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Players choose what their PCs do . . .

Ovinomancer

Explorer
That's a very odd way to categorize what I just said. Mechanics are simply boundaries for the characterization. Beyond that they play no role.
Yes, well, I thought it odd that you started by saying that you aren't focusing too much on mechanics and then talk about nothing but mechanics and how they enable your characterization and how you couldn't successfully characterize without knowing the mechanical boundaries. I mean, yeah? Weird.

And, it completely doesn't address the point I initially made that you're too focused on mechanics, here. It's less about how the game does game stuff and more about what you're willing to put at stake. You're coming at it from the point of view of what you don't want at stake and then checking the mechanics to see if they do, indeed, protect these things -- if not, you adjust. I'm saying you can put anything at stake. Sure, the mechanics will influence how at stake things are, but you don't need permission -- which is what I'm saying. You're still asking for the system to give permission or to tell you that you can't protect your PC in some areas. That's too focused on the mechanics -- you've stepped in the right direction by recognizing that more can be at stake than just the health of your PC, but you're not across the line if you're still looking to game mechanics to tell if you such. Take your fighter example. You say you wouldn't play a fighter who's conception is that they can't be beaten in combat if the mechanics say you can. I'm wondering why not? Surely it's interesting to play a character that might fail to realize what they assumed was their core truth and now has to find a new way? Or, maybe, they actually don't lose in combat, and they are the badass (or stupid lucky) that they believe themselves to be! Risk more.
 

FrogReaver

Explorer
Yes, well, I thought it odd that you started by saying that you aren't focusing too much on mechanics and then talk about nothing but mechanics and how they enable your characterization and how you couldn't successfully characterize without knowing the mechanical boundaries. I mean, yeah? Weird.
Your throwing out a bit too much nuance there in order that you may paint my position as nonsense. In fact, your leaving so much out I'm going to go ahead and label this a flat out mischaracterization...

And, it completely doesn't address the point I initially made that you're too focused on mechanics, here.
Of course it did. Making the point for why mechanics are necessary and speaking for their accurate role cannot be placing to much focus on them. It's exactly the right amount of focus.

It's less about how the game does game stuff and more about what you're willing to put at stake. You're coming at it from the point of view of what you don't want at stake and then checking the mechanics to see if they do, indeed, protect these things -- if not, you adjust. I'm saying you can put anything at stake.
Of course you can. But if you conceptualize your character a certain way and then that gets put at stake, then you risk the whole character conceptualize breaking.

sure, the mechanics will influence how at stake things are, but you don't need permission -- which is what I'm saying.
I'm not talking about mechanical permission. It's like your not even listening to me.

You're still asking for the system to give permission or to tell you that you can't protect your PC in some areas.
Total mischaracterization again. I'm not asking for permission or for my PC to have protection. The mechanics are there simply as boundaries so that my character conception doesn't get broken mid game. It's not about protecting my PC from anything. It's about protecting me as the player. There's a great difference there.

That's too focused on the mechanics -- you've stepped in the right direction by recognizing that more can be at stake than just the health of your PC, but you're not across the line if you're still looking to game mechanics to tell if you such.
The game mechanics or session 0 need to tell me what kinds of characters can't be created by the rules. Some are obviously explicit rules. Some are implicit, like the character that never loses a fight cannot be made in a D&D game (that's because the mechanics don't support such a concept. I'm not aware of any game that supports that concept).

Take your fighter example. You say you wouldn't play a fighter who's conception is that they can't be beaten in combat if the mechanics say you can. I'm wondering why not? Surely it's interesting to play a character that might fail to realize what they assumed was their core truth and now has to find a new way? Or, maybe, they actually don't lose in combat, and they are the badass (or stupid lucky) that they believe themselves to be! Risk more.
You are misunderstanding. I'm not talking about playing a character that THINKS he is too strong to lose a fight. I'm talking about the literal god given truth of a character that is to strong/lucky/whatever to lose a fight.

Your point above is about a PC that THINKS he is too strong to lose a fight and I agree those can be played in any system (well, not in ones that put PC thoughts at stake). Either way, the point is irrelevant to the concept I'm referring to.
 
