• Welcome to this new upgrade of the site. We are now on a totally different software platform. Many things will be different, and bugs are expected. Certain areas (like downloads and reviews) will take longer to import. As always, please use the Meta Forum for site queries or bug reports. Note that we (the mods and admins) are also learning the new software.
  • The RSS feed for the news page has changed. Use this link. The old one displays the forums, not the news.

Players choose what their PCs do . . .

I do get that risk and uncertainty make (or can make) games more exciting. But the consequence of a risk gone awry does matter. Traditionally (at least in my experience) in an RPG some of the things exposed to risk are:
- Health/Life
- Treasure/Possessions
- Allies
- Reputation
- XP/Levels (in older versions of D&D, for example)
- Maybe some other stuff I'm not thinking off at the moment.

Sure, "Character Concept" could be added to this list. But I'm not sure what that achieves, except to annoy people who think they should be in control of the concept.
It means that the RPG can have story arcs comparable to other dramatic mediums. In film, think eg Casblanca. In literature, think eg The Human Factor.

In genre fiction, think eg Han Solo (who, in Star Wars, turns out not to be the mercenary he thought he was) or Nameless, Jet Li's character in Hero (who in the end choose not to take the vengeance that he had pursued). Of course many other examples could also be given.
 

Ovinomancer

Explorer
I really don't understand why @Ovinomancer and others can't grasp this simple concept.

Challenges are about risk. Risk is based on uncertainity. However, even in a perfectly deterministic world, there is still uncertainty which means there is still risk which means there's still challenges. Thus, you don't need a randomization method like dice to produce uncertainty.

Chess actually makes a great example. Chess is a deterministic game and it's very challenging. It's challenging because there's always uncertainty because as a human we don't possess the knowledge of all game states. That lack of knowledge causes uncertainty which causes risk which causes challenge.

Now consider a simple game of a coin flip where you win if a heads is flipped. There's uncertainty there. You have a great chance to lose the game and no control over winning or losing (without cheating). That kind of a game doesn't present a challenge even though there could potentially be risk and uncertainty. The real challenge with such a game is the betting aspect. Do you continue to bet to try to win one more time or do you walk away. That's where the challenge in such a game really lies.

In RPG terms. I struggle to see a challenge simply resulting from the DM saying random maiden approaches you, make a save. That's not a challenge, even though there's risk and uncertainty IMO, as there's no decision point for the character or the player.
I do, too. Weird, huh, that I'd agree with this last bit so easily, like maybe you've missed something fundamental?
 

Ovinomancer

Explorer
Maybe you took my meds this time ;)
Dude, irony. Those comments were made about taking things either out-of-context or imagined and then trying to pin those arguments on other posters. Like you just did to me. You cannot find anywhere in this thread (or others) where I've gotten even close to saying that telling a player to make a saving throw out of the blue is a challenge. You've erected a strawman. Have fun with it.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
The character is really just a sheet of paper. It's the player inhabiting the idea of the character that gives it life. That's why I don't understand this idea that you can challenge the character socially, without challenging the player.
That's because you are again swapping between different kinds of "challenge" willy-nilly.

We typically talk about "challenge the player" and "challenge the character" in a rather game-centered* manner. If I had you a sudoku puzzle to solve, with no reference to the mechanics your character uses, I am challenging you, the player. If I give a strictly constructed skill challenge (make skill check one, make skill check 2...), I can challenge the character build, with the player agency front-loaded back in character generation and advancement, and little found at game runtime. In a complex combat, with many tactical options, I can challenge the combination.

But, this branch started as we were talking about *challenging the core concepts* of the character. And, honestly, this is nothing like the other challenges we were talking about - this is about psychology and narrative, not about skills and tactical game play like the other challenges are. You can't elide from one to the other and expect the conversation to make much sense. So, yes, if you keep doing this, you will not understand.

You are the only one who can stop you from doing this. When you stop the bait-and-switching, maybe we can have a cogent discussion.




*We might even say "gamist", but that's going to open another can of worms.
 

Ovinomancer

Explorer
Yes, it's not a real challenge. Exactly.

Maybe [MENTION=16814]Ovinomancer[/MENTION] means that it's mechanical challenge, which it is (your character's probability of succeeding is tested, but that makes it less of a challenge and more of a "save or get charmed", which is honestly more of an attack than something that challenges the player.
Actually, I think save or be charmed isn't much of a challenge, either. My argument has been that making a choice isn't a challenge if you can chose between all the choices. Even the unknown repercussions don't make it a challenge, just a guessing game. A challenge requires that something be staked and that you have a risk of losing your stakes. There's lots and lots of ways to do this, even without dice. In an RPG, though, it pretty much requires some kind of mechanic to determine the uncertainty, even if that mechanic is "DM chooses." I think that's a lousy mechanic, but there you go.
 

