Player Characters Doing The Dumb Things


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Dannyalcatraz

Schmoderator
Staff member
Supporter
I have done my fair share of dumb things in RPGs, mostly in character, some because of me just being me.

One of my classics was having my gnome thief suggest the 1/2-orc barbarian throw her across an underground chasm so she could anchor a rope in the other side, allowing the rest of the party to cross. After setting up the toss, we followed through.

At the apex of her arc, some tentacles reached down out from the darkness above and yanked her out of view. The party climbed the rope to find her, already partially consumed by the cave fisher that snagged her.*. They killed it, but it was too late for her.

So I sung, “It was a caaaaaave fisher! One way ticket, yeah! It took a fluuuung gnome to find out- and she found out.”

I also had a “wicked smaht” F/M/T known as “The Harlequin”. She routinely got the party into trouble with her attitude, but also frequently got them OUT with her wit. (Sometimes the same situation.) Insulting a dragon almost proved fatal…

But in all honesty, stuff like that wasn’t uncommon in our group. The guy playing the most powerful mage in the campaign once stole an artifact from between two arguing demon princes. That decision drove the campaign for YEARS!








* it rolled a 20 on its attack, she rolled a 1 on her save vs paralysis. munch munch
 
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Blue

Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal
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?
This is D&D's fault.

In any story, novel, movie, whatever, there are up and down beats. There are failures, and characters have flaws. This is the storytelling tradition we have had for as far back as we have history.

D&D however, has combat-unto-death as common stakes. And losing a character is punitive. It's not fun. It is part of the game that is explicitly not fun - at the very least the player is sitting out for a period, but it may go much further than that. Basically, because of it's wargame roots, D&D fails at the very basic level of a much larger storytelling context of delivering downbeats in a fun way. And that's a failing of D&D as a whole - because it's a game, and the parts of the game should be fun. And storytelling downbeats should be part of the game.

D&D is also the 800 lb gorilla that is the entry gateway for the majority (maybe even the vast majority) of gamers into TTRPGs. So people learn this.

But when you get outside D&D-like games, you see a lot more of real flaws. Some games like Fate you literally can't have a viable character be unflawed because then you don't get to play to your charater's flaws and get the meta-currency that lets you take advantage of your character's strengths.

So this is because of D&D, and gamers who routinely play things other than D&D will see much less of this competence porn. "Almost never happens" is only for the slice of gamers who play D&D-like games where there are routine unfun-to-the-player repercussion for playing flawed characters.

This is basically the corollary to people conflating player success and character success, when they can wildly differ at times -- assuming the game doesn't penalize the player (by having them sit out) for character failures.
 

pemerton

Legend
This is D&D's fault.

In any story, novel, movie, whatever, there are up and down beats. There are failures, and characters have flaws. This is the storytelling tradition we have had for as far back as we have history.

D&D however, has combat-unto-death as common stakes. And losing a character is punitive. It's not fun. It is part of the game that is explicitly not fun - at the very least the player is sitting out for a period, but it may go much further than that. Basically, because of it's wargame roots, D&D fails at the very basic level of a much larger storytelling context of delivering downbeats in a fun way.
I don't think this is true of 4e D&D. I fully agree it's an issue for AD&D.
 

MGibster

Legend
I guess I made a mistake by using "dumb" in the title. I am not really talking about people playing doofuses. I am talking about people playing humans: people with foibles and character flaws and vices, and those things influencing how things progress more than competence porn.
I get what you mean. I have a few players who will have their characters do dumb things even knowing it's going to end up poorly because it's in character, but most of them don't roll like that. It's the game part of RPG I guess, and we expect to win games.
 

Tony Vargas

Legend
This is D&D's fault.
Well, sure, everything is. It kicked off the hobby. ;)
In any story, novel, movie, whatever, there are up and down beats. There are failures, and characters have flaws. This is the storytelling tradition we have had for as far back as we have history.

D&D however, has combat-unto-death as common stakes. And losing a character is punitive.
It's the only real "loss" condition... loss of the character (or loss of control of the character, more broadly)
Like capture scenarios are all over genre, but in most editions of D&D they're worse than getting killed, because you lose your magic items, too... you die, your buddies can raise you. You get captured, they take your almighty stuff.
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.
I think that, yes part of that stems from wanting to play an ultra-competent cool character, and part of it from not thinking about the PC's interior life, and part of it from not experiencing the boredom/temptation/etc of the PC on an emotional level.

Not that players won't get bored and do stupid things, including things the character probably shouldn't do... ;)
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?
I think the PCs should fit the genre and the tone of the game. James Bond types can be cool and ultracompetent. If you were playing Sandbaggers in FATE, you'd have human flaws and foibles the GM would compel.
 

hawkeyefan

Legend
I agree this tends to be more true of D&D. There’s a gamist element and a cooperative element that both run contrary to playing this way. You need to do your job. Don’t let the team down.

I’ve found it much less true in other games. Generally, I think this is best supported by games that don’t really punish players for this kind of play. Or at least, don’t punish all the players. Some games give the players resources to mitigate consequences to some extent, so they are more free to be daring and or reckless.

Some games also incentivize this kind of play with XP or similar rewards. I think this is a key element… what the game rewards is what the game is going to tend to be about. If it’s an XP for gold type system, then players are going to try and acquire gold efficiently. Same with XP for monsters… that’s what they’ll focus on.

But if a game rewards taking risks or changing the setting or being true to character traits or flaws… then you may start to see some different behaviors.
 

Blue

Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal
I don't think this is true of 4e D&D. I fully agree it's an issue for AD&D.
I admit I was more than a bit rhetorical and speaking with some hyperbole when I said it's D&D's fault. Part of that was D&D's impact on many, many games that came after it so was more focused on the early game.

Yes, I can see where you are coming from for a specific, more recent editions. Both 4e and 5e with heal-from-zero and death saves work hard to minimize this. I forget if there was a Revivify analog in the the Leader classes in 4e, but that also reduces it.
 

pemerton

Legend
@Blue

I can't comment on 5e.

In 4e, skill challenges produce down-beats without being especially punitive. And the combat rules produce down-beats within a given encounter without being overly punitive - rather, these create the context for the "heroic rally" that is central to the pacing of 4e combat. (Because NPCs/creatures are front-loaded with damage and hit points, whereas PCs are generally prima facie weaker in both respects, but have reserves - of powers and healing surges - to draw on.)
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
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.
Not sure how intentional it ever is, but I've seen enough dumb things done and choices made that they can't all have been accidental. :)
Do you find that PCs are too perfect?
Yes, if left entirely up to their players. But that's not the case if one's game a) has random char-gen elements that can bake imperfections and flaws right into the character, and b) provides rules-based opporunities to sometimes mess things up e.g. fumble in combat, critically fail on a skill check, miscast a spell causing a wild-magic surge, or similar.
Do you think PCs with more failings make RPGs more interesting?
Yes, if those failings are roleplayed true. Not every player is willing to do this, however; and those who aren't willing inevitably end up gaining a long-term advantage over those who are.
 

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