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Maxperson

Orcus on an on Day
To be even clearer: Narrating the results of actions give the DM more than adequate latitude to 'run your character' - describe action he takes as part of or reactions he has to those results.
There is no such rule. The DM has a rule that allows him to narrate MY actions, but he cannot alter those actions. If I declare that my PC is running across the courtyard, he cannot narrate it as, "You run across the courtyard jumping and skipping while singing a little ditty about Jack and Dianne." He can alter things through in game fiction though, such as "While you run across the courtyard, your back sprouts 20 arrows from archers along the wall. You make it halfway before you black out." In no case can he determine how my character feels without magic or some other supernatural power.

When it comes to NPC actions, he has a section in the DMG about social interactions. In that section it talks about how to influence NPCs and PC altering NPC attitudes, but says nothing about NPCs(or the DM) being able to just play a PC and choose the PCs thoughts and feelings.

Not just in the sense of formally introducing a variant at the start of play, but in the sense of overriding or changing any rule, at any time. It's carte blanche.
Sure. The DM can come up with house rules on the fly. That doesn't change them into anything other than house rules, though, and a house rule created on the fly is still not relevant in a discussion about the rules.
 

FrogReaver

Explorer
There is no such rule. The DM has a rule that allows him to narrate MY actions, but he cannot alter those actions. If I declare that my PC is running across the courtyard, he cannot narrate it as, "You run across the courtyard jumping and skipping while singing a little ditty about Jack and Dianne." He can alter things through in game fiction though, such as "While you run across the courtyard, your back sprouts 20 arrows from archers along the wall. You make it halfway before you black out." In no case can he determine how my character feels without magic or some other supernatural power.

When it comes to NPC actions, he has a section in the DMG about social interactions. In that section it talks about how to influence NPCs and PC altering NPC attitudes, but says nothing about NPCs(or the DM) being able to just play a PC and choose the PCs thoughts and feelings.



Sure. The DM can come up with house rules on the fly. That doesn't change them into anything other than house rules, though, and a house rule created on the fly is still not relevant in a discussion about the rules.
I'm curious how you would feel about an enemy battle master using menacing attack on you and causing you to be frightened?
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Or, the reason mecahnics are essential isn't because of trust, but rather that they set the boundaries for where you may freely conceptualize your character and boundaries for where you must refrain from conceptualizing any particular way.
Explicitly setting boundaries is, in essence, establishing a rule. Agreed upon rules are one basis for trust, as noted previously.

The rules are a *basis* for trust. But they aren't actually a replacement for trust. Even if we establish what rules we are playing by, someone at the table may feel something is unfair, or inappropriate, and so on. Just because it is in the rules doesn't mean everyone is actually okay with what happens within those rules. Rules are only a start.
 

FrogReaver

Explorer
Explicitly setting boundaries is, in essence, establishing a rule.Agreed upon rules are one basis for trust, as noted previously.

The rules are a *basis* for trust. But they aren't actually a replacement for trust. Even if we establish what rules we are playing by, someone at the table may feel something is unfair, or inappropriate, and so on. Just because it is in the rules doesn't mean everyone is actually okay with what happens within those rules. Rules are only a start.
Boundaries are rules that don't require trust. It does require everyone adhere to those boundaries, but that still doesn't require trust.
 

Maxperson

Orcus on an on Day
I'm curious how you would feel about an enemy battle master using menacing attack on you and causing you to be frightened?
Special abilities with saves are okay. They are in the magic/supernatural/mental/etc. that I've been talking about. That's not the DM just telling me that my PC is frightened because the green hag winked at him.
 

FrogReaver

Explorer
Special abilities with saves are okay. They are in the magic/supernatural/mental/etc. that I've been talking about. That's not the DM just telling me that my PC is frightened because the green hag winked at him.
That's a fine answer. The battlemaster's ability was the most mundane fear effect I could think of. I was curious if it would have the same negative effect on you.

So out of further curiousity. If the maiden had a special ability causes fear with a wink (save to resist). Would that fall into the same supernatural/magical/mental realm that you have placed the battlemasters menacing attack within?
 

Elfcrusher

Explorer
(emphasis mine)

This is the meat of it, really. We are talking, in the end, about TRUST.