FrogReaver

Explorer
Dude, irony. Those comments were made about taking things either out-of-context or imagined and then trying to pin those arguments on other posters. Like you just did to me. You cannot find anywhere in this thread (or others) where I've gotten even close to saying that telling a player to make a saving throw out of the blue is a challenge. You've erected a strawman. Have fun with it.
Okay Mr Grumpy - can't take a joke - but can belittle others
 
I agree with [MENTION=16814]Ovinomancer[/MENTION] and [MENTION=177]Umbran[/MENTION] that making a choice - even a hard choice - isn't a challenge to character and character concept of the sort that has been raised in this thread.

Whether you need mechanics (social mechanics, emotional mechanics, whatever they might be) to generate that sort of challenge is a further question. My view is that you don't, although obviously they might help. To expain why I think you don't need such mechanics, I want to quote a recent post:

If I am playing or running a game that is supposed to be more character focused I absolutely do make aesthetic judgments of other players and I expect the same in kind. We should all be invested in each others' characters - be fans of them. For that to happen players should play their characters as if they were real people with real passions and real relationships. Players should play their characters with integrity and want to find out who they really are. They shouldn't try to drive play to some preferred outcome. Still ultimately their decisions to make, but they have responsibilities to what we are creating together.
The key idea I take away from this is one of fidelity - to the fiction, and to what is revealed about the character in the fiction.

In order to get the sort of fiction that will generate such demands of fidelity, I think we need (at least) mutiple scenes that put the character under pressure - these are choices in which the player knows what is at stake and in which the GM is prepared to hold the character (and thereby the player) to account.

This relates to the notion of uncertainty. I don't think uncertainty is important at the moment of choice, especially if it means uncertainty as to what the GM will decide in the future. For a choice to be hard in the sense at issue, there needs to be certainty: certainty as to the hard outcome for the character (and thereby the player).

But a single choice, even a hard one, won't generate a fiction that generates a demand for fidelity. We need multiple scenes, an unfolding trajectory, the generation of pressure, perhaps mulitple sources of pressure. And as a result there will be uncertainty about how a collectively-established ficiton will arise over time.

This also brings it back to mechanics. Mechanics are one useful way for helping determine outcomes of situations. And they can modulate pressure. HeroQuest revised is probably the clearest expression of this in RPG design, but it can also be scene in (say) MHRP/Cortex+ Heroic and Burning Wheel.
 
Last edited:

FrogReaver

Explorer
Actually, I think save or be charmed isn't much of a challenge, either. My argument has been that making a choice isn't a challenge if you can chose between all the choices. Even the unknown repercussions don't make it a challenge, just a guessing game. A challenge requires that something be staked and that you have a risk of losing your stakes. There's lots and lots of ways to do this, even without dice. In an RPG, though, it pretty much requires some kind of mechanic to determine the uncertainty, even if that mechanic is "DM chooses." I think that's a lousy mechanic, but there you go.
In real life - What about chess? Is Chess a challenge? (assuming two nearly equally skilled players)
 

FrogReaver

Explorer
I agree with @Ovinomancer and @Umbran that making a choice - even a hard choice - isn't a challenge to character and character concept of the sort that has been raised in this thread.

Whether you need mechanics (social mechanics, emotional mechanics, whatever they might be) to generate that sort of challenge is a further question. My view is that you don't, although obviously they might help.
Those 2 sentences appear to contradict each other. Let me elaborate:

At first you say a hard choice isn't a challenge. Then you say you believe a challenge can be made without mechanics. What other method could possibly result in a challenge besides either mechanics or a hard choice?
 

Campbell

Relaxed Intensity
I have already spoken on how social mechanics can serve as an immersion tool to help players feel what their characters should be feeling in the moment.

Another crucial function can be to deliberately welcome the wholly unwelcome. It introduces outcomes which no one at the table would deliberately choose, but are nonetheless compelling. Vincent Baker calls this the fundamental purpose of RPG mechanics. Like as a GM and a player you are fond of this character. You like want the best for them, but in order for dramatic tension to exist there needs to exist the possibility things will not turn out the way you hope. Think of it like PC death in combat.

