i mean is it is exceedingly rare to see a player have their character intentionally make a dumb choice. if the PCs are all CIA operatives, they are cool and collected and awesome 100% of the time. They never decide to run out for a quick cup of coffee because they are sure their mark is sleeping and then lose them. People do that sort of dumb thing in the real world all the time -- skilled people, important people, "heroes" even.

I think this is driven by the competence-porn that most modern adventure entertainment is. Heroes have to be infallible. if they do have flaws, they are tragic heroic flaws, not mundane failings. In general, this is fine, but it makes certain genres and styles of games hard to do. Espionage is just one example where players playing their characters more like actual people would enhance play, i think.

Do you find that PCs are too perfect? Do you think PCs with more failings make RPGs more interesting? Do you reject those notions and prefer competence and cool?
There are a lot of people in the real world, and this throws up a lot of noise that is in part responsible for some of the wilder tangents of strategy, politics and espionage. People underestimate the fog of war in the real world and I would think it is really beyond the capability of a referee to generate the kind of chaff that one would encounter in the real world.
The other problem is that it would make for very boring gameplay. Another issue is that it runs counter to escapism which, I think is a big motivator of play. We want a simpler world where the problems are fairly straightforward and can be dealt with, with a strong dose of ultra violence.
I do not more real life in my fantasy life, I have enough real life in my real life.
 


Sure, but how does that translate into actual play at the table for you?
When the DM uses your character's failings as an adventure subplot and asks you to role-play on how you would get the PC out of the very trouble they put themselves in. "Well you failed your Constitution check, got drunk, and started a massive brawl in the pub you and your party were in, now what you are going to do?"
 

Reynard

Legend
When the DM uses your character's failings as an adventure subplot and asks you to role-play on how you would get the PC out of the very trouble they put themselves in. "Well you failed your Constitution check, got drunk, and started a massive brawl in the pub you and your party were in, now what you are going to do?"
So, let's expound upon that. Say your character isn't an alcoholic per se, but has a hard time not having a good time. The plan is that your character is staking out a bar to watch for a hand off between two rival agents. It starts innocently enough, having a beer to blend in. Then the attractive person sits down near enough to start chatting with. Soon enough the PCs is three drinks in and checking out instead of staking out. The agents meet and make the hand off and the character misses it.

Does this happen because the player failed a check? Does it happen because the player decided it should be cause it made sense? Did it happened because the GM said so? Was there a trade made -- say, metacurrency like Inspiration, Bennie or Fate Point -- for the behavior?
 

I think this is driven by the competence-porn that most modern adventure entertainment is. Heroes have to be infallible. if they do have flaws, they are tragic heroic flaws, not mundane failings.
First off, let me thank you for the new term. That is a brilliant way of phrasing it, and is spot on.

Second, I see it deliberately done in my normal group. In our current 5e Ravenloft campaign, one of our players had his character stupidly attack more powerful allies because it was what his character would do. That made it loads of fun to me, as I am the only warrior in the group, and am a level behind everyone. Guess who had to pull his character’s bacon out of the fire? My cavalier just sighs any time it looks like the halfling sorcerer is about to get aggressive.

In one older campaign (3.0), I was the one who typically made dumb decisions because of my character’s flaws. Died twice due to it, but it fit.

One thing which ties into all this is a growing distaste for massive ability score bonuses. If 9 (TSR D&D) or 10 (WotC D&D is average human, then anything above a 14 is massively talented and should be rare IMO.
 

Does this happen because the player failed a check?
Several checks actually. ;) The DM would have asked my player for a Perception check to see if they noticed the two rival agents at the other end of the bar. It's a crowded bar, so I am rolling with Disadvantage on my Perception check because there are too many bar patrons between myself and the rival agents. However, I still succeed at my check. But to make sure that I don't stick out like a sore thumb, I have a beer to blend in. The DM asks me to do a Constitution check because I randomly picked out a brand of beer that is a little too strong for most patrons. It's a Dwarven blend. ;) I fail my Constitution check, thus putting future skill checks at Disadvantage. So I fail an Insight check when an attractive person sits down next to me. I don't know that she is working with the two rival agents and had succeeded at a Perception check. She's doing Persuasion and Deception checks to convince my character to stay a while and drink some more. And since I am drunk and at a Disadvantage, I say 'why not?'

One dumb thing leads to another thanks to each failed skill check. And with each failed skill check, you role-play the result until your luck turns around with a successful skill check.
 

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