When there are mechanics that the table all agreed to use underlying narrated events, we generally extend trust to the result. We typically see it as "fair", even if we are somewhat surprised by the result.

When we don't have the mechanics, the question of trust comes into play. It also comes into play when there are actually mechanics, but we are not familiar with them - pemerton's story above sits as an example - in the game he was playing, narration of the character moving across the room to introduce a complication was *within mechaical bounds*. Folks who play D&D, however, don't generally play under such mechanics, and they then fail to extend trust.

This is where a lot of conflict ton such issues arises - I've been working with my group for something like a decade. They trust me not to screw them over on a whim. Folks reading about my session on the message boards don't really know me from Adam, don't trust me, and worry that I might be screwing my players over on a whim.
Wow...too much to fully catch up on this thread after a weekend away. But I'll start with this one.

While in general I agree that Trust is central to the question of how you resolve things outside the rules...that is, if you trust your GM (or players) then you don't need a specific mechanic behind every declaration.

But that said, dictation of character thoughts/actions/reactions/feelings is, for me, still sacred territory. Even with GM's I totally trust, and to whom I will happily give a pass for almost any sort of rules transgression because I know it's all in the service of a better story, I still don't want them deciding for my how my character reacts to a maiden winking. That's my turf, and I'll jealously guard it.

That doesn't mean I don't think the GM should ever cross the line: it just needs to be specified in the rules and mechanics. That might range from D&D 5e (where "magic" is required) to The One Ring (where "bouts of Shadow madness" give the GM control of your character) to maybe some RPG out there which just says, "The GM can at any time dictate how your character reacts to something." As long as I know how the mechanics work, and know the GM is working within those boundaries, I'm ok with it. (Partly because I can then decide which games I do and do not want to play.)

I'm not going to try to claim this as the "right" way to play RPGs. I won't claim it's "not roleplaying" if the GM takes over your character ever other minute. It's just not the sort of roleplaying I like.
 

Maxperson

Orcus on an on Day
That's a fine answer. The battlemaster's ability was the most mundane fear effect I could think of. I was curious if it would have the same negative effect on you.

So out of further curiousity. If the maiden had a special ability causes fear with a wink (save to resist). Would that fall into the same supernatural/magical/mental realm that you have placed the battlemasters menacing attack within?

Sure, but one of the things about the battlemaster ability is that very few can actually do it. Lots of people can pick up a sword, but only a few very highly trained individuals can instill fear that way. I'd expect the same sort of in-fiction explanation for some sort of kiss warms the heart ability in this particular maiden. And it would have to allow a save.
 

FrogReaver

Explorer
Sure, but one of the things about the battlemaster ability is that very few can actually do it. Lots of people can pick up a sword, but only a few very highly trained individuals can instill fear that way. I'd expect the same sort of in-fiction explanation for some sort of kiss warms the heart ability in this particular maiden. And it would have to allow a save.
I agree with that. This particular maiden is special. So I can't help but think, how do you as the player know if it's this maiden being special that allows her to do this to your PC. I mean if that's not the case then obviously you would dislike it. But if the maiden's special then you are okay with it. So how do you determine in the moment in the middle of a game which is actually happening? Do you just take it on trust that your DM would only allow a special maiden to do that to your PC?
 

Maxperson

Orcus on an on Day
I agree with that. This particular maiden is special. So I can't help but think, how do you as the player know if it's this maiden being special that allows her to do this to your PC. I mean if that's not the case then obviously you would dislike it. But if the maiden's special then you are okay with it. So how do you determine in the moment in the middle of a game which is actually happening? Do you just take it on trust that your DM would only allow a special maiden to do that to your PC?
So to answer the first question, there will be some sort of save, so it will be apparent in the moment if something unusual is happening. However, the group I've played with has been together for 15 years, and a few of us go back more than twice that. If they pulled something like that without save or way to know right then, yes I'd extend the trust, because we're all similar enough in playstyle to mesh together, so I know that they wouldn't pull something like that without something special going on. If I were in a convention game, I'd have no trust. I almost never play D&D at a convention because of all the bad experiences I've had in the past.
 