With the sort of character focused play I am talking about here character concept as an idealized version of who your character is and how you expect their story to play out has absolutely no place. Your job is to play a character. Not a concept. We're creative collaborators. The expectation is that our contributions will impact each other.

I also think there is a measure of talking past each other because most people are viewing social mechanics through the specter of charm person and 3e's horrible Diplomacy rules. I personally favor games where player choice of decisions is preserved as much as possible, but where those decisions are colored by the mechanical impact of social mechanics. This weekend I'll get into details from actual games.
 

Ovinomancer

Explorer
By making the hard choice obviously. I you can't fail to pick a choice, but none of the choices may be what you want, so there is no success. Challenge has more than one definition and not of them are binary. Trying to limit a challenge to success or failure is a False Dichotomy.
What do you have if there's no failure, and no success, though? Not a challenge. If you can't fail, if there's no risk, then it's not a challenge. Does it have to be abject, absolute failure? No, of course not, but there has to be something at risk and that risk has to be losing that something.

And here's where we're having a disconnect: you insist that the player has 100% sole authority over characterizations. Taken as given, then nothing is ever risked if the player is making a choice about that characterization. If you chose to change your character, then you've chosen it. That characterization was never at risk -- there's no way you can lose the characterization. What I'm seeing is an argument that a choice can be offered that risks the player's characterization, but this fails at first contact because the player is making the choice about the characterization -- it's still exactly what the player wants. If you, personally, exhibit difficulty in making a choice to change your characterization, this doesn't make the choice special or suddenly a challenge -- you're still the only one exercising your 100% authority, and you cannot lose this or have it reduced (again, taking the initial premise for granted).

It's not that a choice can't be part of a challenge. A choice to enter a room full of monsters usually kicks off a challenge and becomes part of it, but that challenge isn't "do I decide to go in or not" it's "do I overcome this room full of monsters" and your choice is many-fold for how you might do this. I think that some mechanic is necessary for an RPG, because we have no other way to resolve uncertainty, and uncertainty is necessary for challenge to exist. Just as the chance to fail must exist or there is no challenge. And, again, you cannot fail to exercise your authority over characterization because you make a choice about your characterization.
 

Ovinomancer

Explorer
In real life - What about chess? Is Chess a challenge? (assuming two nearly equally skilled players)
Is there a mechanic? Can you fail? Can you succeed? There's your answer, three times over.

If you play chess against yourself, is there a challenge? This is more akin to using your sole authority to determine characterization to make a choice about your characterization. You can't fail this challenge, you can just choose which side you win on.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Whether you need mechanics (social mechanics, emotional mechanics, whatever they might be) to generate that sort of challenge is a further question. My view is that you don't, although obviously they might help.
I tend to agree. "Need" is an absolute, and there are few absolutes that actually hold for us. Mechanics may make it easier to make such challenges, and/or make them eaiser for players to accept.

The key idea I take away from this is one of fidelity - to the fiction, and to what is revealed about the character in the fiction.
"Fidelity" has two connotations. One is "strict adherence" - this is like a "high-fidelity recording". I don't think that's the sense meant here. The sense intended here is probably "faithful".

And that's important. Because if we use the first, then fidelity is, "You wrote that your character is Lawful Good, so you cannot take that action." Fidelity, meaning faithfulness, is more about making the character a real person - who can make errors and change over time..
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
At first you say a hard choice isn't a challenge. Then you say you believe a challenge can be made without mechanics. What other method could possibly result in a challenge besides either mechanics or a hard choice?
It is late, but let me see if I can construct one... I will use example presented before - the chaste knight is offered Excalibur in exchange for their chastity. We can call this... "The Maiden and the Sword".

On the face of this, it is just a hard question - and only hard in the sense of our having put a stake in the ground in claiming the character was chaste, and we often dislike being put in a position where we turn out to have been wrong. Even if there's a mechanical loss in no longer being chaste, there's a mechanical gain in having Excalibur. It is still just a choice.

But, we can re-position this, so that it becomes a challenge: "Knight, do you have what it takes to remain chaste *and* keep the realm safe?" This is not a choice - they can't just say, "yes" and have it be true. They have to prove it. It is a test that one can pass of fail. It does not have a specific mechanic associated with it. This is a place where the core concept of the character (chaste protector of the realm) is challenged. If the character does not pass this challenge, they effectively lose one or both of those aspects - they are either not chaste, or not really a protector of the realm.
 

Advertisement

Top