"The maiden winks at you and tries to melt your heart" is a test, and a perfectly valid one at that.
"The maiden winks at you and melts your heart" is a manipulation. See the difference?
Not really. Suppose that the first is stated by the GM, the player makes a Resist Passion roll, and fails, and then the GM state the second. How did this situation suddenly change from "test" to "manipulation"?

Or to give a different example. The GM has described the dungeon corridor that the PCs are standing in. The player says I walk down the left-hand path, inspecting the ceiling as I go. The GM responds, OK, after about 10' you find yourself falling - that bit of floor was an illusion! Is that "test" or "manipulation"?

In the original example, the PC declares both the action (the wink) and the outcome (the softened heart) without the NPC getting a chance to resist as a) no mechanics are referenced and b) the wording is phrased as a statement of fact rather than an attempt, or a question - it's a done deal.
I wrote the OP, so I can condidently say that you are wrong about this. The OP says nothing in particular about what the mechanics and system conventions might be around establishing true descriptions of PC actions - for instance, what resources might need to be spent in order to be permitted to make a description true. It deliberately and expressly makes the range of possibilities a matter of discussion!

The NPC's reaction was simply narrated as a part of the action declaration, implying said reaction was a fait accompli and somehow bypassed game mechanics entirely.
I think you may have missed the point of the OP. I described an action - I wink at the maiden, melting her heart - in the course of inviting discussion about how these descriptions of actions might be made true of the fiction. The OP canvsasses decision-making and checks - for D&D players, this at least roughly corresponds to the difference between spell-casting and thief abilities.

I don't know why you would equate a player decision-amking ability with bypassing game mechanics.

The whole point of the OP was that simply saying The players decide what their PCs do isn't a useful description of any RPG, given that I wink at the maiden, melting her heart is a true description of what a PC does, but isn't something that a player normally has the unfettered power to make true in a RPG.
 
When a PC is around, minions have 1 h.p. When there's no PC around, they have h.p. suitable to whatever creature type they are.
This still makes no sense. Are you talking about the fiction (in which nothing has hp - hit points are not a part of the gameworld) or about resolution mechanics?

A bar full of minion brawlers can have an ordinary bar fight without a PC present, but once a PC shows up things get weird because the very presence of the PC changes the mechanics for all those minions. Consistency, meanwhile, flies off across the lake
Likewise. I don't think you understand how 4e's combat rules work.
 
Why do you think that people here are saying that emotional life of the PC should be excluded from testing? I find such tests to often be more engaging than the physical ones.
There is an assertion by some, or at least a very strong implication, that the PC can fail the test, or even feel its force, only if the player decides.

pemerton said:
My heart being melted isn't an action. It's an emotional state. What action do you think is required/dictated by that state?
Yes it is an action.
In what sense? What body part moves? What intention is formed?

Of course the maiden is acting: she is winking. But the PC whose heart is melted is not. No no more than it is an action on Frodo's part to have his finger bitten off by Gollum.
 
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FrogReaver

Explorer
I thought I'd come back to the opening post.

The function of players in RPGing is often described as deciding what their PCs do. But this can be quite ambiguous.

A classic article on the analysis of actions (Donald Davidson, "Actions, Reasons, and Causes" (1963)) gives the following example:
I flip the switch, turn on the light, and illuminate the room. Unbeknownst to me I also alert a prowler to the fact that I am home. Here I need not have done four things, but only one, of which four descriptions have been given.​


Contrary to Donald Davidson's opinion, there is one action (attempting to flip the switch) and 4 reactions (each reaction is an action directly resulting from the previous action in the action-reaction chain).
1. The switch was successful flipped
2. The switch being flipped successfully completed the circuit to provide power to the lightbulb
3. The Lightbulb successfully had it's filament heat up and produce light.
4. The burglar successfully seen the light from the lightbulb

Each of those results is it's own action. They happen in sequence, an extradionarily fast sequence but a sequence nonetheless. Each is a direct reaction to the previous action in the sequence (All reactions themselves being actions).

I believe that every non-instantaneous scene can be subdivided into an infinite number of smaller and smaller actions depending on the granularity that we desire the detail to be. In math terms we might say that every action-reaction sequence is a continuous function of actions.


In RPGing, I think it's a big deal who gets to decide what descriptions of the PCs' actions are true, and how.
I think calling the reactions descriptions does a disservice to them. I do think it's a big deal about who gets to narrate the reactions. (Leaving out the controversial bits of this thread)

For instance, suppose that my ability to decide what descriptions are true of my PC's actions is confined to very "thin" descriptions focused on the character's bodily movements, like I attack the orc with my sword or I wink at the maiden. Playing that game will produce a very different experience from one in which I can decide that the following description is true of my PC's actions: I kill the orc with my sword or I soften the heart of the maiden with a wink.
Sure. But should the game allow the player to state the orc was stabbed by his sword and then also narrate the reaction that the orc died by the sword stab. I think there's still an open question on the impact to roleplaying when it comes to giving the player that ability.

The same point can be made in relation to success on checks: if succeeding at a check makes a description such as I find what I was looking for in the safe true, that game will produce a different experience from one in which it makes true only a description such as I open the safe, with the description of my action in terms of I find X in the safe remaining something for someone else - eg the GM - to decide.
yes, but what impacts does it have on the game and on roleplaying in general. That's the real question.

This example shows how it is possible (i) for it to be true that the players choose what their PCs do - under a certain, fairly thin or confined sort of description - and (ii) for there to be fudge-free checks and yet (iii) for it also to be the case that the GM decides everything significant that happens - ie it is the GM who gets to establish the richer, wider, consequence-laden descriptions of what the PCs do.
Only if your are playing a game where the DM can dictate all PC reactions (which are actions). That's seems to be a fairly controversial set of mechanics though.

I think that a failure to recognise this point makes a lot of discussions of railroading, "player agency" less productive or insightful than they might be.
Most every DM railroads to some extent. They don't do it in the perjorative sense though (which tends to be more about degree than substance IMO).

I think you are right, that recognizing that the DM has authority to dictate many reactions is important to the discussion of player agency.

What do others think about who does, or should, get to establish the truth of descriptions of PC actions, and how?
PC's establish their "thin actions as you phrased it" Dm establishes the reactions that he is permitted to establish. Players establish any additional reactions to those reactions, which can then become an action such that the chain can repeat itself.

I'll have to ponder on the pros and cons some more.
 

Aldarc

Adventurer
So, HOW is it ambiguous? You have NOT stated how that is so
Because there are roleplaying games where these lines and boundaries blur, as there are games, for example, where the player may narrates the successful results. As examples of these sort of ambiguities had been mentioned and discussed in passing before your initial comment, I thought that this would be unnecessary to explain. :erm:
 
I haven't lost control of the character's action in that circumstance. I simply do not control the result. My character still takes the action I desire, and the DM states the action failed. I've never argued that I should have control over the result of the action.

<snip>

You're just confusing the result of the action with the action itself. They are two different things. The DM cannot tell me that my character doesn't try and take a running jump over the Grand Canyon. He can just tell me that I failed without allowing a roll, since it's an impossible feat to accomplish.
This seems to miss the whole point of the OP.

If person A jums over the Grand Canyon, it follows that A tried to jump over the Grand Canyon. But A didn't perform two different actions - trying to jump the canyon, and then actually jumpiing it. S/he performed a single action which falls under both descriptions.

Which descriptions are made true in a RPG, by whom, and how, is what this thread is about. For instance, you've describd a game in which the player gets to decide, by fiat, that I try to jump the Grand Canyon is a true description of the PC's action; and the GM gets to decide, by fiat, that I jumped the Grand Canyon will not be. Of course that's not the only possible configuration.
 

Ovinomancer

Explorer
Your throwing out a bit too much nuance there in order that you may paint my position as nonsense. In fact, your leaving so much out I'm going to go ahead and label this a flat out mischaracterization...



Of course it did. Making the point for why mechanics are necessary and speaking for their accurate role cannot be placing to much focus on them. It's exactly the right amount of focus.
But you're assigning that role (also) to characterization, which is misplaced. Mechanics are how the system resolves uncertainty, they're not constraints on characterization, unless you're putting undue focus on them.


Here, look at this next bit:
Of course you can. But if you conceptualize your character a certain way and then that gets put at stake, then you risk the whole character conceptualize breaking.

I'm not talking about mechanical permission. It's like your not even listening to me.


Total mischaracterization again. I'm not asking for permission or for my PC to have protection. The mechanics are there simply as boundaries so that my character conception doesn't get broken mid game. It's not about protecting my PC from anything. It's about protecting me as the player. There's a great difference there.
This is what I'm talking about. You, on the one hand, tell me I'm misrepresenting you looking to the mechanics for protection of your character concept and then immediately say that understanding the mechanics prevents your character concept from being "broken." You're saying exactly what I'm saying, only you think I'm saying something else.

You're looking at mechanics as a way to determine what character concepts won't be challenged by those mechanics. As you say, you're looking to protect yourself from disappointment in not achieving the character you want to have. Or, at least, that your character concept won't ever change even if it might die. This is definitely looking at the game from the point of view of trusting the mechanics to protect your characterization. [MENTION=23751]Maxperson[/MENTION]'s posts scream this -- you cannot alter my character at all except to harm/kill it, unless magic. This is an idea of an inviolable character, one that is static but played in a game where things are fluid (zero to hero for D&D).

I'm saying that this is a poor way of considering the game -- you're putting on a straightjacket from the start. You might decide to play this way after consideration -- I still love playing and running 5e, for example, and it codifies inviolable character concepts (at least from the DM side). But, I don't codify how to play according to this, I just use this when I play a game because that's how that game plays. If I didn't want to play that way, I'd play a different game (and do). Understanding that the rules serve the game and not the other way around is huge, and I'm hoping you can make the step out to where character is at risk -- not just the life of the character, or its things, but the very nature of the character itself. This can happen regardless of rules. You should look at a system not to find out what it protects so you can play there, but how it works to put things at risk, so you can risk those things.

D&D is bad at risking character. It's an overgrown wargame (and I love it). As such, it puts the risk more on your hitpoints or your numbers, and not on what makes the character the character. It doesn't have a good mechanic for risking the concept at all, for finding out unpleasant (or pleasant) truths about the character in play. You can do it, but the system isn't written to risk these kinds of things, so it's more ad hoc than structured. Hence why magic exists and often breaks these rules in hamfisted ways. Yet, even there, the system has so well trained players to believe that this one thing they have control over is the inviolable character concept that it's very, very hard to break free of this thing. But, D&D (and other games that afford extensive GM authority and very limited PC authority -- for you Max) isn't the only way to play, and it certainly isn't a very good model for how to think about RPGs in general, even if it's, by far, the most popular. People like Apple and Windows, too.


The game mechanics or session 0 need to tell me what kinds of characters can't be created by the rules. Some are obviously explicit rules. Some are implicit, like the character that never loses a fight cannot be made in a D&D game (that's because the mechanics don't support such a concept. I'm not aware of any game that supports that concept).
Oh, I strongly disagree. You absolutely can make this character. You're just risking your concept in every fight, which is uncomfortable for those that are used to inviolable concepts.
You are misunderstanding. I'm not talking about playing a character that THINKS he is too strong to lose a fight. I'm talking about the literal god given truth of a character that is to strong/lucky/whatever to lose a fight.

Your point above is about a PC that THINKS he is too strong to lose a fight and I agree those can be played in any system (well, not in ones that put PC thoughts at stake). Either way, the point is irrelevant to the concept I'm referring to.
Hmm. Name me a character concept that is absolutely true and not what the character believes to be true (ie, thinks). You're drawing a line that's impossible and declaring my position can only exist on the far side of it. Well, you've drawn your line so that everything exists on the far side of it, so you might want to back up those goalposts to a place where someone might be able to score.
 

Maxperson

Orcus on an on Day
There is an assertion by some, or at least a very strong implication, that the PC can fail the test, or even feel its force, only if the player decides.
If it's left to a die roll or the DM's decision, there is no real test of character. The test comes from the player in the role of the PC being caught in a situation which tests his PC's character. He and the others at the table are only really going to learn what the PC is made of if the player makes the decision. If it's left to the die roll or DM to decide, the drama virtually vanishes.

There's a huge difference between me struggling with a decision for my PC, and clack, clack, clack! Oh, look. This time he's an ass, maybe next time he'll be noble. *yawn*
 

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